ARCHIVED: Why did my floppy disk suddenly fail?

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Note: During summer 2008, UITS retired the last floppy disk drives in all Student Technology Centers (STCs) and Residential Technology Centers (RTCs). For more information, see ARCHIVED: Floppy disk drives phased out of Windows STCs.

Floppy disks are not very durable. The functional part of a floppy is a flimsy plastic circle coated with magnetic material. Floppies are cheap and convenient to carry, but they will eventually deteriorate, and they often fail suddenly and without warning. For this reason, you should consider using more reliable media for file storage, such as your computer's hard drive, a flash drive, or, for the Indiana University community, your Oncourse CL Resources. (For more information, see ARCHIVED: File storage in Oncourse.) Floppies are suitable only for temporary transport.

Floppy disks are vulnerable to extreme heat (more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit), extreme cold (temperatures at or below freezing), extreme humidity, water damage, dust, bending, and physical damage from other objects.

Here are some common reasons for disk damage:

  • Improper housing: Most disks are improperly stored. Though it is tempting to keep diskettes in the box or plastic sleeve they came in, or to drop them into your backpack, purse, or briefcase, a diskette case specifically designed for the purpose of transporting disks is a much safer option.
  • Physical abuse: Handling your disk in a rough manner such as writing on it with a ball-point pen, yanking it out of the floppy drive when you are finished, or tossing it like a Frisbee can destroy your disk. Press very gently when writing on diskette labels. Yanking a diskette out of the computer drive (especially if the light on the drive hasn't turned off yet) can tear the metal dust cover off of your disk and will damage your floppy drive. To avoid catastrophe, handle disks carefully.
  • Magnetic scrambling: Common household appliances such as phones and stereo speakers have magnets in them that can scramble the data on your disks. Don't set your disks on top of a cabinet-style stereo speaker. Don't put a phone receiver down on top of a disk.
  • Freezing and frying: If you leave disks in extreme heat or cold, they will melt or freeze. The most common cause of heat damage is leaving a disk inside a car. Inside a hot car, a disk can be ruined in just a few hours, especially if it's directly exposed to the sun.
  • Drowning: If you get liquid into the magnetic media of a disk, the disk will probably be ruined. If the liquid is anything other than pure water, the residue left behind when the water evaporates will gum up the disk. If you spill cool water on a disk, you might be able to revive it by letting it dry out for several days. Other liquids are likely to ruin the disk. If you try to run the disk while it's still wet, you will damage the disk and possibly your floppy disk drive.
  • Dust: Disks hate dust. In any dusty environment, grit will eventually work itself into the disk and scratch the magnetic media, damaging the disk. Avoid exposing disks (or any other computer equipment) to dusty environments. If you must take a disk into a dusty environment, make sure that it's properly stored, or at least covered.

When you see a disk error, stop using the disk. Stop attempting to open damaged files. The more you attempt to use a damaged disk or file, the less likely a successful recovery becomes.

When a disk error has occurred, you can try to recover the damaged file(s) with utility programs that search the disk and attempt to read bad areas, such as Norton Utilities or First Aid. However, repairing damaged files or disks can be risky, and it is possible to make the problem worse. Unless you have the recovery software manual in your hands and have read and understood it thoroughly, you would be wise to seek professional assistance with the recovery.

This is document ahfi in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2018-01-18 12:46:58.