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We’re All 3 1/2″ Now

Just a quick update on the vintage 5″ floppy project: I bought a half-height Teac 1.2 MB floppy drive at OEM Parts earlier this afternoon, since I was buying silver mica caps anyway. I took the cleanest of the three or four they had on the shelf. Back home, I wrestled the side panel off an EMachines box built in 2004 and put some memory in it, then pried away the space-holder from the vacant front bay and slid the Teac drive into place.

The machine came from Best Buy with neither a floppy drive nor a floppy cable. The usual floppy drive cable connector is present on the mobo. As luck would have it (or maybe not luck so much as ancient habit) I found a very old floppy cable at the bottom of my Odd PC Junk bin. It’s the five-plug model, with two sets of both types of floppy drive data connectors. I plugged the controller end into the mobo, connected the pre-twist edge connector (that is, the one closest to the mobo) to the Teac, plugged a power connector into the drive, and powered the machine up.

XP ran as expected; it’s the old machine from our church, and I know it well. Windows knew that there was now a drive on the floppy controller, but reported it as 3 1/2″. I booted back into BIOS, but unlike the older machines I recall, there was no BIOS setting to specify what size floppy drive was in the box. Using the post-twist edge connector prevented Windows from seeing the drive at all.

I guess we’re all 3 1/2″ now, if we’re floppy at all.

The drive isn’t stone dead: When I put a 1990 TopSpeed Modula 2 floppy in it, the drive sounds like it’s indexing across the surface of the disk, but never returns any data to Windows. The drive may be bad, or the disk may be bad. Certainly the machine doesn’t appear to know what a 5″ floppy drive is. All in all, it’s really not 1990 anymore.

This was an hour’s project, not a day’s project or even an evening’s project. I’ve spent about as much time on it as I think it’s worth. I’m not going to dump the diskettes, but until a machine old enough to know 5″ from 3″ finds its way here, this is as far as I’m taking it.


  1. Tom Dison says:

    I keep an old 8088 around just in case. It has 5 1/4, a 20MB hard-drive and a CGA monitor. Still boots up last time I checked.

  2. Tom Dison says:

    By the way, this is how I knew Y2K wasn’t going to be a big deal. I changed the date on my 8088 to 2011, running Dos 6.2. Everything kept working fine.

  3. Tom R. says:

    Jeff, you may need to find Peabody and his boy Sherman for this. The most recent computer I could find here that supported the 5″ format drives was a Dell Optiplex G1. I had to go to the Dell site with the service tag just to remember what that machine was. The site said that Service tag shipped with a Pentium or Celeron processor ranging from 266 to 400 Mhz. It was the last Windows 98 box and has not been powered on in at least 5 or 6 years.

    I have a collection of old Pentiums ranging from P90’s to the one mentioned above. None currently on line. I actually had one of the P90’s on my network for a while, and I think it was running Windows 98.

    The problem isn’t going to be just getting something that runs a 5″ disk. You need something that runs a 5″ disk AND can run something that a more modern computer can also read, or at least be able to be networked to one.

    I suspect that the Optiplex might be able to run one of the less demanding Linux Distro’s such as Knoppix or DSL and should be able to read the 5 inch disk and maybe even save it to a USB stick if you don’t want to network an old dinosaur.

  4. Lee Hart says:

    3-1/4″? You meant 3.5″, I’m sure. Boy, it *has* been a long time since you used floppies, Jeff! 🙂

    An 8088 machine will support 360k 5.25″ and 720k 3.5″; but probably not 1.2meg 5.25″ or 3.5″ 1.44meg disks. Different disk controller, different data rates.

    I have a 386 PC that I’m pretty sure will support all four formats. It’s running Win3.1 and has a 360k 5.25″ and 3.5″ 1.44meg drives in it right now, and they both work. If you don’t find any other options, I’ll see if I have a good 5.25″ 1.2meg drive I can put in it to read and copy these disks for you.

    1. Yikes! Forgive me if I fix that, because if people are googling for the topic, I want them to be able to find it.

      But once again, working too fast.

  5. Mike Bentley says:

    I still have a couple boxes of 8″ floppies. Some of the labels have *your* handwriting on them.

    1. Wow. That would be considerably older than anything I have here…mmm, say, 1980 or so. I haven’t had an 8″ floppy drive in-house since I gave my CP/M system to the San Jose School District in 1988, but truth be told I hadn’t used it on a regular basis since 1985 or so.

      The only odder storage unit I have (though I’m not entirely sure which box it’s in) is one of the original Bernoulli Box “cafeteria tray” cartridges–which were the proximal cause of my abandoning the Intersystems S-100 CP/M system. I bought a dual-drive 10 MB Bernoulli setup for DOS in 1985, and at that point all my writing work went to DOS on an AT-compatible. Those things were ginormous–and they ticked constantly. I was happy to dump them when smaller and better cartridge drive technology happened in the early 90s.

      1. Mike Bentley says:

        Oh, lets see what else we have here, come to think of it. I think we have one (1) glass jar of nuts and bolts. I just have that memory for some reason, and I noticed it a while back because it looks like your DNA. I use plastic drawers. No idea how that wound up here. Oh, this looks promising, looks like one of your ham radio books. It has that adhesive plastic stuff on the cover you used back when, _The ARRL Antenna Book_. We do not use adhesive here, that stuff ages.

        1. It ages…but not so badly as bad paper. The ARRL used coated paper for all their books back then (some of it is on pulp now) so it may have been unnecessary on that copy of their antenna book, but I have some 60s paperbacks that are crumbling to shreds. The only thing about them that looks reasonably good is the plastic-coated cover.

          While we’re reminiscing: I vaguely recall you and Alice giving me a box of old books you found under the porch in Rochester. Most were old schoolbooks. One was so old that it actually admitted: “We do not understand where the Sun obtains its energy.” The books belonged to a Mr. Phinney. I still have the books (in a new box, I think) down in the basement. I should find them and get that exact quote about the Sun.

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