ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Sad Tale of the 5.25″ Disk Drive —

Sometimes, stuff just sneaks up on you. You see the previous examples, know the trends, and yet still you get caught out in the rain. That’s how it is for me and being able to read 5 1/4″ floppy disks on a PC. I can’t. I can read them on an Apple II and I can read them for a Commodore 64 or Amiga, but I’m totally out of luck, currently, with taking these disks from a PC and ending up on my main workbench machine.

I should have seen this coming, of course; this is what happened to cassette tapes, to many types of data cartridges, and all manner of magnetic media. The Thing That Reads It goes away, and all you’re left with is a stack of Stuff That Needs Reading.

The way it’s supposed to be is that people send you stuff to get read, and you read it for them and send the data and the material back. It’s a good life, it feels like you’ve accomplished something. But somehow 5.25 fell between the cracks. I was absolutely positive someone, somewhere, would have a for-sale 5.25 floppy disk reader that was USB connected. Hook it up, throw in the disks, and go to town. They definitely have them for sale for 3.5″ floppies; do a web search and you can find them for sale (I’ll be buying a few myself). But 5.25 never got that second wind.

I guess the USB craze just barely missed those floppies; considering the absolutely-insane spectrum of USB devices out there (fans, coffee warmers, Christmas trees, serial ports, humping dogs), I was positive I’d be 5 clicks away from porting my sent-in floppy collection to relative permanence. Shows what I know.

There’s been the occasional burble, the ever-so-swift discussion of someone hacking something on a breadboard, but I’d really hoped I’d have something basic and commercial for sale, even for a small-run electronics group. Nothing yet. Plan B is just to find a machine that can bridge the gap between running a 5.25″ floppy drive and run a linux/freebsd variant. I don’t like Plan B, but it’s there.

Meanwhile, the stack grows bigger. Never again!

Update: Solutions have arrived! I reviewed one of themAnd here’s a page of solutions.

Categorised as: computer history | housecleaning

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  1. Dezro says:

    In theory you could get an old floppy cable with both 3.5 connectors and 5.25 connectors and support for two drives at once and put a used 5.25 drive in a spare bay. As long as modern motherboards and BIOSes didn’t do something to remove B: drive support or 5.25 support there’s a good chance you could get it working on systems like Windows and Linux where they refuse to get rid of ancient drivers.

    Or at least I hope so. That’s what I was planning on doing.

  2. Stormgren says:


    If you really need a set of drives and cables, I have several sources of parts, including my own stash, for 5.25″ high-density drives. I even have older PC hardware capable of running it and which should even be in a working configuration.

    Though you’ve now got my brain spinning on interfacing old floppy controller ICs (which I have a tube here *somewhere*, I’m sure of it) to some USB embedded stuff I’ve been tinkering with.

    Drop me a mail or seek me out in the usual places on IRC.

  3. DosFreak says:

    I imaged all of my 5.25″ disks years ago. IIRC, I was on Windows 2000 when I did it and I believe my 5.25″ worked fine on my Ausus A7N8X Nforce 2 motherboard.

    I once though about taking a look at a USB floppy, taking it apart and hooking it up to the 5.25″ but I didn’t have a reason to since I already imaged all of my disks and haven’t seen a 5.25″ disk since.

  4. Herr Doktor Deth Vegetable says:

    I am confused… why not just put a 5 1/4 drive in your computer, why does it need to be external? Is it just a case of not having any extra bays?

  5. DosFreak says:

    When I imaged my disks I did hook it up “internally” (connected to internal cable put not in the case).

    My reasoning for hooking it via USB was for cases where I did run into a situation where I wanted to image a 5.25 disk but I didn’t want to rummage around looking for the cable/drive and opening the case.

    Basically futureproofing the hardware since nowadays there are even motherboards the floppy connector.

  6. RaD Man says:

    I transfer my old 5.25″ diskettes from an old computer running MS-DOS and LAN manager.

  7. IIRC, 3 1/2 drives and 5 1/4 drives connected the same way. Is there an actual, technical reason why a USB 5 1/4 drive hasn’t been created, or is it just due to a lack of interest? I have a couple of USB 3 1/2 floppies … I wonder if one of those could be hacked into a 5 1/4 drive?

  8. Lee Bacall says:

    If you find a 5.25 floppy drive let me know.
    I have two applications that I want to get out of mothballs:

  9. Auto rental system
  10. Wholesale travel system
  11. Fleet maintenance

    Did you know that you need a permit for certified minnows to fish in New York state?

  • Jason,

    I think this is what you need. I just found this. I have not used one myself, but I am thinking about it, because I have the same problem you do. If you buy one of these, let me know if it works.


  • Ari says:

    Did you by any chance find an USB adaptor for 5.25 diskette drives?
    An answer will be appreciated.
    Thanks, Ari

  • Kevin Greene says:

    One just came out…(though it’s been demoed for a couple years). I’m not connected with them, just on a mailing list.

    Device Side Data’s FC5025 USB 5.25″ floppy controller

  • Rocknrollkat says:

    I bought the device side controller. It does not include a power supply for the drive, the instructions are sketchy, they assume you have a TEAC drive, if you don’t you need to conigure your drive to emulate the TEAC. good luck with that !! The device does NOT show up in “my computer’, but runs directly from the software, assuming it runs at all, which mine doesn’t. This is NOT plug’n’play by ANY stretch. It has cost me 60 bucks and countless hours of frustration on three different computers, and not 1 disk coopied so far.