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. A magneto-optical drive is a kind of optical disc drive capable of writing and rewriting data upon a magneto-optical disc. Both 130 mm (5.25 in) and 90 mm (3.5 in) form factors exist. The technology was introduced commercially in 1985.[1] Although optical, they appear as hard disk drives to the operating system and do not require a special filesystem; they can be formatted as FAT, HPFS, NTFS, etc. Magneto optical drives are common in some countries such as Japan but have fallen into disuse in other countries.

Technical aspects
A Magneto-optical disc and the numerous rectangles on its surface

A 130 mm 2.6GB magneto-optical disc.

A 230 MB Fujitsu 90 mm magneto-optical disc. Initially the drives were 130 mm and had the size of full-height 130 mm hard-drives (like in IBM PC XT). 130 mm media looks similar to a CD-ROM enclosed in an old-style caddy, while 90 mm media is about the size of a regular 1.44MB floppy disk, but twice the thickness. The cases provide dust resistance, and the drives themselves have slots constructed in such a way that they always appear to be closed. Originally, MO discs were WORM (write once, read many) drives, but later read/write MO drives became available.[2]

The disc consists of a ferromagnetic material sealed beneath a plastic coating. The only physical contact is during recording when a magnetic head is brought into contact with the side of the disc opposite to the laser. During reading, a laser projects a beam on the disk and, according to the magnetic state of the surface, the reflected light varies due to the Magneto-optic Kerr effect. During recording, the laser power is increased so it can heat the material up to the Curie point in a single spot. This allows an electromagnet positioned on the opposite side of the disc to change the local magnetic polarization, and the polarization is retained when temperature drops. Each write cycle requires both a pass to erase a region, and another pass to write information. Both passes use the laser to heat the recording layer, the magnetic field is used for actually changing the magnetic orientation of the recording layer. The electromagnet reverses polarity for writing, and the laser is pulsed to record spots of "1" over the erased region of "0". As a result it takes twice as long to write data as it does to read it. In 1996, a Direct Overwrite technology was introduced for 90 mm discs, to avoid the initial erase pass when writing. This requires special media. By default, Magneto-optical drives verify information after writing it to the disc, and are able to report any problems to the operating system immediately. This means that writing can actually take three times longer than reading, but it makes the media extremely reliable, unlike the CD-R or DVD-R technologies upon which data is written to media without any concurrent data integrity checking. Using a magneto-optical disc is a lot more like using a diskette drive than using a CD-RW. In a read cycle, the laser is operated at a lower power setting, emitting polarized light. The reflected light has a change in Kerr Rotation and Kerr Ellipticity which is measured by an analyzer and corresponds to either a logical 0 or 1. Progress in magneto-optical technology received a boost in the spring of 1997 with the launch of Plasmons DW260 drive. This used Light Intensity Modulated Direct OverWrite technology to achieve an increased level of performance over previous magneto-optical drives. The 130mm drives were available in capacities from 650MB to 9.2GB. However, this was split in halves per the sides of the disk. The 2.6GB disks, for example, had a formatted capacity of 1.2GB per side. The 130mm drives were always SCSI. The 90mm discs had their entire capacity on one side with no capability to flip them over. The 90mm drives were available in SCSI, IDE, and USB formats. Capacities ranged from 128MB to 2.3GB. While they were never particularly popular with consumers (the main consumer marketing being for the 90mm drives), the 130mm drives had some lasting service in corporate storage and retrieval. Optical libraries, such as the Hewlett Packard 40XT, were created to automate loading and storing of the disks. A self contained unit holding 16 or more disks and connected by SCSI to a host computer, the library required specialized archival software to store indexes of data and select disks. Popular uses were for legal document storage and medical imaging, where high reliability, long life, and (for the time) high storage capacity were required. The optical libraries could also manually be used on a Windows 2000/XP machine by selecting and ejecting discs

under the Computer Management icon's Removable Storage Service, but this was cumbersome in practice.


Minidiscs are magneto-optical disc used to store music. The NeXT computer was the first to offer this technology, but Canon eventually provided it to other customers. Sony MiniDiscs are magneto-optical, and Sony produces many other formats of magneto-optical media. Pinnacle Micro was a major manufacturer of magneto optical drives. 3.5" drives were 128MB and 230MB. 5.25" drives produced were 650MB and 1.3GB (Sierra), 2.6GB (Vertex) and 4.6GB (Apex). The Vertex and Apex were non-ISO standard drives and used proprietary media. Pinnacle Micro has ceased production of these products.

Floptical drives
Magneto-optical drives should not be confused with Floptical drives, which likewise combine ferromagnetic and optical technologies, albeit in a different manner. Flopticals are 21 megabyte 90 mm magnetic diskettes using optical tracks to increase the tracking precision of the magnetic head; from the usual 135 tracks per inch to 1,250 tracks per inch. No laser or heating is involved; a simple infrared LED is used to follow the optical tracks, while a magnetic head touched the recording surface. The drives can also read and write traditional 90 mm diskettes, although not the 2.88 megabyte variety. Flopticals were manufactured by Insite Peripherals, a company founded by Jim Burke[disambiguation needed ].

A write once read many or WORM drive is a data storage device where information, once written, cannot be modified. On ordinary data storage devices, the number of times data can be modified is not limited, except by the rated lifespan of the device, as modification involves physical changes that may cause wear to the device. The "read many" aspect is unremarkable, as modern storage devices permit unlimited reading of data once written.[Note 1]

WORM devices are useful in archiving information when users want the security of knowing it has not been modified since the initial write, which might imply tampering. WORM drives preceded the invention of the CD-R and DVD-R. An example was the IBM 3363.[1] These drives typically used a 12 in (30 cm) disk in a cartridge, with an ablative optical layer that could be written to only once, and were often used in places like libraries that needed to store large amounts of data. Interfaces to connect these to PCs also existed. These days, the CD-R and DVD-R optical disks for computers are the most common WORM device. On these disks, no region of the disk can be recorded a second time. However, these disks often use a file system based on ISO 9660 that permits additional files, and even revised versions of a file by the same name, to be recorded in a different region of the disk. To the user of the disk, the disk appears to allow additions and revisions until all the disk space is used. A version of the SecureDigital flash memory card exists in which the internal microprocessor does not allow rewrites of any block of the memory. Punched cards and paper tape are obsolete WORM media. Although any unpunched area of the medium could be punched after the first write of the medium, doing so was virtually never useful. Read-only memory is also a WORM medium. Such memory may contain the instructions to a computer to read the operating system from another storage device such as a hard disk. The end-user, however, cannot write the ROM even once, but considers it part of the unchangeable computing platform.