Preserving Floppy Disks Via Logic Analyser

The floppy disk is a technology that is known only to the youth of today as the inspiration for the Save icon. There’s a lot of retro computing history tied up in these fragile platters, thus preservation is key. But how to go about it? [CHZ-Soft] has found an easy way, using a logic analyzer and a healthy dose of Python.

Floppy drives have particularly low-level interfaces, offering up little more than a few signals to indicate the position of the head on the disk, and pulses to indicate changes in magnetic flux. The data is encoded in the pattern of flux changes. This has important implications as far as preservation goes – it’s best to record the flux changes themselves, and create an image of the exact magnetic state of the disk, and then process that later, rather than trying to decode the disk at the time of reading and backing up just the data itself. This gives the best likelihood of decoding the disk and preserving an accurate image of floppy formats as they existed in the real world. It’s also largely platform agnostic – you can record the flux changes, then figure out the format later.

[CHZ-Soft] takes this approach, explaining how to use a Saleae logic analyser and a serial port to control a floppy drive and read out the flux changes on the disk. It’s all controlled automatically through a Python script, which automates the process and stores the results in the Supercard Pro file format, which is supported by a variety of software. This method takes about 14MB to store the magnetic image of a 720KB disk, and can even reveal a fingerprint of the drive used to write the disk, based on factors such as jitter and timing.

It’s an impressive hack that shows that preservation-grade backups of floppy disks can be achieved without spending big money or using specialist hardware. We’ve seen other projects in this space before, too.

An Eight Inch Floppy For Your Retrocomputer

For people under a certain age, the 8 inch floppy disk is a historical curiosity. They might just have owned a PC that had a 5.25 inch disk drive, but the image conjured by the phrase “floppy disk” will be the hard blue plastic of the once ubiquitous 3.5 inch disk. Even today, years after floppies shuffled off this mortal coil, we still see the 3.5 inch disk as the save icon in so many of our software packages.

For retro computing enthusiasts though, there is an attraction to the original floppy  from the 1970s. Mass storage for microcomputers can hardly come in a more retro format. [Scott M. Baker] evidently thinks so, for he has bought a pair of Qume 8 inch floppy drives, and interfaced them to his CPM-running RC2014 Z80-based retrocomputer.

He goes into detail on the process of selecting a drive as there are several variants of the format, and interfacing the 50 pin Shuggart connector on these drives with the more recent 34 pin connector. To aid in this last endeavour he’s created an interface PCB which he promises to share on OSH Park.

The article provides an interesting insight into the control signals used by floppy drives, as well as the unexpected power requirements of an 8 inch drive. They need mains AC, 24VDC, and 5VDC, so for the last two he had to produce his own power supply.

He’s presented the system in a video which we’ve put below the break. Very much worth watching if you’ve never seen one of these monsters before, it finishes with a two-drive RC2014 copying files between drives.

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Plastic Cutter Made Of 3.5” Floppy Disk

This is so cool; an unexpected use for an antiquated digital storage medium. [DeepSOIC] built a cutter that shaves off plastics but cannot cut through metal. It’s made out of the media part of a 3.5” floppy disk. For the new kids, here’s what a Floppy Disk is.

The disk is attached to any high speed DC motor connected to a plain ol’ power supply – variable if you want to adjust speed. As you can see from the video after the break, it cuts through plastic quite well, but is unable to damage any metal that it encounters. This property makes it extremely handy for many applications. Want to strip through an old 3.5mm phono jack without damaging the wires? Want to wind a coil over a plastic former and then strip away the plastic? Want to trim some 3D printed parts? All game for this handy tool. According to [DeepSOIC], if you don’t have floppy disks, you can use other kinds of plastic films too – such as overhead transparencies or plastic printer films. If you are in a pinch, he claims even paper works, although it doesn’t last too long. Don’t throw away all of those business cards yet.

This isn’t the only trick up his sleeve. He’s documenting a whole series on his project page at Hacks and Tricks. And if you like these, then also checkout [RoGeorge]’s bag of tricks over at The Devil is in the Details.

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Floppy Drive Hides SD Card Reader

[gilmour509] posted a thorough gallery of a new custom-built computer and case made to look like a 1995 IBM Aptiva. While the whole build is impressive, the most clever part involves a 3 1/2″ floppy disk that hides an SD card and works like a regular USB flash drive when inserted into the floppy drive.

He makes use of the fact that floppy disk edge card connectors have the same spacing as SD cards. Add in a hacked USB card reader, some careful cutting and assembly, and [gilmour509] has a very convincing floppy drive with gigabytes of space.

When inserted the light turns on and windows recognizes the drive.

The best part is that with everything put together, the floppy disks and floppy drive look completely unmodified. He even made the file explorer icon show a floppy drive.

The faux-Aptiva gallery includes the full build, but skip to about 2/3 down to see the floppy SD card section.

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Raspberry Pi Emulates An Amiga 500 Floppy Drive

[Maurizio] loves using his Amiga 500. His classic piece of hardware has been serving him well for years, except for the floppy drive, which recently gave out on him. No problem for [Maurizio], he just cracked his case open and added a Raspberry Pi as a real-time floppy emulator. [Maurizio] didn’t want to make any permanent changes to his A500 case, and more importantly he wanted to use the Amiga’s original floppy drive interface. The latter placed some rather stringent timing requirements on his design.

The interface hardware is relatively simple. Most of the circuit is dedicated to level shifting from the 5v Amiga 500 to the 3.3V Raspberry Pi. A 74LS06 Hex inverter converts the signals to the open collector outputs the A500 requires. [Maurizio] powered his Raspberry Pi from the floppy power connector of the Amiga. His model A Raspberry Pi works fine, but a model B would pull a bit more power (700ma) than the Amiga floppy power supply is capable of providing (550ma). The user interface side of the equation is simple: Two buttons, one used to switch disks, and one to “Write to SD”. Live disk images are stored in the Raspberry Pi’s ram, so the user needs to hit the “Write to SD” button to store any changes to disk before swapping floppies.

The software is perhaps the most interesting portion of this build. [Maurizio] is emulating a floppy drive in real-time – this means emulating MFM encoding in real time. Calls have to be made with a timing accuracy of 2 microseconds. The Pi’s stock Linux Operating system was just not going to cut it. [Maurizio] coded his drive emulator “bare metal”, directly accessing the Arm Processor on the Raspberry Pi. This gave him access to the entire processor, and allowed him to meet the hard timing requirements of the floppy interface.

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Building A Six-channel Floppy Drive Synth From Start To Finish

floppy

We’ve seen scores of floppy drives play music, but never before have we seen a project as clean as [Rupert]’s Moppyduino. It’s an Arduino-based board that controls the stepper motors in six separate floppy drives, coaxing them in to playing music from a MIDI file.

The Moppyduino is more than just a convenient way to control the stepper motors in six floppy drives. It’s also a great example of what can be done with home PCB fabrication; the entire project was designed and constructed in [Rupert]’s workshop.

After designing the circuit, [Rupert] printed it out on a laser printer onto a plastic transparency sheet. This was transferred over to a copper clad board, etched, and drilled. After assembly, [Rupert] attached a USB FTDI controller to receive data converted from MIDI data with a Java app.

The end result – housed in a custom Corian enclosure – is one of the best looking floppy drive synths we’ve ever seen. You can check out the process of building this awesome instrument after the break.

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Floppy Drive As An Audio Sampler

Here’s a floppy drive which is being used as an audio sampler. At first glance we thought this was another offering which drives the stepper motor at a specific frequency to generate that characteristic sound at a target pitch. But that’s not what’s happening at all. The floppy is actually being used as a storage device (go figure).

From what we can tell, it’s being used almost like an 8-track tape. A PWM signal is stored on one circular slice of the disk, then the head can be moved back to that same “track” to play back the wave form. The head doesn’t move during playback, but just keeps reading the same track of bits. To the right you can see an Arduino board. This allows for MIDI control of the track selection. [Alexis] shows off some keyboard control in the video after the break. There’s a buffer chip on the breadboard which allows the audio output to be quickly switched off as the floppy drive head is moved. This keeps garbage out of the sound until the new track can be read.

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