Do you remember floppies? They used to be essential. Eventually they replaced and floppy drives disappeared from new computers. Here's how to access a vintage 3.5 or 5.25-inch floppy disk on a modern Windows PC or Mac.
There is a catch: copying data is the easy part
Before we start, you need to understand a huge caveat. What we're going to cover here ̵
You will have to figure out how to access or convert the data with emulators, such as DOSBox or other utilities, which is beyond the scope of this article.
RELATED: How to use DOSBox to run DOS games and old apps
Copy files from a 3.5-inch floppy drive to a modern PC
If you have 3.5-inch floppies formatted for MS-DOS or Windows that you want to copy to a modern Windows 10 or Windows 7 PC, you're in luck. This is the easiest format to work with. The 3.5-inch floppy drives persisted as a legacy product for a long time after their 1.44MB capacity had become relatively absurdly small. As a result, many semi-modern drives and solutions are available. We cover the options from easy to difficult.
Option 1: Use a New USB Floppy Disk Drive
If you browse Amazon, Newegg or even eBay, you will find many cheap (anywhere from $ 10 to $ 30) modern USB 3.5 inch floppy drives. If you're in a hurry and want a plug and play solution for just a few drives, this might be worth a try.
In our experience, however, these drives are often frustrating in their unreliability. So, before you dive in, read some reviews. Make sure you're okay with risking your vintage data on a disk that will probably only cost a few dollars to produce.
Option 2: Use a vintage USB floppy disk drive
In the late '90s and early' 00s, many thin laptop manufacturers (such as HP, Sony and Dell) also produced external USB floppy disk drives. These vintage drives have much higher quality parts than the cheap USB drives now available on Amazon. They are also still recent enough to work without any repairs.
We recommend that you search eBay for something like "Sony USB floppy disk drive" and try your luck with one of those. Most are still supported as plug and play devices by Windows 10.
Despite the branding, you don't need a disk that fits your PC. For example, a Sony USB floppy disk drive works when it is connected to a USB port on a Windows PC.
Option 3: Use an internal floppy drive with a cheap USB adapter
If you're looking for more role -Your own challenge, you can also buy a vintage internal 3.5-inch floppy drive. You may even have one. You can connect it to a generic floppy-to-USB adapter.
You can install an external power supply for the floppy drive with the appropriate adapter. Another option is to internally mount the drive and adapter in a computer case and use a SATA power adapter there. However, we have not tested those cards, so go at your own risk.
Option 4: Use a vintage computer with a floppy drive and network connection
If you have an older Windows 98, ME, XP or 2000 PC or laptop with Ethernet and a 3.5 "floppy drive, it may be able to read the floppy disk and copy it to the computer's hard drive. You can then copy the data over your LAN to a modern PC.
The hardest part is making sure that the LAN network between your vintage and modern machines is working properly. The bottom line is that sharing Windows files from different eras plays nicely together.
You can also upload files to an FTP site (perhaps through a local NAS server) and then download them to your modern PC.  Copying PC files from a 5.25-inch floppy drive to a modern PC
If you have 5.25-inch floppy disks are formatted for MS-DOS or Windows you want to copy to a modern Windows PC, a more difficult task awaits you. This is because 5.25-inch floppy disks were no longer in regular use in the mid-1990s, so finding a working 5.25-inch floppy drive can be challenging.
Let's look at the options for copying the data to a modern PC from the simplest
Option 1: Use the FC5025 USB adapter and an internal 5.25-inch floppy drive
A small company called Device Side Data produces an adapter called the FC5025. It allows you to use an internal 5.25-inch floppy drive to copy data from 5.25-inch disks of various formats to a modern PC via a USB cable. The board costs about $ 55.
However, you will also need all the necessary cables, a power supply with a Molex connector for the drive and, optionally, a vintage external 5.25-inch drive bay enclosure if you want a nice unit . Once you set it up, the FC5205 is well worth it. It is especially useful if you also have 5.25-inch drives for non-IBM PC systems (such as Apple II) that you want to back up.
The FC5025 copies the floppy disk data to disk images, so you also have a disk image tool, such as WinImage, to read and extract the data.
Option 2: Use a Kryoflux with an internal 5.25-inch floppy drive
Like the FC5025, the KryoFlux is a floppy-to-USB adapter that requires a lot of setup to work. Again, you will need the KryoFlux board, a vintage 5.25-inch floppy drive, a power supply, cables and possibly a case.
The Kryoflux copies the disk data to disk image files. You can then use these with emulators or open them with a disk image tool, such as WinImage.
The advantage of KryoFlux is that it can backup copy-protected discs or discs in many other system formats (Apple II, C64 and so on), and it does so with a high degree of accuracy.
However, the KryoFlux has a few drawbacks. First, it costs more than $ 100.
Second, it is intended for the academic software preservation market rather than general consumers. Therefore, backing up or even accessing the data on the disk is not very user-friendly.
Option 3: Use a vintage computer with a floppy drive and network connection
If you have an older PC running Windows 98 or ME with Ethernet and a 5.25-inch floppy drive, you may be able to read the floppy disk can copy data over a LAN to a modern PC.
Same as the 3.5-inch drive option, you may have trouble correctly sharing Windows files between a vintage and a modern PC.
However, there are other options. One is to upload the files to an FTP server from the old machine and then download from that server to the newer computer.
Copying files from a 3.5-inch floppy drive to a modern Mac
Reading floppy disks on a Mac depends on the type of disk that you want to read. We will discuss each type in the following sections:
1.44 MB Mac Floppy Disks
If you have 1.44 MB Mac Floppy Disks, a modern Mac running macOS 10.14 Mojave or earlier should be able to read them with a vintage, USB floppy drive
Many people prefer the Imation SuperDisk LS-120 USB drive. It is a competitor to ZIP drives that reads both the original, high-capacity floppies and the regular 1.44 MB floppies. You can still find these for a reasonable price on eBay. You can also use a vintage Sony or HP USB floppy disk drive.
If your machine uses macOS 10.15 or later, you're out of luck when it comes to native USB floppy support. Apple has removed support for the Hierarchical File System (HFS) on vintage Mac floppy disks, starting with Catalina. There may be technical solutions, including restoring HFS support, but they are complex and there are still new options.
IBM PC 3.5 "Floppy Disks
If you want your Mac to read 3.5" IBM PC format floppy disks, you can use a vintage PC USB floppy disk drive. (Ironically, Catalina can still read the FAT12 file system used by vintage MS-DOS floppy disks, but not old Mac disks.)
We tried a Sony VAIO floppy drive with a 2013 iMac. It had no trouble reading the files on a 3.5 inch high density disk in IBM PC format. You can probably find a good Sony or HP USB floppy disk drive on eBay.
400 or 800 K Mac diskettes
If you have 400 or 800 K Mac diskettes, it gets much more complicated. The disk drives that wrote these used special encryption called GCR. This technique is not physically supported in most USB 3.5-inch floppy drives.
Recently, however, a new option called AppleSauce for archiving 400/800 K Mac disks was introduced. It is a USB adapter that allows you to connect vintage Apple II and Macintosh floppy drives to a modern Mac and read vintage floppies with incredible accuracy.
The biggest drawback is the price: the Deluxe version you need to read Mac floppy disks is $ 285. This is mainly because it is a complex, very small volume of hobbyist product. However, with this device and the right vintage drive, you can read your floppies in disk images that can be used with emulators or extracted with other tools.
All Mac Floppy Disks
For all Mac Disks, your best bet might be to find a vintage Mac desk or laptop with a 3.5-inch SuperDrive running 400/800 K and 1.44 MB drives can read and write. Try to find a beige G3 era machine that still came with floppy disks. The newer the better, because then you won't have to do repairs as often to make it work.
From there you can use networks to copy the files between the vintage and modern Macs, but that's another can of worms, all the way
It's complicated, but there's hope
Backing up ups of old floppy disks contain all possible combinations of drives, systems and formats a complex variety of strategies that we can't possibly cover here.
Fortunately, if you need something more complex, there are other resources, such as access to an 8-inch floppy drive containing CP / M files. Herb Johnson maintains an impressive site full of technical data on various floppy disk systems if you want to learn more about how they work.
LowEndMac also has a great guide to Mac floppy disk formats. Good luck!