Yes, when it comes to books, computer magazines and assorted electronics, I’m a packrat. I also believe that obsolescence is in the eye of the beholder. Usually I’d like to declare something obsolete when it really is of no use to me anymore.
Putting aside the cassettes I used with the Commodore VIC-20 and 64 before buying the Commodore 1541 5.25″ disk drive, I have basically kept every bit of information I’ve saved on floppy disks since 1986. I still have more than 60 5.25″ floppies and more than 300 3.5″ floppies.
Today I finally found some time to install a 25-year old 5.25″ IBM internal floppy drive in a Pentium III PC I salvaged a couple of years ago. I had to open the PC box to see if I could upgrade its memory by using two old 128MB RAM sticks that were previously mounted in my PowerMac G4 Cube. For a long time I’d been thinking about that 5.25″ floppy drive I had in my old 386DX PC back in 1993. When I started packing my things in 2004 to relocate in Spain, I decided to get rid of a bunch of non-Mac stuff (yes, I said I’m a packrat, but every now and then even a packrat has to make tough decisions). That 386DX was a good machine, all in all, and I didn’t have much time to do a proper data backup. So I decided to dismantle it and salvage the main hard drive (130 megabytes!) and the 5.25″ floppy drive, because I still wanted to have access to the data stored in all those floppies — to preserve it and, if necessary, migrate it to more reliable supports. (By the way, these two posts by Jason Scott are really serendipitous, and I have to thank him implicitly for the inspiration that pushed me into action today).
I remember how this kind of media support was often considered frail and unreliable. It might be but, either I’ve been very lucky or (more probably) I have managed to preserve my diskettes quite well, because everything’s there where I left it — and for some disks it means in 1988.
But the amazing thing is the story of this floppy drive.
Manufactured by IBM in 1985, it came with an IBM PC/AT my dad brought home from work around 1988. When I got rid of that desktop beast, I moved the drive in the new IBM-compatible PC (80386DX at 40MHz) my parents gave me as a birthday gift in 1993. That PC came already equipped with a more modern 3.5″ floppy drive and even had a CD-ROM drive. But I still had old 5.25″ floppies around, full of notes, poems, stories I furiously wrote with a DOS-based unnamed word processor that I had found in the PC/AT a few years back. I had to continue to access those precious texts, so I put the 5.25″ drive in the only empty bay available. That drive then remained in service there from 1993 to 2003. When said PC was dumped in 2004, the drive was removed and kept in storage. Until today.
It never malfunctioned. It never gave me a problem. It never fail to read, write or format a diskette. All the 5.25″ floppies I tested today were good. Some of them are almost 25 years old. So much for unreliability.
This is beautiful.
(See the rest of the set on flickr, where you’ll see more of the drive, some of my floppies, and a very nice find too.)