Flux Engine Reads Floppies

It is a bit of a paradox that we are storing more and more information digitally, yet every year more and more of it is becoming harder to access. Data on a variety of tapes and disks that were once common, is now trapped on media due to lack of hardware to read it. Do you have a ZIP drive? Do you have a computer that it will work with? Floppies are problem too. You might think you beat the system just by having a USB floppy drive. While these do exist, they typically won’t read oddball formats. That is, except for Flux Engine, an open source USB floppy drive.

The device uses a $15 Cypress development board and just some wiring (along with a 3.5 or 5.25 floppy drive, of course). Currently, the firmware only supports read only access to IBM standard disks and Acorn DFS/ADFS disks. It can also read and write Brother word processor disks. However, being open source, it could do more. The author, [David Given], is looking for Commodore 1541 and Apple CLV disks to borrow so he can get those working. He’s also offered to entertain other formats if you are willing to loan him a disk.

The software uses libusb and is known to work on Linux and Windows with Cygwin. It should also work with OSX. However, you will need a Windows box of some sort to build the Cypress firmware because the Cypress tools won’t work anywhere else. [David] wants to change processors because of this, but if he does, he’ll miss the PSoC function blocks, we are guessing.

The design is actually rather simple. The firmware only measures the time between flux transitions and sends them to the attached PC. All the heavy lifting occurs on the PC, which means it should be pretty easy to analyze and decode new formats. While writing is possible, it appears there is more work that needs to happen to make it reliable. [David] comments that you really need a real drive to test your writing with so you don’t write things only you can read back. Makes sense.

This certainly is more user-friendly than the last method we looked at. We had to wonder if [David] has thought about 8-inch floppies.

Making Vintage Computing Easy, The Hard Way

If you want to not take for granted how easy and seamless computers have become, take up vintage computing as a hobby. If you venture down the retro path, you’ll quickly question how anyone ever got any useful work done with computers, and the farther back you go in computer history, the more difficult everything seems to become.

Case in point: how do you easily transfer files between a home-brew PC/XT and your modern desktop? Back in the day we did it with null modem cables or by sneaker-netting stacks of floppies, but [Scott M. Baker] found another way — putting a Raspberry Pi on the ISA bus as a virtual floppy drive. The heart of the ISA card is an IDT7130, a 1-kb RAM chip that allows simultaneous asynchronous access over dual ports. One port talks to the ISA bus and the other talks to the GPIO of the Pi, after level-shifting to make everything voltage compatible, of course. [Scott] wrote a driver for the card, plugged a Pi Zero W into the header pins, and threw a Python server together that makes local images available to the shared memory on the card. The upshot of this is that the retro machine thinks it has a floppy in it, but it’s actually a server. The video below has tons of detail and shows the card in action. Pretty slick.

[Scott]’s projects are always fun to check out, and he really seems to have the retro life dialed in. Whether it’s old jukebox hacks or a Unix-ish OS for Z80s, there’s plenty to learn. Although we’d like to see more about that PC/XT in the video; are those Nixies we spy along the front panel?

Continue reading “Making Vintage Computing Easy, The Hard Way”

A Floppy Drive For Apple’s Pippin

The Pippin was Apple’s first and last foray into gaming consoles. At its heart, the Pippin was a strange ‘multimedia device’ with a CD-ROM, the potential for Internet access, a few neat controllers, and the guts of a very bare-bones PowerPC Macintosh. Think of a cross between a 3DO and WebTV, and you’ll get an idea of what Apple was trying to build here.

The Pippin is rare, and that means the related accessories, ranging from magneto-optical drives to floppy drives, are incredibly hard to come by. Now, one of those peripherals isn’t rare anymore; [Pierre] has cloned the (passive) PCB that allows a Macintosh floppy drive to plug directly into the Pippin.

The expansion capabilities for the Pippin are locked away inside a PCI connector strategically located on the bottom of this set-top box. The official floppy drive accessory injection molded case, a standard Mac floppy drive, and a PCB. After finding one of these rare floppy drive accessories, [Pierre] simply took a meter to all the pins, traced out the circuit, and created a PCB with a PCI connector on one end, and 20-pin connector on the other. The PCB is shared on OSH Park if you want to check this out.

Although recreating this hardware was relatively easy, testing it was not. The first test used the Floppy Emu, a neat device that allows old Macs to read disk images off an SD card. This worked beautifully, but testing it out with a real floppy drive did not. Some disks simply didn’t work, although [Pierre] is chalking that one up to a problem with the USB floppy drive and a Mac running Sierra.

Read Amiga Floppies Using An Arduino

So you spent your youth learning your craft in front of an Amiga 500+, but a quarter century later all you have left is a broken computer and a pile of floppies you can’t read any more. What’s to be done? This was the position [Rob Smith] found himself in, and since some of the commercial solutions to ripping Amiga floppies were rather expensive, he decided to have a go at making his own.

His write-up makes for a fascinating read, as he delves into the physical interface of the PC floppy drive he used, and into the timing required from the Arduino that controlled it. He faced some challenges in getting his code to be fast enough for the task, and goes into some of the optimisation techniques he employed. His code for both Arduino and Windows  is open-source, and can be downloaded from his GitHub repository. Future plans involve supporting the FDI disc format as well as ADF, and adding the ability to write discs.

We’ve shown you a lot of Amigas over the years, but perhaps of most relevance here in our archive are this Raspberry Pi floppy emulator and this floppy autoloader for archiving a disc collection.

Via Hacker News.

Emulating a Hard Drive With The Raspberry Pi

[Chris] recently moved a vintage IBM 5150 – the original PC – into his living room. While this might sound odd to people who are not part of the Hackaday readership, it actually makes a lot of sense; this PC is a great distraction-free writing workstation, vintage gaming machine, and looks really, really cool. It sat unused for a while, simply because [Chris] didn’t want to swap out piles of floppies, and he doesn’t have a hard drive or controller card for this machine. After reviewing what other retrocomputer fans have done in this situation, he emulated a hard drive with a Raspberry Pi.

The traditional solution to the ‘old PC without a hard drive’ problem is the XTIDE project. XTIDE is a controller card that translates relatively new IDE cards (or an emulated drive on another computer) as a hard drive on the vintage PC, just like a controller card would. Since a drive can be emulated by another computer, [Chris] grabbed the closest single board computer he had on hand, in this case a Raspberry Pi.

After burning an EPROM with XTIDE to drive an old network card, [Chris] set to work making the XTIDE software function on the Raspberry Pi side of things. The hardware on the modern side of the is just a Pi and a USB to RS232 adapter, set to a very low bitrate. Although the emulated drive is slow, it is relatively huge for computer of this era: 500 Megabytes of free space. It makes your head spin to think of how many vintage games and apps you can fit on that thing!

Hackaday Retro Edition: Androids And Amigas

Tiny ARM boards are everywhere, and if the Raspberry Pi is any indication, they’re mostly used for emulating old consoles and computers. With only a $30 single board computer, it’s easy to emulate an SNES, Apple II, C64, or any of the other piece of classic 80s or 90s hardware.

Understandably, there will eventually be a few projects and products that hope to capitalize on this retro trend. Few of them will go through the rigamarole of actually licensing the relevant IP. The Armiga is one of these projects. It’s an emulated Amiga 500 with 1MB of RAM packaged in what looks like a 3.5″ external floppy drive.

Inside this tiny little box is a dual core ARM for Amiga emulation. For the most part, this is just a basic Android system, but the real selling point of this system is the Armiga Project software. This is a full emulator and game browser that also includes a legal (!) copy of Kickstart 1.3. The ‘upscale’ version of the Armiga also includes a floppy disk controller and drive, should you ever want to dump all those old floppies sitting around in your attic.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the Armiga. It was a crowdfunding campaign a year ago that was unsuccessful for reasons we can’t comprehend. The creators of the Armiga have forged on, and now these tiny little boxes of guru meditation have started shipping. The Beta units have sold out and there’s a waiting list for more.

Fail of the Week: Electrically Effective Emulators Exceed Enclosure, Enrage Engineer

After a few years of on and off development, [Steve] from Big Mess ‘o Wires completed work on a floppy disk drive emulator for older Macs such as the Plus. The emu plugs into the DB-19 port on the Mac and acts just like a 3.5″ floppy, using an SD card to store the images. He’s been selling the floppy emus for about the last year, and assembled the first several scores of them himself. At some point, he enlisted a board house to make them, and as of November 2014, he’s had enclosures available in both clear acrylic and brown hardboard.

[Steve] recently ran out of emu stock, so it was time to call up the board house and get some more assembled. After waiting six weeks, they finally showed up. But in spite of [Steve]’s clear and correct instructions, all 100 boards are messed up. One resistor is missing altogether, and they transposed a part between the extension cable adapter board, connecting it directly to the emu main board. But get this: the boards still work electrically. They don’t fit in the housings, however, and the extension cables are useless. After explaining the situation, the board house agreed to cook up a new batch of boards, which [Steve] is waiting patiently to receive.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.