Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

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Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby HideawayStudio » Sat Jan 31, 2009 4:40 pm

Hello all...

Having done a ton of research on the subject of hardware floppy disk emulation, pursuading myself the potential product was unique and therefore I should develop one, and then only to find one already exists, the following may be of interest to some....

Much of the now cherished studio gear (and many home computers) from the 80's and into the early 90's featured a floppy disk drive. Although these were all the rage 20 years ago it's becoming increasingly difficult to find 5.25" and DSDD 3.5" floppies not to mention good S/H replacement drives. Although one or two floppy disk emulators are emerging for use in home computers for the retro market, many are taylored for specific applications/formats, and most are in kit form eg. HxC.

I have recently tracked down a new product range, currently not distributed outside of China, which fully hardware emulates a Shugart compatible drive and permits several virtual floppies images to reside on one memory stick. The product is unique in that it emulates the disk at a very low level thus making the data format irrelevent. As long as the unit has been spec'd for the correct density, and set for the right drive ID it should theoretically work. The unit has the same dimensions as a 3.5" floppy drive which means it should also fit in a 3.5" to 5.24" drive bay converter for use in older gear such as the Emulator II. The front panel simply features a memory stick socket and a two digit LED display permitting the user to select the virtual floppy of his choice. This means you should have the equivalent of several boxes of floppy disks residing in the space once taken up by your floppy drive!

This product has some very interesting potential as, in theory, it means for the first time users of the increasingly popular 8 and 12 bit samplers not featuring hard drives will have a convenient, cheap and faster method of moving data between their samplers and their pcs. This could suddenly open up the opportunity for classic sampler users to share their samples on the internet in a standard form. What is not clear at this stage is whether a PC app similar to EMXP will be required to manage the data on the memory stick or whether it's in FAT32 format.

The product should work with a whole variety of other studio gear too. I have put a quick list together of the kit I think could potentially be transformed by variants of this product:

Native Shugart compatible DD/HD 3.5" 34 pin Floppy Drive Sampler Applications:

SCI Prophet 2000 & 2002*
Ensoniq Mirage
E-mu EMAX I & II*
AKAI S900, S950 & S1000*
Casio FZ1 & FZ10M
Roland S-330, S-550 & S50

Atari ST*
BBC Micro*
Archimedes*
Alesis Datadisk*
Korg 01/WFD

Shugart signal compatible 3.5" Applications requiring 34 pin to 26 pin ribbon adaptor:

Yamaha SY77, SY85 & SY99*
Yamaha DX7IIFD*
Yamaha V50*

Shugart 5.25" Applications requiring drive bay converter and edge connector and power adaptors:

E-mu EII and EIII*

Shugart 8" Applications requiring bespoke metalwork and 34 to 50 pin adaptor ribbon and power lead:

Fairlight CMI Series II & IIx

I am currently liasing with the supplier to obtain some samples for evaluation. These products were originally developed for industrial applications such as knitting machines and machine tools where the initial cost of investment was high and therefore means to extend equipment life highly advantageous. Although this is definitely not the case for old pcs it's also very true of vintage studio gear.

I am hoping to blog the progress of this evaluation work in order to determine which kit can be successfully adapted and what, if any, adaptors/cables/options are required.

* denotes applications I can evaluate without the loan of hardware.
Last edited by HideawayStudio on Sun Feb 08, 2009 4:24 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby nathanscribe » Sat Jan 31, 2009 7:13 pm

This sounds interesting. Keep us posted.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby StepLogik » Sun Feb 01, 2009 2:12 am

Wow, that is fascinating!

I wouldn't expect there to be much of a market for such a device, but it makes perfect sense.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby gmeredith » Mon Feb 02, 2009 12:10 pm

If this device works successfully with the Casio FZ-1 and FZ10M sampler, you'll have plenty of people wanting them. The FZ-1 drives die a lot. Mine is still going but I nurse it and I know one day it will go. I'd love one of those - and not just for the future security of my FZ, but because I could have my whole library on 1 stick!

If you want some more specifications about the FZ-1 floppy drive, you can find them here:

http://www.buchty.net/casio/fz1-diskdrive.html

Would that help you evaluate whether its possible? You may have already seen that site, but just in case you haven't.

This is really great news! So, how much is one of these drives likely to cost?

Cheers, graham
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby HideawayStudio » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:41 pm

gmeredith wrote:If this device works successfully with the Casio FZ-1 and FZ10M sampler, you'll have plenty of people wanting them. The FZ-1 drives die a lot. Mine is still going but I nurse it and I know one day it will go. I'd love one of those - and not just for the future security of my FZ, but because I could have my whole library on 1 stick!

If you want some more specifications about the FZ-1 floppy drive, you can find them here:

http://www.buchty.net/casio/fz1-diskdrive.html

Would that help you evaluate whether its possible? You may have already seen that site, but just in case you haven't.

This is really great news! So, how much is one of these drives likely to cost?

Cheers, graham


Hi... Thanks for the info on the FZ-1's floppy spin rate. This might not be an issue if the emulator is persuaded that the drive is a virtual 5.25" drive. I'd forgotten about the change in spin rates between the two standards - what I didn't know is that some 3.5" disks were spinning at 5.25" rates :)

I was aware of the (typical) way the PC fraternity took a perfectly good standard and wrecked it! Fortunately there are simple ways of getting around most of the Shugart/AT wiring issues.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby polardark » Wed Feb 04, 2009 9:20 am

This is very interesting.. Not only for synths but older computer equipment of course. It would be very interesting to see the actual specifications of this device. Is it for instance capable of handling the various disk speeds and encoding formats used by various implementations of 3.5", 5.25", 3", etc floppies?

There are a lot of people using older computers as well and i think there is a market for something like this if it can replace the floppy drive in their old ataris, amigas, commodores, sinclairs, etc etc...
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby madtheory » Wed Feb 04, 2009 11:39 am

This is great. I'd find it useful for a Yamaha TX16W and an Ensoniq Mirage. I'll go see if they know about it on the Failright yahoo group.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby Twosocks » Wed Feb 04, 2009 9:53 pm

If this works with a CMI IIx, than this is fantastic news!!!!!!!!!! =D> \:D/ :cheers:
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby snsr » Thu Feb 05, 2009 4:15 pm

You might be able to build your own..
http://www.torlus.com/floppy/index.php?News
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby wilsontherocker » Thu Feb 05, 2009 7:07 pm

I'd definitely be interested in such a product!
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby HideawayStudio » Thu Feb 05, 2009 9:04 pm

Hello all,

After talking to the manufacturer I've placed orders for a sample of each variant. I have the technical manual now and it really does seem like this is likely to work with several models of classic studio gear. I am now pretty sure it will work with a lot of the DD and HD 3.5" gear and it's also likely to work with the 5.25" equipped Emulator samplers. The only unknown is how some of the single sided formats will fair such as the Mirage. I might actually be able to test this using my old BBC micro. After doing some reading up on 8" drives I now have strong evidence that the Fairlight can be converted to run with 5.25" disks and therefore, since it is soft sectored, just may work with this device. What I didn't know is that most 8" drives have a 50 pin interface unlike the newer 3.5" 34 pin interface - despite this they are all Shugart compatible (even 3" disk drives) in terms of signals - it's just a case of adapting the interface ribbons to properly support motor select and disk change activity.

I have plenty of 3.5" drives in my studio and I'm sure I can gain access to an EII - what I will need help with is finding a tech savvy Fairlight owner in the UK to work out a possible solution to retrofitting this device in the older Fairlights.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby Twosocks » Thu Feb 05, 2009 9:59 pm

Here is some info about converting the 50 pins connector from a Fairlight.

http://users.bart.nl/users/pb0aia/cm/8-525.html

Here is info about the Floppy Disk Controller. (Fairlight uses the 1791).

http://www.tim-mann.org/trs80/1793.txt

If I can help out testing, I own a IIx. Located in the Netherlands.
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby gmeredith » Fri Feb 06, 2009 2:09 am

What about gear with those obscure 2.8" quick disks? I have an Akai S700 that has one of these. What sort of standard do they comply to, and would they be compatible with this?

Cheers, graham
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby polardark » Fri Feb 06, 2009 10:01 am

Spontaniously i think Mitsumi's 2.8" Quick Disk format may be too different from the standard shugart type to really be compatible. Then again who knows...
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Re: Hardware Floppy Disk Drive Emulator

Postby HideawayStudio » Fri Feb 06, 2009 4:27 pm

Twosocks wrote:Here is some info about converting the 50 pins connector from a Fairlight.

http://users.bart.nl/users/pb0aia/cm/8-525.html

Here is info about the Floppy Disk Controller. (Fairlight uses the 1791).

http://www.tim-mann.org/trs80/1793.txt

If I can help out testing, I own a IIx. Located in the Netherlands.


Hi - Yes I'd found the same info on the net. I would be interested in knowing more about the Fairlight. I know where one is in the UK that I can get my hands on but sadly it's not currently working.

Any chance you could take some pictures of the internals around the drive bay - including the drives and ribbon cables - also could you let me know exactly which model of drives you have in your Fairlight?

Exactly what type of disks does the IIx use? I know they are soft sectored but are they double sided?
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