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How come there aren't any 5.25 external USB floppy drives?

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I know the demand isn't very high, but I decided to search for a 5.25 USB floppy drive for the first time in a couple of years, and there still aren't any out there that I could find. The closest thing out there is the FC5025, which allows you to plug your old floppy drive into a USB port, but that isn't what I want for three reasons:

 

1) You still need a floppy drive. I'm gonna have to spend roughly $30 on top of the $55 FC5025.

2) Having an old internal drive on the outside doesn't look right. I'd like a nice, clean box, since it will be sitting on top of my computer. Internals were made to be inside.

3) It's read-only, so it won't write to disks.

 

It appears to be my only option right now, as I have many old disks my my XT days that I would like to open. Does anybody know of anyone that may be working on one?

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The SuperCard Pro is also connected through USB. It is a full $100 + floppy drive, but offers writing disks and I think optionally is more flexible than the FC5025. I know the subject of genuine 5.25" USB floppy drives have emerged multiple times in the past decade, but I'm not sure it has a market on its own. Perhaps if you bundle one of the other controller boards with a drive inside an enclosure.

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By the time USB became (for the most part) standardized, 3.5" floppy drives in were not particularly practical and 5.25" drives were long a thing of the past.

 

I think, at least in part, it may also have something to do with modern machines not coming with a floppy disk controller built in. 3.5" USB drives have the control hardware in the drive itself and those probably do not support 5.25" drive mechanisms, so someone would have to design one (custom).

 

While there will never be a big demand for a USB 5.25" FDD, I too am surprised that someone hasn't cooked something up, retro computing and software preservation being as popular as it is and all.

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I think it depends what you're after. There are some hardware replacements for floppy disk drives which allow older computers to use SD cards as floppies.

You can find some from Lotharek: http://www.lotharek.pl/category.php?kid=26

 

If instead you are after reading original floppy disks then I'd recommend transferring as much as you can as early as possible. I did that some years ago for my PC and Apple II stuff, and even then some of the disks had already failed (some got wiped out by my bad handling but a few didn't work at all).

 

You've got to be pragmatic though, it's mostly your own files that need backing up since any commercial games or software can probably be found online.

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I think it might be doable to cook up your own solution using a AVR with USB support and a FD controller. Sadly, there isn't anything off the shelf that I can think of that would allow you to do this. Another alternative would be to get a PCI Floppy controller card, and just use the drive in a 5.25 external bay. Although there is still the issue of extra cost. Sadly, this wouldn't help you on a laptop. Which, I assume is the reason for a desire for a usb solution.

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Number one reason is going to be lack of people who need to read (or write!) 5.25" disks.

 

But the biggest technical reason is the way USB does disk devices. For one thing, the only standard sector access by block number, and assumes a DOS filesystem. (I think digital cameras now also have a second way that is file-based.) And there were very few disk formats in use, mostly 1440K (HD) or 720K (DD). The only other common 3 1/2" format was Macintosh, with the 1440K being the same HD MFM, and with the GCR variable-speed 400K and 800K formats, and I'm not aware of any USB drives that support anything but 720K/1440K disks. And then there was the Amiga, I don't know the details, but I think it was almost but not quite MFM DD.

 

With a 5 1/4" drive, first of all you have to add single density, but that only covers PC disks and 8-bit disks that you can generally read with an appropriately ancient PC and no special hardware. And it doesn't deal with the 48tpi/96tpi problem. What would you do about the Apple II (GCR), Commodore 64 (a different GCR), and Atari 800 disks (MFM with the drive motor slower to get an extra sector per track). And each of them had their own completely different filesystems. And then there were flippy disks, which you can't use a double-sided dirve to read because the tracks go backwards and are about 2 tracks off.

 

What I would kind of like to see is some kind of USB CatWeasel that could do track reads and writes. Making low-level disk controller hardware other than using one of the standard MFM controller chips isn't exactly trivial and involves scary analog stuff. The cool part is you could do 8" drives, which I would like to do (I have an old PCI CatWeasel and some assorted drives stored away) to read some old TRS-II TRS-16 CP/M and RSTS floppies I have accumulated over the years.

Edited by Bruce Tomlin

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5.25 inch floppies was starting to be phased out in the 80s with the Amiga, Atari ST and other 16 bit computers. USB came out in 1996... thats a 20 year difference. By that time, there was little to no demand for 5.25 floppies.

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And the meager demand could be solved easily by installing a 5"25 drive into his computer and transferring data from the floppies.

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And the meager demand could be solved easily by installing a 5"25 drive into his computer and transferring data from the floppies.

 

May not be so easy. There are few motherboards now which come with on-board FDC, and I have seen many which do not recognize 5.25" drives, only 3.5".

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I was following mehguy's answer, so I meant that it was easy to do in the time period between 1986 and 1996 (where itwas the most likely period for people to want to retrieve data on 5"1/4 floppies - that is, professionnal use). Of course today most motherboard doesn't have the physical possibility to connect any floppy drive.

Edited by CatPix

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I was following mehguy's answer, so I meant that it was easy to do in the time period between 1986 and 1996 (where itwas the most likely period for people to want to retrieve data on 5"1/4 floppies - that is, professionnal use). Of course today most motherboard doesn't have the physical possibility to connect any floppy drive.

 

Ah, understood.

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Nearly two years later, does anyone make a real USB 5.25" floppy drive yet?

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I think there used to be floppy to USB interfaces that you could hook to whatever you wanted.
But I don't know if the drivers recognized 5 1/4" drives.

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Nearly two years later, does anyone make a real USB 5.25" floppy drive yet?

 

This may be as close as you're going to get. No idea how well they work, or if they'll take combo 5.25"/3.5" disks, etc.

 

I realize that this is the same item referenced in the original post, but it doesn't look as though there are many alternatives out there. You might be able to find someone selling a Catweasel controller somewhere, but those have been out of production for a while so will likely take some effort to turn up (and not be cheap if you do).

Edited by x=usr(1536)

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Nearly two years later, does anyone make a real USB 5.25" floppy drive yet?

 

Seriously doubt anyone ever will. Seems like a very narrow niche market, at best.

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If you really need to get data off of old 5.25 drives, I'm thinking your best bet would be to pick up a cheap used PC that has both 5.25 & 3.5 drives and copy the data over to the newer format. Better yet... *IF* you can find a PC with a 5.25 and a USB port copy all the data over to a USB stick and call it good.

 

Be sure to scan the files though, some of those older PC disks are known to contain a viruses from the time when people were not as careful.

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The question is how much you would be willing to pay for a pretty, all-in-one solution. $80? $100? $150? $200? As long as nobody is manufacturing a such device, I see that you've got a few less elegant, but working solutions to choose from:

  • The FC5025 mentioned twice. It has a fair price, but is read only and only does 5.25" drives. However it nowadays support non-MFM formats which is great.
  • The SuperCard Pro mentioned once. It costs twice as much as the FC5025 but can write disks as well and handles different sized drives.
  • The Kryoflux not previously mentioned here, but which seems to have dropped in price once the SuperCard hit the market. Perhaps it is the one with the biggest community support, if you need that.

Catweasel seems like a thing from the past, but then again 5.25" floppy disks also are a thing of the past.

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Not totally on topic but kinda...

 

Anyone know an actual reliable USB 3.5" drive that can actually read and write 720k DD in addition to 1.44mb HD? I bought one recently from Amazon wherein I read an article it was one of the few that could read 720k DD disks. I get the drive in a few days later and...NOPE. Won't read any of my 720k DD...just a 1.44mb ones. I have quite a few Sierra games that I'd like to get backed up to my NAS and other media that were combos disks of 1.44 and 720k from over the years. And before someone suggests that the disks just aren't any good. I can't even get the drive to recognize there is a disk in the thing. So unable to format or any of that jazz. But 1.44 have been fine.

 

So...yeah...anyone know of a current 720k DD disk read solution for modern computers?

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I think at least two of the three options I listed would read PC formatted 720K disks. Perhaps there is a 3rd party driver for your USB drive that will handle that format?

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The USB 3.5 disk came across as an interim solution to having one built into laptops. It was invented in the day where program installations still happened from disk, but at the same time as lappy makers were eliminating it in favor of the built-in cd-rom.

 

All of this was past the prime time of 5.25, so no need. No demand.

Edited by Keatah

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What do you have on 5.25" disk that needs to be on 5.25" disk?

 

I imaged or copied all my floppies more than 20 years ago and never looked back. Half of my actual floppies can't even read anymore.

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What do you have on 5.25" disk that needs to be on 5.25" disk?

 

I have a metric shyte-tonne of good 5.25" disks, so for me every bloody thing needs to be on one :)

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