Home Page



Post Database

PDB Helpdesk: Floppy Drive Problems
By Thiravudh Khoman

I have no sure-fire answers to Leslie Barclay's problems (Post Database, December 29, 1999), but if I were to guess:

  1. It's possible that the floppy drives of the PCs at Les' school are the problem: either they're out of alignment or are the ones that need to be cleaned, not his notebook's. Floppy drives, while pretty sturdy in my experience, occasionally run into problems especially if one routinely saves files to floppies as opposed to copying files there. Checking drive alignment, unfortunately, requires special software and thus I'm going to have to skip over this. As for cleaning, if the school PCs are in a dusty environment, it wouldn't hurt to give them a pass with a cleaning diskette. Personally, though, I've never had the occasion to clean a floppy drive ever since I started using 3.5" floppies.
  2. It's possible that the problems are due to the floppies used. Are the problem floppies old? Has reader Les ever reformatted them? Brand new diskettes which come pre-formatted may eventually need to be reformatted if they're used a lot as the drive heads rub against the disk surface; doubly so if the diskettes are written to by many drives. Reformatting in this case involves a full format, by the way, not a quick format. Go to DOS and type: format a: /u. This performs an "unconditional format". If any bad sectors are reported after the format is completed, I suggest throwing the floppy away - or do what I do and fold the diskette in half with one hand, Superman-style. Floppies are so cheap these days that it's not worth keeping diskettes with bad sectors, which could cause you problems later (at the most inopportune time, of course). Anyway, try a new diskette and see if the problem persists. By the way, if reader Les is still using 720kb floppies, stop immediately and copy the files to 1.44mb diskettes. Then throw the 720's away. They were a lot of lousy 720kb floppies back then.
  3. If reader Les still suspects his floppy drive to be the culprit, he should send it to the notebook's local rep and have them take a look inside (this is usually free). A few weeks back, a reader had an intermittent problem with a CD-ROM drive which was due to a loose cable. If this were a desktop PC, I'd recommend checking the cables as well. But with a notebook computer this is much more complicated and is best done by a manufacturer's rep. If a local rep doesn't exist, one should probably resist the temptation to have a non-qualified vendor take the machine apart. It's just too risky.
  4. As for the 3M SuperDisk (also known as an LS-120 drive), I've had some experiences with it. Several of our Compaqs at work came with these instead of regular 1.44mb floppy drives (there was a special at the time). It should be noted that Compaq no longer bundles these. It should also be noted that I've since replaced these with regular 1.44mb drives. Why? First of all, I ran into intermittent problems getting other 1.44mb drives to read diskettes written by and especially formatted on the LS-120's. Secondly, Windows 95 requires a special device driver in order to use the drive (Windows 98 and NT don't though) which is an added bother. Thirdly, as a backup device, a Zip drive is probably a better choice (although it holds 20mb less) because the drive and its media easier to find. This is not to say that the drive is bad - it's not - but I'd think twice about using it as the sole replacement for a 1.44mb drive. Consider also, that it may or may not be possible to get the notebook to boot from the external SuperDisk drive (check first).

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman