Time is almost up for magnetic storage from the 80s and 90s. Various physical limitations in storage methods from this era are conspiring to slowly degrade the data stored on things like tape, floppy disks, and hard disk drives, and after several decades data may not be recoverable anymore. It’s always worth trying to back it up, though, especially if you have something on your hands like critical evidence or court records on a nearly 50-year-old floppy disk last written to in 1993 using a DEC PDP-11.
This project all started when an investigation unit in Maryland approached the Bloop Museum with a request to use their antique computer resources to decode the information on a 5.25″ floppy disk. Even finding a floppy disk drive of this size is a difficult task, but this was further compounded not just by the age of the disk but that the data wasn’t encoded in the expected format. Using a GreaseWeazle controlled by a Raspberry Pi, they generated an audio file from the data on the disk to capture all available data, and then used that to work backwards to get to the usable information.
After some more trials with converting the analog information to digital and a clue that the data on the disk was not fragmented, they realized they were looking at data from a digital stenography machine and were finally able to decode it into something useful. Of course, stenography machines are dark magic in their own right so just getting this record still requires a stenographer to make much sense out of it.
A 1TB drive fails. How do you recover the data? If you are like us, you imagine a high-tech lab with serious-looking technicians and engineers. [John Graham-Cumming] managed it in his woodworking shop. Granted, it was a solid-state drive, so a clean room wasn’t necessary, but we still found it an unexpected story.
[John’s] gaming rig had two Seagate Firecuda 530 SSDs and decided not to boot. A quick analysis found one of the drives failed — it happens. However, the drive showed some signs of life after cooling off. A 30-minute trip to the freezer made the drive work again until it got warm again.
Continue reading “Data Recovery In The Woodshed”
People trying to preserve digital artifacts held on old media often not only have to contend with the media themselves decaying, but also with obscure media formats for which there’s seemingly little chance of finding a working reader. [Kneesnap] had this problem with a tape containing the only known copy of all the assets for the game Frogger 2: Swampy’s Revenge, and the tale of how the data was recovered is a dive into both the shady side of the data recovery industry and some clever old-format hacking.
The tape was an Onstream cartridge, a short-lived format from a company whose first product hit the market at the end of the ’90s and who went bust in 2004. An old drive was found, but it proved to have a pinch roller melted with age, so in desperation the tape was sent to a data recovery company.
We admire the forbearance in not naming and shaming the data recovery company, because far from recovering the data they sent it back with the tape damaged and spliced — something you can do with an analogue tape but not a digital one without compromising the data. Then faced with an unrecoverable tape and a slightly different Onstream cartridge, how could anything be salvaged?
The answer came in overriding the drive’s sensors and initializing it with a known-good tape, then swapping out the tapes so that the drive, unaware anything had changed, could read whatever data it could find. In the event the vast majority of the archive was retrieved, making it a win for the preservation of that game.
This may be more involved than some recovery stories, but it’s not the first we’ve covered.
[Jason P], evidently an enjoyer of old reliable laser printing tech, spilled a drink (nitter) onto his Panasonic KX-P5400 SideWriter. After cleanup, everything worked fine — except that the PSU’s 5 V became 6.5 V during the accident, and the EPROM with LocalTalk interface firmware died, connection between VCC and GND seemingly interrupted inside the chip. Understandably, [Jason] went on Twitter, admitted the error of his ways, and sheepishly asked around for EPROM dumps.
Instead, [Manawyrm] wondered — would the chip have anti-ESD body diodes from GND to IO pins, by any chance? A diode mode multimeter check confirmed, yes! It was time for an outlandish attempt to recover the firmware. [Manawyrm] proposed that [Jason] connect all output pins but one to 5 V, powering the EPROM through the internal VCC-connected body diodes – reading the contents one bit at a time and then, combining eight dumps into a single image.
After preparing a TL866 setup, one hour of work and some PHP scripting later, the operation was a success. Apparently, in certain kinds of cases, dead ROM chips might still tell their tales! It’s not quite clear what happened here. The bond wires looked fine, so who knows where the connection got interrupted – but we can’t deny the success of the recovery operation! Need a primer on dumping EPROMs that are not dead? Here you go.
Continue reading “Dead EPROM Dumped With Help Of Body Diodes”
An increasing phenomenon over the years since mobile phones morphed from simply telephones into general purpose pocket computers has been that of the dead device taking with it some treasured digital resource. In most cases this means the device has died, but doesn’t necessarily mean that that the data has completely gone. Inside the device will be an eMMC flash chip, and if that can be read then the data is safe. This applies to some single board computers too, and thus [Jeffmakes]’ adventures in recovering an eMMC from a dead Raspberry Pi CM4 are particularly interesting.
The whole thing relies on the eMMC presenting the same interface as an SD card, so while it comes in a multi-pin BGA package it can be addressed with surprisingly few wires. Using the PCB from another dead CM4 he traced the relevant connections from eMMC to SoC pads, and was thus able with some very fine soldering to construct an interface for an SD card reader. The disk could then be imaged in its entirety.
This work will be of huge use to experimenters who’ve fried their Compute Modules, but of course the information it contains will also be of use to retrieve those photos from the phone that fell in the bath. It’s not the first time we’ve taken a look at someone’s efforts in this area.
If you ever needed proof that class-action lawsuits are a good deal only for the lawyers, look no further than the news that Tim Hortons will settle a data-tracking suit with a doughnut and a coffee. For those of you who are not in Canada or Canada-adjacent, “Timmy’s” is a chain of restaurants that are kind of the love child of a McDonald’s and a Dunkin Donut shop. An investigation into the chain’s app a couple of years ago revealed that customer location data was being logged silently, even when they were not using the app, and even far, far away from the nearest Tim Hortons. The chain is proposing to settle with class members to the tune of a coupon good for one free hot beverage and one baked good, in total valuing a whopping $8.68. The lawyers, on the other hand, will be pulling in $1.5 million plus taxes. There’s no word if they are taking that in cash or as 172,811 coffees and doughnuts, but we think we can guess.
Continue reading “Hackaday Links: August 7, 2022”
You might think the era of the 3.5 inch “floppy” disk is over, and of course, you’d be right. But when has that ever stopped hackers before? Just because these disks are no longer being manufactured doesn’t mean you can’t find them, or that the appropriate drives aren’t readily available. In fact, as [Ladyada] explained during this week’s Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat with Adafruit, the ongoing chip shortages mean its often easier and cheaper to track down old hardware like this than it is modern microcontrollers and other high-tech components.
What awaits the brave hacker that picks up a box of random floppies and a dusty old drive at the local thrift store? More than you might expect. As the Hack Chat goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that these quaint pieces of antiquated technology can be rather difficult to work with. For one thing there are more formats out there than you’ve probably considered, and maddeningly, not all drives are able to read all types (even if they say they do). That means a disk which might seem like a dud on one drive could work perfectly fine in another, which is why the team at Adafruit recommend having a few on hand if you want to maximize your chances of success.
Now here comes the tricky part: unless you happen to have a 1990s vintage computer laying around, getting these drives hooked up is decidedly non-trivial. Which is why Adafruit have been researching how to interface the drives with modern microcontrollers. This includes the Adafruit_Floppy project, which aims to port the well known Greaseweazle and FluxEngine firmwares to affordable MCUs like the Raspberry Pi Pico. There’s also been promising developments with bringing native floppy support to CircuitPython, which would make reading these disks as easy as writing a few lines of code.
But wait, surely this is a solved problem? Why not just pick up a cheap USB floppy drive from the A to Z online retailer we all love to hate? Unfortunately, these gadgets are something of a mixed bag. [Ladyada] pulls one apart on camera to show that what you’re actually getting with one of these units is a new old stock laptop floppy drive hooked up to a dodgy purpose-built chip that connects to the original 26-pin flex cable and offers up a USB interface. That would be great, if it wasn’t for the fact that the chip is exceedingly selective about what kind of disks it will read. If you’re only worried about bog standard IBM-formatted disks they can work in a pinch, but like they say, you get what you pay for.
So is it all just academic? Is there really any reason to use a floppy disk in 2022? The fine folks at Adafruit would argue that the skills necessary to read usable data out of a stream of magnetic flux changes may very well come in handy in unexpected ways down the road. But even if not, there’s at least one good reason to cultivate the technology required to reliably read from these once ubiquitous storage devices: archiving the data stored on these disks before they invariably succumb to so-called “bit rot” and are potentially lost to history.
Continue reading “Adafruit Hack Chat Helps You Copy That Floppy”