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Chapter 24

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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 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 it is of high quality, the tracks are where they should be.  Now we write on the floppy, with a worn drive.  The writing should erase 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 routine called Cyclical Redundancy Check (CRC) puts a seal on each sector of data.  If a bit is changed (or a few of them) 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.

File Manager must be open.  Insert the unformatted disk in drive a: (assuming that is your floppy drive.)  Click on the icon for the a: drive.  Windows may tell you something you already know.

Since the idea is to format it, just say Yes.  The next dialog box will bring up some choices. Nearly all diskettes now are 1.44 megabyte, so the Capacity can be left at that value.

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

Quickformat merely clears the directory of an existing disk.  The actual files are not changed, but the system is free to write over them.  On a new disk, leave this blank.

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

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 Format Complete box gives an indication.  Every 1.44 megabyte floppy has 1,457,664 bytes total disk space. The Make System Disk option will divert space to system files.  If it is not a system disk, any reduction is due to bad sectors, which can be verified by running SCANDISK or CHKDSK.  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 MS-DOS 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 Yes or No.  If the floppy is not to be used immediately, remove it.

 

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Last modified: May 21, 2004