Floppy Disk Conversion

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For General Users

Time is running out for anyone needing to recover data from 5 1/4" floppy disks, for several reasons:

  • data on lower density magnetic media is retained less reliably in the longer term (although this might seem counter-intuitive)
  • many contemporary PC have neither floppy disk drives nor facility to install them
  • PC up to about 8 years old might support 3.5" floppy drives but not 5 1/4"
  • early personal computers used a plethora of formats on 5 1/4" floppies and few of those computers remain servicable

Facilities at PCUG Centre

Computers at PCUG are set up to use floppies only in the MSDOS format (also called PC or FAT12 format)

Some computers in the Main office at PCUG can be used to transfer data between:

  • 3.5 inch floppy disks and USB devices (memory sticks/portable HDD)

Floppy disks can be converted at PCUG, via a different, older PC that is held in store and has the capability to read/write:

  • 5 1/4 inch floppies of MSDOS format in 1.2MB (HD), 360 kB (DS) and possibly 180 kB (SS) capacities
  • 3 1/2 inch floppies of 1.44 MB (HD) and 720 kB (DD) capacities

Members need to ask the Staffer's permission to set up the older PC for use.

Getting Technical

PCUG does not hold the hardware needed to read less common floppy disk formats:

  • Windows PC generally can't read Macintosh floppies. Macintoshes were able to convert between the two formats
    • PCUG does not have a Macintosh computer.
  • 2.88 MB (ED) floppy drives have a different cable interface and cannot readily be fitted to PC
    • anyone needing to recover data from them would need to ask in another forum. Essentially, a 1990 vintage IBM PS/2 computer is required.
  • a variety of techniques have been used in earlier years to increase the storage capacity of HD 3.5" media. These techniques:
    • sometimes used larger sectors
      • fairly reliable
    • but might have used additional tracks or sectors per track
      • not reliably moved between drives
  • these techniques were primarily used for software
    • data is unlikely to be stored on such floppies

The Linux tool "fdutils" can handle most of these exotic formats, including Macintosh formats.

  • success where additional tracks or sectors are involved will be hardware-dependent
  • this tool is not set up on PCUG computers

One rule of thumb is that lower density magnetic media has poorer durability than higher density. Anyone needing to recover data from 5 1/4 inch floppies is advised not to delay.


--Rpeters 14:48, 6 October 2013 (EST)