[CuriousMarc] didn’t think it would be a big deal when a former Xerox employee sent him an Alto Diablo drive for service. Turns out the drive was cursed — it would destroy everything it touched including a set of heads and an alignment cartridge. [Marc] and a partner spent two months trying to get the drive operable and the video of their process is pretty interesting.
We were interested in the troubleshooting, but we were really envious of their lab, full of HP workstations, an IBM mainframe, and even a Selectric. We kept having to rewind the video because we had tuned out while we were staring at some of the equipment in the background.
The guys got a lot of practice aligning the heads on the drive. Because the crashed head was bent, it actually dug into the alignment cartridge so on subsequent attempts they had to manually load the disk past the damage. They learned to leave the disk a little out of alignment because tightening the assembly will move it a little bit. If you were already aligned, the heads would be off after you did the tightening.
They used a custom FPGA-based tester that [Carl] developed after reverse engineering the disk format. It is amazing to watch the big drive in action and realize that a standard cartridge for this machine was 2.5 megabytes. There was another controller and disk system called the Trident that would get you a whopping 80 megabytes, but we don’t think this is one of those.
Did they succeed in exorcising whatever demons lived in the drive? Watch the video and find out. Even if you never have to fix a Diablo drive yourself, you’ll be entertained. Especially when they work out how to do a current adjustment on the drive by simulating the circuit in Spice.