Cloning a Board from Pictures on the Internet

[Andrew] was a pretty cool guy in the early 90s with an awesome keyboard synth that did wavetable synthesis, sampling, a sequencer, and an effects processor. This was a strange era for storage; a reasonable amount of Flash memory was unheard of, and floppy disks ruled the land. [Andrew]’s synth, though, had the option to connect SCSI drives. Like all optional add ons for high-end equipment, the current price for the Ensoniq SCSI card is astronomical and [Andrew] figured he could build one of these cards himself.

Poking around eBay, [Andrew] found the card in question – just a few passives, some connectors, a voltage regulator, and an odd chip from AMD. This chip was a 33C93A, a SCSI controller, and a trip down the Chinese vendor rabbit hole netted him one for $7. Can’t do better than that.

With the datasheet for the chip in hand and a few reasonable assumptions on how the circuit worked, [Andrew] tried to figure draw the schematic. After doing that, he found another hobbyist that had attempted the same project a few years earlier. All the nets were identical, and all that was left to do was sending a board off to the fab.

A quick trip to Front Panel Express got [Andrew] a mounting bracket for the card, and after plugging it in to the synth revealed a new option – SCSI. It worked, and with an ancient SCSI CD-ROM drive, he had boatloads of offline storage for his synth. Great work, and something we’d love to see more of.

 

15 thoughts on “Cloning a Board from Pictures on the Internet

    1. His soldering looks good, although I do wonder why he would post a picture of the back of his board without cleaning off the flux. I thought it was a bad solder job at first too, but then I zoomed in and realized it was just flux. Little rubbing alcohol and a tooth brush will take that right off. Personally I think his card looks better than the original.

  1. Gotta “love” companies that put a really high price on a bit of kit that only costs a few bucks to manufacture. :-P

    “The price is because we don’t sell very many.”

    “Yeah? If you priced it *right* then you’d be selling one of these to pretty much 100% of your customers that bought the thing it’s made to plug into, and make a larger net profit. At the price you have on it you’ll be lucky to sell through to 5%.”

    “But at this price we make 598% profit off each one!”

    Economic stupidity is so very widespread. I call such cluelessness the “Pepperoni Pizza Principle”. It’s pretty much a given that the most popular pizza topping is pepperoni. It’s almost always on sale or special or always on the buffet or in general the lowest cost topping at most pizza restaurants.

    But replace pepperoni in the market with just about any other topping and *it would be the most popular* by virtue of it nearly always being the lowest cost and most marketed.

    The PPP is why Shasta doesn’t make strawberry soda. For some reason stores just wouldn’t order it and stock it, but they would order and stock the Kiwi Strawberry flavor (which I think is pretty awful). I asked many grocery store people responsible for choosing what to put on the shelves “Why don’t you have Shasta Strawberry?” The reply was always “Because it doesn’t sell well.”

    You cannot sell what you never have! See also DAD’S Orange Cream soda. The stores make the same claim yet the rare times they get any (usually one solitary pallet load) it’s all been bought in a few hours.

    “Why don’t you get in enough DAD’S to have enough so more people will have a chance to get it?” We only sell one pallet a month. Not enough demand to get more.” Makes me wanna grab the goofball by the shirt collar and say “I want more of it! Is that enough ‘demand’ for you?!”

    Artificially restricting sales via an arbitrarily high price or by stocking an insufficient supply, then using the resultant low sales to claim “low demand” is, well, what I want to say about how idiotic that is would probably make even Howard Stern blush.

    1. Let’s assume that companies exist to make money. There are many reasons why they would a) be making more money this way and b) not want to sell a product a customer wants.

      For a) You think it’s economics but look at the device, it’s a damn SCSI card. Special purpose devices are sold at a premium because even if they were priced so all your customers could get it, most of your customers wouldn’t. Then there’s the R&D cost. Yes in this case someone cloned the damn thing, but that doesn’t mean someone didn’t originally design it, document it, revise it, a company sold it and then provided after sales support for it.

      b) Since you mention economics I assume you know what “opportunity cost” is? Maintaining a supply chain for special purpose devices is often difficult enough, especially in low volumes. But then you have to consider what else could my staff be working on that makes more money?

      Clearly someone thinks this extra sale isn’t worth the companies time, and they priced the device accordingly.

    2. But what if I’m just a fan of thin crust pepperoni? When faced with a list of options, all priced the same, I CHOOSE pepperoni. Sometimes with jalapenos on half.

      This has nothing to do with economics. Its personal preference, and for the purpose of having a pizza for just myself I go a step further and engineer a followup choice- ‘do I want THIS SLICE to have jalapenos’.

      Additionally, my third choice in pizza is a ‘supreme’ with pan crust. Almost no similarity with my first and second choices.

      Furthermore- most pizza places dont try and sell me a ‘pepperoni pizza’ they sell me a ‘one-topping’ or ‘three-topping’.

    3. [Galane], were you hungry when you wrote this? Now that I’ve read it I’m craving a pizza and soda.

      Regarding the DAD’S Orange Cream soda example, maybe it really doesn’t sell well. At least not enough to warrant permanent shelf space, even a little bit of it. Shelf space is always in high demand. So the stores have engineered an ideal compromise by offering an artificially limited supply, so that at least some people can get what they want; and with it being gone in hours, storage is not an issue. They likely know from past experience that if they order two pallets, or order it more frequently, it won’t be viewed as an item in short supply. People won’t rush in to purchase it, won’t purchase as much to stock up in advance, and the store would then have to store the item for days or weeks to get rid of it all.

    4. Galane,

      first off the numbers of units sold for the Ensoniq ts-12, ts-10 and asr-10 were very low..
      the asr-10 came with the scsi functionality already installed (or integrated). and the reason it did was because having something that could hold samples in up to 32 megs of ram and only save 1.4 megs to floppy isn’t a great idea. now the ts-12 has a rom image already onboard. it saves information as to the parameters for the sounds in kb so a floppy only option is just fine. now to load extra samples for custom waveforms you could store those on a floppy and load them along with the patch information for a single sound. the scsi being an optional board was simply because the ts-10 and 12 were basically an asr-10 with onboard sampling removed.

      now for the economics of the day…

      a scsi cd rom drive cost upwards of $350 when the ts-10 launched.
      sample disks for the asr/ts series cost $75 to $200 each.
      ram cost as much as the cd drive to get 32 megs.
      the ts-10/12 were workstation keyboards designed to go against their competition of the day. that competition didn’t have onboard sample ram or sample loading except for the yamaha sy-99.

      so to boil it down…
      the ts keyboards didn’t need scsi
      scsi devices cost a lot so not many would buy a scsi option or need it, therefore demand would be small especially considering the ts line didn’t sell millions but probably a few tens of thousands.

  2. Ensoniq are complete knobs about support. They make their money and then act like the product never existed after it stops selling.
    Then again, be glad it wasn’t a roland with Quick Disk format-not even the HxC floppy could save that :(

  3. Funny thing, a company can pump lots of money into the development of a board, charge a lot per board, then the Chinese come in and do the exact same thing that happened here. They just sell a cloned board, cheaply, just above the manufacturing cost.

    1. So then you offer something that they can’t, like a longer-term warranty, better customer support, or just advertise your superior manufacturing capabilities. Competing strictly on cost is a losing game.

      The best solution is to offer better support, donate a couple boards to local schools/universities, host a hack-a-thon or two, etc. Build a reputation in the community and good will with your customers and they’ll never buy from anyone else.

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