How to Format and Setup a Floppy Disk

How do I Format and Setup a Blank Floppy Disc ?

This guide will walk you through formatting and setting up a blank floppy disc. This is a good procedure to know since most diagnostic programs rely on using a bootable floppy disc to run diagnostics on the system. Since most of our guides require you to create a bootable floppy disc at one point or another we are providing a guide which will give you in depth information on how to prepare your floppy disk so you will not run into any problems during the creation process.

Step by Step Instructions:

The first thing you need when formatting a floppy disk, is a 3.5′ 1.44mb disk that does not have information on it that you need to save. The reason you need to make sure it does not have important data is once you begin the formatting process all data on that disc will be wiped off and you will be unable to recover it. So make sure it does not have backed up emails or your English assignments that are due at the end of the week.

When you have a disk that you are ready to format, put it into your floppy disk drive and then open the “My Computer” icon on your desktop by double clicking it. In the My Computer window you will see several drive designations. You will be looking for the A:\ drive which is your floppy disk drive.

[in some cases it may be another letter like B:\, but A:\ is the most common.]

Once you have selected the drive verify that this is in fact your floppy disk drive to ensure you do not wipe important data off your hard drive. The volume name should show up as:

3½ Floppy (A:)

Once you have verified that it is the correct drive, right click on it and a menu will pop up with several options. Look through the menu for the “format” option. [Usually located near the middle of the menu] Select the Format option and it will open a Format A:\ window.

The format window gives you several options:

01. Capacity

02. File System
03. Allocation unit Size
04. Volume Label
05. Format Options

I will explain the following sections in more detail so you know what each one is and what they do during the format process.

The “Capacity” of the disc shows you what type of floppy disk you are currently working with. You should not need to select this unless you are using a non standard floppy disk, in which case you will probably know which selection you need to make. The most common type of disk is the:

3.5″ 1.44MB, 512 bytes/sector

That is your average, everyday floppy disk. This should almost always be in there by default, so you do not need to worry about changing this selection most of the time.

The next section is the “File System” selection. This can be more relevant if you are into tweaking options to squeeze out every last bit of performance. The main thing to remember is FAT is the file system that was commonly used with Windows 95, 98 and sometimes with Windows 2000. Where as the NTFS file system was normally used with Windows 2000, XP Home, and XP Pro.

FAT [File Allocation Table] was an older file system that was good for it’s time, but lacks some of the features of the newer NTFS file system. NTFS also has slightly better compression which allows you to get a little more storage space out of the media by using this file system.

In the case of making a boot disk, the main thing you need to do when you are setting up your disk is remove the data. The program you are using to make your disk will normally take care of what file system needs to be present on the disk. So if you are unsure which you need to select, don’t sweat it, and just go with the default options through the format window dialog.

Next is the “Allocation unit Size” section of the format dialog. The technical definition of this is, “a group of sectors on a magnetic disk that can be reserved for the use of a particular file”. The fact that I am giving you a definition instead of an explanation lets you know that you really don’t need to worry about this section. If you are reading this guide to find out of the basics of how to format a disk this section does not pertain to your project. This would be more for someone that is creating a disk for a very specific purpose and certain criteria needs to be met.

The “Volume Label” is basically the title of your disk. For the most part this can be anything you want it to be. I recommend leaving it blank if you mainly need to create a blank disk. As mentioned before if the disk does need a label the program that is creating your disk will fill in this information for you. You can feel free to use this section if you are creating a blank disk for school work, or personal data in which case you could name it “HOMEWORK” or anything else that will help you remember what information is on your disk.

The last section is your format options section. There are two main options in this category. “Quick Format” which is an option that allows you to quickly erase data off a disk. [There is also "Enable Compression" which is an additional NTFS feature that is mentioned above]. The Quick Format option can be used as long as the disk has been fully formatted at least once since you started using it. It’s main purpose is to save time but since the full format option does not take much longer, it’s up to you which you prefer to use. For any type of boot disk, I like to do a full format and leave this option unchecked to make sure I will not run into problems during the disk creation process.

The other option is “Enable Compression” which is an NTFS only feature. Remember how we talked about NTFS having more features before. This is one example of that. If you are using a FAT file system disk, this option will most likely not be available to you. [i.e. grayed out]

Now that you have a complete understanding of the floppy disc format window and the options it provides, you should feel more comfortable setting up a blank disk. Remember that you usually do not need to set a lot of these options as the system does a good job of defaulting to what you need. This guide will basically give you the extra info you need to setup additional options if you ever desire to do so.

Now that your options are set, go ahead and create your blank floppy disk so you can create your bootable diagnostic disk without any problems.

How to Create a Bootable Floppy Disk

How to Create a Bootable Floppy Disc:

The “Create Startup Disc” option will allow you to make a bootable floppy disc with the diagnostic program installed. Make sure you have a BLANK floppy disc available as the program will overwrite any data that is currently on the floppy disc. [Don't use your family photos disc, or the disc you save your homework to.]

I recommend formatting any disc you plan to use prior to creating it with the program. This way you can avoid any issues with the disc not working once it has been written to. You can do this by clicking on “My Computer” and then right clicking on your “A:\” drive and selecting the format option from the menu. Make sure the drive you have selected is in fact your floppy drive to avoid wiping out data on any of your hard drives.

Once you click the Create Startup Disc option it will bring up a smaller window that says “Select the floppy disc you want to use and then click create”. Since the floppy disc should be ready to go now, go ahead and click “create”. You will see the lights on your floppy drive come on, and a progress bar that will let you know when the process is complete. Once it is done it will say “Success – Floppy Created Successfully”. You have now created your diagnostic disc.

Check the disc by clicking on “My Computer” and then by clicking on your “A:\” drive to make sure that you can see files on the disc to ensure it has been created successfully.

You can now close the disc maker application and leave your floppy disc in the floppy drive. [If this is the system you want to diagnose.] Once you have closed out of the program select the option to “Restart” your computer, and make sure the floppy disc is still in the drive.

Once the computer restarts it should automatically go into the diagnostic program on the floppy disc. Some computers may need to have the boot order changed in order to run from a floppy disc on boot. If this is the case, when you reboot your computer it will just go back into Windows.

If it does simply restart the system again and look for a message to hit a certain key to enter “setup”. On most systems it is the “DEL” key. This will take you to a screen with a blue background. You are now in the BIOS of your computer. Be carefully when working in the BIOS as any changes you make can affect the system.

You are looking for a section that has something similar to “Boot Order” which should list about 3 or 4 devices. To boot from a floppy disc you want to make sure that the first device listed is “floppy”. If it is something else, highlight the device and then click enter which should bring up a menu with several devices. You can use the arrow keys to select the “floppy” option from the list. Once you have it selected hit enter again and it should take you back to the boot order screen. If t does not, then hit escape and just make sure the first device listed is now your floppy drive.

One other thing that can keep the system from booting from the floppy drive is an option that says “Boot Floppy Seek”. This must be set to enable in order for the system to check the floppy drive when it boots up. If it is disabled follow the above procedure to select a different option from the list.

Once you have made the necessary changes, hit the F10 key and the system will ask if you want to save changes and reboot. Say YES or “Y” and then hit enter. The system will now reboot and if you have your floppy disc in the system, it will automatically go into the diagnostic mode.

[If you have problems getting into your BIOS or finding a section that is referenced in this guide, please contact the company you purchased your computer from and their tech department should be able to walk you through enabling the necessary steps in order to get your system to boot from the floppy drive.]

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