PC Hardware

Keeping a Floppy Disk Drive Running

Although floppy disk drives are usually rugged and dependable, they do take a lot of abuse and sometimes they fail. Some failures are simply caused by improper use, some by overuse combined with a lack of cleaning, and sometimes the mechanism just stops working.

Floppy disk drives fail more than any other part of a computer system. They are highly susceptible to failure because their internal components are directly exposed to the outside world. Often, there is only a small door or slot that separates the R/W heads from dust, grime, and cigarette smoke. Floppy disk drives are often the victims of inverted disks, paper clips, and other foreign objects that can cause mechanical damage.

Floppy disk drives are inexpensive and easy to replace. The only preventive maintenance required is to keep the floppy disk drive clean! Excellent cleaning kits are available in most computer and discount stores. To achieve the best performance from a floppy disk drive in a high-use or industrial environment, schedule monthly cleaning.


One unusual floppy disk drive solution that appeared as the 3.5-inch models gained dominance was the hybrid 3.5/5.25 drive. This married the slots for both formats in a single housing. They install just like a single drive.

Errors Caused by the Floppy Disk

If a floppy disk drive doesn't work, the first thing you suspect should be the floppy disk.

To check a floppy disk, follow this procedure:

  1. First, make sure the disk is not write protected. The hole on the right top corner of a 3.5-inch disk (viewed from the front) should be closed. On a 5.25-inch disk, the notch on one side should be visible (not covered).

  2. Try another disk.

  3. Try a new (formatted) disk.

  4. Try someone else's disk-one that is known to work on another computer (first make sure there is no critical data on the disk).

  5. If two or more disks are unreadable, the drive is suspect; try going to MS-DOS and reading a directory using the DIR command.

Never test a drive by using a disk that contains important data! If the drive is bad, it may destroy any disks placed into it.