Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Can you read 5.25 inch double sided / high capacity IBM / MS DOS formatted diskettes?

I believe many archives have old computer storage media such as 5.25 and 3.5 inch. floppy diskettes and zip disks in their collections. Since you can still buy 3.5 inch. floppy disk drives with USB interface in the market, reading 3.5 inch. floppy diskettes is not a problem. Also, because some Zip drives use ATAPI / USB interface, connecting a zip drive to your pc is not a problem either (ATAPI is still widely used to connect CD/DVD drives.). The problem is 5.25 inch. floppy disk drives which use 34-pin floppy disk drive connectors (NO USB/ATAPI version). The 34-pin floppy disk drive connector doesn't exist in the motherboards of some modern personal computers (e.g. the FRED we have at Stanford.). Even a motherboard has a 34 pin floppy disk drive connector, some BIOS can recognize 3.5 inch. floppy disk drive but not 5.25 inch. floppy disk drive (e.g. the retired Dell pc in my offce).

In order to read 5.25 inch. double sided or high density IBM / MS DOS formatted diskettes, one option is to get a Catweseal card to put in a spare PCI slot in your pc. The Catweseal card has a 34-pin floppy disk drive connector for you to connect to a 5.25 inch. floppy drive. According to the manual, it can be configured to read Commodore 64 disk, extended density format disk (2.88MB), CP/M format disk (8-inch floppy for PDP-11 machines), IBM / MS DOS format disk. One limitation is that you have to use the "Imagetool" software come with the Catweseal card to read and write disk images. You cannot browse the contents of a disk and see what is inside before you make the disk image. You have to create the disk image and export the files in the disk image to see the contents of the disk. Also, Imagetool does not have an option to create logical disk image (slack space not captured / deleted files not copied). At Stanford, we create mostly logical disk images. Another option is to get a pc with motherboard and BIOS capable of connecting and recognizing 5.25 inch. floppy disk drive. I checked the specifications of several new pc in the market and found no mention about 5.25 inch. floppy disk drive (I will be very surprised if I find the specifications mention that.). I have checked the specifications of new motherboards to see whether they can connect and recognize 5.25 floppy disk drives. (If yes, I can buy the motherboard and build a pc around it.) The specifications will tell you whether the motherboards have a floppy disk connector but no details on whether they recognize 5.25 floppy disk drives. One day, I opened a retired pc of mine and discovered that it has a 34 pin floppy disk connector in the motherboard. I bought the pc to my office and connected the 5.25 floppy disk drive to the motherboard and it WORKED!!!! I can see the contents of 5.25 inch floppy disks using Windows Explorer. And I can use FTK Imager to create logical disk images. After that, I connected an ATAPI Zip drive (taken from the retired Dell pc in my office) to the same machine and it became a standalone capture station for me!!

For people who don’t have 5.25 inch drive in their office, they can try to get one from eBay. But keep in mind that the drives you bought from eBay may be more than 20 years old and they may stop working anytime. In fact the two 5.25 inch. floppy disk drives Stanford bought from eBay last year have stopped working. Another source of 5.25 inch. floppy disk drives is people around you. They may have one in their garages. In fact, I mentioned Stanford had many 5.25 floppy disks and the problems we were facing to a manager from Konica Minolta in a conference in July. He told me that he had one 5.25 inch. floppy disk drive in his office and asked whether I wanted it or not!! I have just received the drive on last Fri. and it is now working for me :)