Dreamcast Gets A Plug-n-Play Hard Drive Mod

The Dreamcast was a proud moment for Sega, at least initially, being the first console to launch of a new generation. Unfortunately this didn’t translate into massive sales, and the plug was pulled far earlier than expected. The console retains a dedicated fanbase to this day however, who continue to tinker with the hardware. [DreamcastChannel] is one of them, and put together a nifty plug-and-play hard drive mod.

The mod is based on earlier work, which consisted of manually soldering the 44 lines of an IDE cable on to the main Dreamcast motherboard. This allowed an IDE hard drive to be neatly mounted inside the shell, but [DreamcastChannel] knew it was possible to do better.

Starting from scratch, the GDROM optical drive assembly is gutted, leaving just its metal case and PCB. The IDE cable for the hard disk is then soldered to the pads on the PCB. A 3D printed mount is used to fix the hard drive to the metal case. This allows the entire assembly to slot neatly into the Dreamcast, using the GDROM’s original connector.

It’s a hack that makes putting a hard drive into the Dreamcast neat and tidy. Combined with a hacked BIOS and Dreamshell, it makes playing backup games a breeze. We’ve seen plenty of Dreamcast hacks before, too – the VMU is often a key candidate for attention. Video after the break.

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Hackers Turn Hard Drive Into Microphone That Can Listen In On Your Computer’s Fan Whine

As reported by The Register, hackers can now listen in on conversations happening around your computer by turning a hard drive into a microphone. There are caveats: the hack only works if these conversations are twice as loud as a blender, or about as loud as a lawn mower. In short, no one talks that loud, move along, nothing to see here.

The attack is to be presented at the 2019 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, and describes the attack as a modification of the firmware on a disk drive to read the Position Error Signal that keeps read/write heads in the optimal position. This PES is affected by air pressure, and if something is affected by air pressure, you’ve got a microphone. In this case, it’s a terrible microphone that’s mechanically coupled to a machine that has a lot of vibrations including the spinning platter and a bunch of fans inside the computer. This is an academic exercise, and not a real attack, and either way to exfiltrate this data you need to root the computer the hard drive is attached to. It’s attacks all the way down.

The limiting factor in this attack is that it requires a very loud conversation to be held near a hard drive. To record speech, the researchers had to pump up the volume to 85 dBA, or about the same volume as a blender crushing some ice. Recording music through this microphone so that Shazam could identify the track meant playing the track back at 90 dBA, or about the same volume as a lawnmower. Basically, this isn’t happening.

The interesting bit of this hack isn’t using a hard drive as a microphone. It’s modifying the firmware on a hard drive to do something. We’ve seen some hacks like this before, but the latest public literature on hard drive firmware hacking is years old. If you’ve got a tip on how to hack hard drives, even if it’s to do something that’s horribly impractical, we’d love to see it.

This Clock Is Hard: No Arduino Needed

You always hear that people talk about the weather. But it seems to us we see more clocks than we do weather stations. A case in point is [frank_scholl’s] clock made from an old hard drive. We found it interesting that the clock has no microcontroller at all. The custom PCB is all digital and uses the line frequency to drive counters which, in turn, drive the motors.

The one catch is that you have to have a hard drive that uses a very particular motor scheme for this to work. The platter rotation shows the hour and the head’s track position counts off the minutes from 0 to 59. Two buttons can speed up either rotation for the purpose of setting the clock. You can see it all in the video below.

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Fail Of The Week: The Semiconductor Lapping Machine That Can’t Lap Straight

It seemed like a good idea to build a semiconductor lapping machine from an old hard drive. But there’s just something a little off about [electronupdate]’s build, and we think the Hackaday community might be able to pitch in to help.

For those not into the anatomy and physiology of semiconductors, getting a look at the inside of the chip can reveal valuable information needed to reverse engineer a device, or it can just scratch the itch of curiosity. Lapping (the gentle grinding away of material) is one way to see the layers that make up the silicon die that lies beneath the epoxy. Hard drives designed to spin at 7200 rpm or more hardly seem a suitable spinning surface for a gentle lapping, but [electronupdate] just wanted the platter for its ultra-smooth, ultra-flat surface.

He removed the heads and replaced the original motor with a gear motor and controller to spin the platter at less than 5 rpm. A small holder for the decapped die was fashioned, and pinched between the platter hub and an idler. It gently rotates the die against the abrasive-covered platter as it slowly revolves. But the die wasn’t abrading evenly. He tried a number of different fixtures for the die, but never got to the degree of precision needed to see through the die layer by layer. We wonder if the weight of the die fixture is deflecting the platter a bit?

Failure is a great way to learn, if you can actually figure out where you went wrong. We look to the Hackaday community for some insight. Check out the video below and sound off in the comments if you’ve got any ideas.

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Retrotechtacular: A 180 GB Drive From 1994

Hard drive storage has gone through the roof in recent years. Rotating hard drives that can hold 16 terabytes of data are essentially available today, although pricey, and 12 terabyte drives are commonplace. For those who remember when a single terabyte was a lot of storage, the idea that you can now pick up a drive of that size for under $40 is amazing. Bear in mind, we are talking terabytes.

In 1994, that was an unimaginable amount of storage. Just a scant 24 years ago, though, you could get 90 gigabytes — 0.09 terabytes — if you didn’t mind buying an IBM mainframe and a RAMAC disk storage unit. You can see a promotional video digitized by Archive.org, below. Just keep in mind that IBM has a long history of calling disk drives DASD — an acronym for Direct Access Storage Device. You pronounce that “dazz-dee”, as you’ll hear in the video.

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The Princess And The HDD: Poor Design Choices

You’ll all remember my grand adventure in acquiring a photocopier. Well, it’s been a rollercoaster, I tell ya. While I still haven’t found a modification worthy enough to attempt, I have become increasingly frustrated. From time to time, I like to invite my friends and family over for dinner, and conversation naturally turns to things like the art on the walls, the fish in the aquarium, or perhaps the photocopier in the living room. Now, I dearly love to share my passions with others, so it’s pretty darned disappointing when I go to fire off a few copies only to have the machine fail to boot! It was time to tackle this problem once and for all.

When powered up, the photocopier would sit at a “Please Wait…” screen for a very long time, before eventually coughing up an error code — SC990 — and an instruction to call for service. A bunch of other messages would flash up as well; Address Book Data Error, Hard Drive Data Error, and so on. In the end I realized they all centered around data storage.

Pictured: the author, in his happy place, at peace with the copier.

Now, I’d already tried diving into the service menu once before, and selected the option to format the hard drive. That had led to the problem disappearing for a short period, but now it was back. No amount of mashing away at the keypad would work this time. The format commands simply returned “Failed” every time. What to do next? You guessed it, it was time for a teardown!

Thankfully, photocopiers are designed for easy servicing — someone’s paying for all those service calls. A few screws and large panels were simply popping off with ease; completely the opposite of working on cars. Spotting the hard drive was easy, it looked like some sort of laptop IDE unit. With only SATA laptops around the house to salvage parts from, I wasn’t able to come up with something to swap in.

A bit of research (and reading the label) taught me that the drive was a Toshiba MK2023GAS/HDD2187. Replacements were available on eBay, but if I waited two weeks I’d probably be wrist deep in some other abandoned equipment. It had to be sorted on the night. In the words of [AvE], if you can’t fix it… well, you know how it goes. I yanked the drive and, lo and behold – the copier booted straight up! Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I churned out a few copies, and other than the continued jamming on all-black pages, everything was fine. Literally all it took to get the copier to boot was to remove the ailing drive. Suffice to say, I was kind of dumbfounded.

The hard drive a.k.a. the villain of the piece.

I’m happy to chalk up the win, but I have to draw issue with Ricoh’s design here. The copier is clearly capable of operating perfectly well without a hard drive. It will give up its document server and address book abilities, but it will still make copies and print without a problem.

Yet, when the copier’s drive fails, the unit fails completely and refuses to work. This necessitates a service call for the average user to get anything at all happening again — causing much lost work and productivity. A better design in my eyes would have the copier notify users of the lost functionality due to the failed drive and the need to call service, but let them copy! Any IT administrator will know the value of a bodged work around that keeps the company limping along for the day versus having a room of forty agitated workers with nothing to do. It’s a shame Ricoh chose to have the photocopier shut down completely rather than valiantly fight on.

Feel free to chime in with your own stories of minor failures that caused total shutdowns in the comments. Video below the break.

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Little Laser Light Show Is Cleverly Packaged, Cheap To Build

We’re suckers for any project that’s nicely packaged, but an added bonus is when most of the components can be sourced cheaply and locally. Such is the case for this little laser light show, housed in electrical boxes from the local home center and built with stuff you probably have in your junk bin.

When we first came across [replayreb]’s write-up and saw that he used hard drives in its construction, we assumed he used head galvanometers to drive the mirrors. As it turns out, he used that approach in an earlier project, but this time around, the hard drive only donated its platters for use as low mass, first surface mirrors. And rather than driving the mirrors with galvos, he chose plain old brushed DC motors. These have the significant advantage of being cheap and a perfect fit for 3/4″ EMT set-screw connectors, designed to connect thin-wall conduit, also known as electromechanical tubing, to electrical boxes and panels. The motors are mounted to the back and side of the box so their axes are 90° from each other, and the mirrors are constrained by small cable ties and set at 45°. The motors are driven directly by the left and right channels of a small audio amp, wiggling enough to create a decent light show from the laser module.

We especially like the fact that these boxes are cheap enough that you can build three with different color lasers. In that case, an obvious next step would be bandpass filters to split the signal into bass, midrange, and treble for that retro-modern light organ effect. Or maybe figuring out what audio signals you’d need to make this box into a laser sky display would be a good idea too.

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