Why do good floppy disks go bad?

Geoff Oltmans oltmansg at gmail.com
Wed Apr 6 19:55:05 CDT 2016

> On Apr 6, 2016, at 3:15 PM, JP Hindin <jplist2008 at kiwigeek.com> wrote:
> I had one of those Japanese Koan moments recently when someone asked me "Why do floppy disks stop working?" and I realised I... didn't actually know. I thought I'd throw it to the group and get some theories/proofs.
> Let's work on the assumption we're talking about 5.25" and 3.5" disks.
> Several guesses:
> - Repeated use slowly wears away the magnetic media layer on the mylar.
> - When left in an unprotected state, or a poor environment, damp, mold and dust can damage the surface, either degrading the magnetic layer or causing the gap to shrink enough that the drive head physically damages the disk?
> - Quantum fluctuations in the state of the universe, caused by millions of mostly non-interacting particles passing through a disk in any given minute, alter the magnetic spin of the ferric atoms causing gradual data loss over time (mostly tongue-in-cheek)
> - Given the lack of use of most floppy drives they themselves pick up 'gunk' and on first reading a diskette after a long time of disuse damage it.
> It _seems_ like when you put a 3.5" disk down for ten years and pick it back up, a disk that used to work fine no longer does. Of course, after ten years, it could be your own memory that's failed.
> Dare I ask, what's the consensus?
> - JP

On a related note... What causes an old mfm / roll drive to die if the heads aren't touching the surface except in the landing zone?

I have read that it's not impossible for the "pigment" to lose its coercivity over time.

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