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Ask HN: Why are 5 inch USB floppy drives so uncommon?
48 points by polm23 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments
It's easy to buy a 3.5in USB floppy drive for $10 online. In contrast, I've seen 5in USB floppy drives, but they're not common. For example, this is a USB controller for $50 - you have to hook up your own drive and provide a housing.


It's unsurprising there's less demand for them than 3.5in drives, but it seems like the difference in demand alone can't explain this gap. Is there some technical issue that makes manufacturing drives like this difficult? Or am I missing some other part of the picture?

You vastly underestimate the production gap between those two drive types. There were likely at least a couple of orders of magnitude more 3.5" drives in use in their time than 5.25" drives were in theirs. I remember my last 5.25" drive costing ~2x more than a 3.5" drive in the mid-90's. Also, widespread 5.25" drive usage ended 10-15 years before 3.5" drives were superseded by flash.

3.5" was also the last widely used removable magnetic disc and used by virtually everyone for a time for backups, in all kinds of industrial devices etc the way microSD cards are today. Sure, there were Zip disks etc. but those were typically add-on devices and had a degree of compatibility issues vs 3.5" drives which were standard equipment for well over a decade whether you wanted them or not. So the majority of computer users from that era (as well as any still in service equipment) are most likely to still have, and possibly need replacements for, 3.5" drives since they most likely switched over long ago and have been a rapidly dwindling replacement market vs 5.25" which was pretty much dead by the early 90's.

I'd go as far as to say that 3.5" floppy's were much more widespread than for instance usb sticks are today and in numbers that has no comparable to this age(thankfully). The world basically ran on it until windows 95 came on a CDROM (also distributed on 13 floppys) and with it the multimedia age as they called it, but still it took a good decade before it was mostly CD/DVD's..

Believe it or not, my win95 copy came with both 3.5 floppy disks and a cd. my computer that time had a cdrom but I tried to install it with floppy disks, and failed miserably around the thirties or something. At that time there was a joke why MS named it win95 not something else.

If it was a retail copy of W95 with both the 3.5" disks and a CD-ROM, it also included a little receipt you could mail in to Microsoft so you could swap your 3.5" disks for 1.2 MB 5.25" ones. Just in case you were insane enough to try and install it on a machine only with 5.25" drives.

And people with 8" floppy drives were just out of luck.

Are you sure you aren’t thinking about Office? The last version came on 55 floppies



I have not so great memories of constantly reinstalling windows via floppy.

Swapping disks getS old quick

Can confirm the OS did as well (win 95). It was a hard install on my notebook which lacked a cd drive. So many floppies.

Same here, floppies and failures!

I ended up taking the notebook (a Dell Latitude with 810MB of hard disk) to a friends where we managed to install from a network mounted CD via the parallel port IIRC.

I bought a version of Novell Unixware back in the early 1990s that had even more floppies, 63 of 'em, IIRC.

I tried to short-circuit that long-winded installation by putting the last 50 or so on to a QIC tape-cassette. Most of the time that worked, sometimes it didn't.

It definitely came packaged this way in Australia. I can confirm OP's story.

I grew up in the CD era but I still had to use floppy disks for things like school assignments, because disks were far worse for that - burned once, disk lost. Rewritable disks were more expensive, failed like crazy and took a lot of time to burn anyway.

I remember that time as particularly annoying. It was a God send to see usb sticks become mainstream, and since everyone had mp3 players on them it meant that you were always carrying a USB stick with you (except for the poor souls that had ipods, who couldn't treat the storage as a folder for random files and had to use iTunes instead ).

You definitely could do that to my recollection, I remember doing so to ferry files around.

Here's an apple support doc showing how:


This was not a viable option pre 6th gen.

From firsthand experience? I think my 2003 iPod w/ Dock Connector can still boot to Disk Mode.

It was if you ran ipodlinux instead of the stock OS!

I had forgotten about this, thanks for the reminder :)

While the average computer user may have had, say, 40 floppy disks, and today's users have maybe two USB sticks on average, the sheer number of users has probably risen enough to overcome that difference.

Wow. Zip Disk really takes me back.

A highlight of my childhood was sneaking a pirated copy of Doom 2 on a zip disk and secret installing it on a school computer. That game was like four 3.5" disks otherwise, not easy to conceal.

My ex-main server has ZIP, JAZ and DAT all on the front panel.

DAT! I'd pretty much forgotten them-- in my first post-college job I had to manage a backup system that used them, swapping them each night before I went home. It really hammered home the importance of backups when someone completely hosed a database and I had to restore things.

It actually saddens me to have 5 1/4 bays on my computer that are completely unused nowadays. There's not even any point having a dvd burner anymore.

You can use one of the panels to mount a 12v cigarette lighter from an auto parts store.


My desktop has a 2 5-1/4 bays ... one has a DVD R/W and the other has a 16-function SD, compact-flash ... interface.

As someone who didn’t grow up with floppy disks, why were floppy drives topping out at a few megabytes, but Zip drives managed a hundred in the same size? It’s quite a jump in capacity.

Better/more fine control of the read-write heads leading to more dense information storage. Floppy discs used a stepper motor, Zip drives used something more like a modern hard disc actuator, see https://hddsurgery.com/blog/hdd-actuator

This is mostly it. The floating head, plus the much smaller head size is what allows a more dense packing of tracks per inch on the disk. It's almost like having a mini HD where the platter is removable.

I had SyQuest 105MB and then later iomega Zip drives. The SyQuest cartridges had a translucent shell and it was a shiny metallic HDD platter in there while. When you put in a platter you got a whole sound of the HDD whir to spin up and then clackity-clack when the heads loaded and started moving around. Always a little tension until the drive mounted.

I think the Zip used more of a brown plastic type of disk. The loading was more of a low chunck-chunck sound.


platter is removable

I remember repairing discs by swapping to the shell of a new one when something like the mini spring broke.

Hah, fair enough. I suppose I should have said "designed to be removable." :)

If your definition of "floppy" is just the form-factor than 3.5" floppies topped out around 240MB[1]. If you mean the actual magnetic media (not flopptical[2]) then the same drives could format a standard double-sided high-density 3.5" floppy to 32MB, which is only an 8x difference.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SuperDisk

2: The technical reason why these disks could have higher density was due to being able to use optical elements as a servo-mechanism, rather than just using dead-reckoning like a floppy would. This required the disk to be printed with marks that had high contrast in the infrared range.

Basically just technology improving over time. Just looking at wikipedia, 5.25" was introduced in 1976 not clear at what capacity but it fairly early on settled into 360KB. The 3.5" was introduced in 1982 at 720KB with 1.44MB broadly used by late 1980's. The Zip drive was introduced in late 1994 with 100MB capacity and was later expanded up to 750MB. But by that time CD-ROM technology with its cheaper media and less proprietary nature was very much replacing the magnetic based portable storage media.

Advancement in technology, just like a CD tops out at 650 MB but a Blu-ray disc can store 50 GB on the same-sized plastic disc.

5.25" floppies were on their way out in the mid 1980s, USB was born in the late 1990s and 3.5" disks were still around and in high use then. It's a generational thing.



The same reason there aren't Apple, Amiga, or Android branded Morse code keys.

You mention USB as well. Some people fail to remember that many 3.5" floppy drives in laptops used a USB connection internally. Maybe for that reason the chip already exists where a 5.25 does not.

And ? Both 5" and 3.5" used the same protocol/ electrical interface. The only true difference it's the motor speed and the number of tracks/sectors stored.

My ignorance includes my simply not knowing of any of these controllers working with 5.25.

That doesn't mean anyone wanted to include a dedicated Floppy bus anymore.

I guess that makes sense, but the cheap USB drives you find on Amazon are of recent manufacture, so for some reason it makes sense to keep making them.

Lots of legacy systems, industrial machines etc. still use 3.5" floppies, so many people will still have a need to write them with modern computers to transfer stuff to these machines. My mom actually has a fancy sewing machine that uses 3.5" floppies for patterns and she uses a usb floppy drive to write to it.

How else do you expect me to download pictures from my Sony Mavica /s

Oh, man, I remember when that was state of the art and everyone in the computer art department would sign up weeks ahead to get a day's use of it and fill that disk with like 12 images.

When was this? 1997.

It might have changed by now, but at least a few years ago 3.5" floppies were still used to exchange crucial information in the health sector here in Norway.

The 3.5" drives had no practical disadvantages as compared to 5.25" drives, so the 5.25" units really declined in popularity and were EOL'd in most cases long before 3.5" drives disappeared. IIRC the interfaces and pinouts were different too.

I would imagine that for many people, they moved any valuable data on 5.25" disks to 3.5" disks during the roughly decade of overlap of the two drive types.

I doubt there is enough of a market demand for legacy 5.25" disks where the data doesn't already exist on other mediums to make it worthwhile to offer any kind of modern interface.

Bookmarking this as I am in a kick off for a project that needs to archive data in a regulated industry and the scope includes 5.25" drives. There always somebody!

Considering that people are archiving from other types of old media such as video game cartridges, its not too farfetched of an idea. There is probably a lot of valuable data still residing on some old 5.25 floppies

Yes, while the 5.25" discs had a severe disadvantage in their fragility. Transporting them without protection was a recipe for disaster if a part of it was slightly bent. 3.5" disc's hard shell made them much more physically durable. I remember carrying them loose in my backpack without any problem.

Pinouts ? You know that you can connect a 5" and 35." drive on the same floppy drive port ?

There were many 5.25" drives with edge card connectors. Hence this popular style of floppy cable that could connect different mixes of 3.5" and 5.25" drives. http://www.nullmodem.com/images/fddcable02.jpg

The power cables were typically a different connector as well.

I've got a few in my basement ... my email is in my profile and if you'd like one, send me your shipping address. As a note, I'm about to throw out a huge pile of legacy electronics (I believe I have over half a ton going to the recycling facility so if there's a broad interest in old hardware, I could put together a list for the community.

I'm going to part out an old Sun E450 and use the chassis and power supplies for a 40 node Kubernetes cluster. There are 20 7200 RPM 18GB SCSI drives in there as well as four CPU/memory units.

Definitely don't throw this stuff out. Especially with lockdowns around the world there's lots of hobbyist hackers around that would love nothing more than their hands on this stuff. And if you have any truly exotic hardware give @foone a shout on twitter, he does amazing write-ups on all sorts of crazy shit :)

You might want to post some of that stuff at he Vintage Computer Federation[1] message board.

[1] http://www.vcfed.org/forum/forumdisplay.php?28-Vintage-Compu...

This is something I might be interested in... please do make a list!

Almost everyone who had 5.25" media already converted it to 3.5" in the 90s.

My first computer was 5.25" only, but when I built my second computer I put in one of those fancy new 3.5" drives along with a super fancy dual 5.25" and 3.5" combo drive. One of the first things I did was back up all my 5.25" disks to 3.5" and also copy them to the fancy hard drive I had in the new computer.

Going from having 2 5.25" drives to having a hard drive and and 3.5" drive was an explosion in storage space and it just didn't make sense to keep using the 5.25" disks, especially given their high failure rates.

Everyone I knew at the time did the same thing. 3.5" was vastly superior in storage and reliability (as long as you knew how to fix the springs in the metal covers on the disks).

Part of the issue is that while USB and 3 1/2" floppies overlapped for some time, the 5 1/4" floppy was already long dead by the time USB was introduced. I wouldn't be surprised if the 3 1/2" USB floppy drives you buy today are basically the same design developed in the late 90s. They're so cheap because they've been made the same way for decades now.

The 5 1/4 USB drive is bespoke hardware, which is why it is so expensive. I'd imagine it has a more software described interface so it can handle the galaxy of incompatible sectoring and formatting standards used by different companies back in the day. It used to be that if you formatted a floppy on one computer it was not likely to work on any other brand of computers. Having the formatting details be in software/firmware would make the drive far more useful for historians.

^ this reply should be right on top because it really captures the point. 3 1/2-USB drives existed “historically” because both technologies coexisted at the same time, just like you’ll find PS2-USB adapters, but good luck finding a PS2 to USB-C adapter.

I sense an assumption that both sizes are equally likely to be required and available. That's quite untrue. 5.25 floppies immediately vanished from the market when 3.5 became available. That was a long time ago. So you have the entire lifetime of 3.5 disks elapsing after the demise of 5.25. We're now roughly 20 years after the demise of the 3.5 disk so both demand for and availability of the older 5.25 is very low.

I wonder why they vanished immediately. When 3.5" disks came out, didn't people have data on 5.25" disks they wanted to continue to access for a while? I would have thought they'd be kept around as second drives on newer computers of the time for at least a few years.

5.25in drives did not vanish immediately. The transition occurred over a period of years. What really got things going in PC compatible land was the PS/2 series of desktops from IBM, which couldn't even fit a 5.25in drive in the case.

At around that time it was somewhat common to buy a new PC that had both 5.25in and 3.5in drives, and the common clone makers (Gateway, Packard Bell, et al) could fit either or both in their more-or-less standard PC/AT form factor cases.

For a while you could buy software that was on either format, and in some cases, like for utility software (Norton, etc.) they would include both in the box. Back when you still bought software in boxes...

They didn't vanish completely immediately, but it was pretty fast.

When 3.5" drives came out, people were mostly buying first computers. A new computer user wouldn't have any old data, and most likely could find software on 3.5" disks as easily as 5.25" (unless they were buying seriously old software). You could certainly buy computers with both, and you could add a 5.25" drive to most computers if you needed to, but 3.5" was so clearly better that few people would.

The PC was still in its exponential growth phase during each of these transitions.

So the total number of computers built with 5.25" vs. 3.5" drives likely differed by at least a few orders of magnitude. Today's USB/SD-only devices outnumber all of the previous generations combined by several more orders of magnitude.

Fewer computers means fewer software releases and fewer files that warrant rescuing. I think there was just dramatically less stuff to copy.

Some older computers added 3.5 drives to them. You would sometimes see both present in a computer. But when you bought a new computer you rarely considered getting both.

Not really. PCs coming stock with 3.5 and 5.25 drives was fairly common in the 386/486 era, and I can recall buying 5.25" floppies in the late 1990s because I lacked a spare 3.5" drive for sneakernetting to a secondary PC.

Why do you think the "the difference in demand alone can't explain this gap"?

I imagine there's little demand for 3.5in drives but they're readily available. Maybe the difference in demand is more than I assume it to be.

I suspect the difference in demand is huge. I still have stacks of 3.5" disks sitting around the house. I haven't had a 5.25" inch disk sitting around since the early 90s.

I'm about the same here. I should really order a USB 3.5" drive to get the last data off them this year.

I got one about a decade ago as a just in case... it's in my garage somewhere, still in the box.

Doesn't the magnetic data on the disks fade over that time scale?

Dunno... I don't actually have any 3.5" media... but got one because back then, I was more inclined to help people with things.

Perhaps the missing piece of information is that: nobody makes any of these drives any more. The 3.5 drives sold are either old stock or refurbished. Heck I bought my last one (to make bootable floppy images for some patent litigation project) probably 10 years ago and that one was a refurb.

Or _not_ refurbished, according to what I recall reading on some vintage-computer discussion — the typical Amazon-grade USB floppy drives contain scrap pulls that may or may not still work.

In school I was thought: with lower demands, come lower prices

You left out a part:

For commodity goods, lowering the demand will lower the price towards the marginal cost of production.

A commodity good is interchangeable: you don't care whether you buy a bushel of winter wheat from Farmer A or Farmer B. A commodity good is produced by many entities and desired by many entities.

Some goods are not commodities but are substitutable: when AMD made pin-compatible 386 and 486 processors, you didn't care much about whether a 40MHz 386 came from Intel or AMD, which is why AMD's lower prices let them build their marketshare substantially.

If a widget isn't being produced at all, just sitting in a warehouse, the price can easily be governed by:

- the person who needs a hundred of them vs the warehouse that would like to no longer pay an inventory tax on the 110 in stock

- the broker who knows where the last hundred widgets are stored, and has figured out customers who really need them in ones and tens

- the warehouse that thinks it has all the remaining widgets in the world, and advertises them at a high price to see if anybody wants them

Somebody failed to communicate you the big picture.

Usually, prices are higher if the demand is consistently lower. But that's not a certainty.

Anyway, production and consumption are in (near) equilibrium, and the price is the communication channel that brings that (near) equilibrium. That doesn't imply in any price level, it's only a communication channel, where both sides input their preferences and settle on some value. The actual value depends on what are both sides preferences.

Lower demand would be a shift from D2 back to D1 on this chart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supply_and_demand#/media/File:...

But if the demand curve shifts leftwards or downwards enough, it won't intersect with the supply curve at all. At that point, the model says commerce halts because there's no price that both sellers and buyers are willing to trade at.

5.25" floppy disks are more likely to suffer physical damage at this point in history than a 3.5" disk. This would also contribute to the supply-demand curve biasing to 3.5" (on top of the ubiquity argument)

3.5" have a more durable design - the hard plastic, the spring loaded shield and, most importantly, the center disk that rested on the enclosure housing that prevented the magnetic medium from sagging.

When 5.25" disks are stored on end, they sag over time causing them to physically be unreadable. You have to store them flat. 3.5" are (mostly) resistant to this sag and therefore will be more likely to survive long term.

That's what I was wondering: if you came upon a cache of 5-1/4" floppies, what are the odds of them being readable? How well will the magnetic media hold over, say, three decades?

(While I'm sure there are lots of reasons you might want a floppy drive, the case I have in mind is "Hey, here are our old financial records from the 80s" or "I wonder what's on this disk in grandma's attic".)

3.5" disks are less durable. The sliding door snags inside the drive. This destroys both the disk and the drive.

I can see the slider getting snagged, but I don't see how that can destroy the drive. At least for the model drive I have the slider clears way before the floppy gets near the head. Worst I can see happening is the floppy getting jammed inside, but that should be easy enough to fix given a screwdriver.

Not what you're asking for, but hey, this device http://www.deviceside.com/fc5025.html is different from the standard USB floppy adapters.

Standard is named UFI, spec at https://www.usb.org/sites/default/files/usbmass-ufi10.pdf

UFI does not provide actual low-level access to the drive. It only support a few common floppy formats, like 720kB, 1440kB and therefore not 1.2MB or 360k of the 5.25 inch floppies.

UFI does actually support 1.2MB! This is because many Japanese computers, like the PC-98, spun their 3.5 inch floppies at 360rpm to match the sector layouts of the 5.25 inch one. Many USB floppy drives support this - if you insert a 3.5 inch disk and format it as 1.2MB you'll hear the pitch of the drive motor change.

It's kind of tricky. UFI does mention 1.25MB, but the table states again "3.5 inch".

So, yes, if you want to format your 1.44MB capable 3.5 inch disks as 1.25MB you can. But still not the 5.25 inch disks the OP is requesting.

3.5" disks were in use partially into the 2000s and didn't really disappear until rewriteable flash media became common, cheap, and well supported among operating systems--which is about the time when Windows XP more or less took over 9x as the most common consumer OS.

5" disks were well on their way to being rare in 1990. I'd wager no system after the Pentium came out (and probably earlier, like maybe '92 or so) had a built-in 5" drive unless carried over from an older system.

I've been looking into this and it's straightforward-ish.

The greaseweazle is a new fairly low cost disk controller, and you can couple that with a 5.25" enclosure for a CDROM/DVD.

The cheapest way is to buy an old full size external CDROM/DVD drive, then scavenge the case.

The amount of data on 5.25" disks which is also in standard PC formats means that a standard USB-mass-storage implementation would have limited use.

There are plenty of archival-quality solutions which perform low-level flux imaging of the media, and these do operate over USB. Because the 5.25" media saw application in tons of non-PC applications, and this is the kind of controller you need to do useful work with them.

More info here: https://archiveteam.org/index.php?title=Rescuing_Floppy_Disk...

in a similar vein, I love those mini CDs but they seem to have completely disappeared from the face of the earth. It's a shame, they were super cute.

I think with a lot of 'slot style' disk drives, those were incompatible. Made them a lot less practical.

I concur, especially given that automotive CD players are almost universally slot-loading. (And the rest are caddy-loading changers, which also only work with 120mm full-size discs.) That's the only thing I've burned CDs for in the last decade or so, thus 80mm minis are right out.

Likely because the number of 3.5" drives shipped was on the order of 100-1000 times greater than 5.25" drives. There are still obscure devices shipping which use 3.5" drives.

I'll speculate. Companies started making these things in the late 90s, when it made sense. In 2020, it might make sense to keep selling drives. But nobody would start making and selling these drives today.

A few things happened around the turn of the century: USB came in, 3.5" floppies went away, and laptops started to replace desktops for more people. 3.5" was clearly not the future, but customers had lots of recent work and data on them, that they needed to access from their new computers.

The likes of Apple and Sony sold 3.5" USB drives with their new laptops (for way more than $10!). At some later point, Apple and Sony's customers had moved on, but the ecosystem of parts vendors, remaining customers, sellers etc would've been enough for the cheap generic vendors to move in.

What happened instead with 5.25"? I'd say: the market was smaller, because 10 years of growth hadn't happened yet. The market was much more fragmented, most computers/OSes couldn't read disks written on another vendor's system. There were fewer pieces of $$$$ equipment (synthesizers, industrial controllers) that embedded them. And finally, the 5.25" -> 3.5" transition was pre-USB and pre-laptop, so desktop users just bought desktops with two non-portable drives using the native disk interface.

I have a BBC Model B and a BBC Master, both with 5¼" drives. They were used a lot in British schools, and hung around into the early 1990s -- schools had invested in software for them, but didn't have the budget to replace them.

My dad had an IBM 286 clone, which is the oldest computer I can remember using (Captain Comic!). That had both 5¼" and 90mm¹ floppy drives, but we almost always used the latter.

All these machines were very expensive at the time, and not very common for home use. Are there any popular old computers (Commodore, Amiga, Mac etc) that used a 5¼" drive? My impression is everything was on cassette, until 90mm drives became cheap enough for home use. (Even the BBC machines sold for home use usually used cassettes; the disk drive was a separate, expensive purchase -- double the cost of the computer itself!²)

¹ Yes, I'm that much of a metric purist.

² http://chrisacorns.computinghistory.org.uk/Computers/BBCBI3....

> Are there any popular old computers (Commodore, Amiga, Mac etc) that used a 5¼" drive? My impression is everything was on cassette, until 90mm drives became cheap enough for home use.

Your impression is very much mistaken. The Commodore 64 and Apple // were both equipped with 5 1/4" drives quite frequently, as were the Atari 400/800, the Tandy CoCo, etc. The TI 99/4A was usually found with cartridges and tapes, but could be equipped with a peripheral expansion box including a 5 1/4" drive.

Anecdotally as a kid growing up in the 80s, 5 1/4"s were everywhere and I didn't see my first 90mm disk until years later.

Yes, the 5.25in drives were phasing out by 1990, in part because of the IBM PS/2 series computers. It wasn't uncommon to buy software that had the option of either (or in some cases both) in the early 1990's.

What was really rare were the 8in floppy drives. Those were mostly on more expensive business systems (Tandy Model 2 for example) and minicomputers. I don't think I ever got to use a system that had those.

The prevalence of 5 1/4" drives in 80's home computers appears to have been very regional. In Europe they seem to have been very rare and as you stated most home users utilized cassette tape storage. At the time 5 1/4" drives were less expensive in the US and US households had significantly higher median incomes than those in many parts of Europe which led to much wider adoption of floppy drives in the US.

In the 80's we had three family computers with 5 1/4" drives. A TRS-80 Model I, IBM PC XT and near the end of the 80's a Gateway 386 system. I believe the 386 system also included a 3 1/2" drive.

In addition I had my own Commodore 64 with a 5 1/4" floppy. All of my friends, which was a decent number, who had a C64 also had floppies. If you went into a store there was little to no software available on tape for any systems with the exception of Radio Shacks where they had tape based software for Tandy Coco's which were not particularly popular systems.

> Are there any popular old computers (Commodore, Amiga, Mac etc) that used a 5¼” drive?

Yes. Pretty much all PCs prior to the PS/2 era (so, the IBM PC, XT, and AT, and clones thereof, but not the PS/1, which, oddly, was later than the PS/2) came with them as internal drives (except the lower-end model of the PCjr). They were also common accessories to the Apple II/IIe/II+ computers (and I think the IIc, though I never saw either one of those in the wild).

The Apple II usually had 5¼" drives. They were available for 8-bit Atari systems and the Commodore 64 too.

> 90mm

Ah, technical correctness, the best sort of correctness.

Wondering about the price for the 8" version.

I actually almost bought a device with an 8" floppy drive. The device was not powering and I'm not an EE, and there were no discs for it anyway. I had a brief interest in maybe making my own, and did a little bit of research, but couldn't find much. IIRC I found one device that supposedly could interface 8" drives to a modern PC, but it seemed pretty involved. I ended up not buying the device, and kinda regret it now.

3.5" drives came about as the home computing & internet movement was just starting to take off. Computers adopted the newer more compact technology just as there was an explosion in demand for computers. Their popularity then meant that legacy support needed to continue longer as well.

There's no money in it. They couldn't sell enough to justify the costs of designing and building them.

I don’t see 5.25” disks since C64. All the PCs I have seen since 1990 had 3.5” drives, and that was the PC boom time. I doubt that there are a lot of 5.25 disks around, as many would have been converted already to 3.5”.

On the contrary, I (40yo) own some 3.5 floppies (a couple of old big box pc games).

I would guess because 3.5” disks were prominent in PCs for much longer than 5.25” disks. When USB was introduced, it would be common for the PC to include a 3.5” disk drive but 5.25” had been out of favor for some time by then.

On top of that it was common for drivers to be included on 3.5” that came with hardware, even for server grade hardware, this persisted for a long time. It was not uncommon even in the late 2000s for rack mount servers to include floppy drives for this reason.

Lastly, because of their size 5.25” disks were rarely included in laptops and portables once 3.5” disks became available. Having 3.5” disks being prominent in laptops led to many miniaturized versions of the 3.5” mechanisms which translate well into a USB peripheral form factor.

In addition to all the other reasons, 5.25" floppy disks were genuinely 'floppy' and easily damaged by wear and tear, so there are far fewer of them around in sufficiently good condition to be worth trying to read.

I had far more 3.5" floppies fail than 5.25" The "protective" door often blew up or would come apart in the drive. The hard shell and protective door would lead to people throwing the discs everywhere. The 5.25" was meticulously stored in a sleeve and disc case, only being exposed when inserting into the drive. Every time I find a 5.25" it glistens like brand new. Good luck getting data off any of these after sitting for a decade. I had to refresh discs (rewrite all the data) after sitting for only a few years.

Might as well ask why there are no 8" ones.

I dont have a working 5.25" or 8" floppy drive anymore; I wouldn't trust the 3.5" i have.

imo floppy drives found in the field today, if working at all, are likely to only speak to themselves and not share media with another drive due to age and alignment issues. maybe one could detune a new drive to match an older ones quirks if necessary.

I think the better approach is to treat reading the media as a one time recovery and then emulate the drive electrically; if you're working with an actual 5" disk somewhere. IIRC there's arduino boards that pretend to be a floppy drive and serve sd card images.

Yeah, well try and find an 8 inch floppy drive and USB controller... ;)

Also remember that popular home computers often went from say ZX Spectrums (Cassette) to Amiga/Atari ST (3.5 floppy) - so there was no intermediate 5.25 floppy stage.

That's gotta be a European thing. In the US, cassette drives were pretty much non-existent (in favor of 5.25" floppy drives) from at least the mid-80's onward, at least. I personally have absolutely no memory whatsoever of ever seeing anyone actually use a cassette drive to load programs on a computer. (though I did read about it in books on occasion). And I was a kid during the era of the Apple IIe's popularity, with machines of its ilk being my first exposure to computers.

Even into the 386/486 era, at least before CD-ROM drives were commonplace, it was common for computers to have both 5.25" and 3.5" drives and to find software in either format.

It's pedantry and missing your point about progression to 3.5", but given this is wallowing in retro - you can't forget that the ZX Spectrum went to Microdrive and then, with the Spectrum+3, to the 3" (not 3.5") floppy :)



Same here, Commodore V20 cassette & cartridge to Tandy 1000TL/2 3.5” single density.

It's a shame, I really liked the "clong" sound the handle made when you locked the 5.25 floppy disk in the drive.

IIRC 5.25 and 3.5 floppies had same amount of storage (in fact 3.5 a bit more). Combined with the fragility and size of 5.25 floppies (you couldn't just put it in your shirt pocket), they lost interest

Depends on the system(s) you are talking about.

For the Commodore 64/128, there are multiple modern solutions using both USB and even microSD that emulate 5.25" floppy drives. My personal favorite, while not cheap, is the Ultimate1541. Over the years, due to its FPGA base, it has grown from a 5" drive emulator to way, way more.

I think he's looking for the opposite: use a 5.25" floppy on a modern computer, instead of convince a vintage computer that you've got a compatible floppy disk.

It looks like 5 1/4” drives themselves are getting quite rare, not many on eBay, while there are lots of 3.5”. So even with a controller, getting a drive is not simple.

I’d say the main reason, is that 3.5” drives are much more common, and they overlapped USB They are much more standard than 5 1/4” drives too.

Surprised nobody mentioned iMacs. They were the first major desktop without a floppy drive but they did have USB. The first accessory for most was either a floppy or Zip drive.

Where are you seeing $10 usb/floppy drives?

Amazon, give or take a few dollars.

Id be ashamed if I was caught with a 5 inch floppy

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