Preserving data stored on floppy disks

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The end of the floppy disk is near; Sony recently stopped manufacturing 3 1/2-inch floppies (see an interesting history of the technology). USB storage devices, such as thumb drives and memory cards, are ushering in the new age of ultra-portable storage. PCs used to come with a floppy disk drive as standard equipment; these days, you often have to specify one when you place an order for a system. As one who remembers eight-inch floppy disks, still has a collection of 5 1/4-inch disks, and had one of the first laptop computers boasting DUAL 3 1/2-inch 720K micro-floppy drives, the disks from which I also still have, I know a little about data preservation and migration.

I recently tried to access a floppy disk that’s 10 years old and found that some of the files were no longer readable. I recall advising clients that they should perform a disk “refresh” every few months on all of their critical floppy disks and diskcopy them to a new disk at least once every year or two. Good thing I did; I was right: magnetically-stored data degrades over time.

Before your data degrades and floppy disk drives become a thing of the past, you might want to put that data somewhere else. I suggest you first make a folder called “Old Floppies” in your default storage location (“My Documents” for Windows users) that is regularly backed up. Then, create a folder for the set (if there are multiple install disks, for example) and a folder for each disk and copy the contents of the disk into that folder. To save space, you can use compressed folders, or compress Old Floppies after you have copied everything. I did this with my Windows for Workgroups 3.11 floppies in the following folders: Old Floppies/WFW311/Disk1, Disk2, Disk3…etc. I compressed the whole thing and burned it to CD.

By the way, I refreshed the original disks, too, just like I did with my DOS 6.22 disks–both of them are in original shrink wrap, and I have working installations of both on legacy PC equipment…K

3 Responses

  1. Tracy ;^) says:

    What do you mean by “refreshing the disks”?

    Tracy

  2. The Geek says:

    Refreshing the (floppy) disks means to read every file stored on the disk and re-write it to the disk. There used to be utilities to do this, but you are hard pressed to find them anymore.

    Doing a “diskcopy” command in DOS served the same purpose: The data was copied and stored to a new floppy disk, effectively renewing or “refreshing” the magnetic charge on the disk…The Geek

  3. Saburac says:

    I use WinImage to back up my old floppy disks, it allows you to write a comment to the image file detailing the contents. Then I format the disks, check them for bad sectors and use Winimage to rewrite the image files back to refresh them.

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