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Chapter 23

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Formatting floppy disks

Good backup  XE "formatting" disks can prove crucial. They are subject to a rare but potentially disastrous situation.  Data on floppies is written in tracks, concentric rings progressing in from the perimeter to the center.  On an old and worn drive, the read/write heads might be loose and out of alignment. Such a drive can live all right in its own little world.  It writes in the same place each time, correct or wrong.  Now lets insert a preformatted diskette.  Formatting amounts to writing zeroes all over the disk. Assuming the drive is of high quality, the tracks are where they should be.  Now we write on the floppy, with a worn drive.  The writing should erasing the previously existing data, overwriting the zeroes.  But if the drive has a head alignment problem, some of the zeroes may be left.  Disk systems have thought about that.  A system called Cyclical Redundancy Check (CRC) puts a seal on each sector of data.  If a bit is changed (or a few of them) the seal is broken and the system returns a message Sector error reading drive A: which not what you want to see.  The file cannot be read.  (A data recovery lab can probably retrieve most of it, for a fee.)  Insurance is easy to buy, in the form of purchasing unformatted disks, and investing some time, formatting each diskette on the very same drive to be used for backing up.

My Computer window must be open.  Insert the unformatted disk in drive a: (assuming that is your floppy drive.)  The drive will probably be identified as 3.5 Floppy (A:) and you need to select it. Windows will tell you what you already knew.

Since the idea is to format it, just say Yes.  The next dialog box will bring up some choices.

Quick format merely clears the directory of an existing disk.  The actual files are not changed, but the system is free to write over them.

Full format is necessary with an unformatted disk. 

Copy system files only writes DOS boot-up files onto an already formatted disk.

Label accepts a label of eleven characters, which is of little use.  Disks are better marked with gummed labels.

Display summary ... is an excellent idea.  The display should be as below.

Copy system files commands that, as the disk is formatted, the DOS system files will be copied, making it a boot up disk.

Formatting progress bar (thermometer) on the bottom tells you that yes, the disk is being formatted.  At the end, it will sit for a few seconds, while the computer does some close-out tasks.

TIP

Listen during the formatting.  The floppy drive should say clunk about once each second.  If it says zip-zip, Format has probably encountered bad sectors.  The summary display will tell.

Format of a good, non-bootable, high density, floppy disk will always yield these numbers.  On a bootable disk, system files would reduce the bytes available. (Serial number is randomly-generated.)

Bad Sectors means that XE "bad sectors"  Format found some spots on the disk that would not write and read successfully. Bad sectors, of themselves, are not a problem.  The system builds a fence around them, with no gates, so they are not usable.  They may be considered to cast doubt on the character of the remainder of the disk.  My preference is not to use disks for critical tasks, if they contain any bad sectors.

When the format is done, click on the X to close the display.  If the floppy is not to be used immediately, remove it.

 

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Last modified: May 21, 2004