Tiny Dongle Brings The Hard Drive’s Song Back To Updated Retrocomputers

Back in the “beige box” days of computing, it was pretty easy to tell what your machine was doing just by listening to it, because the hard drive was constantly thrashing the heads back and forth. It was sometimes annoying, but never as annoying as hearing the stream of Geiger counter-like clicks stop when you knew it wasn’t done loading a program yet.

That “happy sound” is getting harder to come by, even on retro machines, which increasingly have had their original thrash-o-matic drives replaced with compact flash and other solid-state drives. This HDD sound simulator aims to fill that diagnostic and nostalgic gap on any machine that isn’t quite clicky enough for you. Sadly, [Matthias Werner] provides no build details for his creation, but between the longish demo video below (by a satisfied customer) and the details of the first version, it’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on here. An ATtiny and a few support components ride on a small PCB along with a piezoelectric speaker. The dongle connects to the hard drive activity light, which triggers a series of clicks from the speaker that sound remarkably like a hard drive heading seeking tracks. A demo starts at 7:09 in the video below; the very brave — or very nostalgic — might want to check out the full defragmentation that starts at 13:11.

Sure, this one is perhaps a bit over-the-top, but in the retrocomputing world, no price is too high to pay in the name of nostalgia. And it’s still far from the most ridiculous hard drive activity indicator we’ve seen.

Thanks to [maciek84] for the tip.

28 thoughts on “Tiny Dongle Brings The Hard Drive’s Song Back To Updated Retrocomputers

  1. This is nice for emulating a hard drive with a voice coil actuator. Now we need a variant for flash based floppy drive emulators so we get the rich floppy drive sound back. As well, for those who like their old hard drives that use stepper motor actuators, we’d need a v2.0 HD sound emulator that’ll add stepper actuators and spindle motor noises. Bonus points for spin up noise and marginal spindle bearing noise :). Ahhh the good ole’ days LOL.

  2. The sound is neat but if you want the real feel then you need a driver to add seek time for reading/writing at the right position as well as spin-up and spin-down times.

    It’s a fantastic start but there is so much more to go!

    1. Saying “feel” is exactly right for my old Seagate Barracuda SCSI drive. When that thing spins up/down, you can tell it’s on.

      When I eventually moved it into a portable housing, I would swear I could see it wobble from the torque when you turn it on.

  3. On old Sigma 9 main frame computers from the 70s we use to put an AM radio on top of the CPU cabinet, or the disk drive cabinet to get the happy sound. The interference sound was quite complex, and you could hear when the CPU had completely booted up, and was happy.

    1. Agreed. I worked in computer store and am familiar with many hard drives and their sounds. The loudest ones were the low quality drives, like Maxtor. The more efficient ones are barely audible. But even the lowest quality drive isn’t as clicky as this, it’s more of a faint woosh+klonk instead of a loud click. Remember, the sound comes from the reading head coming to stop abruptly on a sector. It doesn’t physically hit anything, it simply has powerful magnetic field to stop it at a precise position very quickly.

    2. It lacks that oh so satisfying metallic ting the original 3.5″ drives had. This is close but needs some improvement. For me, the nostalgia factor is hearing that drive spin up, the sounds of my 5-1/4 floppy and 3.5 floppy do their power test cycles

  4. Getting the impression from the comment string thus far that this is more of a 90s, IDE era sound, more percussive and clicky, rather than the decidedly squeaky sound from those big old 20/40/80 MB 5.25″ Seagate MFM drives from the 80s. Fwiw, I had this beastly 80M full height 5.25″ drive that would shake the dang table – not visibly, but you could actually feel the head stepper through the table top.

  5. Was working on something similar for my SCSI emulators. One version I developed had two MCUs, one emulating the SCSI drive media, the other emulating mechanical sounds and handling CD Audio. Real HDDs and CDs don’t make head seeking noise with every access (head seeks only happen when the head actually moves!) and they also have a whine that isn’t easy to synthesize parametrically. You would think it is a fundamental frequency of the drive RPM, but from what I found its actually many harmonics that you hear, resulting in more of a white noise sound than a clear single tone. In the end I went with a wavetable approach with samples from real drives, mixed with some frequency sweeps and intelligence about which seek sounds to play based on how far the simulated head is moving. I may yet still release the audio addon one day…

  6. The memories of my IIe floppy drive starting to struggle to load a program. A quick open and close of the gate and the audible change in the chatter pattern confirmed it was (literally?) back on track and continue loading.

  7. That’s how most turn signals are now too, the clicking is an artificial sound from a little speaker. The relay is nearly silent or it’s solid state with no actual relay or switch.

  8. Many many years ago, I worked for a company that had a IBM System 3/12. The 96 column “cards” were actually 8 inch floppy disks and there were 2 workstations where “keypunchers” entered data into the card/disks (one of the workstations had two positions; the other one acted like the computer’s card reader). The keypunchers had all trained on old 029 card punches and were used to that. One day one of the keypunchers told me we needed to call the IBM guy, that the clicker was out on her workstation (IBM 3742). I told her there must be something else wrong with it; the clicking wasn’t just a thing that clicked for the sake of clicking. She said, “oh no, that’s all it does. Everything else is working fine.” Turns out , she was right. There was a little solenoid attached to a piece of plastic so the operators who were used to card punches could hear themselves working.

    1. I stopped using a typewriter in 1984. But about 1990, I was somewhere and had to use a typewriter for something. Suddenly the delay between hitting the key and it hitting the paper threw me off.

  9. I had a computer running Mac OS 7.2 and its chunky hard drive noises live rent free in my head, but I can never find a recording to tell other people what noises happen on the inside of my head when I’m thinking.

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