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March 9, 2017

The Quest for Floppy, Part I

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

The computer industry has roosted upon the SDcard as the new removable storage standard. Unlike the multitude of media cards available ten years ago, the SDcard and the microSD are pretty much what computers, digital cameras, and other devices use for storage. But go back farther in time, and the floppy disk was the rage.

I started my computer adventure when the 5¼-inch floppy disk was popular. The older 8-inch disks were popular at my university and I used them when I managed a Xenix system at a publishing house I worked for. These larger disks were nearly phased out by the time the PC age began.

The 5¼-inch floppies were dubbed “diskettes” because they were smaller than 8-inch disks. They originally stored about 160K of data, boosted to 180K. Double-sided floppy drives soon appeared, which boosted storage to 360K. Then came the 1.2M capacity diskettes. The various storage combinations lead to a fairly complex FORMAT command for MS-DOS. Using the diskettes was also a source of woe for many beginning PC users; hard drives were rare and expensive, so floppies dominated the computer scene throughout the 1980s.

Eventually the more durable 3½-inch disks took over. The Macintosh introduced this new form factor in 1984, and IBM made them standard with the introduction of the PS/2 family of computers in 1987. Still, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the 3½ disk took off, phasing out the older 5¼-inch floppies.

Today, I have only a handful of 5¼-inch floppy disks. Most of them are included with software I’ve saved, such as older version of DOS I hang onto for some reason. Figure 1 shows the diskettes for IBM PC-DOS version 3.10 sitting in the original manual.

Figure 1. IBM PC-DOS diskettes in the original DOS 3.10 manual.

I have a few 3½-inch diskettes, though not as many as I once did. I recall owning stack and stacks of floppies. I had an entire shelf full of them, plus disk caddies and so on. Today, nothing.

To access the 3½-inch diskettes, I use a USB floppy drive. I don’t have a USB 5¼-inch floppy drive and I don’t believe that such a thing even exists. I do have a 5¼-inch floppy drive in an old PC in the boneyard. That got me thinking.

I purchased an IDE-to-USB hardware adapter. It’s designed to access older IDE storage devices, such as the floppy drives, optical drives, and hard drives popular twenty or thirty years ago. My goal is to extract the floppy drive from the old PC, connect it to the adapter, and read one of my old 5¼-inch floppy disks.

You can read about my success or failure in next week’s blog post.


  1. Umm, the IDE to USB does have it have a suitable power supply as some 5.25 disk drives can use some mighty strange power. I remember trying to get one working to get a text file that contained a historic password and it needed 18V(?), 12V & 3.3V to work successish was the result after much fiddling.

    Comment by glennp — March 9, 2017 @ 3:55 am

  2. Yes, the gizmus has a separate power supply and a molex adapter. It was cheap, maybe $12, but you’ll have to wait next week to learn whether it worked! 🙂

    Comment by admin — March 9, 2017 @ 7:22 am

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