Recovering old Floppy Disks using a Kryoflux

vbimport

#1

Hello all,

While the floppy disk is well and truly dead in 2013, some of you guys might still have some lying around in desks, drawers, cupboards and garages. Maybe some of these are in less common formats for specific machines and you want to relive some of the nostalgia of the 80’s and 90’s.

In that case, you might be interested in my recent review (in multiple parts) covering my experience with the Kryoflux. This is a USB connected “high resolution flux sampler” designed to read disks of many different formats including Atari, Apple, Amiga, IBM and more!

I cover the hardware itself, the motivation for doing it, practical considerations and hints, hidden data discovered, and making use of the recovered data.

It’s quite a long read, but I hope you enjoy. If there’s any questions or comments, feel free to let me know.


#2

Although i love the functionality of that board, i think it’s cheaper just to order a portable usb fdd for $18. But if you require to copy your Amiga/Ataris stuff i guess the Kryoflux is a very good alternative.


#3

Portable/usb fdds seem to be quite poor at reading old floppy disks, which quite frankly, is all they’re good for.
I don’t know if you can even still get new floppy disks from shops …
Although I I’ll note that my workplace still has a few boxes, unopened …


#4

I’ve hoped I would never need such a device. Last year, we bought a range of ASROCK Extreme4 motherboards that had FDD connectors on them (and IDEs, too - great, because I can use tried-and-true DVD burners). These ASROCKs were our last salute to FDDs, though. All of ours are converted to on-line files, but I have been tempted to re-create a stack of DOS 6.11 floppies.

Anyone remember how QEMM works? I was reading an old CONFIG SYS and remember missing ‘the control’ those gave me, but going back… ugh… oh well, at least DOS 6.11 had a Start Screen - “one thing at a time”.

LUI, thanks for this article. I was wondering if such devices existed, what they’d look like and - sure enough - prayers are answered. Thanks. Hubby’s glad there’s no soldering needed, by the way - his one big complaint about me and the Raspberry PIs. Well, he WOULD complain IF I hadn’t soldered on that mouth-clamp.


#5

I just use my actual Commodore64 & it’s 5.25 floppy drives.


#6

Floppies - and those 5.25" are Real Floppies - are such incredible things. Flexible media embedded with magnetic particles, swirling around, having a Read-Write head perhaps drag against the surface, or having the interior of the disk-sleeve drag and scratch. It’s really incredible that they worked at all.

Their capacity for recorded bits and bytes are tiny and this is probably a commentary on the media’s overall quality prospects as well as the magnetic forces involved, but compared to an optic disk with such a finer, more precise read-and-write source, the Floppy’s existence remains a marvel to me.

The 3.5" case and its drive is incredibly complex, too - devising that spring-loaded cover that is tracked back and away from the media-surface, using basically the same media-material and able to increase its density substantially.

After playing with some of the slow-boat USB memory sticks, I am reminded about Write Times on those 1.44s… yawn… only another 5 minutes…


#7

[QUOTE=ChristineBCW;2685555]Anyone remember how QEMM works?[/quote] Oooh yes. I still remember that tweaking to get every last damn kilobyte back to the system.

an old CONFIG SYS and remember missing ‘the control’ those gave me
Ever made those multi config.sys and autoexec.bat files which gave you a menu like they now have in HiRens bootcd?


#8

I too had multi-Config-Autoexec groups, yes. Fun. I remember running around the house, happy to inform Father than I’d added 6k or 14k or 8k memory with QEMM, too. He applied an appreciative response to his face, and then would ask, “So, now WordPerfect still works, yes? You fixed that menu?” (Simple TXT menus splashed on-screen, listing numerically-named batch files - 00=Main Menu, 99=Park Heads/Shutdown and everything in between.)

No scrolling needed.

But my memory is definitely slipping… those DOS references should be DOS 6.33, not .11-! Holy Win3, Batman.

We’ve had dual UIs from Microsoft for a long time, now. I can’t help but get suspicious when Start Screen and Winstore Apps seem to be the direction where Sales, Verification and Tracking My Uses receive so horsepower under the code.


#9

Posting from a mobile device, so please excuse my lack of quotes.

As an owner of four (yes, four) USB floppy drives, Debro has hit it right on the head. I have ones with Teac And Mitsumi Mechanisms and they disappoint. There are several issues:

  • For precious floppies, you can’t guarantee the drive won’t write to the disk unless you write protect each and every one. I couldn’t really be stuffed. The write block on the Kryoflux breaks the connection on then WRITE_GATE control line, making writing impossible (except maybe for a fault in the drive itself).
  • For copy protected or damaged floppies, you have no idea why it won’t read. The Scatter Plot is handy for tinkerers to get an idea of what went wrong. It also teaches you the limitations of sector image formats in holding non standard formats.
  • For ‘other format’ disks, GCR coded Apple, and Synthesiser etc, and even MFM disks with other than standard 9/18 sectors per track, it just won’t read at all. Some USB floppies are poor to fail with older Double Density disks too.
  • No chance of using the hardware with 5.25" drives.
  • Poor read back and write consistency - I’ve had many issues with disks interchanged between USB floppy drives and regular drives - looks like the USB ones are made for light duty work only.
  • Low motor torque - for older floppies, it can result in problems with speed regulation and read difficulties.

A much cheaper way is to look for a regular drive, dumped out on the side of the street and shove it in a semi-old machine and read it that way - but that won’t help for GCR or non standard formats. MFM floppies with non standard formats can be overcome with older DOS imaging software depending on the controller - such as Image disk. But converting those images to stuff used by other software, like emulators. Unfortunately, more popular software like Winimage won’t do non standard formats above Windows 98SE. Is it really worth the trouble? I guess it could if you want to run the games on it too. I’ve got a few boxes with Win 98 on them for that reason.

My philosophy is always to go cheap first - but that obviously failed for me. Buying an old Mac to do this work wouldn’t make sense and would cost more and get less done. So the KF was the right solution for me. Knowing quite a few people come to me with their tech issues from time to time, I can forsee a trickle of mystery floppies in the future.

If all that matters to you are the files, maybe you have the native system and you can export from that system into another modern system via Serial or something, that’s okay then. Good enough for documents.

But unfortunately, many older systems are failing due to component failures, alignment trouble, dirt and dust etc. So it’s only an interim solution.

ChristineBCW - I think you mean MS-DOS 6.22, the last real DOS. I remember using memmaker on it for nought because I religiously LH/loadhigh-ed all my drivers in my CONFIG.SYS. I remember dosshell quite vividly - a very primitive pre-windows attempt at proper GUI.

5.25"s may be the ‘real’ stuff, but gosh they are a pain. 360kB on the DD and 1200kB on HD is still a mile better than what the 8" predecessors used by MP/M and CP/M systems used. Easier to handle too, but drives for 5.25" are starting to command high prices …

And just a final thought - even if you don’t know the format, and KF can’t work it out, the magnetic flux data can still be recorded for research and development of a decoder. That is quite cool, as is the fact that with a bit of elbow grease, you can use it with 8" disks and rare 3" disks too.


#10

I used to “upgrade” all my 720kb 3.5" Floppy Disks to 1.44MB by using a solder iron to poke a 2nd hole on the side. Oh lovely PVC fumes. :slight_smile:

After a short while i came across the program FDFormat which could format the disks to a whopping 1.77MB.

When the cd-writable came along i started a project to convert all that software to cd. Took us a year to produce 4 ‘underground’ cd-roms.


#11

[QUOTE=Mr. Belvedere;2685662]I used to “upgrade” all my 720kb 3.5" Floppy Disks to 1.44MB by using a solder iron to poke a 2nd hole on the side. Oh lovely PVC fumes. :slight_smile: [/QUOTE]

I remember using a hole punch to do the same. Apparently they made square hole punches to do the same - but of course, we’d end up with bad sectors towards the end of most disks as the coercivity of the magnetic material just couldn’t keep up with the increased flux transition density and those disks ended up losing their data first.

[QUOTE=Mr. Belvedere;2685662]After a short while i came across the program FDFormat which could format the disks to a whopping 1.77MB.[/QUOTE]

I used WinImage’s format command to do 1.72Mb but apparently 2M was a more effective program and it increased it to a whopping 1.972Mb!!!

[QUOTE=Mr. Belvedere;2685662]When the cd-writable came along i started a project to convert all that software to cd. Took us a year to produce 4 ‘underground’ cd-roms.[/QUOTE]

I did much the same when I could, but alas, I never got “every” floppy in the house - and other people’s disks proved quite an allure - libraries of authentic genuine abandonware just waiting to be rediscovered …


#12

I did the hole-punch thing when I needed it, but I could generally charm my way into spare boxes of floppies. I’d spend time in the hotel on a 2400b modem, hitting file-site BBSs for friends who’d supply me with floppies while I found - whatever they were looking for. Lotus 1-2-3 templates or something. Fonts (I think that was the Big Thing - getting Postscript fonts - talk about another gladly-forgotten nightmare).

When I first arrived in Texas, Hubby’s office had two rooms full of filing cabinets, and one was loaded with Floppies - their 20 years of programming history. We had weekend work-parties to record those onto HDDs, then onto CDs, doing thousands and thousands of COPY .'s…

(I think this was when some of those work-party folks found the ‘wagon wheel splits’ in CDs that had paper-labels glued to them - only those had that symptom - a couple of hundred out of thousands and thousands, but only those with glued-on labels - the same disks with handwritten labels were always fine.)

My fingers can mishit “33” instead of “22”, but I still think they will always know Star Dot Star. Boy, I really miss those Absolutely Certain Search Results with Win8 and Search 4’s crappy refusal to allow Drive or Folder-directed searches.


#13

[QUOTE=ChristineBCW;2685667]We had weekend work-parties to record those onto HDDs, then onto CDs, doing thousands and thousands of COPY .'s… [/QUOTE]

I was really thankful for xcopy /s (also a later MS-DOS thing), at least that way folders would be copied recursively. There was a time one could fdisk, format, sys, and xcopy a backup of their hard drive - probably the easiest backup ever got.

I would say ‘it was all in the past’, but I still bring up the prompt for simple things like del *.log (not as quick to sort by type, select, delete) or ren *.something to *.something-else. Or the good old chkdsk /f.

I also remember the havoc one could play with a mis-directed deltree /y … Haven’t seen that one in a while.


#14

XCOPY /S yes!

One more note about this device that started this thread…

Often, we try ‘devices’ out - USB attachables, converters, and often units will be DOA or dead after a few times. Then an identical unit purchased at the same time will work and work and work. “Flakiness” is something we’ve accepted in this. “Need one? Buy 3” is often our rule of thumb - because if the 2nd unit works, then someone else wants it, too!

I wonder what you think of the longevity of this and, if it turns out to be Flakey, if you’d consider getting another and seeing if there was some static-y death-knell or if ‘death’ was likely from poor productive or materials.

While I’m uncertain there is a motivation for our field folks to get these, there ARE times when it would be irreplaceable. In the past, DropDead Important Floppies were sent back to Home Office overnight and plugged into older PCs until they could be salvaged, or folks gave up and gave them the ol’ Porky Pig finale - th-th-that’s all, folks.


#15

As a bit of an electronics nut, and having built many microcomtroller based circuits, it is definitely a bit vulnerable out of the box, and fairly vulnerable still with the improvised rubber feet. It’s not exactly designed to be a finished product, and if field technicians start ‘throwing’ them into bags, I can see scratches and pins getting bent in no time.

Static is a constant danger, as is any wire scraps, paper clips and metal pen tips which may ‘fall’ onto the device while operating. It does take a certain amount of care to preserve - but I have had bare microcontroller boards live many years under similar conditions, so sometimes it’s just a case of being overly precautious.

As there are pre-drilled holes, even some perspex and plastic standoffs would go a long way to ruggedizing it. While I have a sample of ‘just one’ for now, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of needing at least three. I’d hate to be depending on it and see it fail - but alas, I’ve chewed through more than 350 floppies in under a month in about 10-15 sessions, carrying it with me and operating it from my laptop in several different offices - no anti static wrist strap - and still it functions like day one.

Being a unique device in terms of its software support, if I did kill mine, I wouldn’t hesitate getting another. Having seen the high prices the Catweasel controller demanded when it was king and drying up in supply really makes me think I should probably buy another, shelve it, and keep it as an insurance policy. There really is no match for the advanced analysis capabilities and oddball format support - very useful for Amiga and Apple to read images and emulate them to recover the data or run the software without ever owning any of the devices. Of course, if you’re dealing with IBM/PC format, the cheaper routes do exist and are ‘workable’ for your basic cases of just reading the files back.

I think more concerning are the mechanical nature of floppy drives. We already see that 5.25"s begin to fetch higher and higher prices, when the 3.5" drive pool begins to shrink, the same will happen. Dirty, damaged and shedding floppies can easily put a drive out of service, and cleaning doesn’t always bring them back to the same level of performance. It also entails some risk of head misalignment if roughly handled. While one may have a board, if they have no drive, they’re just as dead in the water.

EDIT - I forgot to mention. The board itself isn’t really that complex. It’s a STMicroelectronics ARM Microcontroller (a big company, branded chip) with a few NXP logic chips (big company again) built onto a black electroless nickel immersion gold PCB by Olimex which is, again, quality stuff. The labour is practised in Europe under reasonable conditions. It shows that there is quality in the build - flakiness shouldn’t really be an issue although some users have reported killing their pull-up chips, because they likely did not follow instructions and hotplugged drives while running or power sequenced incorrectly.


#16

For my Commodore 64 I still have a MSD Super Disk SD-2 drive as well as two 1541 single disk drives. All still work . Not bad compared to the life span of some modern hardware.
So I can still play from the 5.25 floppies. But I do have a fast load cartridge I also use.
I also still have the IBM DOS version 4.00 3.5 floppy set with manual. That manual was very helpful with DOS. I don’t have it installed on anything though.


#17

Dear god, I’m old enough to remember the shock and thrill I experienced when we replaced our aging Digital PDP-8M with it’s DEC-Tapes that we had to thread by hand… with a PDP-11 with 8" floppies.

Frankly My 77Year old father still uses Floppies, while I considered them at best a “necessary evil” and could tolerate the 3-1/2" floppies neither of my last two
desktops even had a floppy drive and the one before that actually did have
a floppy drive but it had no data cable and was not connected to power.

My issue with them was the frequent unexpected death, so that anything important needed to be copied to a disc several times to be SURE the data got where it was going…

Somewhere around here I have a sealed box of 8" floppies that I made it a point to store inside a Tupperware container… the idea was to save it for a “White Elephant Party”

as far as 5" discs go? I BURNED a 30gallon garbage pail of them not that
long ago, They’d been stored in a damp garage, trust me you didn’t want
anything to do with them… I was popping antihistamines hourly for several
days after just loading them into a wheelbarrow… Mold allergies


#18

Allan you have me beat I haven’t ever seen an 8" floppy or the tapes.


#19

Hubby has a very mangled 8" floppy in a very fancy glassed-in framed case on his wall. Like his diplomas and awards.

The disk has been twisted with obvious white-mark folds, and the brown disk material has slices and cut-outs in it, plus a jagged tear with a piece dangling outside the casing.

“It’s my Training Badge Of Dishonor,” he says.

He received a late-night phone call from a client’s night-shift computer operator who said the floppy drive wasn’t accepting the nightly backup disk. He told her “Get a new one, not a big deal.” It happens once a month or so.

Then he casually said, “Sometimes, I wish I could tear those open and slice out all the bad sectors…”

They talked about the rest of the night’s operations. Nothing big, no big deal, same ol’, same ol’…

Six hours later, well past midnight, his phone rang again and it was an enraged, screaming IBM repairman who’d driven 4 hours to this customer site to repair a “blown up disk drive” for that bank’s federally mandated nightly-backups.

“Did you tell this operator to cut up the floppy and stick it back into the system?!!” he screamed.

No, of course not, Hubby insisted. Then he thought, “Well, gee, I made a joke about ME doing that sometime…”

But this not-well-versed computer operator thought this was a possible idea. She sliced and peeled open the floppy’s cover, pulled out the disk itself (“See? That’s her fingerprints!”) and then found scratches and pitmarks and proceeded to take scissors from the middle hole outward and slice out every “bad sector”.

Then she found an iron, heated it up, reglued and resealed the floppy casing, and stuck the floppy back into the computer to continue nightly backups - which promptly lost its Read-Write heads among the tears and holes, crunching everything to a dead halt. Federal Regulations and all.

IBM was required - by law - to get there and fix it. Wee hours of the night or not. From Midland, Texas to Presidio. 250 miles of small, winding desert State and County roads after midnight, southwest, past the Big Bend, onto the edge of the Rio Grande with Mexican cliffs on the other side. “End of the world” is not too much of a stretch.

That IBM Repairman transferred away, shortly thereafter, to Nome, Alaska. No kidding. From the frying pan into the deep freeze.


#20

[QUOTE=AllanDeGroot;2685736]They’d been stored in a damp garage, trust me you didn’t want anything to do with them… [/QUOTE]

Agreed. Mould and fungus, natural enemies of all magnetic media. Some people who had very precious and rare disks would go cutting jackets, rescuing the donut and cleaning it gently with a soapy water solution or even alcohol (but not much of it, or it’ll take off the magnetic coating as well) to salvage the data.

I’ve never handled an 8"er, but I’ve certainly seen a few around exclaiming “whoa, those are big!”.

Great story! I had a good laugh! :slight_smile: