Remember the diskette? Back in the day, they were very important. Eventually, they were replaced, and the floppy disk drive disappeared from the new computer. Here’s how to access a vintage 3.5 or 5.25 inch floppy disk on a modern Windows or Mac PC.
There a Catch: Copying Data Is the Easy Part
Before we begin, you must understand the great warning. What we will discuss here – copying data from a vintage floppy disk to a modern PC – is only half of the battle. After you copy the data, you must be able to read it. It might be locked in a vintage file format that can’t be understood by modern software.
You must know how to access or convert data using an emulator, such as DOSBox or other utilities, that are outside the scope of this article.
How to Copy Files from a 3.5-Inch Floppy Drive to a Modern PC
If you have a 3.5-inch diskette formatted for MS-DOS or Windows that you want to copy to a modern Windows 10 or Windows 7 PC, you’re in luck. This is the easiest format to use. 3.5-inch floppy drives have survived as legacy products long after their 1.44MB capacity became relatively small. As a result, there are many semi-modern drives and solutions available. We will discuss options from the easiest to the most difficult.
Option 1: Use a New USB Floppy Drive
If you explore Amazon, Newegg, or even eBay, you’ll find lots of cheap, modern 3.5-inch USB floppy drives (anywhere from $ 10 to $ 30). If you are in a hurry and want a plug-and-play solution for only one or two disks, this might be worth a try.
However, in our experience, these drives are often frustrating because they are not reliable. So, before you dive, read some reviews. Make sure you are okay with risking your old data on a drive that might only cost a few dollars.
Option 2: Use a Vintage USB Floppy Drive
In the late 90s and early 00s, many thin laptop manufacturers (such as HP, Sony, and Dell) also produced external USB floppy drives. This vintage drive has a much higher quality part than the cheap USB drives now on Amazon. They are also still new enough to work without repairs.
We recommend searching on eBay for something like “Sony USB floppy drive,” and try your luck with one of them. Most are still supported as plug-and-play devices by Windows 10.
Even with branding, you don’t need a drive that matches your PC. For example, a Sony USB floppy drive will function when connected to a USB port on any Windows PC.
Option 3: Use an Internal Floppy Drive with a Cheap USB Adapter
If you are looking for more roll-your-own challenges, you can also buy a vintage 3.5-inch internal floppy drive. Maybe you even have one sitting around. You can connect it to a generic floppy-to-USB adapter.
You can attach an external power supply to the floppy drive with the right adapter. Another option is to install the drive and adapter internally in the computer case, and then use the SATA power adapter there. We have not tested the board yet, so continue at your own risk.
Option 4: Use a Vintage Computer with a Floppy Drive and Network Connection
If you have an older Windows 98, ME, XP, or 2000 PC or laptop with Ethernet and a 3.5-inch floppy drive, it might be able to read and copy the floppy to the computer’s hard drive. Then, you can copy data through your LAN to a modern PC.
The hardest part is making sure the LAN network between your vintage and modern machines is functioning properly. That happened to make Windows file sharing from various eras play well with each other.
You can also upload files to an FTP site (maybe, via a local NAS server), and then download them to your modern PC.
How to Copy PC Files from a 5.25-Inch Floppy Drive to a Modern PC
If you have a 5.25-inch floppy disk formatted for MS-DOS or Windows that you want to copy to a modern Windows PC, you have a more difficult task ahead of you. This is because the 5.25-inch diskette fell out of ordinary use in the mid-1990s, so finding a functioning 5.25-inch floppy drive can be a challenge.
Let’s look at the options for copying data to a modern PC from the easiest to the most difficult.
Option 1: Use an FC5025 USB Adapter and a 5.25-Inch Internal Floppy Drive
A small company called Device Data Side manufactures and adapters called FC5025. This allows you to use a 5.25-inch internal floppy disk drive to copy data from a 5.25-inch disk in various formats via a USB cable to a modern PC. Boards cost around $ 55.
However, you also need all the necessary cables, a power supply with a Molex connector for the drive, and, perhaps, a vintage 5.25-inch external drive bay cover if you want a good unit. After you set it up, the FC5205 is definitely worth it. This is very helpful if you also have a 5.25-inch disk for non-IBM PC systems (like Apple II) that you want to back up.
FC5025 copies floppy data to a disk image file, so you will also need a disk drawing tool, such as WinImage, to read and extract data.
Option 2: Use Kryoflux with a 5.25-Inch Internal Floppy Drive
Like the FC5025, KryoFlux is a floppy-to-USB adapter that requires a lot of settings to work. Again, you need a KryoFlux board, a 5.25-inch vintage floppy drive, a power supply, cable, and, maybe, a cover.
Kryoflux copies disk data to disk image file. You can then use it with an emulator or access it with a disk image tool, such as WinImage.
The advantage of KryoFlux is that it can back up protected disks, or disks in many other system formats (Apple II, C64, etc.), and it does so with a high degree of accuracy.
KryoFlux does have some disadvantages. First, it costs more than $ 100.
Second, it is aimed at the preservation of academic software markets rather than the general consumer. This is why backing up, or even accessing data on, a disk is not a very user-friendly operation.
Option 3: Use a Vintage Computer with a Floppy Drive and Network Connection
If you have an old PC running Windows 98 or ME with Ethernet and a 5.25-inch floppy drive, it might be able to read the floppy so you can copy data over LAN to a modern PC.
Just like the 3.5-inch drive options, you might have problems sharing Windows files to function properly between vintage and modern PCs.
There are several other options. One of them is uploading the file to the FTP server from the old machine, and then downloading it from the server to a newer computer.
How to Copy Files from a 3.5-Inch Floppy Drive to a Modern Mac
The process of reading a floppy disk on a Mac depends on the type of disk you want to read. We will discuss each type in the following section.
1.44MB Mac Floppies
If you have a 1.44MB Mac floppy, modern Macs running macOS 10.14 Mojave or older should be able to read it with a vintage, USB floppy drive.
Many people prefer the Imation SuperDisk LS-120 USB drive. This is a ZIP drive competitor that reads the original high capacity and ordinary diskette, 1.44 MB diskette. You can still find this at reasonable prices on eBay. You can also use Sony’s vintage floppy drive or HP USB.
If your machine is running macOS 10.15 or newer, you have no luck when it comes to native USB floppy support. Apple removed support for the Hierarchical File System (HFS) on vintage Mac diskettes that began with Catalina. There may be some technical solutions, including returning HFS support, but this is complex, and options still appear.
IBM PC 3.5-Inch Floppies
If you want your Mac to read IBM 3.5-inch IBM PC diskette format, you can use a vintage PC USB floppy drive. (Ironically, Catalina can still read the FAT12 file system used by vintage MS-DOS diskettes, but not on old Mac disks.)
We tried a Sony VAIO floppy drive with an iMac 2013. There was no difficulty reading files on a solid 3.5-inch IBM PC disk format. You might be able to find a good Sony floppy drive or HP USB on eBay.
400 or 800 K Mac Floppies
If you have a 400 or 800 K Mac floppy, things get a lot more complicated. The disk drive that writes this uses a special encoding called GCR. This technique is not physically supported on most 3.5-inch USB floppy drives.
However, recently, a new option called AppleSauce appeared for archiving Mac 400/800 K. disks. This is a USB adapter that allows you to connect vintage Apple II and Macintosh floppy drives to modern Macs and read vintage floppy disks with incredible accuracy.
The biggest disadvantage is the price – the Deluxe version you need to read a Mac floppy is $ 285. This is mostly because it is a complex hobby product, the volume is very low. With this device and the appropriate vintage drive, you can read your diskette into a disk image that can be used with an emulator or extracted with other tools.
All Mac Floppy Disks
For all Mac Disks, your best way might be to find a desk or vintage Mac laptop with a 3.5-inch SuperDrive that can read and write 400/800 K, and a 1.44MB disk. Try to find a machine from the era of the creamy G3 that was still shipped by disk. The newer the better, because you tend not to have improvements to make it work.
From there you can use the network to copy files between vintage and modern Mac, but that is another worm, all of it.
Complicated, But There Is Hope
When backing up an old floppy disk, all possible combinations of drive, system and format consist of various complex strategies that we might not discuss here.
Fortunately, there are other resources if you need something more complex, such as accessing an 8-inch floppy drive containing CP / M files. Herb Johnson manages a site full of impressive technical data on various floppy disk systems if you want to learn more about how it works.