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Any A-drive/floppy experts?

Last response: in Storage
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February 2, 2010 7:57:59 PM

Yes, I know, most of you have probably left floppies behind in the dust, but they're still handy for some small quickie things.

Here's the question. Floppy disks have a limited lifespan, of course (though I suppose everything does), and eventually at some point as it starts to decay, it's normal to get a message something like "Failure reading A-drive." But twice recently I've had messages of "Disk not formatted. Re-format?" That's when the disk is not only formatted but is carrying some files.

Should I assume the problem is the floppy, or could there be a problem with the A-drive where the file is being copied? This is a newish (for me) hand-me-down computer, which is likely about a half-dozen years old, although I've been using it roughly a year or so.


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a c 415 G Storage
February 2, 2010 8:34:51 PM

This is just a guess, but it sounds to me like something (either the media or the heads or a connection somewhere) is so far gone that the drive isn't seeing ANYTHING from the media. If it saw bits that were somewhat scrambled, then you'd get the "read failure" message, but if it saw nothing at all I'd expect to see the "unformatted" message.

I'd try a head cleaner, and if that doesn't work I'd check out a second-hand computer store to see if you can pick up another cheap floppy drive to try. I picked up a 5-1/2 inch floppy drive for $5 a couple of years ago to transfer some old disks I'd forgotten I had.
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February 2, 2010 8:39:40 PM

Would you think that the problem is in my computer, where the files were saved, or the other computer, which is where I'm getting the no-format message? Could the other computer be wrecking the disk?

If it helps, now, for instance, there are about eight files on the disk, saved during three sessions, most recently last night. It was fine then. Then problem was when I took it to this public computer, as previously.

By the way, thanks. I didn't expect something so helpful so fast.
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a c 415 G Storage
February 2, 2010 10:11:53 PM

Well if you save them on your computer and then can read them back on your computer, then your computer is probably OK.

Because floppy heads actually rub against the media, it's possible that a bad drive with damaged heads could physically damage the disk. If you slide the metal shutter back you should be able to see if there's any damage to the recording surface.
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a c 357 G Storage
February 3, 2010 3:33:14 PM

If I read this right, you have saved files to the floppy drive on your computer and, if you put the disk back into that same computer, it can see them all and read them correctly. The problem is isolated to another "public" computer which cannot read the files.

By far the most common problem with floppy systems is that the heads accumulate dirt and can't read and write properly. The solution, as sminlal suggests, is to get a floppy disk head cleaner kit and clean them. Just remember that, since the process uses liquid alcohol solvent, you should let the drive unit dry out for a few minutes before trying to use it.

I've used floppies for years, but often on machines where they are used only infrequently. By experience I have found that there is a hazard in this process. If you put a perfectly good floppy into a dirty drive it is possible for the dirt on the heads to scratch the disk's surface and permanently damage the medium, making the file there inaccessible. If that happens to be in the root directory or FAT areas the whole disk becomes useless. For that reason I'm in the habit of carrying a floppy drive head cleaner kit with me when I use them. I start by assuming that the drive is dirty and clean it as the very FIRST step, then let it dry out. Oh, even before that step, I will bend down, push open the floppy drive's front cover, and blow into the slot to try to remove any really loose dust before starting with the head cleaner. Only when the drive has been cleaned and dried out do I insert my floppy disk and use it.

If the disk you are using is still fully readable in the drive where it was written, then at least it has not been physically damaged. Try cleaning the "public" machine's drive unit, then see if it works.

There is still possibility this will not work for you. It is possible the "public" machine's drive is malfunctioning or its connections are dirty. And rarely you run into a machine in which the heads are so misaligned that it works with floppies written on it, but not with floppies written on another machine.

A "public" machine can have lots of problems with floppy drives and dirt. Usually they are in places where there's lots of dirt and dust in the vicinity, and they are NOT routinely maintained. Especially for this old technology, it is likely nobody has bothered to look into the drive, clean out its gross dust accumulation, and clean the heads. There is a design characteristic that makes this more likely, too. Many machines have their fans set up so that there is actually a net small vacuum inside the case and the exhaust fans are sucking air into the case through every opening. Well, one such place is the slot (even the slot that appears to be covered with a spring-loaded flap) in the floppy drives' front. So lots of dust-laden air is drawn in here and must make its way through small spaces and around components, leaving dust deposits there.
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February 3, 2010 6:45:59 PM

the drives are finnicky. I learned to put my discs in a sandwich bag.

the strongest drives I have encountered, to stay dynamical with many floppies made in many different floppy drives and stay readable with less errors .. is the seemingly air tight usb floppy drive.
it proved to me, outside source is death of floppies, dust, and air.
if you have an imprtant one that gives read error in the drive, do not chuck it, find another drive first.
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February 3, 2010 7:12:52 PM

Just last week at work I cracked open over 100 floppy disks, cut the disk part up and tossed them away... and I noticed something... the generic disks had different internals than the brand name ones. The brand name ones had a piece of cloth (for lack of a better term) that covered the entire back surface of the disk... not sure why or what this did, but it was there. The generic box of disks from Office Max didn't have this. I guess my theory is that some disks are made to higher standards than others.

My PC at work (oddly enough) still has a floppy drive and many times when users have old files that they can't read on a floppy, my PC (for whatever reason) is still able to read their files. Just because one drive can't read the disk, I wouldn't automatically assume the files are lost.

That said... get with the times! Hell, a doctor gave me a 16 GB thumb drive on a whim... that's what... around 1200 floppy disks I'm carrying in my pocket. Progress!
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