Can I Get Data From 5 1/4" Floppy Disks?

Dan from Winchester, VA writes:

What about 5 1/4″ disks? I have boxes of them I’d like to retrieve (usable) data from including programs and/or jpg’s etc., for current or future use? Thank you for your help.

Unfortunately, Dan you may be a decade or so too late to retrieve that data.  For those of you who don’t remember the good old  5.25 inch disk, below is a photo of it sandwiched between the larger 8 inch floppy disk it replaced and the smaller 3 1/2 floppy disk. I can remember  using the 8 inch disk back in high school when we were learning the amazing new skill of Word Processing on a CRT monitor with glowing green letters.

There’s a good chance that your data may not even be salvageable even if you could locate a drive. I explained in this article about the limited lifespan of magnetic storage, which includes tapes and disks.

But even if the data is still good, finding a drive to retrieve it will be a challenge. You can still purchase external drives for 3 1/2 inch floppy discs at a fairly reasonable price.

As far as my research shows, there are no 5.25″ external floppy drives that connect via USB to a modern computer, the way the external drives for the 3.5″ drives will.  You may be able to find a used 5.25″ external drive that connects with a parallel port to an older computer. Or if you could find a functioning older computer that has a functioning 5.25 drive and a CD burner, you might be able to copy  your data that way.

I would check with local computer stores as well, there might be some tech-savvy person with an old computer that still functions who is willing to copy your data for the right price. There are also file transfer companies that will transfer the data to flash drive for you. A quick Internet search turned up at least three, so with a little research, you should be able to find one.

But ask yourself one question: is this data worth the effort? If it’s still on a 5.25 floppy, it’s probably pretty old. While jpegs and txt documents might copy all right, most of the data is going to be unusable because you don’t have the programs to open it in. And the programs themselves are likely to be of no uses at all. And you’ve probably gotten along all right for many years without the data on those files, so is it really worth the expense and effort?

This is also a good reminder to everyone that data storage mediums change with the times and it’s important to make sure that your data and your photos and your videos are updated to more current storage mediums as times change.

~ Cynthia

0 thoughts on “Can I Get Data From 5 1/4" Floppy Disks?

  1. A 5.25 inch floppy had a capacity of 1.1 MB, if I recall. That’s not too many jpg’s.
    Not discussed above, but it shouldn’t be too hard finding an old computer with a 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 floppy at a recycle yard or even garage sale, and moving the data from the 5 to the 3 is easily achieved, and then from there you use a USB 3 1/2 reader.

    And as always, there’s a fair amount of movement on 5 1/4 hardware on eBay.
    This is labor-intensive. You must really want your data…

  2. I remember those from the Commodore 64 and 128 computers. I still have a Commodore 64 computer but no disc drive. Wow have things changed

  3. Hi, I have a 5 1/4 floppy installed in my tower running win8.1 and I can and do read data off my old floppys. Some of the discs are 30+ years old and still readable. I have an early “e-zine” from PC World on floppy that is still readable, although my win8.1 OS can’t do 16-bit code any longer.
    If you don’t have access to a PC with a floppy drive port, check for their USB to 5 1/4 floppy adapter. You still need to provide a floppy drive, and a power source but it’s a solution, especially if you’ve just realized your literary “piece de resistance” from college is stored on 5 1/4 floppy and you’ve no way to read the disk.


    PS – the adapter also read commodore, atari, TI-99 and other formats as well as PC-doc, MS-dos, etc.

  4. as an addendum to my message above, Cynthia is correct that you are rapidly running out or may have already run out of time. I have only been able to read a percentage of the surviving disks. However, some of my oldest disks are the ones that were mostly readable. go figure. It really comes down to method of storage and quality of the drive that formatted and wrote the data initially. If the drive that wrote the data was not clean or out of calibration, the likelihood of retrieving the stored data is greatly diminished. Be sure to “CLEAN” the drive you purchase from eBay before putting your priceless disks in to be read. You can still purchase a wet/dry 5 1/4 drive cleaning system on eBay, I did and it helped alot.

  5. Cynthia is wrong, I have been able to read 90+% of all of the old floppy disks I have had to recover data from. This is from a sampling of over 200 floppies. But it all depends on the media and how it was stored.

    Most of the data was in text and pictures that current software had ZERO problem handling.

    Plenty of misinformation to go around it seems.

  6. I have a 5.25 floppy drive on my 486 running windows 3.1. Pulled it out of mothballs recently and do not know if the 5.25 drive is working. Send me a floppy to check my drive. Maybe we can help each other.

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