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How to access your old 3.5-inch floppy disks

What precious data lies on those forgotten floppies? It's pretty cheap and easy to find out.

Reader Kristie wrote in with this puzzler:

"I just found a shoebox full of 3.5-inch disks. I think they were from my old digital camera, but I have no way of finding out because I no longer have a computer (or camera) that can read them. What can I do?"

Talk about a trip down memory lane! I haven't so much as laid eyes on a 3.5-inch "floppy" in years, and I'd forgotten that a few early digital cameras did indeed storage images on that kind of media.

Needless to say, however, modern PCs don't have floppy drives. (Same goes for not-so-modern ones.) So how can you hope to extract your photos, WordPerfect documents, and any other old data that might be lingering on those disks?

You could try to borrow an old PC that has a disk drive, but then you're faced with the problem of transferring the data to your own PC. Depending on how old that borrowed machine is, it might not have a USB port.

No, a better bet is simply to spend a few bucks. I did a little shopping on Ebay and found plenty of 3.5-inch external floppy disk drives, most of them selling in the $10-15 range. If you'd rather not go the auction route, Newegg also sells an external floppy drive for $14.99 shipped. (Just be sure to check the user reviews for some tips on using it.)

I think that's a fairly small price to pay for the simplicity of accessing your old disks on your modern PC. Just plug the drive into a USB port and you should be good to go. (If you've had any experience using such a drive with a newer PC, share it in the comments.)

By the way, in a few years I expect to be fielding the same question about CDs, so get your data off those babies now. There's a decent chance your next PC won't have an optical drive, especially if it's a laptop.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at [email protected], or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PCWorld Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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