Rare DOS disk utilities


RAM disk; Your book; Mobos; Monitors; Net folders

I’ve been doing a bunch of work in DOS the past few days, and I’ve found some useful disk tools. A lot of people use the shareware WinImage or GRDUW to create images of floppy disks. That’s with good reason, seeing as floppies are so unreliable–this way, you’ve got a backup on a hard drive or CD-ROM drive, and it’s so much more convenient when you need a particular disk to just grab a blank, make a fresh copy from an image, and go do your thing. But I found some DOS utilities, some recent and others oldies but goodies, that give you the functionality of these shareware utilities but with the advantage of being free, smaller, faster, and in most cases running on a wider variety of operating systems–all good things. So they don’t have a nice clicky mousey interface… I don’t like using a mouse anyway. Maybe you’re like me, or maybe you like powerful utilities and don’t mind giving up the mouse to be able to use them.

So here goes.

Creating disk images. My favorite is  Diskwarez DF — of course I like this utility, seeing as it bears my initials. DF is a short and sweet utility for creating and writing disk images compatible with Rawrite and the Unix dd utility. Runs under DOS and under Windows 9x and NT in a command window. There are dozens of DOS disk imaging utilities out there, but this one has the advantage of being compatible with a very common cross-platform standard. Check out the Diskwarez site, as it’s got tons of info on disk programming, as well as some other utilities like free disk editors. Despite the name, it’s not a pirate site–Diskwarez software is distributed under a free license somewhat similar to the GPL.

If you prefer self-extracting images, you can use the similarly named DOSDF to create them.

Bigger, faster, better floppies. The other feature of GRDUW is to format high-capacity floppy disks and floppies that give faster access than disks formatted with Windows Explorer or the DOS format utility. Enter FDFORMAT . You can do that and plenty of other cool things with this utility. You can gain more usable space on a 1.44-meg floppy without resorting to weird disk formats just by reserving fewer root directory entries. For example, FDFORMAT A: /D:16 gives you the maximum available space on a 1.44-meg floppy by reserving just 16 root directory entries (if you’re storing large files you don’t need more than 16 anyway, probably).

For extra speed, use Sector Sliding: FDFORMAT A: /X:2 /Y:3 speeds up the disk by 50-100 percent by arranging the tracks in a more optimal order. Supposedly you can gain even more speed by playing around with the gap length, but the author says disks are less reliable when you do this. If you’re more interested in speed than in reliability, add the /G:32 switch to the command listed above.

And by default, the boot sector on disks formatted by FDFORMAT automatically try to boot to the hard drive rather than giving you the dreaded “Non-system disk or disk error” message. Why couldn’t Microsoft think of that?

And of course you can also format high-capacity disks. Use the /F168 option to format a 1.68-MB floppy, and the /F172 option to format a 1.72-meg floppy. These switches can be combined with the others as well. Keep in mind that extra-capacity disks aren’t bootable.

FDFORMAT’s downside is it won’t run from inside Windows NT or Windows 9x. The best thing to do with it is to format a disk with it on a PC booted into DOS (DOS mode from Windows 9x’s boot menu is sufficient), then take that disk and use the aforementioned DF or DOSDF utilities to make an image of that disk, then when you need to format a new high-speed disk or a new disk that won’t give you errors when you leave it in the drive, use the image.

Formatting bad disks. And finally, for those dreaded Track 0 Bad errors that render a disk unusable, there’s FR , which uses workarounds to try to make the disk usable again. Typically I get rid of floppies with bad sectors pretty quickly, but if it’s an emergency, this program might bail you out. I used to get around Track 0 errors by formatting the disk in my Amiga–for some reason the disk always worked after that–but seeing as I usually don’t have my Amiga set up, this is an alternative.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I wrote that I found a better way. SmartFormat also does Track 0 workarounds, uses the date and time to create unique disk serial numbers (instead of Microsoft’s license-plate method), provides a fast format that’s up to 60% faster than Microsoft’s method, and can optionally format 1.72-meg disks. SmartFormat runs within Windows, usually.


RAM disk; Your book; Mobos; Monitors; Net folders

2 thoughts on “Rare DOS disk utilities

  • September 11, 2003 at 4:21 am

    I have used SmartFormat successfully under Windows 98, but my newer machine has Windows XP, and SmartFormat gets to 97% and then reports bad sectors at track 00, and doesn’t seem to finish the job at hand. I wonder if this might be an incompatibility issue with Windows XP.

    Any comments?



  • November 21, 2003 at 1:18 am

    Try using Smartformat in the MS-DOS Prompt environment and not in the Windows environment. If XP allows you to restart your computer in DOS Mode, do so and run tformat in DOS Mode for repairing the floppy. Hope you succeed in getting it done. Best wishes. Suresh Raj Mittal

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