Early home PCs usually had a floppy disk and a simple hard drive controller. Later, IDE hard drives became the defacto standard. Of course, these days, you are more likely to find some version of SATA and — lately — NVME connectors. But a standard predating all of this was very common in high-end systems: SCSI. [RetroBytes] recently did a video on the bus which he calls the “USB of the 80s.”
Historically, Shugart — a maker of disks — was tired of producing custom drive electronics for each device they made. Instead, they made disks with a standard interface and then produced a single interface board for each computer they wanted to support. The interface was very generic, and they were able to get it standardized with ANSI — an early example of the benefit of opening up a standard.
Continue reading “SCSI: The Disk Bus For Everything” →
[Shelby] at Tech Tangents recently wrapped a project / obsession to obtain an old HP ScanJet 4C, get it running on a PC and put it through its paces. After after nearly five years, three scanners, and untold SCSI cards and drivers later, he finally succeeded. The first big problem was getting a working scanner. These don’t stand up well to shipping, and one arrived with broken mirrors. And when he finally got one that worked, sorting out SCSI controller and driver issues was surprisingly complicated, though ultimately successful.
The HP ScanJet 4C was introduced in 1995, and was notable for its scanning quality, its resolution ( 2400 DPI interpolated / 600 DPI optical ), and selling for under $1000. Except for replacement parts concerns, particularly the customized triphosphor fluorescent bulb assembly, it would still be a very competent scanner today. For this reason, [Shelby] will not be using it as his daily use scanner. Continue reading “Deep Dive Into The HP ScantJet 4C” →
There was a time when high-performance disk drives used SCSI — the Small Computer System Interface — and everything else was kid stuff. Now, advanced forms of SCSI are still around but there are other high-performing disk interfaces, too. But some old gear really loves their classic SCSI ports, and [Adrian] decided to try hooking some of them up to some modern computers. You can see how he did in the video below.
The key to the attempt is a USB to SCSI adapter which was unusual but not unheard of, and [Adrian] came across one from 1999. Of course, you have to wonder if a modern computer will support the device or will be able to load the drivers from the old CD.
Continue reading “The Return Of SCSI” →
After over a decade of laptop use, I made the move a couple of months ago back to a desktop computer. An ex-corporate compact PC and a large widescreen monitor on a stand, and alongside them a proper mouse and my trusty IBM Model M that has served me for decades. At a stroke, the ergonomics of my workspace changed for the better, as I no longer have to bend slightly to see the screen.
The previous desktop PC was from an earlier time. I think it had whatever the AMD competitor to a Pentium 4 was, and if I recall correctly, its 512 MB of memory was considered to be quite something. On the back it had an entirely different set of sockets to my new one, a brace of serial ports, a SCSI port, and a parallel printer port. Inside the case, its various drives were served by a set of ribbon cables. It even boasted a floppy drive. By contrast the cabling on its successor is a lot lighter, with much less bulky connectors. A few USB plugs and a network cable, and SATA for its disk drive. The days of bulky multiway interconnects are behind us, and probably most of us are heaving a sigh of relief. Continue reading “Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era” →
Even if you aren’t a vintage computer aficionado, you’re probably aware that older computer hard drives were massive and didn’t hold much data. Imagine a drive that weighs several pounds, and only holds 1/1000th of what today’s cheapest USB flash drives can. But what you might not realize is that if you go back long enough, the drives didn’t just have lower capacity, they utilized fundamentally different technology and relied on protocols which are today little more than historical footnotes.
A case in point is the circa 1984 Modified Frequency Modulation (MFM) drive which [Michał Słomkowski] was tasked with recovering some files from. You can’t just pop this beast into a USB enclosure; copying files from it required an interesting trip down computing’s memory lane, with a sprinkling of modern techniques that are sure to delight hackers who still like to dip their toes into the MS-DOS waters from time to time.
The drive, a MiniScribe 2012, has its own WD1002A-WX1 8-bit ISA controller card. [Michał] is the kind of guy who just so happens to have an ISA-compatible AT motherboard laying around, but he didn’t have the correct cooler for its Pentium processor. He stuck a random heatsink down onto it with a rubber band and set the clock speed as low as possible, which worked well enough to get him through the copying process.
Not wanting to fiddle with floppies, [Michał] then put together a setup which would let him PXE boot MS-DOS 6.22 under Arch Linux. He used PXELINUX, part of the syslinux package, and created an entry for DOS in the configuration file under the
pxelinux.cfg directory. He then installed netboot which combines a DHCP and TFTP server into one simple package, and configured it for the MAC address of the AT machine’s 3com 3C905C-TXM network card.
With the hardware and operating system up and running, it was just a matter of getting the files off of the MFM drive and onto something a bit more contemporary. He tried to copy them to a secondary IDE drive, but it seemed there was some kind of conflict as both drives wouldn’t operate at the same time. So he pulled another solution from his bag of tricks: using a USB mass storage device on MS-DOS. By emulating a SCSI drive, he was able to get a standard flash drive plugged into a PCI USB card working, which ultimately dragged these ~35 year old files kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
We love keeping old hardware alive here at Hackaday, and documented methods to not only PXE boot DOS but use USB storage devices when you get it up and running will hopefully inspire some more hackers to blow the dust off that old 386 in the attic.
Sometimes a mix of old and new is better than either the old or new alone. That’s what [Brad Carter] learned when he was given an old 1990s sound board with a noisy SCSI drive in it. In case you don’t know what a sound board is, think of a bunch of buttons laid out in front of you, each of which plays a different sound effect. It’s one way that radio DJ’s and podcasters intersperse their patter with doorbells and car crash sounds.
Before getting the sound board, [Brad] used a modern touchscreen table but it wasn’t responsive enough to get a machine gun like repetition of the sound effect when pressing an icon in rapid succession. On the other hand, his 1990s sound board had very responsive physical buttons but the SCSI hard drive was too noisy. He needed the responsiveness of the 1990s physical buttons but the silence of modern solid state storage.
And so he replaced the sound board’s SCSI drive with an SD card using a SCSI2SD adaptor. Of course, there was configuration and formatting involved along with a little trial and error to get the virtual drive sizes right. To save anyone else the same difficulties, he details all his efforts on his webpage. And in the video below you can see and hear that the end result is an amazing difference. Pressing the physical buttons gives instant sound and in machine gun fashion when pressed in rapid succession, all with the silence of an SD card.
A SCSI2SD card is a nice off-the-shelf solution but if you want something a little more custom then there’s a Raspberry Pi SCSI emulator and one which uses a Teensy with a NCR5380 SCSI interface chip.
Continue reading “Making A Vintage 1990s Sound Board Do Rapid Fire Silently” →
SCSI devices were found in hundreds of different models of computers from the 80s, from SUN boxes to cute little Macs. These hard drives and CDROMs are slowly dying, and with that goes an entire generation of technology down the drain. Currently, the best method of preserving these computers with SCSI drives is the SCSI2SD device designed by [Michael McMaster]. While this device does exactly what it says it’ll do — turn an SD card into a drive on a SCSI chain — it’s fairly expensive at $70.
[GIMONS] has a better, cheaper solution. It’s a SCSI device emulator for the Raspberry Pi (original link dead, here’s the new location of this writeup). It turns a Raspberry Pi into a SCSI hard drive, magneto-optical drive, CDROM, or an Ethernet adapter using only some glue logic and a bit of code.
As far as the hardware goes, this is a pretty simple build. The 40-pin GPIO connector on the Pi is attached to the 50-pin SCSI connector through a few 74LS641 transceivers with a few resistor packs for pullups and pulldowns. The software allows for virtual disk devices – either a hard drive, magneto-optical drive, or a CDROM – to be presented from the Raspberry Pi. There’s also the option of putting Ethernet on the SCSI chain, a helpful addition since Ethernet to SCSI conversion devices are usually rare and expensive.
Officially, [GIMONS] built this SCSI hard drive emulator for the x68000 computer, developed by Sharp in the late 80s. While these are popular machines for retrocomputing aficionados in Japan, they’re exceptionally rare elsewhere — although [Dave Jones] got his mitts on one for a teardown. SCSI was extraordinarily popular for computers from the 70s through the 90s, though, and since SCSI was a standard this build should work with all of them.
If your retrocomputer doesn’t need a SCSI drive, and you’re feeling left out of the drive-emulation club, the good news is there’s a Raspberry Pi solution for that, too: this Hackaday Prize entry turns a Pi into an IDE hard drive.
Thanks [Gokhan] for the tip!