Tag Archives: Floppy Disks

Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – August 2021 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

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Now without further ado…


Read the full edition at:

THE TECHNICAL COORDINATOR
Jeff Kopcak – TC
k8jtk@arrl.net

DSCF5081 K8JTKHey gang,

PSA: make copies of old computing media now before that data is lost for good. Those of us that are old enough to know or remember what floppy disks are – and no, it’s not the 3D printed version of the save icon! This is my adventure in preserving legacy media.

Floppy disks, simply “floppy” or “disk”, was a data device based on usage of a flexible magnetic storage medium. Systems dating back to the Commodore utilized floppies and other formats such as cassette tapes. PCs first used 8-inch floppy disks, then 5 1/4 or “five-and-a-quarter-inch disk,” finally 3 1/2 or “three-and-a-half-inch disk.” Most who are my age remember the 3.5″ floppy because it was a very common storage medium for transporting research, papers, and data between home and school. Never had any 8″ floppies. I’ve been around computers longer than most my age and have a couple 5.25″ disks.

Later in high school and college (through about 2005), advances in storage technologies allowed for lager capacities at roughly the same size. The Zip disk was still considered a floppy but had rigid housing to protect the medium at about the same size as a 3.5″ floppy, though twice as think. Zip disks could store 100 MB versus the 1.44 MB of the 3.5″ floppy. Writable CDs became affordable as anyone could now “burn” an optical disk with a storage capacity of 650-700 MB. DVDs for videos and large capacity 4.7 GB storage were standard mid-to-late 2000’s. Those have since been superseded by multi-gigabyte USB solid-state and “cloud storage.”

If you’re like me and hung on to those floppies because they still have old games, maybe using them for document or picture storage – for some reason, or old programs you would like to use again. I started this project as I was sorting through old computer equipment and it was probably past time to preserve the data. That is, if they could still be read. Since I was going through this work of preserving data on floppies, I decided it was probably time to save CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs as well. In theory, medium, especially optical, should last a good long while. However, all medium will degrade over time. It’s also a factor of how the disks were stored, the quality of the drive that wrote the disk, cleanness of the head, quality of the diskette, reading drive aligns with written tracks, to name a few.

Being anywhere from 15-25 years old or more, another reason for doing this is because new computer systems (desktops/laptops) are not coming with devices to read legacy media. The new laptop I received from work doesn’t even have standard USB (A) or HDMI ports! Most keyboards, mice, USB drives, image scanners, SDR dongles, etc. still use that type of port. This machine only comes with USB-C and I need an assortment of dongles to connect standard keyboards, mice, and monitors to the new laptop. They took a cue from Apple MacBook.

While I still have 5.25″ disks, it was a much small number. Probably under 15. 3.5″ disks, I probably have 150 – 200 laying around. Whether I got lucky, the drive/medium are of better quality, or better error correction/recovery, I had no problem reading the 5.25″ disks. I thought: older medium, more problems. That was not true in my case.

Standard disclaimers: copying of some software (though the company may be long gone out-of-business), is still considered piracy – though highly unlikely really anyone cares. You are free to do with this information as you wish.

Locating drives and media

First, locate legacy media (floppies, Zip disks, CD/DVD-ROMs) to be preserved. If labeled correctly, you might be able to tell right away which ones are worth saving. Things you or your kids did when they were younger might be worth saving, but that old accounting program, probably not. Emulation and virtualization technologies have come a long way and is quite possible to get those old programs running again with a little effort. That’s another article.

Next – locate a device to read that media. Throughout the years, I’ve hung on to a handful of old floppies, Zip, and, CD/DVD drives. Before throwing in the towel this early, consider that it might be easier than you think to locate a drive – should one not be readily available. A floppy disk drive, floppy cable, and old motherboard with a floppy controller is all you really need.

8-inch, 5¼-inch, and 3½-inch floppy disks (Wikipedia)

To find 8″ drives, you’re probably going to eBay, computer surplus shops, or even a hamfest. They’re “vintage” on eBay, therefore asking prices are $100 and up for a drive. These old drives have been successfully connected to modern PCs with the help of an external controller or adapter. My 5.25″ floppy drive connected and worked just fine on a motherboard (late 2000’s era) I had laying around with a floppy controller. If a motherboard is not available, a floppy controller with USB capabilities from KryoFlux or GoTek would do the job. 3.5″ floppy drives are readily available, have USB connections and cost about $20. Consider 5.25″ and 3.5″ combination drives if both formats are needed.

Early Zip drives came as an external device with a parallel port connection. They were god-awful slow. With more than a few Zip disks to copy, look for a drive with an ATAPI (IDE) connection if you have a motherboard with an IDE controller. Otherwise, opt for the USB drive version. ATAPI isn’t breaking any speed records either. They are quicker and you don’t have to find a motherboard with a parallel port and locate Zip drive drivers. The Zip 250 and 750 drives can read lower capacity disks. The Zip disk format has been long dead and the Iomega company was bought and sold a few times, eventually being completely discontinued. All of these drives will be surplus/eBay/hamfest finds.

Operating system support still exists, at least on the PC side. A Windows 7 64-bit operating system handled all the formats I threw at it: 5.25″ floppy, 3.5″ floppy, Iomega Zip 100 ATAPI, and obviously CD/DVD. The Zip ATAPI/IDE interface showed up as a standard removable disk drive. An older PC with an older operating system increases your chances of a working combination.

Parallel port Zip drive and disk (How-to Geek)

Zip disks, in particular, had a proprietary software method of preventing accidental writing to the disk or requiring a password to read the disk. In the case where any of these protections were used, or any other proprietary method of encrypting media, those conditions under which the media was “locked” will likely need to be recreated in order to read or decrypt the data. The same legacy drive connected to a PC, same legacy operating system with drivers/applications used to write-protect or encrypt the disk – if you still have copies of all those programs. Not to mention, remembering the password.

CDs and DVDs were no problem as those formats are somewhat current and operating systems include native support for those drives. Fedora 33 worked with all, though it doesn’t automatically load the floppy driver by default. I had to:

sudo modprobe floppy

I did not test a copy of Windows 10. A Win10 rescue disk worked just fine with all formats so I suspect Windows 10 will be fine as well. Copying the data can be as easy as opening the drive in the desktop, selecting the contents, and copying files to a directory on your hard drive.

ISO files are a single file that contains the entire CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disc structure to precisely duplicate a disc. These are often used when downloading Linux/Unix distributions. Windows 10 can be downloaded as an ISO as well. Many utility and recovery tools available as ISO downloads are meant to be burned to disc or written to a bootable USB drive. Nearly all CD/DVD/Blu-ray authoring programs have the option of creating or burning ISO files.

IMG (sometimes referred to as IMA, standing for “image”) files are similar to ISOs but for floppy disks. IMG files are a single file, raw sector dump, of a medium. I have no scientific data to indicate drag-and-drop copying is just as-good-as creating an image file. If I had to guess reasons an image would be a better option: maybe a form of copy protection looks at a specific sector for a known value or possibly date & time stamps. If something wasn’t as expected, it might fail believing a copy was made. I came across one instance where straight copying files caused special characters to be converted. A “~” was converted to “_”. This is more likely to cause an issue for an installer program because a filename doesn’t match. To me, it just seems better to make a raw copy of the disk. Once again, the more complicated method is my preferred method.

My goal was to have an image made directly from the disk. In reading up, examples showed creating a ‘blank floppy image’ file, reading disk contents, and writing to the blank image. I did not want that as total disk size could be different. Disks containing my documents or picture files, I copied those to a folder on a hard drive. Disks containing programs or installation media, images of the disk were made.

A raw sector dump of a floppy disk occupying the same amount of space as if the disk was completely full. 1.44 MB disks will take up 1.44 MB, even if only 300K is written to the disk. 720K disks take up 720K. CD/DVD/Blu-ray ISO and BIN files will be the same size as the total amount of data written on the disc (333 MB disc = 333 MB ISO). For multi-gigabyte and terabyte hard drives, these sizes are nothing.

Next time, my adventures continue into creating, using, and storing image files.

The Section is sponsoring learning and exploring sessions. Technical Specialist Jason – N8EI will be presenting one of those sessions on August 31st. Details have been published in recent PostScrips and later in this edition. His topic is “Beyond the Baofeng: Thoughts on Equipment Choices for New Hams.” You received your license. Picked up a $20 Baofeng. Tried to reach some repeaters with it. Now what? Now comes a real station. He touches on prioritizing equipment purchases and gives recommendations on radios. It will be a good one not only for newly licensed hams but hams looking to improve their station.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK