(?) Floppy Disk Repair Utiliti

From Dilip Boda

Answered By Jim Dennis, Rick Moen, Mike Orr, Jay R. Ashworth, Karl-Heinz Herrmann, John Karns

(?) I am have much many 0 track bad Floopy disks. How can i repair it?

(!) [JimD] In general I've noticed that floppy media and drives have dropped so drastically in quality that they can no longer be relied upon.
(!) [Mike] Dropped in quality? No longer be relied on? When have floppies ever excelled in reliability?
(!) [JimD] [Rant mode="on"] Read my virtual lips! Markedly DROPPED in quality. The number of drives and media failures I've encountered in the last two years has exceeded the absolute number of failures that I experienced in my first 10 years of regular computer use (despite that fact that I use them far less often then I used to).
Maybe it's just me, but every indication I've see suggests that this is a real shift. When we were spending $100 (US) on a drive and anywhere from a dollar to 50 cents each for the media --- we could usually expect to get only 1 initial failure from a box of ten (or less) and I'd usually see the drives last for three or four years of moderate use (several floppies and a few dozen file writes per day) with very few failures. Now we spend less than $20 on a floppy drive and flip a coin to see if it'll work with any given diskette.
Yes, it is possible to sacrifice quality to the point where there is no value in the commodity. I think we've now seen it with floppies.
Sadly CDR, CDRW, and DVDR related technologies are a poor substitute. I have a nice Magneto Optical (MO) drive that needs no special software or drivers! It just looks like a removable SCSI hard drive to any OS can handle such a thing. There's none of this fuss about mkisofs, just pop in the media and copy files thereto/therefrom.
The computer industry as done us a great disservice by having each company come up with it's own high capacity removable media standards (ZIP this, Jaz that, etc. This leaves no clear choice for the consumer to have high capacity, removable media with sufficient ubiquity that they know they can get media at any local office supply joint and that they can hand their media to almost any associate with a reasonable expection that it's useful to them.
[Scream! Type="blood curdling"] ARGH! [/Scream!] [Rant mode="off"]
(!) [Rick] In my experience, if the software consistently tells you that a floppy disk's track zero is bad, it usually means there really is a physical surface defect. Actual surface defects on a floppy cannot be repaired.
However, before you give up entirely on that floppy, try, while logged in as the root user[1], "fdformat /dev/fd0". /usr/sbin/fdformat performs a low-level format of the floppy, and sometimes will fix problems that originate in logical disk organisation (formatting), as opposed to surface defects.
(!) [Jay] mtools access the raw disk directly; the low-level file format of FAT volumes is wired into a library mtools uses. So maybe mtools could reach the diskettes.
Rick's right, though, mformat is more equivalent to mkfs than to a low-level format.
It's worth remembering here, too, that maybe the problem is the drive. Floppy drives do go bad sometimes, and one possible symptom of a head-carriage misalignment could be Track 0 bad.
(!) [JimD] More likely the drive head is simply being scraped clean and the fabric inside the floppy shell may actually be cleaning the media surface.
(!) [K.-H.] Also a bad drive might actually damage floppies, so every floppy inserted might be really bad afterwards. A second floppy drive in another computer comes in handy in these cases....
(!) [John] In situations where the drive isn't used a lot, particularly in larger urban or industrial environments where there is the presence of carbon in the air, the carbon will collect on plastic parts such as the head cover, and subsequently smear on the floppy.
In any event, for those so inclined, before tossing out the drive it may be worth attempting to clean the heads with isopropyl alcohol, and some kind of cotton swab, like a que tip, although I remember head cleaning kits for audio gear in years past including cotton tipped utensils on which the cotton was packed a bit more densely than a que tip - which might avoid leaving unwanted shreds of loose cotton behind. Or perhaps a camera lense cleaning tissue.
(!) [JimD] They used to sell head cleaning kits. I haven't seen floppy head cleaning kits for a few years, but they still might be available somewhere.
Smoking (as in cigarettes) and humidity (oxidation) used to be pretty common causes of occasional floppy drive failure. It may be that a large factor of the failure rate that I'm seeing recently is more due to the extremely low duty cycles on them. I'm only using floppies to install (often Kickstart) or repair (Tom's root/boot) systems these days. Even then I use CD (for most interactive installation) and CDR (once enough of a given Kickstart configuration is finalized).
Honestly I'd try using floppy cleaning kits to alleviate the problems (and have some sense of the success rate for it) if I had floppy cleaning kits available to me in the cases where I'm encountering the problem. Naturally this is usually happening to me in a server room or co-location cage at some random client's site. I should probably just find a buy a couple of cleaning kits and keep them permanently in the van (along with an extra floppy and an extra floppy/CD combo drive).
Usually out of a rack of a dozen machine I can get one of them working and use it to bring up the others. I'm getting increasing convinced that floppies are a lost cause and that I should bring in my laptop with full DHCP server, PXEboot and tftp deamon, etc --- that I should set it up for PXE installations.

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Published in Issue 84 of Linux Gazette, November 2002

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