Last Updated on June 3, 2023
Could those retro game disks you see for sale on eBay actually be worth buying? Do floppy disks still work?
A recent English-language tweet from Japan’s digital minister Taro Kono states that his government’s use of floppy disks is set to end, a decade after Sony stopped production of the media. This of course begs the question: how are they still using floppy disks?
Digital Minister declares a war on floppy discs.— KONO Taro (@konotaromp) August 31, 2022
There are about 1900 government procedures that requires business community to use discs, i. e. floppy disc, CD, MD, etc to submit applications and other forms. Digital Agency is to change those regulations so you can use online.
Notoriously unreliable, floppy disks were the primary medium for computers in the late 1980s and most of the 1990s. Whether storing save data, games, apps, or even acting as a Windows boot disk for recovery, 3.5-inch floppies were superceded by CD-ROM, then DVD, and more latterly by flash storage. Whenever removable media was a necessity, floppy disks were the answer.
But now it seems they must ast far longer than previously estimated. As reported in The Guardian:
The disks “almost never broke or lost data”, Yoichi Ono, an official in Tokyo’s Meguro ward, told Nikkei Asia last year when the local government decided to phase out floppies and other physical storage data.
This is of course not the experience of many in the West. But then again, maybe we didn’t look after our disks well. Perhaps we were irresponsible to the risks of malware, and all too happy to rely on piracy for games we didn’t own (particularly the Amiga and Atari ST communities).
Do floppy disks still work?
A few years ago I was fortunate enought to be able to review a device called Armiga. Essentially a modern SBC running an Amiga emulator with a built in 3.5-inch floppy drive, the Armiga could read the disks and create data images for use in emulators (or beyond in the case of documents, audio, and image files).
My experience with the Armiga was that almost all of the disks – most untouched since the late 1990s – actually worked.
And it isn’t only the 3.5-inch disks I’ve had success with. Earlier this year, I spent a Sunday afternoon archiving some old C64 disks, with good results. Most of these disks hadn’t been near the 1541-II drive since 1991, so it was a bit of a surprise to find they were in readable condition.
Whether or not the Japanese government is successful in migrating away from floppy disks is for them to decide. But the story does highlight the longevity of a format long-considered to be substandard for modern use. Clearly, this media is resilient enough to last at least 10 years, and if my experience is anything to go by, they’ll keep working for longer.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t back them up, but it makes buying floppy disk bundles on eBay much less of a lottery.
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine and MakeUseOf.com.