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I have a number of old 3.5" floppies (Amiga and PC format) that I'd like to archive before they disintegrate. I'm curious if a cheap USB 3.5" floppy drive will work on OSX / macOS 10.11+?

Yes, I understand that reading an Amiga disk might be stretching things a bit, but was hoping perhaps a dd command might work. Otherwise, I'm thinking perhaps these devices only know how to read PC format and act as mass storage (ha!) devices..

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The short answer is yes, external USB floppy drives will still work with macOS.

However, the issues you're likely to face relate to:

  • how the actual floppy disks are formatted (both in terms of file systems and capacity)
  • the type of floppy disks involved (i.e. are we talking 1.4MB disks, or older 800KB or even 400KB floppies)
  • the condition of the floppy disks (specifically, are they now demagnetised?)

Assuming they're 1.4MB floppies then you should be able to read the data. You won't, however, be able to write data to the floppies (although in your case this shouldn't be an issue as you're wanting to copy the data from them, not to them).

If they're 400KB or 800KB floppies, you can pretty much forget about using Mac OS X / macOS.

If they're demagnetised, you can pretty much forget about using anything to read the data.

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    With 400/800kb, it's more a problem of common PC tier drives not being able to read the proprietary multispeed media format. An older Mac with a Superdrive should be able to read 400/800k and write 1.44MB, which could then be read on a commodity USB external floppy. Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 20:35
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    The key thing is that the external 3.5" drives appear as simple "block storage devices" over USB which the Mac recognizes. The fact that they're floppies is irrelevant to the computer as the "implementation detail" is handled by the USB controller in the disk drive.
    – bjb
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 16:30
  • Should I really expect any USB floppy drive to work on a Mac, even if it is marketed solely for Windows?
    – iconoclast
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 1:56
  • @iconoclast - I can't answer that definitively, but from what I've seen (and my comment above), it might be marked as "Windows only" because it doesn't deal with Mac formatted disks, only MS-DOS / PC formatted ones. It's a bit misleading, but in general any USB floppy should work on the Mac - just it depends on how the disk was formatted (mac or pc).
    – bjb
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 17:23
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    @iconoclast what I've seen is that the USB drives simply understand MS-DOS FAT formatted disks in DD and HD formats. If the disk you insert is compliant, then the drive will present itself to the USB host computer as a removable storage device. The firmware on the drive does not understand Mac/Amiga/etc and a disk of that format will simply not mount and will not appear on the host OS. There may be exceptions out there (perhaps early ones from the 90's when the original iMacs came out), but they're probably not the ones cheaply bought on Amazon today.
    – bjb
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 19:24

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