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Floppy Failure

For the fourth day in a row now, I’ve continued working on my quest to convert all of my old Commodore 64 disks into modern D64 images. Over the past few days I’ve converted approximately 150 disks out of the 700 or so disks I still have. After handling 150 floppy disks in a row over the past few days, I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting which disks are going to convert, and which are going to be full of read errors.

Back when I first got my Commodore 64, floppy disks were roughly ten bucks for a box of ten ($1/disk). For the first few months I had my computer, especially while using a 300 baud modem, a box of ten disks would last a few weeks. By the time I graduated to 1200 baud, I was filling one side of a disk each night.

Keep in mind that you were only supposed to use one side (the front) of a floppy disk. The back side was not “notched” and by default, could not be written to. The simplest solution to this was purchasing a disk notcher, which ran around $5. After floppies were notched, you could write to the back side of them as well, doubling their capacity. There were all sorts of reasons people gave why one should not do this. Some people said that the backsides of disks weren’t quality checked, and were prone to data loss (maybe true). One person once told me that the dust filters inside disks were only meant to run clockwise — when run counter-clockwise (when the disk was in upside down), the filters would essentially run in reverse, dumping any collected dust directly into your drive. I can’t imagine that’s true. Regardless of whether or not it was good practice, I was young, broke, and desperate for disk space. I used the backsides of disks whenever I could.

By the time my parents were driving me all over the city so that I could trade games in person with fellow Commodore 64 owners, I was going through blank disks like mad. Mail order companies began delivering diskettes much cheaper than the stores — maybe $60 or $70 per hundred, vs. the still going rate of a buck a disk at retail stores. None of my friends nor I had $60 or $70, so we would all chip in and split a hundred pack two, three, sometimes four ways. It kept us going.

At the time I don’t remember these disks feeling or performing any different than the name brand floppies sold in stores, but boy can I sure tell a difference now. Some of the floppies I pull out of my old disk box are stiff as a board and as thick as cardboard. I haven’t had a single one that felt like that fail me. Others slide out of their old disk sleeves almost like an undercooked slice of cheese pizza, drooping over my fingertips. You can practically see the 1’s and 0’s falling off the disk. Those are the disks that are failing with multiple read errors.

The other disks that are failing almost without exception are my first hundred or so disks. Keep in mind that I was a Commodore user for basically a decade, meaning the earlier disks in my collection are years older than the later ones. As I mentioned earlier this week, I recently read on the net that the average lifespan of a 5 1/4 floppy disk was six months. Some of my earliest disks are 21 and 22 years old — the “younger” ones are merely 15 years old. Apparently those few extra years, combined with the cheap ass brands of floppy disks I used over the years, are finally catching up with me.

Surprisingly, I haven’t run into any disks yet that are completely unreadable. The ones that are bad simply have random bad sectors, usually near the beginning or the end of the disk. Once I’m done with this conversion project I’ll have to go back through and test them all, seeing what still works and what doesn’t. It’s the project that never ends, I tell ya.

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1 comment to Floppy Failure

  • Joe Bucci

    Hi, I was fortunate enough to have had a 1581 3-1/2″ disk drive. They contained mostly GEOS stuff, but there were also “Super-Snapshotted” programs that I had transferred to 3-1/2″ format.

    I built my own X1541 cable back in the early 90’s, and transferred all my 5-1/4″ floppies years ago!

    One result is… I have the only WORKING copy of “Bank Street Music Writer” from Mindscape. Yes, there are a couple of versions available on the net, but none of them work. Even the “so-called” original disk image.

    Thanks, and “stay with it”. :) I’m sure you’ll have things that SOME old C64 user would be THRILLED to have!

    Good Luck,

    Joe Bucci