The Diskette Experiments


P

Paul Allen Panks

A bit off topic here (as the post below pertains to hardware storage
on an obsolete storage medium). However, the experiments discussed
below should have interest to those inquiring about the potential
longevity of storage devices in general.

"The Diskette Experiments: A Hypothetical Longevity of the Floppy
Disk"
By: Paul Allen Panks (dunric@yahoo.com)

See website for details. Written summary below:

http://members.tripod.com/~panks/diskfun.html

In three separate experiments (conducted at regular intervals), I have
determined the hypothetical longevity and general integrity of data
(both read and recorded) on the standard 5.25" floppy diskette. Such
diskettes are common to the Atari 400/800, Commodore 64/128, Apple
II/IIe and other 8-bit computers. 3.5" disks were not tested.

Here are the results of my experiements (conducted on 5.25" floppy
diskettes for the Commodore 64/128 line of microcomputers):

*************************************************************
Experiment One: Freezing diskette (Conducted in January 2003)
*************************************************************

Hypothesis: Frozen diskettes lose data, even if frozen overnight.

I froze a diskette overnight in a freezer, without the diskette holder
protecting the exposed mylar surface. I left the diskette intact
inside the disk jacket, though.

The disk received condensation on the exposed portion of the mylar
surface (of the diskette), and was extremely cold to the touch. I
noticed no physical alterations to the diskette, however (e.g. no
warping or physical damages; only coldness and condensation).

The disk drive booted the floppy disk directory without effort, and
the contents read without problem. Programs all loaded without error.

Conclusion: Freezing a diskette overnight probably won't damage the
diskette enough to ruin diskette data integrity, but probably isn't a
good idea, anyway.

*************************************************************
Experiment Two: Overheating diskette (Conducted in June 2004)
*************************************************************

Hypothesis: Heating a diskette to even slightly above room temperature
is asking for data loss.

I overheated a diskette next to a space heater, without the diskette
holder
protecting the exposed mylar surface. The diskette melted a little bit
near the center, at which point I removed the diskette from the space
heater's range of heat. The diskette was heated for approximately 10
seconds at a distance of 2-3" (inches) from the space heater.

***DISCLAIMER***: *Do Not* attempt this experiment *at all* unless you
have _already_ safely practiced doing so!!! Heating any object near a
space heater is *VERY* dangerous and should *NOT* be attempted by
unexperienced person(s)!!

The reason(s) for testing the heat durability of a 5.25" diskette were
two-fold: One, I wanted to disprove the notion that a minimal amount
of excess heat can ruin a diskette's data integrity. Secondly, I
wanted to test the theory proposed that 5.25" HD (96 TPI) diskettes
could still be formatted with a 1541/1571 disk drive despite the small
Tracks Per Inch (normal is 48 TPI on the Commodore 64/128 computers
for a 5.25" diskette).

Conclusion: Heating a 96 TPI (HD) 5.25" diskette (or 48 TPI diskette)
to 95-115 degrees fahrenheit does not appear to affect data integrity
in any significant fashion, although outright *burning* of the
diskette *will* affect data integrity! The 96 TPI diskette, once
heated, formatted without error on both the 1541 and 1571 disk drives,
but *could not* be reformatted once the diskette cooled to room
temperature (approximately 5 minutes time). Additionally, the diskette
had to be reheated to a high temperature once again in order to
reformat over the previous formatted contents.

********************************************************************
Experiment Three: Diskette burial for 554 days (March 2003-Oct 2004)
********************************************************************

Hypothesis: Burying a diskette for over a period of a year,
approximately 1.5 feet underground, will expose the diskette to dirt,
rain and other unsavory elements, even when contained within a
ZipLock(TM) plastic bag.

This experiment took exactly 554 days to complete...1 year, 6 months
and 7 days, to be exact. I buried a floppy diskette with (data on both
sides) in my parent's backyard at a depth of approximately 18 inches.
I made sure that I protected the diskette as reasonably as possible,
including placing the diskette inside a paper disk jacket, while also
sealing the entire contents inside an enclosed ZipLock plastic bag.

Conclusion: Even when sealed in a Ziplock plastic bag, and despite
being buried 18 inches underground, both the weight of the dirt atop
the diskette and the elements of water and wind severely warped the
diskette into a bowl-shaped wedge (think: bowl of soup wedged).

The poor diskette was unreadable as is; that is, without removing the
mylar internal diskette from the disk jacket itself and placing it
inside a new disk jacket (scrapped from a throw away blank diskette I
had no general use for). I noted the following damage to the internal
mylar diskette as I inserted it into the second disk jacket:

A) Physical damage present near the center of the diskette, where
Track 18 was likely to reside.
B) Minor physical damage to the outer diskette, but mostly on the
left side where it had warped upward. Nearly identical damage was
evident on the right side, where the same warping was circularly
present.
C) Non-consequential smearing from dirt, visible just above the
(writable) track/sector area of the disk's mylar surface (left of the
main diskette ring hub).

The disk was inserted into the new diskette jacket and the jacket
itself was taped back shut via normal Scotch(TM) brand tape.

Conclusion: Because the diskette contained data on BOTH sides of the
diskette, I expected the back side to have less data loss than the
front side (due to warping/other damage). I was right. The results of
the data loss on the front side were as follows:

The disk directory read, but failed after only 7 programs had been
read (at least 40 programs were on the front side of the diskette in
late-March of 2003). This suggested serious damage to the middle of
the diskette, namely, Track 18. Not a good start.

I began loading the remaining programs one by one. Program 1, of 38
blocks, failed after only 0.5 blocks had been read. Since it was the
very first program on the diskette, this suggested it was written
very, very close to where the directory itself was written.

Program 2, a 3 block file, loaded 2 blocks out of 3 before it, too,
failed.

Program 3, a 7 block file, loaded fine, with 100% accuracy. However,
Line 23 of the program (read in Commodore 128 mode) was complete
gibberish, with weird commands like "CIRCLENEW TAN &STEPFOR" where
normal, regular BASIC statements would be. Line 24 was normal, as was
the remainder of the program. This suggested physical damage to the
mylar surface of the diskette.

Program 4, a 1 block file, loaded fine, with 100% accuracy, and listed
fine as well.

Program 5, a 63 block file, failed after only 1.5 blocks had been
read. This was very similar to how the first program faired.

Program 6, a 9 block file, loaded fine, with 100% accuracy, and listed
fine as well (with no errors). This surprised me greatly, as a much
smaller program did not.

Program 7, a 3 block file, loaded fine, with 100% accuracy, and listed
fine as well (with no errors).

I have not yet checked the remainder of the 1st side with Disk Doctor
4.0, and have not read through each and every Track/Sector to see how
it looks in a diskette editor. However, Side 1 lost approximately 500
blocks of data (roughly an 85-90% data loss). This was the most
severely warped (bowl) portion of the diskette, and could only be read
by the disk drive when I inserted the internal mylar diskette into a
new diskette jacket altogether.

The flip side, which was not damaged much at all, only contained minor
errors. The programs occupied a maxium of 61 *total* blocks on the
flip side of the diskette, leaving 603 blocks free. The directory read
without error, although Track 18, Sector 14 was not readable. Because
directory data was not on Track 18, Sector 14, data loss on that
particular T/S was not evident.

The programs (7 in all, out of 7 total) read as follows:

Program 1, a 3 block file, loaded 2 out of 3 blocks, but failed.
Listing the program only displayed most of it, with the last few lines
just pure gibberish.

Program 2, a backup of Program 1 (done intentionally), loaded all 3
blocks, and listed and ran fine.

Program 3, a sequential file of 3 blocks in length, was read through
the following "quickie" program:

5 PRINT"ENTER FILENAME";:INPUT A$
10 OPEN 2,8,2,"0:"+F$+",S,R"
15 GET#2,A$:pRINT A$;:IF ST<>64 THEN GOTO 15
20 CLOSE 2:END

The sequential file read most of the way through, but failed to read
anymore data halfway through the last 1/6th of the file itself.
Checking a backup of the same file (from another diskette), data loss
was between 2-3% of the file, with only the last few sentences lost.

Program 4, a BASIC program of 18 blocks in length, loaded 12 of the 18
blocks before failure. Listing the program revealed gibberish about
halfway through the program.

Program 5, a BASIC program of 11 blocks in length, wouldn't even load
(gave a "?FILE NOT FOUND ERROR"; wouldn't even grace me with a
"LOADING PROGRAM"..."?READ ERROR" message).

Program 6, a BASIC program of 19 blocks in length, loaded with 100%
accuracy and without error. The program LISTed and was RUN without any
errors.

Conclusion: Burying a diskette even 18 inches below the ground for a
period exceeding 1 calendar year, even when protected in a ZipLock(TM)
sealed plastic bag, is generally *not* a good idea. Water (from rain)
and other elements warped the physical nature of the diskette, as did
the 18 inches of dirt laying atop the diskette (inside a sealed
ZipLock(TM) plastic bag). Even rescuing the internal mylar floppy from
the disk jacket and transfering it into a fresh disk jacket failed to
solve data loss. Physical damages to the diskette, although minimal to
the eye, were nevertheless responsible for a total of at least 38
programs (out of 45 total) either loading only 65-70% of the way,
failing altogether (0%-2% of the way) or loading without error (only 5
loaded without error, and the largest program of that variety was a
mere 9 blocks in length).

Final Conclusion: Diskettes are surprisingly resistant to temperature,
but are very fragile to dirt, water and other environmental factors.
Even minor physical damages to the diskette surfaces caused
substantial diskette errors/loss. Errors noted (on either side) were:
#20, #21, #22, #23 and #27; no other diskette errors were noted or
found).

Sincerely,

Paul Allen Panks
(e-mail address removed)
 
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A

Arno Wagner

Previously Paul Allen Panks said:
A bit off topic here (as the post below pertains to hardware storage
on an obsolete storage medium). However, the experiments discussed
below should have interest to those inquiring about the potential
longevity of storage devices in general.
"The Diskette Experiments: A Hypothetical Longevity of the Floppy
Disk"
By: Paul Allen Panks (dunric@yahoo.com)
My own experiments: Backed up about 30 3.5" floppies from ATARI-ST
times to MOD about 3 years ago. (They were written about 10-12 years
ago): Data loss on about 25% of these, pretty independently of brand.

Summary: Floppy unusable for long-term storege. Not surprising at all.

Arno
 
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F

Folkert Rienstra

Arno Wagner said:
My own experiments: Backed up about 30 3.5" floppies from ATARI-ST
times to MOD about 3 years ago. (They were written about 10-12 years
ago): Data loss on about 25% of these, pretty independently of brand.
Determined how (PC, ATARI), what type of data loss, full or just some files?
 

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