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Thread: Floppy Disk Recovery Techniques?

  1. #1

    Default Floppy Disk Recovery Techniques?

    Sorry for the somewhat vague title -- I looked around briefly and hope this hasn't been covered before.

    I am slowly watching my collection of old floppies die. They are all stored inside at room temperature in giant plastic disk boxes, but despite that, every few months when I go back and look at them I am finding more and more of them beginning to fail.

    I am fortunate in that a few years ago I had the foresight to archive all my old original C64 floppies to D64 disk images. Some of them have read errors, but I'd say the vast majority of programs and data, I was able to archive. Along with the 1541u I also have a Zoom Floppy (for archiving C64 disks) and an FC5025 (for old PC and Apple II disks).

    I was wondering if you guys had any tips or tricks when it comes to reading old floppies. I recently bought a large lot (~200) of C64 floppies off of eBay and was disappointed to find that only about 10% of them worked. Some of them are so bad off that I can't even seem to re-format them. I know the rest are probably unrecoverable, but in the back of my mind I hate to give up on them. I'm wishing there was something along the lines of blowing into a Nintendo cartridge (yes, I know that's a bad idea) that would make these disks work long enough to get the data off of them.

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flack View Post
    Some of them are so bad off that I can't even seem to re-format them.
    This alone says that they are unuseable. It's sad but I've gone through hundreds of disks lately that I've found to be similar to what you have encountered. These disks do get old and deteriorate to the point that they can not be used any further. Like you, it took me quite some time to reach that conclusion but even though we hate to believe it there is just no remedy for reviving some floppies.
    PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step

  3. #3
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    I work in the PC world, and the only thing that has worked for me is repetition -- try to read a track 100 times, if you can't, it's gone. Sometimes you get lucky and what can't be read doesn't contain data anyway.

    The only disks I try to preserve are disks I did not create (commercial software). Everything else, if the disk starts to have problems, I get what I can off of it and throw the floppy away. I have at least 100 "scratch" floppies that I format and use whenever I have to have something on a floppy, but I never try to "resurrect" old floppies to working condition, it's not worth the time and eventual future loss.
    Offering a bounty for:
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    - Music Construction Set, IBM Music Feature edition (has red sticker on front stating IBM Music Feature)

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    It's possible to recover data from otherwise unreadable areas if the data loss isn't too great--but it takes special hardware and a certain amount of manual labor.

  5. #5

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    Maybe the diskettes are not the problem. Maybe it's the drive?

    (Try another drive ...)

    For my diskette collection I was having problems with read errors. Cleaning the heads of the drive can make the difference between a bad read and a marginal read.

    I also had problems with standard disk imaging tools, so I wrote my own that aggressively retries failing sectors. This works fine for PC DOS formatted floppies without copy protection, where a read error is not expected. For copy protected diskettes I used a Central Point Option Board; I'm sure in C64 land you have ways of copying protected floppies. Sometimes you just have to keep making fresh copies ...

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trixter View Post
    I work in the PC world, and the only thing that has worked for me is repetition -- try to read a track 100 times, if you can't, it's gone. Sometimes you get lucky and what can't be read doesn't contain data anyway.
    I've tried reading some of them two or three times, but nowhere near a hundred. I'll up the number of reps for some of these disks. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Trixter View Post
    The only disks I try to preserve are disks I did not create (commercial software). Everything else, if the disk starts to have problems, I get what I can off of it and throw the floppy away. I have at least 100 "scratch" floppies that I format and use whenever I have to have something on a floppy, but I never try to "resurrect" old floppies to working condition, it's not worth the time and eventual future loss.
    For the most part I don't care about saving original disks or cracked copies of games -- I figure most of those have been preserved a dozen times over at this point. Mostly what I'm trying to save are disks with labels like "Joey's BASIC Programs" or "Bill's Book," stuff like that.

    I do agree with you, reformatting and reusing old floppies with read errors on them is just asking for troubles and sorrow.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by mbbrutman View Post
    Maybe the diskettes are not the problem. Maybe it's the drive?
    In this case, it's the disks. I've tried multiple 1541 and 1571 drives on the Commodore ones and I have half a dozen PC 5 1/4 floppy drives that I rotate through occasionally.

    Really what I was hoping to hear was that there was some way to clean these disks off, like with compressed air or alcohol or something, that would make them last just a little bit longer. It doesn't sound like that's the case.

  8. #8

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    Might be worth trying to clean the disk drive(s)...though since you have several, that's probably not the issue.

    Wesley

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    Like I said, it's possible, given patience and the correct hardware. I just finished (Thursday) recovering a lost file from a 70s CNC vertical mill. The issue was that there was a dropout that prevented the controller from seeing the address mark for the header. So, you create one, insert it into the data stream and then write a perfectly good duplicate on new media.

    When there is a floppy error, it seldom involves more than a few bits--but you have to be able to figure out what bits those are and what belongs where they're gone.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flack View Post
    Really what I was hoping to hear was that there was some way to clean these disks off, like with compressed air or alcohol or something, that would make them last just a little bit longer. It doesn't sound like that's the case.
    It depends on what is wrong with the disk. For the purpose of data recovery, sometimes cleaning can help.

    When recovering a disks that is in unknown condition, I always start with a visual inspection of the disk surface to see what I am up against. If there are dents or scratches in the disk surface then I know right off the bat some of the disk may be unreadable. If there is visible residue on the disk surface, then cleaning the surface with alcohol and a q-tip can help (At the very least it will help avoid contaminating the drive). Compressed air might help a tad if there is loose sand or dirt inside the disk jacket. Of course, if it looks perfectly clean and flat then there is nothing else to do.

    As mentioned, different drives can make a difference. For example for double density PC 5.25" disks, a 360k and 1.2mb drive can have radically different results.

    When backing up a disk, just assume the first time you read it may also be the last time. Get as much data off of it as you can before sitting and letting it retry, as the disk may eat itself up. (Although I have had the odd experience of a problematic disk becoming MORE readable after it ran for a while. Presumably residue got removed as it ran)

    General stuff for maintaining a collection and system: back up all the disks to other media. Don't run the system using old originals, use backup copies instead. If a disk goes bad and can't be reformatted error-free, then just trash the disk and restore to a new(er) blank disk. Thankfully you can still find disks on eBay and other places.

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