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I recently found a box of old 5.25" floppies. Is there a way to tell the double-density (360K) 5.25" ones from the high-density (1.2M) ones when the disks do not have any markings? It looks like the DD ones have the hub ring in the centre—if you’ve seen one you know what I mean—and the HD ones don’t, but maybe I’m mistaken.

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  • I vaguely recall that the 1.2M ones have a notch in the side, in addition to the write notch along the top. Mar 7 '12 at 17:09
  • @DanH You are talking about 3,5" floppies.
    – kinokijuf
    Mar 7 '12 at 17:50
  • There was something about the notches on the 1.2M 5.25" floppies. Maybe there was a second notch on the top or some such. Mar 8 '12 at 1:58
  • @DanH No, there isn’t. I have them to confirm.
    – kinokijuf
    Mar 8 '12 at 12:45
  • Well, maybe I'm thinking of 8" floppies. I definitely remember another notch -- made the diskette as flimsy as slice of Swiss cheese. Mar 8 '12 at 17:03
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This site seems to confirm my observations:

DD 5.25" (360kB) diskettes look very much like HD 5.25" (1.2MB) diskettes; however, HD diskettes seem to almost never have a hub ring, while DD diskettes usually do. The hub ring may be white paper, etc. and easy to spot or cut from the same material as the diskette and barely noticeable. This difference has been mentioned by Peter Norton (of Norton Utilities fame) in one of his books.
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DD disks have a hub ring, HD do not. HD were quite common. There were actually Quad-Density disks also, which were a quirky standard used on some early Tandy/Radio Shack Model 2000 systems.

Notching is not an indication of single sided vs. double sided. A true double sided drive has 2 heads, and reads and writes both sides simultaneously. A Commodore, Atari, Apple, for example, only had one head, so people would notch the disk to flip it and use the opposite side. The media was certified for writing on both surfaces.

Many people warned that flipping the disks would lead to early failure, but I just used some 32 year old 'flippies' in an Apple IIe last night with very low failure rate, especially considering the age of the the magnetic surfaces.

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  • "There were actually Quad-Density disks also..." No there were not. There were 80-track non-HD drives which were sometimes called "quad-density" since, with twice as many tracks, they stored twice as much data, but outside of more and narrower tracks they used the same recording scheme and media as 40-track drives. HD drives, also having the narrower head, can read and write exactly this format as well so long you tell the drive to use non-HD coercivity (and your software supports the format). In both cases the 80-track drive will be able to read and write 40-track diskette formats....
    – cjs
    Aug 22 at 23:41
  • ...with 40-track drives having the usual problems reading 40-track formats written by the narrower head.
    – cjs
    Aug 22 at 23:42
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Unless the manufacturer chose to mark the disks, there's no difference between them.

The ring in the centre of the disk was a manufacturing feature to prolong the life of the disk itself.

Double-sided disks will have the write-protect notch on both the left and right sides of the disk if they were intended for use in single-sided drives, but even that isn't a reliable indicator of sidedness.

You should generally be safe assuming DSDD for 5.25" disks, however, as DSHD 5.25" disks weren't very common (3.5" disks were more durable and reliable).

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  • -1. It is a mixture of DD and HD disks plus some without any stickers whatsoever. As I indicated, all of the DD ones have the ring, while none of the HD ones have.
    – kinokijuf
    Mar 7 '12 at 17:26
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    I've owned many 5.25" DD floppies without hub rings. HD floppies would frequently not have a ring, but it definitely isn't a reliable indicator that a disc is HD.
    – EKW
    Mar 7 '12 at 17:33
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    @kinokijuf, yes, and it also says that it is not a reliable indicator like EKW said: DD 5.25" (360kB) diskettes look very much like HD 5.25" (1.2MB) diskettes; however, HD diskettes seem to almost never have a hub ring, while DD diskettes usually do.
    – Synetech
    Mar 7 '12 at 18:01
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    With the caveat that it isn't 100% reliable, if you've noticed that pattern with the manufacturer in your stack of disks, it may be a reliable indicator for that manufacturer.
    – EKW
    Mar 7 '12 at 18:57
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    > it may be a reliable indicator for that manufacturer. At least to some extent. I’ve seen people nag that one batch of Verbatim DVDs is good while another is garbage, so even within an mfg…
    – Synetech
    Mar 7 '12 at 23:50
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The surface of DD disks are coated with iron oxide and when held up to strong light are brownish. (Think type I cassettes) HD are made with cobalt coating and are a blueish/purple tint when held up to the light. EHD are made with a barium ferrite coating. Ive never seen one in the wild, so apart from looking brownish, anything is possible.

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