Low Level Formatting Floppy Disks

QuickBASIC Manual and disks

QuickBASIC Manual and disks

Yesterday I re-aligned my old 5.25″ floppy disk drive from our old computer. In the process I was formatting and checking the alignment of the disk using software called ImageDisk by David Dunfield. My drive was behaving badly at one point and thought there were bad sectors at random points, due to the heads not being clean and connectors to the drive control board being dirty.

Normally with software provided in DOS (or windows for that matter) even re-formatting the disk would not fix this issue with the disk even if the magnetic media is in good shape. I found with ImageDisk I was able to redo the low level format of the disks.

There are a few different ways to go about doing this. ImageDisk has the function to format disks directly, but you have to know all the parameters for the disk format you’re using (or planning to). This is useful in the case that you have to format a disk for a system that uses an exotic system, like C/PM systems for instance. Unfortunately this doesn’t write a file system.

The second method you can use is to completely erase the disk using ImageDisks erase function then format the disk normally on the system you wish to use it for. I had mixed success with this as sometimes the format program didn’t always do a good job. It does work most of the time however and performs the operation in the fewest steps.

Finally the method I prefer is to create an image of an empty disk in the format you desire, and then writing that image to as many disks as you desire. In the process of writing the image the software also formats the disk. It may be prudent to erase the disk before hand if the new format is different to the original on disk. The downside is ImageDisk doesn’t check for bad sectors during the format and is not filesystem aware so you should run Scandisk or the equivalent for the system used.

These techniques have all worked for me, but they only really fix bad formatting on an otherwise good disk. So when a sector of a disks surface is genuinely bad this won’t magically fix the disk for you. It did surprise me however how many of my disks I thought were bad, are in fact actually sound media wise but just needed to be low-level formatted. It also pretty much only works on disks that are compatible with the IBM PC drives. Fortunately ImageDisk will handle many different formatting types and even 8″ drives, so most disk formats can be done with the software with the exception of a few like that used on C64 disks.


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