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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Accessing floppy drives when your Mac runs on OS X El Capitan

Here’s the situation. You own a Mac running OS X El Capitan. It runs great.  

Now someone important to you; your boss, your significant other, your business partner, needs you to access old physical media to copy the files over to a hard drive or flash drive. You told them you’d have no difficulty doing so before you saw the media.

And now you can’t turn back.

Don’t Panic. At least not yet. I’m here to give you tips and techniques for accessing old forms of physical media last used in the 1990s on a Mac.  


For the purposes of this article, I will assume you received a box with:


1. Old Windows high-density (1.44 Mb/ disk) and double-density (720 K/ disk) media.

2. Old Macintosh high-density (1.4 Mb/disk)

3. Old CD-ROMs with data you want to retrieve.

4. Old ZIP disks in the 100 Mb and 250 Mb size.


Here’s what you can do with them.

1. OS X stopped recognizing floppy drives when OS X 10.11 El Capitan came out. Fortunately, older versions of OS X, starting with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and going back to the beginning, do recognize floppy drives and disks.

2. All version of OS X recognize CDs and DVDs. You only need a USB CD/DVD drive that you can purchase through various computer retailers for $25 to $40. Just plug it into a USB port. 


3. Curiously enough, OS X El Capitan does recognize old ZIP disks. I have read ZIP 100 and ZIP 250 disks using a ZIP 250 USB drive that I purchased on eBay. If you right-click or control-click on the desktop icon, you get a menu with several options, such as ejecting the media from the drive. 

ZIP 250 drive


ZIP 250 icon on desktop



ZIP 250 right click menu




For floppy disks. I will go through the best scenario to the worst scenarios. 


1. Your new Mac came with OS X El Capitan preinstalled from the retailer. Fortunately, your old Mac that you put on the shelf in the closet runs an older version of OS X. Just take it down, clean off the dust, plug in a USB floppy drive and a flash drive or external USB hard drive, and you’re in business.

2. The box of disks you received are strictly MS-DOS/Windows format. You still have an old Windows XP/Windows 98/Windows 7 machine that contains a working floppy drive. Again, take it down from the shelf, clean it up, and you’re in business. You just need a flash drive of sufficient capacity or an external USB hard drive.

3. You acquired your Mac before OS X El Capitan came out and showed the good sense to make a bootable clone of the internal hard drive on a external USB hard drive. Just in case. You probably used either Super-Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner to do. Great! Just take the bootable clone and plug it into a free USB port. Go to System Preferences and choose Startup Disk. Select the bootable clone and reboot. You’re back in business.

4. Your Mac came from the factory with a version of OS X before OS X 10.11 came out and you’ve upgraded to OS X 10.11. You don’t have any bootable clones. Take a deep breath. You do have options, but you need to spend some cash and exercise some patience.

5. You don’t have bootable clones and this Mac came with OS X 10.11 already installed at the factory. You’ve never owned a Mac before. It’s your only working computer.

 Take a deep breath. I’ll outline several options for you. You’ll have to spend some cash to solve the problem.  I’ll lay out some options, but you may just want to go on-line to to order an older Mac for $200.


I’m breaking this tutorial into sections so it doesn’t clog your Web browser.  On to Scenario #1


Tom Briant

Editor, Macvalley Blog



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