Commodore 1541 floppy drive fixing chaos

… or fixing several 1541 drives for fun 😉


A challenge!


1541 fixing chaos

Part of you already knows that some time ago I’ve bought quite a few computers,
but I didn’t mention that 15 Commodore 1541 floppy drives came along with this lot.

Only one of the whole 15 units was working without a problem, which quickly resulted in a total disassembly mess 😀

Cases were first to go.

It took a while but finally, I’ve restored ’em.
…except one just for comparison 😉

One of the cases was badly injured 😉 I had to sort it out too.

De-dusting with an air compressor was kinda mandatory.
Here is an absolute winner of a “Grow your dust” compo 😀

Other competitors were quite dirty too 😉

In the meantime, I’ve started working on electronics.

You can’t spot a problem here, can you? 😀

Apart from the above, I’ve also diagnosed quite a few faulty chips. A few fried VIA chips, some 6502, and in one particular unit, an electric motor controller plus a 74LS14 was fried. Nothing new, common issues and fixes that are well documented in da Internetz, so I’ll skip the full description of ’em.

Next, I had to clean all the motherboards.
The winner could be only one … codename: the hairy 1541 🙂

With all cases and mainboards fixed, clean and ready, fixing drives was the only thing that was left to be done.
I’ve encountered a couple of interesting issues here.
There was one extra noisy drive and I couldn’t figure out what was causing this noise.
After a bit of deeper looking, I’ve found a problem.
It was a slightly dirty floppy holder wheel.

Cleaning and lubricating it sorted an issue.

There was also a problem with a loud floppy motor in another unit, but that was sorted out by simply injecting a tiny drop of silicon-based lubricant into bearings.

Testing and further fixes

I must say that ALPS(brown) drives are damn indestructible if compared to MITSUMI.
All ALPS drives worked without a problem after cleaning and tweaking. On the other side, there is MITSUMI, only one out of seven units were working. I was curious how that is possible so further testing was needed but let’s see what was done to all working drives first.

To test the drives, I’ve used a cartridge image from an excellent website
I’ve flashed it to an EasyFlash3 and I was ready to go 😉

All the drives had the speed set to 300 RPM as close as possible.

I’ve also corrected a head alignment in all working drives.

MITSUMI drives

Ok, back to MITSUMI drives the problem. These drives didn’t pass any tests. It looked like there is a reading problem. After a bit of Internet browsing, I’ve found that a fried coil in a head might be the cause.
1541 drive head has two coils inside – one for reading and writing and another for erasing.

Turns out that a simple multimeter resistance measurement can reveal if the coil is fried or not.

It also turned out that all MITSUMI drives that I have, have at least one of two head coils dead. I’ve decided that I’ll take a deeper look at it.
Here are some pics.

Coils are sealed in some sort of silicone compound

I’ve managed to gently remove this silicone gooey and have a closer look inside with my USB cam.

Here is how the first coil looks.

and a second coil is here.

I was hoping that maybe something else is a problem, not the winding itself. I’ve checked for continuity and unfortunately, it turned out that in all heads one of the windings is fried.
I am currently trying to figure out how to repair or replace these broken heads so no h4x here yet. Sorry 😉

An outcome

So here are all drives that I’ve managed to repair. All of ’em have ALPS drives because MITSUMI ones are waiting for the solution.


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19 thoughts on “Commodore 1541 floppy drive fixing chaos

  1. I recently encountered open circuit heads in a C128D-CR I had restored. It uses a Newtronics D502 drive, a two head version of the D500 found in the 1541. My solution was to replace the entire drive. I would imagine this would work in a 1541 (the upper head would be not connected). In addition, it would not be necessary to do any hacking to physically accommodate the drive as the 1541 would simply use the drive complete with its front panel, though it would need to be painted to match the 1541 colour. Details can be found here:

  2. Just got a Mitsumi 1541 with dead head… One of the coils is open. I wish we could make replacement heads! It’s a shame that all those Mitsumi 1541s are garbage by now.

  3. Very nice article. I have an ALPS 1541 which I just repaired (broken DOS ROM). It works, but is pretty squeaky all around. Are there any hints what parts need lubrication and what materials to use for that?

    1. Just spray some deoxidant (dry) in the floppy disk opening but aiming at the “cup” on the bottom and on the “cone” at the top. The squeaky one is the top one and you can solve this way without disassembling all the mechanics.

  4. Brilliant work done there! Cheers from Argentina! & I’d like to get in touch with at least one of those ALPS drives, ’cause whatever the cause, they are very very rare by here. In all my experience with 1541’s, I’ve only seen Mitsumi/Newtronics units..

    1. I have a very “rare” 1541 II with DS-50F mechanics. It’s incredibly accurate. Too bad that it reads perfectly but writes in a very weak way, errors out even on track 1, but I checked the resistance of the coils and they are not burned.

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