ZIF HDDs Dying Out? Here’s An Open-Source 1.8″ SSD

The SSD described, a green board with a ZIP connector, a controller chip and two out of four NAND chips populated. There's traces of flux on the chip, as it hasn't been washed after soldering yet.

A lot of old technology runs on parts no longer produced – HDDs happen to be one such part, with IDE drives specifically being long out of vogue, and going extinct to natural causes. There’s substitutes, but quite a few of them are either wonky or require expensive storage medium. Now, [dosdude1] has turned his attention to 1.8 ZIF IDE SSDs – FFC-connected hard drives that are particularly rare and therefore expensive to replace, found in laptops like the Macbook Air 1,1 2008 model. Unsatisfied with substitutes, he’s designed an entire SSD from the ground up around an IDE SSD controller and NAND chips. Then, he made the design open-source and filmed an assembly video so that we can build our own. Take a look, we’ve put it below the break!

For an open-source design, there’s a respectable amount of work shared with us. He’s reverse-engineered some IDE SSDs based on the SM2236 controller to design the schematic, and put the full KiCad files on GitHub. In the video, he shows us how to assemble this SSD using only a hot air station and a soldering iron, talks about NAND matching and programming software intricacies, and shows the SSD working in the aforementioned Macbook Air. Certainly, assembly would have been faster and easier with a stencil, but the tools used work great for what’s a self-assembly tutorial!

In YouTube comments, [dosdude1] shares way more technical details, and says he’ll be selling these if there’s interest, too. We’ve seen him work on a variety of involved projects breathing life into old but deserving hardware – this GPU RAM upgrade to make it work with an Apple Xserve is a noteworthy endeavour alone. We’ve seen a similar journey done by another prominent hacker, [Wenting Zhang], building an SSD for a lovely-looking Benq S6 miniature machine.

We thank [rasz_pl] for sharing this with us!

14 thoughts on “ZIF HDDs Dying Out? Here’s An Open-Source 1.8″ SSD

  1. Neat! Looks like he’s got a decent DIY SMD workflow going there. But as I heard the remark “long and tedious process”, referring to populating all those passives, I must recommend a hybrid approach. Why not use the cheap (assuming the usual Chinese PCB(A) houses are used) SMT asm options for as much of the passives as possible?
    I always try to have as much as I can of the “tedious”, generic std. parts e.g. passives, assembled for me. Worth every cent, and every extra day of production time. It will probably save you tons of time, especially after you’ve done all the bring-up and testing of the 1st board, and you look at the pile of work represented by the other 9 (or more) boards you got.

    Even with some limitations, e.g. only single-sided assembly, or some of your more exotic parts (ICs, connectors) N/A for SMT – fine. You can probably have 90-100% of the passives on 1-side anyway. And every part that you can have assembled, is one less part you have to solder yourself.

    Cheap PCB going cheap PCBA service, it’s a winner.

  2. I had this exact same idea when I had a laptop with 1.8″ ZIF IDE drive.
    It had the perfect formfactor and it worked for what I did.
    My plan was to use some IDE to SATA bridge and then SATA to eMMC (aka SATA to SD) to build it.
    But then I got a newer laptop and the interest evaporated.

  3. except there’s a thousand of them on ebay right now brand new from kingspec (which I have never had fail for an PATA SSD) a 128gig is 75 bucks, sure its a bit expensive but lets not over exaggerate the situation, they are available and cost reasonable for a niche market

    1. I got a kingspec pata ssd for an older laptop and honestly it was barely better than a cheapo SD card on terms of performance. Absolutely not worth the money. Also runs hotter than the surface of the sun, so I don’t expect it to have a long lifespan

  4. Dosdude1 is my hero getting old Mac’s to run modern MacOSs… But why didn’t they just buy an adapter, under $10 for a cheap one, $30 for a high quality adapter. I’ve refurbished many iPods with the $30 adapter, and I now have several dozen ZIF 1.8″ hard drives.

  5. > There’s substitutes, but quite a few of them are either wonky or require expensive storage medium.

    Hmmm …

    I recently swapped the noisy 6 GB IDE-Harddisk in a iMac G3 for a silent SSD with 120 GB. The SSD costs 12 € … new … and the IDE-to-SATA adapter was 10 €.

    It works like a dream, and costs nearly nothing (compared to the time the computer was build).

    You can also use IDE-to-SD/CF card adaptors, but I would prefer the SSD route. SD/CF cards are made for storage, not for running operating systems (in terms of reliability and performamce). And they are not necessarily cheaper than SSDs.

    1. CF adapters have the benefit of being very simple, because CF and IDE are electrically compatible. This made them cheap, I imagine they were cheap before SATA adapters were cheaply available but I’m too lazy to try to verify this.

      SD adapters have the benefit of SD cards being readily available in numerous capacities, and many people having a few spares lying around.

      Both SD and CF adapters have the benefit of fitting into small spaces. Another benefit, the ability to easily swap cards, either for multiple different images for the same machine or to transport between multiple machines. It’s a bit harder to swap out a full SSD, especially if it has mounting screws, etc. and a stack of micro SD cards could be a lot easier to transport than a stack of full-sized SSDs. Though the cases where this would be truly useful are a niche subset of an already niche use case.

      But it sounds like for your use case you made the right choice, if you’ve found a cheap and reliable SATA adapter and a cheap SATA drive that isn’t too large (either physically or capacity-wise) to work with the old machine.

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