Dell Computer will begin phasing out the floppy drive as a standard feature on selected Dimension desktops, beginning at the end of this month.
Beginning with the Dimension 8250, a high-end PC using Intel's 3.06-GHz Pentium 4 processors, Dell will offer customers the option of using a USB memory key instead.
Dell tipped its plans last year, when the company began offering its own branded 16-Mbyte and 64-Mbyte USB keys for use with its Inspiron notebook line. Dell then began phasing out the Inspiron's floppy, replacing them with a branded Dell USB key that maintains the "look and feel" of Dell products. Over time, Dell expects to phase out the floppy on other Dimension desktop models as well, Dell officials said.
"The floppy drive's popularity is declining," said David Schwarzbach, a Dimension product marketing manager. "There's a percentage of our user base that can't remember the last time they've used them."
Schwarzbach said the USB drives "act just like a floppy", including the ability to drag and drop files, but not the ability to boot from them. IBM's memory keys, by contrast, are bootable. Recovery "disks" under Microsoft's latest Windows operating systems, however, have tended to be CDs.
"There's not a set standard on a USB boot protocol," a Dell spokesman said. "When there is one, we'll support it."
When a consumer orders a Dimension 8250, he or she will be presented with three options, according to Shannon Baxley, a Dell product marketing manager: to exclude a floppy, to include a floppy, or choose either of the USB memory keys.
Dell hopes to keep the price of a desktop floppy option and a USB memory key relatively comparable, Schwarzbach said. Currently, a Dell modular floppy drive for the Inspiron notebook PC costs $30, while a 16-Mbyte memory key costs $20 and a 64-Mbyte key $59.
If customers tend to prefer the higher-capacity 64-Mbyte USB keys, Dell will consider moving to higher-capacity models in the future, Schwarzbach said.