I’m currently imaging 3.5 inch diskettes using AccessData FTK Imager, and the process has involved a certain amount of déjà vu. I came of age in the 1990s, when 3.5 inch diskettes were the workhorses of logical storage. With the advent of flash drives and cloud storage, however, I’d forgotten some of the special quirks of dealing with floppies and floppy drives. I offer some tips here in the hopes that readers will find them useful.
- The great division between Windows and Mac applies to floppies. Because of the way the disks are formatted, only Apple computers can read disks formatted for Apples, and only Windows PCs can read disks formatted for Windows. Also, some external floppy drives are more compatible with certain systems; I’ve found the Digital Intelligence Forensic Floppy Drive works well with both Windows and Mac, while a more generic Fujitsu drive works best with Windows.
- Remember to write protect your floppies. I’m using two floppy disk drives to image disks: one has a write blocker, the other doesn’t. I’ve made sure that the drive with the write blocker is set to “read only.” For the other drive, I have to check each floppy before I image it to make sure that the read/write tab (the tab in the upper left corner on the back of the disk) is up and that a hole is visible below it. (This is the read only position for 3.5 inch floppies.) Otherwise, I run the risk of unintentionally altering the disk.
- It may take several tries to read a floppy. I’m on my second pass through the 3.5 inch disks in the collection, largely because I was fairly certain the disk drive hadn’t actually read some of the disks on the first pass through. I’ve learned to figure out by sound when the drive is actually trying the read the disk and when it’s just spinning.
- 3.5 inch diskettes and their drives are made of moving parts. 3.5 inch diskettes have shutters and springs. The shutter is the metal or plastic clamp at the bottom; it moves back and forth to allow the drive to read the magnetic disk inside, and is held in place by a spring. If the shutter is not completely clamped around the disk housing, it may get caught in the disk drive, and it takes some delicate maneuvering to extract the disk. Sometimes it isn’t possible to extract the disk in one piece, and further work is needed to remove the remaining pieces (usually the shutter and spring) from the drive. It pays to check diskettes beforehand to make sure the shutters aren’t loose! Fortunately, our Digital Archivist, Peter Chan, has discovered that disks with loose or missing shutters can be repaired, and data can be recovered from them.
To see the parts of a 3.5 inch diskette, go to http://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/dissect_disk.html.
For more information on how 3.5 inch disk drives work, go to http://www.howstuffworks.com/floppy-disk-drive2.htm.