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Where can I find an external 8-inch floppy disk drive?

I have some data I would like to retrieve from a really old 8-inch (200 mm) floppy disk, but have no working computer than has a drive to read it.

Are external drives for that size still sold? Where can I find one? Either Linux or Windows solutions are okay with me.

  • This seems a bit off-topic (too opinion based). Please read our tour. – wizzwizz4 Jun 6 '16 at 18:23
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    @wizzwizz4 given the paucity of options, there isn't much to be opinionated about... – Stephen Kitt Jun 6 '16 at 18:28
  • Some 8" drives are actually sold on ebay, to my surprise, even though I have the suspicion many of those are mislabelled, and are really 5.25". But it will be difficult to hook up real 8" drives to a PC, AFAIK all of them were made for other, earlier computers. And the formats for 8" disks probably vary considerably between systems, so you need to guess the format of your disk. – dirkt Jun 7 '16 at 6:08
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As far as I'm aware there is no source of new 8" drives.

If you do manage to find a working drive, there are a couple of options to connect it to a modern PC over USB:

As well as the 8" drive, you'll need adapter cables to connect it; these are the connectors you'd use to adapt it for use in an old PC (with a 5.25" drive connector).

You could also use an old PC to read the floppies, or simply contact a recovery service. Herb Johnson has a useful web page with lots more detail; the Archive Team also maintains a page on rescuing floppy disks.

  • Thank you! Those resources will help me if I can locate a drive (or really old PC). I would prefer to do this myself but might be willing to use a recovery service if I cannot easily source those components. – Jeff Jun 6 '16 at 18:28
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    On vintage forums you might even find hobbyists willing to recover floppies for you (there's a list on the Archive Team page, there are probably others)... – Stephen Kitt Jun 6 '16 at 19:48
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To all from a 40 year veteran of the biz, some notes about floppy formats. The absolute and best controller that should be able to read and write 98% of the floppy disc formats is the western digital WD1771 or 1781. In the floppy sector formats their is an address mark(the sector number ) and a data mark ( marks the beginning of the 128/256/512 data block. I may be a bit off but the address mark byte was a D8 hex and the data mark could be F6/F7/F8 or F9. You could program the 1771 or 1781 to look for any of the data mark values. After the 1781 the industry fix the data mark to just F8. The 1791 and others like the NEC uPD765 floppy controllers, can only read a data mark of F8. Some early micro and mini computers use the F9 or F6 data mark and therefore these floppies can not be read by modern Floppy disk controllers.

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    This is a very good answer to a different question. – Chenmunka Mar 20 at 14:58
  • I think OP wanted something easily connected to the popular USB interface, not something easily connected to a raw CS/OE/WE/Address/Data bus with a soldering iron :) – rackandboneman Aug 16 at 21:38
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Be aware that there were several incompatible formats around when 5 1/4 and 8 inch floppy disks were in use - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_floppy_disk_formats. Incompatible as in, the wrong drive model and/or the wrong controller card will be unable to read a given floppy disk. Common example: Apple II or C64 5 1/4 inch disks, even if the physical disk used is the same, a standard 5 1/4 inch PC drive on a standard PC controller would be completely unable to read them. This is not a problem at filesystem or file format level that can be solved in software - different drive systems encoded data on the disks in a different way.

To make things worse, there were actually incompatible media types: Soft sectored, and various hard sectored styles. Different magnetic (coercivity) grades also could sometimes give you surprises.

The first step in recovering data from such a disk will probably be to find out what system (which machine, which OS, which drive model) originally wrote that disk, then checking what hardware options are available.

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As far as I've been able to tell, 8-inch floppies have never been supported or widely used on PC or Macintosh systems, but the IBM Displaywriter system uses 8-inch disks. It predates the actual IBM PC/Wintel architecture (x86, IBM BIOS, ISA, MS-DOS, etc.) by a year but it is an IBM product and also has an x86 processor so it might be worthwhile to investigate to what extent its drives and/or floppy interface could be converted to something a PC could use. Since it's x86, its floppy card might be able to be adapted to an 8-bit Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) card since ISA is based on the x86 bus.

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    There's not really any point in doing that. 8" floppy drives can actually be connected to most high-density PC floppy controllers using a custom cable. The tricky part is getting your PC to understand the format the data is stored in on a disk (unless you're just trying to read PC formatted disks originally created with a similar setup), which modifying a controller card from another system wouldn't help you with. – mnem Oct 11 '16 at 17:26
  • And of course, just because it's x86 doesn't mean it's "IBM PC compatible". I recall there was some company that built Unix workstations based on the Intel x86 architecture but which were decidedly not IBM PC compatible. – a CVn Oct 14 '16 at 11:27
  • @MichaelK that is true, and that's why I qualified my statement. In any event, I think mnem is right and that compatibility is easier than I thought. – Robert Columbia Oct 14 '16 at 11:44

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