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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | System Care: Protecting Your PC | Care of Media ]

Floppy Disks

Compared to other media, floppy disks are relatively fragile and short-lived, and easy to damage. 5.25" disks are particularly susceptible to problems, which is one reason why the physical packaging of the (relatively) newer 3.5" floppies was so significantly revised.

The following are general care guidelines for floppy disks:

  • Temperature: Floppy disks should not be subjected to temperatures exceeding about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. At high temperatures, such as when left in direct sunlight in a car during the summer, they can easily warp (or even melt) and all data on them can be lost. They can be subjected to very low temperatures, but they should be allowed to acclimate to room temperature before using.
  • Contact: The surface of the actual disk media should never be touched; only the external jacket should be handled. Handling the surface where the data is actually recorded will lead to premature failure of the disk, by introducing dirt and oil into the data area. This will also contribute to dirt buildup on the read/write heads.
  • Moisture: Disks should be kept clean and dry. If the jacket of a disk becomes wet, it is simply a matter of drying it off; if the liquid gets inside the disk, waiting for the disk to dry off will often allow the disk to be usable again (but often not, and it can take quite a while). If this happens and you are able to get the disk working again, it would make sense just to get the data off it and then discard it.
  • Magnetic Fields: Since floppy disks of course store their data in the form of magnetic fields, the data is susceptible to loss if the disk is exposed to magnetic interference. The most common way that floppy disks are damaged by magnetic fields is by contact or long-term proximity to regular, permanent magnets. This is especially true of devices that use magnets in them which many people don't realize, and in particular: stereo speakers. Speakers use magnets, sometimes quite large, to create sound (although many speakers intended for use with computers are shielded for this specific reason). Many home appliances that have large motors generate magnetic fields as well. (Magnetic screwdrivers, often used for PC assembly and repair, are normally safe.)
    Another often-overlooked problem is the degaussing circuit on monitors. The degausser is designed to remove built-up magnetic fields on the surface of the monitor; if you store disks near the monitor they can, over time, become demagnetized and their data lost.
  • Flexibility: These disks are "floppy", but this term should not be taken overly literally :^). They can tolerate a certain amount of bending and flexing, but this is generally best avoided to reduce the chances of damage. The jackets of 3.5" disks were made much more rigid than 5.25" disks to allow for better protection, but the tradeoff is that they are more brittle, and can be damaged if bent even a few degrees.
  • Labeling: 5.25" floppy disks are protected by very thin outer jackets. For this reason, they are quite susceptible to damage if you write on a label when it is on the desk using a hard-tipped instrument such as a ball-point pen or pencil--you will literally crease the media surface and ruin it if not careful. The fear of writing on floppy disks is somewhat overblown however. First, 3.5" disks are protected by solid jackets, so this is not a concern. Second, you can always use a felt-tip pen to write on a 5.25" disk.
  • Dust and Dirt: Since the floppy disk is contacted directly by the heads of the drive, any dirt or dust on the surface can damage the media surface and result in data loss. 5.25" disks, with their exposed media window, should always be stored in a protective sleeve. All disks are best kept stored in a closed box when not in use.
  • Cleaning: Floppy disks cannot generally be cleaned effectively. Since they are cheap enough to be considered disposable, a disk that becomes dirty enough to be a concern should simply be discarded. To do otherwise risks your data.
  • Airport X-Ray Machines: Floppy disks are not adversely affected by X-ray machines at airports!

Floppy disks are best kept stored in a cool, dry, clean place (i.e., not near a south-facing window in the summertime!), preferably using a floppy disk storage box (which are available very cheaply at any computer store.) See this section on media storage and life.

Next: Tapes

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