Recovering Data from Old DOS Floppy Disks
January 31, 2010 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Floppy disk recovery service: I recently came across a cache of some very old 3.5" floppy disks of mine. Windows XP can't read these DOS disks. I would like to ship these off to a professional service which will safely export the data (onto a CD, say) and send it all back to me. Can you recommend a company which provides this sort of service? Thanks.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If XP can't read them, they're probably dead.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:57 AM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: Chocolate Pickle, you are incorrect.
This problem occurs on disks that do not contain a media descriptor byte in the BIOS parameter block (BPB) of the boot sector. Some older preformatted floppy disks do not contain a media descriptor byte. Older product disks may also not have the media descriptor byte.

The media descriptor indicates the type of medium currently in a drive. With MS-DOS and Windows 95, you do not have to set the media descriptor byte. Therefore this problem does not occur with these older operating systems.
The "solution" listed on that Microsoft page, however, is to reformat my disks - obviously not what I'm looking to do. I tried one software recovery package, but it did not work, and I do not want to risk ruining any disks, which is why I'd like to find a professional service.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2010

Can you install a DOS virtual machine (e.g. DOSBOX) and access the data that way?
posted by misterbrandt at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just went through some pretty old (1990-1998) floppies.

Expanding on the above Pickle's answer:
XP can read the floppy's FAT file system. If the disks are not readable, they may not be FAT (did Apple use another floppy format? I dunno). But most likely it is just media decay.

My disks were all in a comfortable indoor environment.

Most of the 10-year-olds were readable.

Most of the very old ones were not, and I gave up on it all when some old disk sent the floppy drive into permanent non-working mode (probably brown gunk from a disk rubbed off on the read head).
You could try sorting the disks in age order, and see which can be read.

There seems to be a lot of software for floppy recovery, which you might try.
I googled 'floppy disk recovery'

And there are lots of data recovery companies, but these would no doubt be expensive (3 figure?)
posted by hexatron at 11:19 AM on January 31, 2010

You can boot a Freedos CD and use it to read your floppy disks. Just hire a computer person off a bulletin board to do it for you if you don't want to do it yourself.
posted by gum at 11:25 AM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the various suggestions. As I indicated, I tried some software myself and had no luck. I am pretty computer proficient, but I am concerned that the "recovery" software I used may have already ruined a couple of disks. (I gave up after that, lest I ruin any more.) Therefore, I am looking for a professional recovery service, not a DIY solution. Thanks.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2010

I recently used to transfer some old files I had on 5.25" floppys to CDs. They charged me very little and got them back to me within a week. Pretty cool actually, because now I can see some REALLY old files that my Dad created back when he started his business!
posted by BadgerKyle at 11:45 AM on January 31, 2010

At the high end the magic phrsse is probably "data forensics." I'm sure there's a place in NY; around here the place to go would be Tech Fusion.
posted by range at 11:48 AM on January 31, 2010

DriveSavers is the big name, and they will recover data off of floppies. no idea on price, though, sorry - only ever referred people to them for hard drive data recovery, and the cost for that varies quite a bit, though I'd imagine floppies would be relatively inexpensive. even if XP/Linux/bare DOS can't read them (which, despite your technet article, really probably does mean they've decayed), they might still be able to recover something off of them.
posted by mrg at 11:54 AM on January 31, 2010

Try another machine. Sometimes it will work, and I don't think an attempted read will harm a disk.
posted by theora55 at 12:24 PM on January 31, 2010

If the disks are decayed and you have access to a SuperDisk I've found them much better at reading marginal disks than standard drives.
posted by Mitheral at 12:53 PM on January 31, 2010

Well, if you want to save a few bucks you can use the Diskprobe tool which is in the Windows XP Support Tools which you can download if it isn't on your install disk.

Then you just edit the media descriptor byte as described in your link. It's might be worth a try on at least one of your disks. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes.
posted by JackFlash at 4:00 PM on January 31, 2010

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