Are these floppy diskettes dead?

TL;DR: I have a video at the bottom of this page explaining my issue visually with annotations if my text is too hard to understand or if you don't want to read a wall of text!

I've gone and collected a ton of floppy disks lately, including buying job lots of 50 used disks and even new disks still in their packaging. But most of the disks I use which are used seem to be completely dead. Is this common for floppy disks? It's very odd that the same make of floppy disks vary in the amount of life they have even if they have been manufactured in the same year.

The reason I find this odd is because some of the white disks are working, and some of them aren't - it seems that the ones with the write protection removed such as the Windows 3.1 or DOS disks are having the most trouble, whilst the other disks which are quite related such as the Soft Windows (even then some of the Soft Windows disks don't work - which confuses me more, as surely the related disks in different parts should be damaged due to old age too then - which makes me think it's not due to old age), Lotus or HP disks are working flawlessly (I've posted a video below for a clearer explanation)

The new disks in question were still in their packaging, 50x white diskettes, formatted, unlabelled, untouched, clean...yet not a single one working - granted they were probably ancient but I do not see how floppies would die so easily and start choking a drive - what is causing this by the way? Is it really the age? Any detailed answers or good explanations are greatly appreciated as well as more chance of getting chosen for best answer

I have a video here showing the disks and how almost related they are to each other, but some disks don't work in a pile and some do work. Is there a way of recovering these disks or fixing them? As I've bought so many (which I can quite easily return for a refund, so no need to worry about that - but just seeing if there's a way first) I want to know if there's a way I can possibly fix them first. I've used the non-working floppies in multiple machines such as a typical office Dell desktop and a Compaq Prolinea computer - they come back with formatting or cylinder errors also

Anyway here's the video - please watch it before making your answer to ensure you understand my issue precisely before just writing something non-constructive or uninformative to me: http://youtu.be/jBXsRYvGL4g

Hope someone can shed some light or let me know what can be done!
Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAsked:
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I think I would try a new diskette drive. I have a floppy diskette drive for my retired Windows 7 ThinkPad T61p and I can read DOS and Windows 3.1 floppies just fine. I DID because I created virtual machines out of the floppies and the VM's run just fine.

So my guess is an old and/or defective floppy drive. Try a new one.
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Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAuthor Commented:
I guess the fact that I wrote this means nothing then:

I've used the non-working floppies in multiple machines such as a typical office Dell desktop and a Compaq Prolinea computer - they come back with formatting or cylinder errors also
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Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
A fairly common problem with floppy disks of all types was that the drives that were used to write to them were not necessarily aligned the same as the drives used to try to read them.  It was not unusual for me to have to try a disk in several machines to find out which one would read it.  On older 8-inch floppy drives and old CD drives, we used to have to do our own alignment to make them work.  I don't know how good a USB floppy drive like that is.  I have several of them but I never use them.
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
You could have bad disks. They are easily damaged with use. But new they should work (one would think). That is why I suggested a new floppy drive. My drive works (chugs a bit) and the packaged diskettes work (DOS, Windows 3.1).

Beyond that, I put my files on hard drives years ago and that is where they are today, so no real use for floppies except as above.
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Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAuthor Commented:
Thing is I've tried it on multiple machines - not just the USB floppy drive, and whilst they don't make the same choking noises, they still don't manage to read the disks
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Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
I've used the non-working floppies in multiple machines such as a typical office Dell desktop and a Compaq Prolinea computer - they come back with formatting or cylinder errors also
I did miss that part... but I never used to use the "pre-formatted" disks without re-formatting because they often simply did not work.  My friends had the same experience with them too.  So yes, that doesn't necessarily mean a thing.
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Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
One other oddity.  At one point, Microsoft was using an odd format for their product disks that resulted in 1.68MB instead of the standard 1.44MB.  I have no idea whether those can be read by a regular drive these days.  They were intended to be used to boot the computer to install software.  That was about 1990.
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
You caused me to pull out the drive from my office shelf and plug it in to my Windows 8.1 ThinkPad. It works.

Then I dug out some personal files on old diskettes (now on hard drives and morphed into modern tools). I can read the files fine.

I copied a file up and then compared it to the original on diskette and it worked.

So: Old good diskettes on a good floppy drive work just fine.

You may have bad diskette drives on these machines because your assertion that all those diskettes can't go bad is probably correct.
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Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAuthor Commented:
That seems to make a bit more sense now. After going through a few more changes and finding an older floppy drive, it seems the Microsoft disks do seem to run a little better to the point where they're actually readable now. What would the best idea be if I wanted to read these disks on my main Windows 8.1 computer (the one in the video that has the USB external floppy drive). Would I have to get an internal drive? Or a specific external drive? Or a specific internal drive for that matter? Any further help appreciated!
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Dave BaldwinFixer of ProblemsCommented:
The problem is mechanical alignment.  Unless you are capable of doing the alignment, you have to use the drive that can read the disks.  There is no way to guarantee that any given drive will be able to read those disks without trying them.  

These are the kinds of problems we use to see frequently 25 years ago.  That's why sometimes I had to try a disk in several different drives until I found one that would read it.  No two drives are aligned exactly the same.
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Chris HInfrastructure ManagerCommented:
Try cracking open one of the disks, taking the mylar circle out and putting it in a known working disk chasis.  I've seen sometimes, the grit or film keeping the disk from making a full rotation and can actually lead to physical damage.  Moisture will create buildup on the silicon pads or whatever that cotton stuff is.
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Chris HInfrastructure ManagerCommented:
Lol, and my youtube auto play just started playing your next video in your queue.
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nobusCommented:
imo there can be more than 1 problem :
-alignment - as said
-how the diskettes were stored may cause them to go bad - eg over temperature/humidity

you can also clean the floppy read/write heads with cleaning floppy
if you want to check if one is working - try just formatting it
if it does not pass that - it's probably bad
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Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Virtually every floppy drive manufactured in the past two decades has been self-aligning on reads ... drive alignment was a 70's and 80's "thing" ... but not so much in a long time.

But I've seen MANY "modern" systems [i.e. systems old enough to have a floppy drive but at least built in the last decade :-) ]  where the drives had problems reading older floppies.   I THINK this is largely due to two things:  (a) oxidation of the floppies themselves, which can degrade the magnetic level of the stored signals; and (b) degradation of the heads in the drive due to non-use (dust accumulates; the heads can oxidize; etc.)

You MAY be able to fix (b) with a head cleaning kit [ http://www.amazon.com/3-5IN-FLOPPY-DRIVE-CLEANING-KIT/dp/B0028B7138 ] or with compressed air and a Q-Tip with denatured alcohol.

If the issue is (a) the best hope is to use a new drive, which will likely have a higher likelihood of reading the degraded signals.    As John suggested, I'd get a USB drive, so it's easily portable in the future should you need it again.   http://www.amazon.com/Nippon-Labs-USB-FLPY-DLOCK-Delock-External/dp/B00AWINSI6/ref=sr_1_3?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1428737993&sr=1-3&keywords=USB+floppy

The DMF format that Microsoft used to distribute software in the pre-CD days simply wrote 3 additional sectors per track to increase the capacity of the disks.   Since these are all soft-sectored disks, there shouldn't be any issue reading those disks with any good drive.
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
The floppy disk drive I used above was an IBM (Lenovo) USB Floppy drive. The diskettes date back before 1999 and everything worked.

So you really need a new drive and a USB drive should work fine. It has been nearly two decades since I had a machine with an internal floppy drive.
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
@Ben Gough  - Thanks, and good luck with a new floppy disk drive.
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Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAuthor Commented:
@John Hurst - Thanks. I've picked the necessary solutions I find most feasible. Do you think you could send me an image or give me a link as to where I can buy the IBM (Lenovo) USB Floppy drive you have? Does it look like this? http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31FLKjS9SNL.jpg
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JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
The image you show above is precisely it. If Amazon has one, by all means get it. Mine is 15 years old (little used and still good).

When I search Lenovo, they seem to be available at Amazon and at Tiger Direct.
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Ben GoughWebmaster at EpicHosts.co.ukAuthor Commented:
Thanks John!
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