Problems with Floppy Disks
By Stephen Bucaro
With the advent of the rewritable CD (CD-RW) many people are predicting the demise of
the venerable floppy disk. Today's computers can even boot from the CD drive. But if your
computer is not connected to a network, there is no quicker way to back-up or share a file.
Problems with the floppy drive are rare, but that is not the case with floppy disks
themselves. Floppy disks are made super cheap and are very unreliable. Also, floppy
disks are sensitive to magnetic fields. If you place a floppy disk on top of your
monitor, your computer case, or any metal object, you risk corrupting the disk. If you
have a problem reading a floppy disk, it is almost always a bad disk.
Use the following troubleshooting guide:
• Can't read a floppy disk
If you have another system, check to see if the drive in that system is able to read the
disk. If the disk works in a different drive, begin by checking for obvious problems.
It is not unknown to find an object like a Post-It note or the metal slide protector
from a previous disk stuck inside a drive.
• Can't write to a floppy disk
Again, begin by checking for obvious problems. Make sure the floppy disk is not write
protected. On a 3.5" disk you should be able to see through the hole in the upper-right
corner of the disk (looking at the labeled side of the disk). If there are no files
already on the disk, try to re-format it.
• Can't boot from a floppy drive
If your operating system is Windows 2000, or Windows XP Professional, you can't boot
from a floppy disk with these systems. Otherwise, make sure the disk you have is a
bootable disk. It needs to have been created as a "startup disk" or formatted with the
"copy system files" option button selected.
• More complex problems
In order to start faster, today's systems are usually set in the BIOS to boot from the
hard disk drive first. Check the boot sequence in the BIOS setup. If the boot sequence
starts with the letter of a hard disk drive (like C:), and that drive is having a
problem, the system will never even attempt to boot from the floppy disk drive. Go to
BIOS setup, and set the boot sequence to start with A.
In some companies, the floppy drives are disabled for security reasons. This is done by
either disabling the onboard FDD controller in the BIOS setup, or by removing the power
cable or data cable from the drive inside the computer.
• Weird problems
Sometimes when a technician is working inside a computer, they will temporarily remove
the data cable from the floppy drive in order to get easier access to another component.
They may fail to replace the cable properly, or put the cable on backwards. If the
floppy drive's LED is always on, the data cable may be reversed.
Sometimes a floppy disk can be read on the system that it was originally formatted on,
but cannot be read on another system and vice versa. This is usually caused by the fact
that the head of the floppy drive on one system is out of alignment.
As with all Windows(tm) systems, sometimes the operating system gets confused. If your
system can't recognize the floppy drive or can't read any floppy disks, try rebooting the system.
If you are having a problem with a floppy disk, remember they are made super cheap and
are not meant to be reliable, but they can still serve a very utilitarian purpose.
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