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Problems reading from a 3.5" floppy disc

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Greensands20/09/2020 13:38:31
344 forum posts
66 photos

Can anyone suggest a possible reason for why I should be suddenly having problems reading from a 3.5" floppy disc as used in support of a DOS based CNC system. I have recently had a couple of discs fail which despite being readily accessed from my laptop running under XP but when transferred to my workshop desktop (W98) fail to read, resulting in the error message “Abort,Retry, Fail”.

Admittedly the discs are pretty ancient but they have always worked in the past on both machines and there is nothing obviously wrong (physically) with the discs. Any suggestions and possible remedies would be most welcomed,

Clive Brown 120/09/2020 14:13:19
826 forum posts
41 photos

Maybe the floppy drive on the desktop is faulty. Can you acquire an external usb drive to try with that? Cheap to buy anyway.

old mart20/09/2020 14:19:25
3775 forum posts
233 photos

You could try other floppies in the drive, which might, either clean the heads ,or prove that the drive was faulty. When you eventually get things running, it would be a good idea to copy the floppy contents onto a small USB stick as a backup.

Brian Sweeting20/09/2020 14:33:04
453 forum posts
1 photos

Try a disk cleaner in the drives.

Are the drive at the same temperature? Disks and drives expand and contract which can put the tracks out of alignment.

Greensands20/09/2020 14:36:19
344 forum posts
66 photos

I have wondered about the floppy drive on the desktop as again it is pretty ancient but tests show it works quite happily reading other disks from my collection indicating that perhaps it is the disc and not the drive at fault. The floppies are used as a means of transferring data files from the indoors XP laptop where program development is carried out to the garage workshop. Internet searches indicate that old floppies can suddenly fail for various reasons; accumulation of dust, exposure to excessive heat etc but the discs have always been well looked after. It would be useful to be able to rescue them.

LADmachining20/09/2020 14:42:55
124 forum posts
11 photos

Old floppy drives are always a source of problems to the retro computer community.

Reasonably priced USB to floppy interfaces, typically known as a Gotek, are available from various places for about £15. These can then be flashed with open source software such as FlashFloppy which provides more features.

These devices are marketed as a replacement for disk drives on old equipment such as keyboards, sewing machines and CNC equipment that use drives with a Shugart initerface.

With this device you can then use a USB stick to transfer files between your laptop and the CNC equipment.


SillyOldDuffer20/09/2020 15:17:50
8692 forum posts
1967 photos
Posted by Brian Sweeting on 20/09/2020 14:33:04:

Try a disk cleaner in the drives.



Floppy Disks and their Drives are both vulnerable to dirt, which is likely in a workshop.

As the Floppy reads OK on another machine, chief suspect is the workshop disc drive. I have stripped them down for a good clean with cotton buds, mixed success - they are quite delicate.

Warning! If the drive is damaged or dirty, it will abrade the floppy disc. Ordinary friction finishes them off, let alone workshop grit. Avoid putting suspect damaged floppies into a good machine because it too can be wrecked. Back when mainframes where king, an operator loaded a big multi-platter exchangeable disc into the drive, which promptly head-crashed. So far so bad, but she put the mangled disc into a second drive and wrote that off too. Serious money - back then the discs cost as much as a good second-hand car, and the drives cost as much as a semi-detached house.

Never come across the Gotek device described by Anthony, but replacing Floppy Discs with something modern has to be a good idea. Floppy discs weren't all that reliable new.


HOWARDT20/09/2020 15:47:08
908 forum posts
39 photos

You could try a recovery program if it just a case of a corrupted disk not physically damaged. I have done this a long time ago, cant remember the software I used, but have done it with all types of modern sticks and cards. How many reliable data files you can get back will depend on the cause of corruption, it may be just the FAT which is corrupt and just needs rebuilding. Usual WWW search should find a freeware recovery program.

Ady120/09/2020 15:49:11
5090 forum posts
736 photos

W98 was a disaster for me, Win ME never gave me anywhere near the amount of issues W98 did

VERY prone to fatal crashes

Jumped straight from ME to XP nirvana

Test the drive with a different floppy or 3 just in case its the floppy drive, sometimes simply changing the floppy connection cable to the motherboard fixes an issue


Edited By Ady1 on 20/09/2020 15:52:48

Greensands20/09/2020 16:00:27
344 forum posts
66 photos

The suggestion of fitting a USB to Floppy interface seems a good move to make my setup more future proof but current searches suggest that they would have to come in from China. Anyone know of a possible UK supplier?

Ed Duffner20/09/2020 17:14:11
840 forum posts
94 photos

Before doing anything, may I suggest making a backup of your floppy disks to your laptop, if you can.

Old floppy drives can start to fail due to dried out grease, perished belts, dirty read/write heads or track 0 sensor, etc.

There are a number of external floppy drives available on Amazon UK which have a USB cable interface.


Greensands20/09/2020 17:32:25
344 forum posts
66 photos

All files have been backed up as suggested but I would be rather concerned that any modern 3.5" drive with USB interface bought from Amazon or the likes would be plug-in compatible with my anchient 486 desktop PC

LADmachining20/09/2020 17:42:59
124 forum posts
11 photos
Posted by Greensands on 20/09/2020 16:00:27:

The suggestion of fitting a USB to Floppy interface seems a good move to make my setup more future proof but current searches suggest that they would have to come in from China. Anyone know of a possible UK supplier?

They can be obtained through Amazon UK, but the price can be signifcantly higher. When I bought mine, it came from eBay via a 'UK' seller but was sent from China. Was received in a week much before the expected delivery date, for about half the cost of the Amazon UK ones.

Usability of the basic device is improved by replacing the 7-segment displays with a 0.91" OLED display, so that actual filenames can be displayed, and fitting a rotary encoder to make file selection faster. These are both easy 'plug-in' upgrades. It does need the updated FlashFloppy firmware, full details and a how-to guide are on the author's GitHub page here:

KeirF FlashFloppy GitHub


Edited By LADmachining on 20/09/2020 18:11:27

Les Jones 120/09/2020 18:07:07
2257 forum posts
156 photos

As you can read the floppy on your laptop try making a copy onto a new floppy disk. From memory the command at the command line prompt is something like diskcopy A: A:

If the problem is a marginal alignment problem that might just work. Using a head cleaning disk in the suspect drive may also solve the problem.


Frances IoM20/09/2020 18:24:28
1268 forum posts
28 photos
why do you still need a nearly 30 year old 486 system ?
If parallel port is required many some newer (but still old in computer years) laptops have these and will more readily support USB drives which require memory specific individual drivers on win98 (tho there is a non-M/S program that allows anyUSB memory stick)
John Baron20/09/2020 18:34:39
520 forum posts
194 photos

Hi Guys,

3.5" floppy disc's die of old age, particularly if they have been allowed to get damp at some point !

What happens is the adhesive holding the magnetic media to the hub looses its stickeyness and the hub can no longer drive the media.

I've just scrapped 2500 of them for similar reasons. If you hold the media it should not allow you to rotate the hub.

Mike Poole20/09/2020 22:09:44
3339 forum posts
73 photos

I would seriously consider moving on from floppy discs, I know it is frustrating having to retire a working system but it becomes more and more difficult to keep old systems running. Industry has spent millions moving to the next generation equipment because of manufacturers not supporting old equipment. Floppy discs are well past their sell by date now.


Robert Atkinson 220/09/2020 22:31:33
1209 forum posts
20 photos

+1 for head cleaner. Another common issue is dried up lubricant on the helical "lead scew" that drives the head. A tiny drop of light oil can sort that out.

Robert G8RPI.

Neil Wyatt21/09/2020 23:09:44
19033 forum posts
734 photos
80 articles

I found 3.5" floppies unreliable 30 years ago and always kept a backup...

My question would be 'how has it lasted so long?' rather than 'why has it stopped working?'

(Not meant facetiously!)


Colin Whittaker22/09/2020 01:57:21
142 forum posts
17 photos

1) Instead of transferring files with a floppy disc why not use a usb memory stick instead?

2) You could also use a crossover lan cable to connect your laptop to your desktop and copy files with that. But that would need you to manually configure the ethernet port settings and then map a network drive; probably best done by a local spotty faced nerd.

(definition of a nerd, someone who knows Pi to more than 6 decimal places)

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