With the last manufacturer of 3.5″ floppy disks (FDs) having shut down in 2010, those who are still using this type of storage medium for production and/or retrocomputing purposes have to increasingly rely on a dwindling stack of new old stock, or the used market. With the purported unreliability of this type of magnetic media in mind, what are the chances of a box of used FDs — whether DD or HD format — still working in 2023? That’s the question which [VWestLife] set out to answer in a recent video when he bought a stash of these real-life save icons in 720 kB format from eBay.
To his delight, he found that he could read most of the disks without issues, revealing contents that had been on there since the 1990s. All but four also could be formatted without issues, the problematic disks reported bad sectors, which was a bit of a bummer. As a practical demonstration of how fun magnetic media is, he then proceeded to try and fix these four disks with a bulk eraser tool. This is a rather brute-force tool that uses a rapidly fluctuating electromagnetic field to scramble the bits on magnetic media.
As the cause of reported bad sectors and other issues can be due to sector alignment issues from years of constant writing by different drives, this may sometimes fix a disk. In this case one of the bad disks was fixed, while a second still showed bad sectors while the remaining two refused to format at all. Assuming one can get a box of old FDs for cheap and has a few hours to kill, it’s not a bad way to refill that stack of empty FDs.
Floppies may be big in Japan, but nostalgic and/or needful Stateside floppy enthusiasts needn’t fret — just use AOL keyword point that browser toward floppydisk.com. There, you can buy new floppies of all sizes, both new and old, recycle your disks, or send them in to get all that precious vintage stuff transferred off of them.
That delightfully Web 1.0 site is owned by Tom Persky, who fancies himself the ‘last man standing in the floppy disk business’. Who are we to argue? By the way, Tom has owned that address since approximately 1990 — evidently that’s when a cyber-squatter offered up the domain for $1,000, and although Tom scoffed at paying so much as $1 for any URL, his wife got the checkbook out, and he has had her to thank for it ever since.
My business, which used to be 90% CD and DVD duplication, is now 90% selling blank floppy disks. It’s shocking to me. — Tom Persky
Tom also owns diskduper.com, which is where he got his start with floppies — by duplicating them. In the 80s and 90s, being in this business was a bit like cranking out legal tender in the basement. As time wore on and more companies stopped selling floppies or simply went under, the focus of Tom’s company shifted away from duplication and toward sales. Whereas the business was once 90% duplication and 10% floppy sales, in 2022, those percentages have flopped places, if you will.
Ahh, floppy disks. Few things carry nostalgia quite like a floppy — either 3 1⁄2 or 5 1⁄4, depending on which generation of hacker you happen to be. (And yes, we hear you grey-beards, 8-inch floppies were definitely a thing.) The real goodies aren’t the floppies themselves, but what they carried, like Wolfenstein 3d, Commander Keen, DOS, or any number of other classics from the past. Unfortunately a bunch of floppy disks these aren’t carrying anything anymore, as bit rot eventually catches up with them. Even worse, on some trashed floppies, a format operation fails, too. Surely, these floppies are destined for the trash, right? Continue reading “Magnetic Maniac Manages Mangled Memory”→
There are times when a technology goes almost overnight as if in a puff of smoke, and others when they fade away gradually over time to the point at which their passing is barely noticed. So it is with removable media, while we still have the occasional USB flash disk or SD card , they do not come anywhere near the floppies, Zip disks, and CD-ROMs of the past in their numbers or ubiquity. If the floppy disk is just a save icon to you there’s still the chance to experience their retro charm though, courtesy of [Franklinstein]. He’s made a 3.5″ floppy disk that eschews 720 k, 1.44 M, or even 2.88 Mb, and goes all the way with a claimed 512 Gb capacity. We’re sure we can’t remember these from back in the day!
Of course as we can see in the video below he’s achieved neither an astounding feat of data compression nor a bleeding-edge method of storing bits in individual iron oxide molecules. Instead the floppy hinges open, and there’s a holder for micro SD cards where the disk itself would be. It’s a bit of fun, and we have to agree with him that it makes a very handy holder for micro SDs that can carry that much data. This sets us wondering though, whether it would be possible to somehow multiplex 14 micro SDs to a microcontroller on a PCB that could fit in a floppy shell. Perhaps an ESP32 could be a slow file server through a web interface?
On [Jan Derogee]’s desk is something that wouldn’t look out of place for many of us, a pile of computer magazines with a case of 3.5″ floppy disks on top of it. The causal observer would see nothing more than the detritus of a retrocomputer enthusiast’s existence, but stick around. In fact it’s a clock, and one of the most unusual ones we’ve seen in a long time.
How can a box of floppies tell us the time? Selected disks have custom labels that look as though they might be authentic game collections, but in reality are fakes that carry numbers alongside the game art. An ingenious system of cams hidden in the hollowed out pile of magazines raises the correct floppies to tell the time, hours on the left row and minutes to the closest five minutes on the right. The floppies are modified by the removal of some plastic and the disk itself, because early versions had a habit of shredding disks. A final touch comes in the form of a Nokia phone on the desk next to the clock which plays a tune in lieu of chimes on the hour. You can see the clock in action in the video below the break.
There was a time when booting Linux from a floppy disk was the norm, but of course, those days are long gone. Even if you still had a working 3.5 inch drive, surely the size of the modern kernel alone would far exceed the 1.44 MB capacity of the disks, to say nothing of all the support software required to create a usable operating system. Well that’s what we thought, anyway.
But then [Krzysztof Krystian Jankowski] dropped Floppinux, a live Linux OS that boots from just a single floppy. There’s even a few hundred KB left over on the disk, allowing the user to tuck a few of their own programs and scripts onboard before booting it up. But most impressively, the project doesn’t rely on ancient software releases like so many other embedded systems do. Every component of Floppinux is pulled directly from the cutting edge, including version 5.13.0-rc2 of the Linux kernel which is literally just a few days old.
Of course some concessions had to made in order cram the latest Linux kernel and build of BusyBox into slightly north of 1 MB, so Floppinux certainly isn’t what anyone would call a daily driver. The kernel is stripped down the absolute minimum, and is targeted for the decidedly poky i486. [Krzysztof] had to be very selective about which programs actually made the cut as well, so once the system is booted, there’s not a whole lot you can do with it outside of writing some shell scripts. But then, that was sort of the goal to begin with.
If you’re wondering how [Krzysztof] pulled it off, you don’t have to. He walks you though the entire process, down to the commands he used to do everything from pull down and compile the source code to creating the final disk image. Even if you don’t own a floppy drive, it’s well worth following his guide and booting the image up in QEMU just to say you’ve officially built a Linux system from scratch. It’s good for more than just bragging rights; learning how all the components of a minimal install like this fits together will no doubt come in handy the next time you find yourself poking around inside an embedded Linux device.
We remember the floppy disk as the storage medium most of us used two decades or more ago, limited in capacity and susceptible to data loss. It found its way into a few unexpected uses such as Sony’s Mavica line of digital cameras, but outside those who maintain and use older equipment it’s now ancient history.
Seemingly not for [Terence Eden] though, who has made a portable audio player that uses a floppy disk as its storage medium. It came about with the realization that half an hour of extremely compressed audio could be squeezed onto a standard 3.5 inch floppy, and then that the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album comes in at only a shade over that time. With some nifty manipulation of the compression command line and the judicious removal of some unnecessary metadata, the album can fit on a floppy in equivalent quality to the AM radio fans would have heard it over back in 1964.
The player would have been a major undertaking when the floppy was king, but in 2020 it’s simply a USB floppy drive, a Raspberry Pi, and a battery pack. He’s given us the full instructions, and no doubt a more permanent version could be built with a 3D-printed case.