Reading 5.25" Floppy Disks

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This article presumes that the reader has a working 5.25" floppy drive, a connector cable and a computer that has a corresponding connector on the motherboard (34 pin ATA/ATAPI).

Setting up the drive and the computer

1. Open the computer and position the drive in an empty slot in the drive rack. You might need to remove a small metal sheet and the corresponding plastic cover from the case.

2. Connect the drive to the main board using the connector cable. The cable itself can only be connected in one way to the drive because of the plastic division bar in the connector. However, it might be possible to connect the cable in the wrong position to the motherboard.

The image shows the ends of two different floppy drive connectors. These ends are used to connect the cable to the motherboard. One of the connectors has a plastic knob on the long side, whereas the other one has none. This means that the connector on the right could be plugged in wrongly. If the connector doesn't have a plastic knob, but the socket has a notch for connectors that do have one, then the connector has to be plugged in with the two dents (which are present at both models) facing the side of the notch.
Warning:: Connecting the cable in the wrong way can destroy the floppy disk and make it unreadable and unusable.

3. Connect the electricity cable to the drive.

4. Close the computer case, connect all the necessary cables, including a network cable (to load the rescued files to a different computer later on) and start the computer.

5. Setting the drive in the BIOS of the computer. This step greatly depends on the manufacturer and the model of the computer. The BIOS can usually be entered by either pressing "Del", "Esc", or one of the function keys (F1-F12). The new floppy drive has to be selected as one of the floppy drives of this computer. It is important to note whether it is selected as the primary or secondary floppy drive, as this might has an influence on the later steps. For this tutorial the 5.25" floppy drive was selected as the secondary floppy drive, since the already present 3.5" floppy drive remains selected as the primary floppy drive.

6. The following steps for reading the data from the floppy drive where done using a Linux distribution called Damn Small Linux (DSL). It is a small Linux system which can be run from a CD without installing any additional software. The following steps can however also be done using any other Linux system, regardless of whether it is run from a Live-CD or installed).

7. Once Linux has booted, the user should open the Linux shell and create a directory "data" within the current home directory. The shell shortcut for the current home directory is ~ and on DSL the home directory is /home/dsl/. The command to create that directory would therefore be:

mkdir /home/dsl/data

8. If it doesn't already exist, one should also create a directory in which the floppy drive can be mounted. On DSL the directory /mnt/floppy already exists, but any other empty directory will work as well, e.g. /home/dsl/floppy. So if one wants to use a different directory or the default directory doesn't exist, one can create a new directory analog to previous command.

Reading the data from the floppy

9. Mount the floppy drive.

sudo mount -r -t msdos /dev/fd1 /mnt/floppy
  • sudo means that the command will be executed as the superuser.
  • mount is the actual mount command.
  • -r means that the drive is read-only.
  • -t msdos means that the floppy drive is DOS formatted. The alternative would be -f ext2 for Linux formatted floppies.
  • /dev/fd1 is the floppy device, if the floppy drive is selected as the secondary floppy drive. If the floppy drive is selected as the primary floppy drive, one has to use /dev/fd0.
  • /mnt/floppy is the directory to which the floppy disk will be mounted.

10. Go to the directory where the floppy is mounted

cd /mnt/floppy

11. Show the content of the floppy

ls -l

12. Copy the content of the floppy to the data directory created previously.

cp -r -p * /home/dsl/data
  • -r is for the recursive mode, so subdirectories will be copied as well
  • -p is for the preserve mode, which means that the timestamps, ownership status and access rights flags of the files will be preserved
  • * means that all the files will be copied

13. Go to the home directory

cd /home/dsl/

14. Create a zip file of the data data directory

zip -r /home/dsl/data

15. If further floppies need to be read, then remove all the files in the data directory

rm -fr /home/dsl/data/*

16. Unmount the floppy drive.

sudo umount /dev/fd1

In order to process further floppies, repeat the steps 9 to 16 and rename the zip file in step 14 accordingly.

17. There are several ways to get the zip-files with the rescued data to another computer. One could save the files on a flash drive or on the regular hard drive of the computer used (in both cases the drives need to be mounted with writing permission first).

  • 17.1 Plug in the USB flash drive
  • 17.2 figure out the adress of the drive, using the dmesg command
at the end of the print out, there should be the log of the operating system recognizing the flash drive, which should look something like this:
usb 1-5: new high speed USB device using ehci_hcd and address 2
scsi0 : SCSI emulation for USB Mass Storage devices
usb-storage: device found at 2
usb-storage: waiting for device to settle before scanning
  Vendor: USB 2.0   Model: USB Flash Drive   Rev: 1100
  Type:   Direct-Access                      ANSI SCSI revision: 04
SCSI device sda: 7975296 512-byte hdwr sectors (4083 MB)
sda: Write Protect is off
sda: Mode Sense: 43 00 00 00
sda: assuming drive cache: write through
SCSI device sda: 7975296 512-byte hdwr sectors (4083 MB)
sda: Write Protect is off
sda: Mode Sense: 43 00 00 00
sda: assuming drive cache: write through
 sda: sda1
Attached scsi removable disk sda at scsi0, channel 0, id 0, lun 0
usb-storage: device scan complete
in this case, the drive is attached to the block address sda1
  • 17.4 create a directory to mount the USB drive to
sudo mkdir /mnt/usb
  • 17.5 mount the usb drive
sudo mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/usb
  • 17.6 copy the data to the flash drive
cp data*.zip /mnt/usb/
  • 17.7 unmount the flash drive
sudo umount /dev/sda1

  • An alternative would be to upload the data to another computer via the LAN or the Internet. This could for example be done via FTP. The easiest way however will probably be just to upload the files via a web form to a web server from where the data can be retrieved later. This could be a specifically designed page for that purpose or a third party site, like webmail providers or file storage sites.

Warning:: Once the Linux running from a Live-CD is shut down, all the data of the current session (including the data within the home directory) is lost unless it has been saved to a specified permanent storage drive (e.g. a flash drive or the regular hard drive of the current computer). By default running Linux from a Live-CD will not alter the host system. So do not shut the system down, unless the data has been copied or otherwise saved.