Adding A Second Drive To A Forgotten Commodore

Commodore would never release a laptop, or really much of anything resembling the chunky luggable portable computers of the 1980s. This doesn’t mean a ‘Commodore LCD’ wasn’t designed – it’s sitting in [Bil Herd]’s basement. Of the entire Commodore lineup, the only computer that could remotely be called ‘portable’ is the SX-64, the ‘executive’ version that came with a built-in 5″ monitor, the usual C64 circuitry, one floppy drive, and an empty hole that could obviously hold a second floppy drive. Something must be done about that missing floppy drive, and it only took thirty years for someone to do something about it.

While the conversion requires mucking around in an already tight enclosure, the parts for this conversion are readily available thanks to a few people trying to repair an SX-64, giving up, and parting the whole thing out on eBay. These parts include the 1541 controller relabeled as the ‘FDD’ board in the SX-64, and of course the floppy drive itself. With the right teardown guide, putting the new drive in this old computer isn’t that hard; just remember to cut a jumper to assign the new drive a number other than 8.

The missing floppy drive of the SX-64 is what happens when marketing is put in charge of engineering. There were a few of these dual drive Commodore luggables back in ’83, and we have the computer magazine clippings to prove it. The official story is the power supply wasn’t beefy enough to handle the second drive. This mod, though, seems to work well enough, albeit with a distinct lack of somewhere to store a few floppies.

Find yourself getting sentimental while reading about this great hardware? Keep those feelings going by listening to [Bil] recount some stories from his time at Commodore.

An e-Waste 3D Printer for Every Child?

The lofty goal of making sure every school kid has access to a laptop has yet to be reached when along comes an effort to put a 3D printer in the hands of every kid. And not just any printer – a printer the kid builds from a cheap kit of parts and a little e-waste.

The design of the Curiosity printer is pretty simple, and bears a strong resemblance to an earlier e-waste 3D printer we covered back in December. This one has a laser-cut MDF frame rather than acrylic, but the guts are very similar – up-cycled DVD drives for the X- and Z-axes, and a floppy drive for the Y-axis. A NEMA 17 frame stepper motor provides the oomph needed to drive the filament into an off-the-shelf hot end, and an Arduino runs the show. The instructions for assembly are very clear and easy to follow, although we suspect that variability in the sizes of DVD and floppy drives could require a little improvisation at assembly time. But since the assembly of the printer is intended to be as educational as its use, throwing a little variability into the mix is probably a good idea.

The complete kit, less only the e-waste drives and power supply, is currently selling for $149USD. That’s not exactly free, but it’s probably within range of being funded by a few bake sales. Even with the tiny print volume, this effort could get some kids into 3D printers early in their school career.


Emulating a Hard Drive With The Raspberry Pi

[Chris] recently moved a vintage IBM 5150 – the original PC – into his living room. While this might sound odd to people who are not part of the Hackaday readership, it actually makes a lot of sense; this PC is a great distraction-free writing workstation, vintage gaming machine, and looks really, really cool. It sat unused for a while, simply because [Chris] didn’t want to swap out piles of floppies, and he doesn’t have a hard drive or controller card for this machine. After reviewing what other retrocomputer fans have done in this situation, he emulated a hard drive with a Raspberry Pi.

The traditional solution to the ‘old PC without a hard drive’ problem is the XTIDE project. XTIDE is a controller card that translates relatively new IDE cards (or an emulated drive on another computer) as a hard drive on the vintage PC, just like a controller card would. Since a drive can be emulated by another computer, [Chris] grabbed the closest single board computer he had on hand, in this case a Raspberry Pi.

After burning an EPROM with XTIDE to drive an old network card, [Chris] set to work making the XTIDE software function on the Raspberry Pi side of things. The hardware on the modern side of the is just a Pi and a USB to RS232 adapter, set to a very low bitrate. Although the emulated drive is slow, it is relatively huge for computer of this era: 500 Megabytes of free space. It makes your head spin to think of how many vintage games and apps you can fit on that thing!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Orchestral Invention Defies Convention

Like many of us, [Laurens] likes video game music and bending hardware to his will. Armed with a Printrbot, a couple of floppy drives, and some old HDDs, he built the Unconventional Instrument Orchestra. This 2015 Hackaday Prize contender takes any MIDI file and plays it on stepper and solenoid-based hardware through a Java program.

A while back, [Laurens] won a Fubarino in our contest by using a MIDI keyboard and an Arduino to control the Minecraft environment with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time songs. The Unconventional Instrument Orchestra uses that Fubarino of victory to control the steppers of two floppy drives. He only needed three pins to control the drives—one to enable, one to set the head’s direction, and one to make it step once per pulse.

If ever you’ve been around a 3D printer, you know they make music as a natural side effect. The problem is getting the printer to obey the rests in a piece of music. In order to do this, [Laurens] used his software to control the printer, essentially withholding the next command until the appropriate time in the song.

The percussive elements of this orchestra are provided by a hard drive beating its head against the wall. Since it’s basically impossible to get an HDD to do this as designed (thankfully), [Laurens] replaced the control board with a single transistor to drive the coil that moves the head.

[Laurens] has made several videos of the orchestra in concert, which are a joy all their own. Most of the visual real estate of each video is taken up with a real-time visualization of the music produced by the software. There’s still plenty of room to show the orchestra itself, song-specific gameplay, and a textual commentary crawl in 16-segment displays. Check out the playlist we’ve embedded after the break.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Fail of the Week: Electrically Effective Emulators Exceed Enclosure, Enrage Engineer

After a few years of on and off development, [Steve] from Big Mess ‘o Wires completed work on a floppy disk drive emulator for older Macs such as the Plus. The emu plugs into the DB-19 port on the Mac and acts just like a 3.5″ floppy, using an SD card to store the images. He’s been selling the floppy emus for about the last year, and assembled the first several scores of them himself. At some point, he enlisted a board house to make them, and as of November 2014, he’s had enclosures available in both clear acrylic and brown hardboard.

[Steve] recently ran out of emu stock, so it was time to call up the board house and get some more assembled. After waiting six weeks, they finally showed up. But in spite of [Steve]’s clear and correct instructions, all 100 boards are messed up. One resistor is missing altogether, and they transposed a part between the extension cable adapter board, connecting it directly to the emu main board. But get this: the boards still work electrically. They don’t fit in the housings, however, and the extension cables are useless. After explaining the situation, the board house agreed to cook up a new batch of boards, which [Steve] is waiting patiently to receive.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

A Simple Floppy Music Controller

While playing music with floppy drives has been done many times over, making any device with a stepper motor play music still appeals to the hacker in all of us. [Tyler] designed an Arduino shield and a library which lets you get up and running in no time. [Tyler]’s shield includes pin headers to connect 4 floppy drives, which plug directly into the shield. The drives don’t need any modification before being used.

While you could simply wire a few floppy drives up to an Arduino with some jumpers, this breakout shield makes connecting your drives trivial. In addition to designing the shield, [Tyler] released an Arduino library to make things even easier. The library lets you simply set the frequency you want each drive to play, which saves a bit of legwork.

The floppy-controlling Arduino library is available on GitHub and a video of the controller is included after the break.

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Hackaday Links: May 25, 2014

[Matt] wanted his own light saber. You could argue that this is nearly as dangerous since you can’t see the beam and it doesn’t end a few feet past the business end of the grip. Plus there’s that who “not actually a Jedi” thing.

We don’t know if retro computing fans are going to love or hate this (translated). On the one hand it’s pretty cool to see a ZX81 clone up and running. On the other hand, an Amiga 600 case was sacrificed to serve as the body for the hack. [Thanks Juan]

Watchdog timer. If you know what that is your mind immediately says “good idea” when you hear the word. If you don’t know, you need to learn. Watchdogs are reset timers that are built into most microcontrollers. If your firmware gets stuck and doesn’t maintain the timer’s counter at a regular interval the watchdog it will perform a hardware reset and hopefully your hardware will start functioning again. Here’s a guide for using the watchdog in an Arduino, but the concepts are pretty much universal.

We see all kinds of stepper-motor based music machines. One of our favorites was this recent floppy drive jukebox. But not every song is going to sound good on this type of hardware. One that does sound especially neat is the Doctor Who theme on an array of 8 drives.

And finally, if you’re struggling with surface mount soldering we recommend grabbing two soldering irons. But in a pinch just grab some heavy gauge copper wire and wrap it around your soldering iron tip. It ends up being a two-point soldering iron set for the size of specific components such as 0805 resistors. [Thanks Rupert]