His Floppy Flopped

Hi Fred, I appreciate the time and effort you put into the newsletter. I have a  little problem with my floppy drive, it will only read raw data and will not write at all. I usually click before I read and It appears I clicked at the wrong time. Would appreciate help to get my floppy drive back. Thanks. I look forward to every issue. —Bob Hurley

Floppies are fairly crude devices, and can suffer a number of maladies. But first, let me ask the obvious: Is the floppy disc’s read-only tab OK? If you hold a floppy face up, with the metal shutter facing you (so it would slide to your right, in use) look at the square opening in the upper right corner of the floppy. If the floppy is ready for read/write operation, you should NOT be able to see through the opening. Instead, it should be opaque or solid; covered with a sliding tab or stick-on material. If you can see through the square opening in the upper right corner of the floppy then the floppy is set in "read-only" mode, and cannot be written to. (Also, some floppies— especially ones that installation software ships on— have no such opening at all: they’re permanently read-only and cannot be used for write operations, period.)

OK, assuming it’s not that: Normally, with hardware failures, I’d suggest you look at driver issues; but read-but-no-write doesn’t sound driver-ish to me. It’s worth a quick check, but my guess it’s *not* a driver issue.

One of the most common is plain old dust and dirt: A PC’s fans may draw air in through the floppy’s door, over time leading to an astonishing amount of crud accumulating inside. If the read/write head gets encrusted with a dustball or other debris, you’ll have problems.

The ka-chunk-chunk-chunk sound you normally hear from a floppy is the head moving to certain, set positions to read or write data on the floppy. Over time, the head can drift out of alignment so it’s no longer properly positioned, leading to read-write failures, or the inability to swap floppies with other machines.

The data cable running between the floppy and the motherboard also may work loose at either or both ends; or corrosion can form on the contacts; leading to total or partial failures.

And floppy discs themselves wear out over time.

I’d suggest you use a can of Dust-Off or other air-in-a-can to blow out the guts of your floppy drive; and to check the electrical and data connections on the back. There are alignment tools and other sophisticated ways of further fixing floppy problems, but I doubt they’re worth it: You can find a brand-new floppy drive on Froogle for under $10, so it’s just not worth a lot of time and effort to try to rehab a dying floppy. Just get a new one!



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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.