February 17, 2005
I'm currently building up my new Pentium M system for HTPC duties. This means doing a bench (open air) install, clean OS build and Prime95 torture test burn in. I also flash the BIOS to the latest revision from the manufacturer's support page. Sometimes the motherboards are fairly up to date out of the box, but this one was four BIOS revisions behind-- maybe because it's a relatively new model and thus not quite "baked" yet.
Flashing the BIOS is one of those "must be done from a bootable DOS disk" operations. And it's a pain every single time, mainly because the PC industry can't seem to rid itself of the crappy legacy 1.44mb floppy diskette drive. Why must every new motherboard have a 1.44mb floppy diskette connector, cable, and corresponding BIOS/boot settings? Is there anything more useless? It's not like floppies were ever very good. Where do I begin? The "depends on the phase of the moon, brand of media, and which computer it was formatted on" unreliability? the unbearable slowness? the miniscule storage size?
The floppy drive must die. If Apple can drop the floppy from the 1998 iMac, why can't the PC industry kill this pernicious thing off seven years later? Good lord.
Of course, there are alternatives:
- External USB floppy drive. I have one. It's a last resort when I can't make anything else work. Support for this is surprisingly robust; plug it in and it's nearly indistinguishable from a hard-wired floppy.
- Bootable CDROMs have been around at least as long as the iMac, and are quite mature. Ironically, you still need a boot floppy image to make a CD bootable; the CD boot process emulates a floppy boot, which loads CD-ROM drivers to read the rest of the CD. Elegant, it ain't.
- Bootable USB 2.0 flash drives aren't quite as widely supported as bootable CDROMs, but it's getting there. This is the true heir to the floppy drive... er, throne. Such as it is.
You'll need a few things to get your computer booting from a USB flash drive, though:
- Obviously, a good USB flash drive, I highly recommend the PQI Intelligent Stick, the "smallest and lightest USB drive". I don't know about that, but these things are really tiny-- and they even have a cute little activity LED. Stay away from no-name "USB 2.0" flash drives with abysmal transfer rates.
- A USB boot formatter. Try the free HP USB Disk Storage format tool. You'll also need some (groan) DOS boot files. Bootdisk.com is also a great resource for stuff like this -- which makes bootcd.com seem awfully inevitable, if someone can foot the bandwidth bill.
- BIOS support is key-- getting this new motherboard to boot from my 512mb flash drive was not easy. It doesn't appear in the standard boot sequence BIOS options (CDROM, HDD, removable)-- "removable" does not apply to USB flash drives, which doesn't make sense to me. I had to not only enable "boot from other device", but also disconnect the CDROM and HDD power cables. After I did that, it booted up like a champ.
I guess the price we pay for all this glorious backwards compatibility is sanity. Don't even get me started on PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I wish the floppy was dead too.
Taking up valuable 3.5 inch bay space in my computer where I could put another hard drive. And we've got enough cables in the computer already without a dedicated floppy cable.
I'm with Jeff.
The statements along the lines of "I still need floppies because of X" aren't decent justification for floppies.
They're examples of what needs to be changed such that we no longer need floppies.
"You never know when you'll need it"
If I don't have any info on floppies and nothing that demands a floppy, I *do* know when I'll need it: When hell freezes over.
"...replacement that works half as well or half as universally..."
Bootable USB flash. If it ain't there yet, it needs to get there. More than I need to keep a floppy around.
"I'll give up my floppy as soon as Windows setup doesn't require it for mass storage drivers."
Another example of a required change that's been turned into justification. I'm *not* going to stand behind keeping floppies for this: I'm going to stand behind *Windows needing to change* how it handles the loading of mass storage drivers.
Why all the bile? Yes, floppies are unreliable and too small to be useful. But since they actually work, and since the universe of manufacturers can't seem to get their collective bleep together on making a replacement that works half as well or half as universally, we're going to be stuck with floppies for quite some time to come. Watch that blood pressure...
I'll give up my floppy as soon as Windows setup doesn't require it for mass storage drivers. To the best of my knowledge Windows XP will not install 3rd party storage drivers during setup from any other media. I needed a floppy drive to install Windows on my SATA-Raid machine.
Amen, Jeff. I am glad somebody IS thinking exactly the same way I am. Floppy disks must die! We don't need backwards compatibility if everybody stops using and producing(!) floppy disks. There's really NO advantage in using them. They are unreliable, expensive, big and old: SUCK!
I can flash the BIOS on my MSI board in Windows. The only time I must absolutely have a floppy is during Windows install (F6) so I can boot off of a SATA drive, and that's absolutely ridiculous.
I'll give up my floppy as soon as Windows setup doesn't require it for mass storage drivers
The only time I must absolutely have a floppy is during Windows install (F6) so I can boot off of a SATA drive
I think the external USB floppy will work in that scenario. The BIOS works some magic to make it "appear" like a standard floppy drive.
since the universe of manufacturers can't seem to get their collective together on making a replacement that works half as well or half as universally
Once BIOS support is more universal for usb flash drives, I think more manufacturers will pull the trigger on the stupid, ancient floppy interface.
I noticed the other day when setting up my wireless network that XP (SP2 at least) actually gives me the option to write the network settings to a USB flash drive (gape). So, the Windows folks are getting there... But excerting some more pressure on them wouldn't hurt.
I would note that many blue chips I know think of USB drives as a major security headache so don't like them being used or point blank stop them being used - but then, floppy drives have the same problems to some extent.
If I could reliably boot my (slightly ageing) pc off a USB drive the floppy drive would be out the window!
many blue chips I know think of USB drives as a major security headache so don't like them being used or point blank stop them being used - but then, floppy drives have the same problems to some extent.
Probably because they know anyone using a floppy disk to transfer data isn't smart enough to be a real security risk.. ;)
How about a USB flash-memory A: drive emulator? I've got a backup/restore application that demands special drivers from Drive A: at startup, and I would be happiest if I could have a USB dongle emulating the diskette drive with the demanded floppy contents hanging in one of the USB jacks. For my issue, it doesn't even need to be bootable, but bootable USB isn't much more than a checked bit (in the device; BIOS must recognize it, too). I've just (5/13/2005) tried Google'ing for such an invention, no luck yet.
The sure bet is the external USB floppy drive in that scenario, which DOES trick the system into seeing it as an A:/ drive.
I think the same BIOS trickery would work for flash drives if they are bootable; same way a boot CD appears to be an A:/ drive. Hmm.
First of all, thanks for the help. I stumbled across this page and was able to boot from a USB flash drive and update my BIOS because of it.
The BIOS considered the flash drive another hard drive for me so in order to boot from it I had to make it a higher priority than my regular hard drive in the hard drive boot order. Like you, I did not have the option to make it the first boot device in the more general list.
Since disconnecting your hard drive made it work it seems that you may not have noticed the hard drive only boot order list.
Or your BIOS could be completely different from mine.
I also completely agree that floppy drives need to go. When the Windows based utility for updating the BIOS included with my motherboard was not working I was quite upset and worried that I would need to defile my computer by installing a floppy drive.
BIOS support is critical.
I just built a new A64 system and I was able to boot off a USB key much more easily. This BIOS made it a lot more clear what I was booting from, and why..
All of this is a nice exercise buit floppie or no I need a list of motherboards that will boot to a USB device. preferably a USB external hard drive.
Switch to Linux, and you don't even need a floppy drive :)
So my care factor on this issue is zero...
Of course, I'd rather an inbuilt SCSI controller instead of a floppy port on my Mobo, so I guess in general I agree.
Hope my inquiry isn't too far off topic. I have XP. I have many old 1.44 floppy disk that had standard jpeg images on them. I think it was a window 98 machine that processed these disks and the camera of course that put the files there. None of those disks are readable in my Dell A drive. Is there a solution or fix? Any advice is welcome.
But why abandon a cheap, quickly reusable universal format that's more often than not conveniently avaliable?
The only other methods of file transfer that aren't through the internet aren't universally compliant (remember, USB wasn't around until Win98 SP2...), and cost more than $50 a pop, which is expensive and inefficient if you're just trying to lug around a single config.sys and simple disk rescue/setup tools.
Why doesn't someone invent a flash card reader that perfectly emulates a 1.44 MB floppy? Does anyone know of such and invention?
This way you could put your windows install stuff on a flash card and it would stay put. Of course you would be limited to a lousy 1.44 MB on your 64 MB flash card, but at least you wouldn't have to deal with those stupid floppy disks.
I have an embedded industrial machine that takes 5.25" floppies. I'm looking for a way to get away from that because I can't find those dinosaurs anymore.
Is it possible to make a DEDICATED A port so when a formatted USB memory key is inserted, it will immediately recognize it as DRIVE A, and not drive C.
The problem with computers today is taht as soon as you get into it, you have to play by their rules, unless you are some sort of coding wizard (I'm computer savy, but I could never program anything worth a damn). I'm hoping that soon enough either windows changes, or people overthrow it because the fact is that they hold back the progress of computers using stone-age technologies... So in closing, don't blame IBM, blame the bums at Microsoft... I'd say the safest thing to do now is hop over to linux
I have seen a lot of technology die. No problem. I just hate to see floppies die because it could take my embroidery machine with it. Yeah, I could upgrade to a flash drive machine for $8000. They do not stitch as well as the one I have. What did I do to deserve that punishment? let it live.
Obsolescence is not always necessary to make a buck.
Aside from their low capacity, in today's terms, there is abysmal quality in new floppys.
I have bought 50s and 100s of IBM and SONY branded floppys and tested them with 'superformat". Most of them are not suitable for booting, where all the contiguous sectors (and tracks) must be good. I don't blame the drives because the same disks choke at the same place on another machine.
The best I;ve found were some "excess to need" manufacturer's surplus OEM driver floppys that had obsolete stuff on them. Superformat reformatted about 98% of them. Far better than the optimistic 70% you get from 100% guarenteed floppys from Staples!
I can't honestly say that bad drives are the major problem but I often wonder why nobody stresses the poor quality of new floppys. A lot of boot failures are due to defective floppys.
Legacy BIOSes should be able to read a non-standard format from a stick - they work with oversize disk formats. Building a reader that looks like a floppy drive at the connector means undoing what a floppy controller does. If they can do it for a tape drive they should be able to do it for a flash drive or memory card. To get thru a boot, the data would probably have in the part of the device that can be specified in the standard BIOS PARAMETER BLOCK.
Now, I have my $0.02 worth in.
What's your problem with floppies? Ok, they are VERY old and small! But we also still use VHS video tapes - 30 years after their invention and after the invention of DVD!!
I love the good old floppy drive! With a simple boot diskette is easy to handle. Ok, for the storage I use no more diskettes, also not CDs, DVDs ore USB-sticks, only external HDD's. But in a emergency case you can save your files for more than 10 years on a floppy disk. That's never going to work with a USB-flash drive, trust me!! With DVD? Maybe! W'll see in the future...
I left the floppy 1998 when bootable CD:s came, never regretted it!
Kept a couple floppies and a drive just in case, but never needed them :-)
Biggest issue i have which still requires the floppy is on XP/2003 setup where it says Press F6 to install thid party driver. Wont install unless you do due to SATA/RAID. The thing only looks at A: USB floppys dont always work and nor should i have to use them, would rather use USB Key or CD.
nlite is a life saver, it slipstreams the drivers into a new Windows install CD for you. Very easy to use and you dont have to sit and learn all about unattended setups from Microsofts website.
Die floppy die... fdd will die if all mobo makers start using EFI/firmware chips (8/16/128meg chips are so cheap ;)
I agree... Dell defaults to no floppy for a couple years.
Microsoft wants you to install 3rd party drivers during setup from floppy.
Emergency Boot within Windows wants to use a floppy.
Come on... if your hard drive crashes, it should be simple. Nope.. Microsoft cant catch up to manufacturers or vice versa...
End the use of floppies and force everyone to do it the same
what can i say is that part of the programmers in the world do appreciate what helped them to develop today's great software for computers or industrial machines. (The Floppy drive of course) Since the day they built the "Hello World" program, everything still depends on the floppy. technologies today weren't expected during that time. and among all storage medias, floppy is still the easiest to control. not all coders are brilliant enough to use more advanced storage and some may be lazy and just get back to floppies. moreover, even a number of motherboard manufacturers still hang on with floppies. we cannot just force all manufacturers to be parallel in their products or everything produced will have almost no difference and left us no choice for our hardware customization. today's China still have some organisations actively using P1 computers and can be expected that there might not have USB for substitution. also, many factories, firms or even educational fields still using old machines with floppies. where can those new students find floppies if it is out of computing arena? it is also agreeable that microsoft cannot catch up with the hardware advancement. how many software did microsoft produced during the time when USB, DVD, DDR module, Intel cores and other hardwares advances or born? and how many coders are there in this world compare to hardware manufacturers? that's why microsoft still a step back to floppies. even in tetiary studies on electronics and programming, floppy is still a popular character. mechatronics students for example, will consider more on their budget for their project thus might look for old PCs to control their systems. and just because of the A:, today's SATA and USB still can't be independant . transformation from IDE to SATA needs floppy for driver. USB also can't emulate A: drive very well. if it is really to take floppy out, this will be like a huge revolution where billions will need to spent in other to migrate old machines in many firms and factories to get rid of floppies. we also cannot assume that all firms and factories are rich enough for that revolution. it is not like this world is so wonderful that there's no poverty. so don't just care of tech trends and new tech standards to get rid of floppies. floppy still needs to survive, at least, for 5 years before the world of computing allows it to retire.
Well said Brian, but just because there are companies that cannot afford new equipment, or new technologies, does not mean the rest of us have to suffer.
Here I am trying to install Windows XP on a laptop that came with Vista, and I cant because Windows needs the sata to be installed from a floppy. The laptop doesn't have a floppy drive !!
So I have to find other means to emulate a floppy drive, be it with USB drive or whatever. Just a huge pain in the ass. Atleast give me the option to use a floppy, USB flash drive, or CD.
Can you make the thumb drive appear to be a floppy drive? Or is just making the thumb drive bootable as close to that as you can come?
Actually, I've seen a few - VERY few - floppy drive adapters for SD cards. You slip the SD card into this thing that *looks* like a floppy, insert it into a floppy drive, and hey presto, you can read the SD chip.
Here's a site over in Europe that sells them - or used to, I can't tell if they still have any in stock.
Get a few cheap SD cards, and *poof*, you have 16 megabyte floppy disks.
I have been working in IT for years and I can't remember the last time I used a floppy. You don't need it installed for the computer work properly. However there are some applications that require is. Backwards compatibility seems to be a major issue with any x86 based system. Everything has to work. Apple had the balls to put their put down and say no backward campatibility.
Still thee is nothing wrong with the floppy drive. It's just antiquated. I never had issues with floppies other than mistreatment of media or aging.
What is really annoying about floppies and flash disks is several years ago i purchased a usb flash disk ( A little 32mg) and it came with a little switch that converted it into a floppy drive, worked perfectly, showed up in bios as a normal floppy, worked exactly like a floppy under all situations i tested for. Well long story short i lost the damn thing and ive never seen them sold again
I have Optical test equipment that is only equipped with floppy drives, and have had to spend THOUSANDS on airfare, meals, hotels, car rentals and labor to re-test something because the damn floppy disk went bad between the site and the office. I need a solution that will just plug into the floppy port and work like it was a floppy drive, we can't load drivers onto these machines!
Four years, later, in 2009, I STILL need floppy to install XP on SATA RAID. Something is just plain wrong! I am moving to Vista, eventhough I haven't planed it for sure. Damn you Microsoft!
The Floppy Drive Must Die along with the narrow minded idiots that think the world revolves around themselves and the latest software updates. I need a floppy to run some old machinery at my shop, but if the all knowing all wonderful Jeff Atwood will kindly send me $75,000.00 to upgrade my machine so that I can use a sata box, then all will be well. I'm saying think before you condemn! One big problem with the world is there's constant change, and there's no refinement and or standardization. Yeah, go and start flaming me now, or is the term 'flaming' obsolete too?
I need the floppy forever!
Yes I know about the problems with the floppies. But here's one more: I have more music keyboards(Korg, Yamaha, Roland), and the only way to make them communicate with the computer, is the floppy (sometimes it needs to be old DD - 720kB - this is PAIN). And all the new computers do not have a floppy drive, so one should buy a stupid usb drive, that doesn't work many times, and cannot even format a floppy to 720 k. My keyboards have midi connection, but this doesn't help with the file transfer... (by the way, the new stupid computers, do not have the midi interface, but they are expensive enough, and they become even more expensive after you buy 30 adapters to fit every gadget you have...)
Don't get me wrong, I don't like the floppies, they are stupid and they give errors all the time, but I don't think about any way to make all the keyboard makers to make adapters for the older keyboards they made...
Well, in some respects you may be right there. Floppies are old and to a fair extent unreliable but they're still here and will probably be for some time to come. I'm not dissing them (I like them a lot :P) but I have to say that most of the disks I own won't read nowadays and it can be a pain to find myself a disk when I need one.
This probably won't work for embedded hardware (unless it's x86 or compatible with GRUB), but here's a somewhat Linux-oriented method you can use if you use the GRUB bootloader (or can get it running on your system):
1. Download "memdisk" - the search term "grub boot cd memdisk sbm" should turn a few sites up that have this file, which will probably be called 'memdisk' or 'memdisk.bin'. Alternatively, if you have SYSLINUX installed you likely already have the 'memdisk' file somewhere on your system.
2. Somehow procure a disk image of the floppy in question.
3. Edit GRUB's menu.lst to include the following:
root (fdX) root (hdX[,Y]) # fill in as appropriate
4. Voila! You should be up and running. :D
Tip: While something of a roundabout system, you could boot Linux or FreeDOS off a USB drive, start GRUB4DOS w/ memdisk from that, and boot whatever target OS you need from there, if your USB drive doesn't like booting reliably in floppy mode.
The floppy drive does not harm anyone
Live and let live jeff
Live and let live
God only know when you need it
Well one of the biggest problems with floppies in my oponion is the high power comsumption. But i am having problems installing in a sata drive too, but thats microsoft for you nothing new