back to article Still got a floppy drive? Here's a solution for when 1.44MB isn't enough

Floppy disk sales have, well, flopped but there are still masses of PCs and old embedded PC-based systems out there with floppy disk slots and drives. Now this near-dead space can be made usable again, with a 32GB FLOPPYFlash drive from Solid State Disks Ltd. It's a drop-in replacement for a floppy disk drive and takes …

  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    3.5Mb? Floppy?

    1.44Mb, 3.5 in, shurely?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

      Also "PC box with lid off showing installed FLOPPYFlash drive and CompactFlash media"

      Either that's a tiny PC or a huge CompactFlash card...

      ...

      ... or, god forbid, an incorrect caption

      1. short

        Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

        You seem to miss the point - this plugs into a floppy drive ribbon cable, and looks like a floppy drive to the host (which may well not be a PC). It sits in a floppy drive bay.

        It then stores the data on CF cards (for some reason. CF is hardly cheap or convenient. Maybe it's reassuringly floppy-like, and most people won't plug it into a PC or format it to use, like a USB stick).

        I run lots of old gear with floppies. They're a pain.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

          CF cards use the old Compact Memory card I/O, (ROMs, EPROMS and Static Battery RAMs), which also could support other peripherals eventually inc IDE as it's a subset of the old PCMCIA (a CF to PCMCIA can be just a pair of connectors and wire). CF cards support at least two storage modes, one of which is parallel IDE. A USB (USB stack needed) or SD (can be simple) based Flash storage is serial I/O.

          I'm a little baffled as to why I'd want this, unless it exactly looks like a floppy drive in SOFTWARE, with no driver needed, to BIOS and DOS. Plenty of things used to plug into a floppy connector and NOT work without an OS driver (Zip Drives, Tape drives, MO drives etc), usually for Windows, rarely for DOS, sometimes only Win NT, or Win95 and later.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

            Yes it looks like a floppy at the bus level, same power, same signals, same connector.

            There was a similar gadget that was a floppy disc shell with a ribbon cable that detected the magnetic signal from the floppy drive head and generated a floppy signal back

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

            Plenty of things used to plug into a floppy connector and NOT work without an OS driver (Zip Drives, Tape drives, MO drives etc)

            Unless you can build a device that acts as a floppy as seen by the floppy controller and the BIOS, which would mean something that acts as if it has one or two heads (drive controller limitation), 1024 cylinders and 63 sectors (BIOS limitation), AND reads/writes data in a format compatible with the floppy disk controller, you'll need a driver or TSR to make it appear to the OS as a storage device. And you still had to tell the system, again through some driver or TSR, that there was another 'floppy' drive with an unusual number of tracks and sectors, where the BIOS setup only allowed 40/80 tracks and 8/9/15/18 sectors.

            BTW, I've only seen tape drives connected to the floppy controller. ZIP were IDE, hooked up to the parallel port, or (later) USB. MO were predominantly SCSI. LS120 were IDE, and I think those 21MB flopticals were too, but I never saw one of those. In all those cases you wanted a faster interface because of the larger data capacity; with those QIC80 tapes it didn't really matter because the medium was slow

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

              ZIP were IDE, hooked up to the parallel port, or (later) USB. MO were predominantly SCSI. LS120 were IDE, and I think those 21MB flopticals were too, but I never saw one of those.
              .

              Both my Floptical and my first Zip drive were SCSI.

    2. annodomini2

      Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

      2.88MB in ED format

      But there were also 120MB and 240MB in LS120 and LS240 formats respectively.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

        Many later Business Compaq's switched to LS120's, but I think I was the only person that actually used them, as Many preferred ZIP drives.

    3. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: 3.5Mb? Floppy?

      Aha- fixed now.

  2. short

    If you don't want the Ethernet gubbins, these are £15 a pop on ebay... USB stick for storage, buttons to select which virtual disc to use.

    And I really struggle to see a use case for the Ethernet.

    1. Trygve Henriksen

      Only real use for this one....

      Instead of a $15 version from eBay(I have one of those already) is to 'network' old CnC machines and robots that has a 3.5" drive but a dedicated controller that's not 'smart' enough to handle a network.

      That is, if it's easy to make and transfer a 'floppy image' to this drive over ethernet.

      But the fact that it seems you have to order it with a fixed IP... sucks if you later reconfigure the network...

      Network box that doesn't support DHCP = Fail.

      1. short

        Re: Only real use for this one....

        Yep - and you still have to walk over to the machine to press 'start' and watch the first few cycles, so while you're there, plugging a USB stick into a fake floppy drive doesn't seem like a hardship. Hell, you're probably already carrying a job folder with a pocket in it for a floppy.

        Dunno what Stuxnet makes of these things when it finds them. Probably just sobs a little, writes a classic virus onto the boot sector and moves on. There's only so much japery you can get up to when every byte is precious.

      2. Sandtitz Silver badge

        Re: Only real use for this one....

        "Instead of a $15 version from eBay(I have one of those already) is to 'network' old CnC machines and robots that has a 3.5" drive but a dedicated controller that's not 'smart' enough to handle a network."

        Those CNC machines are 100% likely to have a serial port. All you need is a PC with serial port(s) and proper software - thus even the ancient 80s CNC machines can load the G-code programs from network as easily as with a floppy drive.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Only real use for this one....

          "All you need is a PC with serial port(s)"

          ...and they are getting harder to find. A lot of "legacy" stuff is getting hard to find now. PS/2 k/b & mouse sockets, parallel ports, IDE host controller, floppy host controller etc. and the converters don't always work well, depending on how the software is trying to access it. A lot of modern boards have SATA, USB and Ethernet and that's it. Nothing else. It's not always fun if you have to deal with older, sometimes quite exotic kit.

          Reading a bit more closely, I see it has an edge connector too and with the fully programmable track/sector/encoding methods, this looks like it might work as a drop in replacement drive right back to old 8-bit kit that used "standard" floppies such as an original 1970's era TRS-80 but not the more manufacturer specific ones like variable speed Sirius computer floppies, CBM PETs, Apple ][ etc.

          1. Sandtitz Silver badge

            Re: Only real use for this one....

            "All you need is a PC with serial port(s)"

            ...and they are getting harder to find.

            They are, but a built-in serial is not really a requirement. There are plenty of PCI/USB/Network solutions that will work just as well since the control software in the PC doesn't use raw I/O ports at fixed addresses (DOS style) but the serial ports provided by the OS.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Only real use for this one....

            Half the boards I deal with still have serial port headers internally (all you need is the backplate connector), especially the 24*7 industrial PC ones (fujitsu, etc)

            This is a specialist device and I can see huge advantage in having a network port if you can upload floppy images to it (Cover and dustproofing makes it more robust and USB ports on machining devices get crap in them). Serial cables are problematic over long distances.

            Other odd stuff you can buy are things like 2.5" PATA to M2 or MSATA adaptors. These work far better (and are much cheaper overall) than attempting to buy a PATA SSD (been there done that). Again it's for specialist work. It's economic to use them in an old laptop but the greater utility is in old (expensive) industrial control stuff like CNC systems where the drive has gone titsup (been there, done that too. Trying to control via the serial port was doable but SLOOOOW)

          3. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: Only real use for this one....

            but not the more manufacturer specific ones like variable speed Sirius computer floppies, CBM PETs, Apple ][ etc.

            I don't know about the other ones, but Apple ][ drives didn't use a hardware stepper controller in the drive itself for the head positioner; the controller generated the required signals in software, driving the stepper motors directly from the controller through 4 transistors. Cheaper initially because the drives contained less electronics, but soon the balance tipped as standard drives were produced in ever-greater numbers. Several ][ clones offered floppy controllers that had a standard Shugart interface.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Only real use for this one....

              "the controller generated the required signals in software, driving the stepper motors directly from the controller through 4 transistors."

              And that allowed various copy protection schemes to work. (Who remembers Aztec?). These would fail spectacularly when they encountered a Shugart drive.

          4. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: Only real use for this one....

            The new motherboard I bought the other week has a serial header, and a PS2 port*, so I think it'll be a while before serial dies off completely.

        2. Trygve Henriksen

          Re: Only real use for this one....

          Those machines have dust covers and seals everywhere to protect them from dust. I really hope that the $300 PC you set up beside it is similarly protected...

          The $15 adapter will fit where the old 3.5" drive sat, so is protected from dust.

  3. Brian Miller Silver badge

    Can't add USB?

    This has to have an extremely limited market! These only make sense if the system can't take a USB card. The don't make sense if the system can take a USB card. (There may not be ISA USB cards available any more, but I haven't checked.)

    1. rdhood

      Re: Can't add USB?

      "The don't make sense if the system can take a USB card"

      Actually, these make sense if you have a system dated before about 2005-2006 where the firmware/boot process does not recognize a USB drive (even if the system had usb). Most systems after that time frame had the ability to boot/install from usb.

    2. Jeffrey Nonken

      Re: Can't add USB?

      ISA USB cards with DOS drivers are a bit thin on the ground these days.

      1. Jeffrey Nonken

        Re: Can't add USB?

        ...though I'll grant you that is a limited market, true. Still, I could build, oh, I dunno. Three or four of them.

        Also a couple CP/M-based machines, with a bit of work. The capacity of one of those CF cards seems heavenly compared to a SSSD 8" floppy disc. And the weight and size... Linear power supply, steel enclosure... Holy crap.

        But it does reduce the nostalgia factor. Still, nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: Can't add USB?

          I have a floppy still in use holding backup configuration on an ancient legacy bit of kit. My recollection is that it is directly hardwired, soldered and welded to the equipment.

          My enthusiasm for attacking the equipment with a circular saw and a soldering iron to upgrade it can be imagined. If it could be done with a couple of extension cables though then I would actually consider this. It's not a horribly bad idea.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Can't add USB?

          "Still, nostalgia isn't what it used to be."

          Yeah., I remember the old days too when we had real nostlagia!

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Can't add USB?

      But some of those limited markets are very profitable.

      An entire city's traffic lights, water/sewage system ?

      An air traffic control system

      A power station

      A couple of million $ worth of production line in a plant running 24x7

      All bits of kit that you can't easily "just update to windows 10" and use USB

      There was a company making PDP11 on a card to run traffic lights until recently

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Can't add USB?

        There was a company making PDP11 on a card to run traffic lights until recently

        I was looking at a job for an Assembley language programmer to program PDP-11s recently (last year). These PDP-11s were considered "essential". The only reason I didn't follow through was that I didn't want to relocate to the cold climate.

        What were these essential PDP-11s - they were the control systems for Nuclear Power plants. They are expected to be operational for the next 20 years.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Can't add USB?

          It's just as well you didn't follow through mate - they wouldn't have been too impressed with your spelling of 'Assembly'.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Can't add USB?

        "There was a company making PDP11 on a card to run traffic lights until recently"

        PDP11s don't just control traffic lights. Every DLR train has a couple on board to do the legwork.

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Can't add USB?

      These only make sense if the system can't take a USB card. The don't make sense if the system can take a USB card.

      It could make sense in both cases, particularly for systems that don't natively support either USB or boot from USB. But then it would make sense for the Ethernet port to be replaced by a USB port. [The built in USB port seems to be for firmware flash and real-time diagnostics only.]

      Only problem I can see is the speed of the IDE interface.

      Looking through www.ssd.gb.com and www.reactivedata.com websites, it would seem that SSD Ltd have found a lucrative niche market; it is easy to forget with all the hype that the Windows PC architecture isn't the only computer system platform in widespread usage.

    5. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Can't add USB?

      If you search for the name of your CNC or industrial sewing machine, you will find advertisements for floppy-emulators individually targeted at each machine. It's mostly just making sure the cables are compatible, but there are also some logical variations. It seems to be a huge market

  4. D@v3

    I'm really having trouble finding the words to properly express my sarcastic wonder at this item that is hugely less useful than a readily available 300 in 1 card reader in a handy 3.5in form factor

    1. MrRimmerSIR!
      Facepalm

      @ D@v3

      I guess you're missing the point of this device. FWIW, it connects to the host via a (parallel) floppy drive connector, not via USB. Admittedly a very niche use case.

      1. tony72

        Re: @ D@v3

        I still deal with people using CNC machines etc that take their data via a floppy drive, and so have to have a PC with a floppy drive, so I thought for a second this might be an option. However for this to be a solution to that problem, they'd have to be willing to modify all of the machines with one of these drives, as well as putting one in the PC. And that's assuming the drives in the machines use standard PC floppy connectors etc.

        What would be ideal for them is something in the physical shape of a floppy disk, that you can put in a regular floppy drive, but which actually stores the data on an SD card, or built in flash memory, doesn't need to store more than 1.44MB. But I guess the potential market for that product would be so minuscule that it would never be worth developing.

        1. }{amis}{

          Re: @ D@v3

          what one of these guys?? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FlashPath

          1. tony72

            Re: @ D@v3

            @ }{amis}{

            Unfortunately that won't work. The form factor is good, but it is not a drop-in floppy disk replacement, and I'm guessing there aren't any drivers I can install on old CNC machines.

            From your link; "FlashPath is hardware compatible with all standard 3.5" High-Density Floppy disk drives, but is not a drop-in replacement for real floppy disks. A special software device driver must be installed on the computer that is to access data via FlashPath. Thus, FlashPath is only usable with computers and operating systems for which such a driver exists and can be installed."

            Historically interesting device though, I don't recall hearing about those before.

            1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

              Re: @ D@v3

              "

              A special software device driver must be installed on the computer that is to access data via FlashPath.

              "

              Pretty useless for the majority of applications it would otherwise be needed in that case. Fortunately there is no shortage of FDD emulators that *are* drop-in replacements.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @ D@v3

              I wonder how hard it'd be to sense the position of the head. Perhaps have many heads (80 per side) to line up with where the "tracks" would be, and an encoder on the hub to detect what sector is being looked at.

              If you could house that inside a floppy enclosure, you could run a thin ribbon cable out to a small panel where you'd have a battery, SD card (or USB) socket, LCD for selecting the image and a small keypad.

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: @Stuart Longland

                I wonder how hard it'd be to sense the position of the head.

                A CCD out of a (small) scanner, like for business cards?

        2. Jeffrey Nonken

          Re: @ D@v3

          @tony72: for your end of the deal, I believe you can still buy USB-connected floppy drives. But such a retrofit as you describe might be advantageous for them, especially considering reliability and availability of the media. And considering a harsh environment and open spinning media.

          Not saying they'd agree, just thinking in the abstract.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: @ D@v3

          "

          However for this to be a solution to that problem, they'd have to be willing to modify all of the machines with one of these drives, as well as putting one in the PC.

          "

          In most cases it is trivial to modify a machine, Most CNC machines of that era used standard PC floppy drives, so you simply unplug the FDD, take out 4 screws, and plug a FDD emulator such as this in its place. At most you may need to crimp on a different IDC connector to the existing ribbon cable in the CNC machine. The CNC machine cannot tell the difference and still "thinks" it is connected to a mechanical FDD. No need to do anything to your CAD PC's except plug in a standard USB card reader.

          [edit] just saw that this particular device requires a driver. Good luck finding a driver for a bespoke CNC machine OS. Get a cheaper emulator from Amazon that is a drop-in replacement in that case.

        4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: @ D@v3

          What would be ideal for them is something in the physical shape of a floppy disk, that you can put in a regular floppy drive, but which actually stores the data on an SD card, or built in flash memory, doesn't need to store more than 1.44MB. But I guess the potential market for that product would be so minuscule that it would never be worth developing.

          Kind of like my idea for a combination MP3 Player/Bluetooth adapter in an 8-Track tape casing. Use a tiny generator to power it off the capstan shaft. It would be akin to those old 8Track-to-cassette adapters that were popular in the 70's. The housing is big enough you could fit a full-size SD/MMC reader (and not just a microSD). For that matter, you could almost fit a RaspberryPI in an 8-Track housing. Would be ideal for your classic/vintage car that had a factory 8-Track player, and you don't want to lose concours status by putting in a modern CD player.

          Problem is, it's too much of a niche market to break even on the specialized pieces you'd have to make (like whatever was used for transferring the signal to the tape head).

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: @ D@v3

            (like whatever was used for transferring the signal to the tape head).

            In those MP3player-to-cassette adapters, it tends to be just another cassette head. Problem with 8-track is that the head moves vertically, so your contraption has to deal with that.

        5. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: @ D@v3

          "However for this to be a solution to that problem, they'd have to be willing to modify all of the machines with one of these drives, as well as putting one in the PC"

          1: They don't have to do them all at once

          2: Why do you need one in the PC when you can update the things across the network? At that point the CF drive is just a local store.

          3: If you float it you might be surprised at how enthusiastic they are. Old floppy drives seem to go on forever but media quality has been manky for a long time (mankier than that of the old SSSD 5inch floppies which never seemed to last long back around 1980) and that slows the drives down even more.

          4: If you don't float it, someone else will.

      2. Steve Evans

        Re: @ D@v3

        "FWIW, it connects to the host via a (parallel) floppy drive connector, not via USB. Admittedly a very niche use case."

        Niche indeed... I've built quite a few machines in the last few years, and I can't remember the last time I saw a floppy header on the motherboard!

        1. Jeffrey Nonken

          Re: @ D@v3

          But you're building NEW machines. These are intended for retrofit.

      3. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: @ D@v3

        FWIW, it connects to the host via a (parallel) floppy drive connector,

        Picking a nit: floppy cables may have 34 conductors (half of them ground), but parallel they're not. There's one serial data signal, plus a bunch of drive control and status signals such as step, direction, drive select, track 0 and write protect.

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      @ D@v3 - try connecting your 300 in 1 card reader to my 1995 era CNC machine and see how far you get. The machine in question is only capable of reading a new data file from floppy disk (though it accepts both 3.5" and 8" hard-sector floppies). This type of FDD emulator is a godsend now that none of our CAD machines are capable of writing to a floppy, so we had to use a very convoluted method of sending the data to an ancient PC running Windows for Workgroups and transferring it to floppy using increasingly fragile media - usually having to make several attempts because of disk errors. Now ew just write from the CAD machine to a memory card and plug that into the FDD emulator on the CNC machine (though we use a much cheaper emulator from Amazon).

      We also swapped the mechanical HDD for an IDE emulator because the CNC machine BIOS cannot recognise a HDD bigger than 528MB, and you cannot buy HDDs that small any longer.

  5. joewilliamsebs

    Embedded systems!

    Still loads of old PCs sitting in expensive manufacturing equipment expecting to receive data on a floppy disk. The cleverness of this is that the hardware & software see a standard floppy, not a USB drive or an internal USB connection.

    1. MattPi

      Re: Embedded systems!

      Still loads of old PCs sitting in expensive manufacturing equipment expecting to receive data on a floppy disk. The cleverness of this is that the hardware & software see a standard floppy, not a USB drive or an internal USB connection.

      Nice to see someone gets it. The world of computing doesn't end with your laptop, tablet, and oh-so-unfashionable desktop at work.

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Linux

        Re: Embedded systems!

        They market devices like this for old Ataris and Amigas.

        1. Dabooka

          Re: Embedded systems!

          @Jedidiah

          Not just the Atari and Amiga, but also as a replacement for the 3" drives in the Amstrad 664/6128.

          I know you can get them for the 'minor' 8 bit machines of the day, such as Speccys and C64s etc (!), but they're not the same as they didn't ship with a floppy in the case.

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: Embedded systems!

            An ordinary 3.5" 720K DS drive works fine on a PCW, and the 3" PCW drive on a PC (though you need utillity SW for the CP/M FS), it's a dumb adaptor cable is all that is needed. Also 37 way 8" floppies work on 3" or 3.5" drive cable with a dumb cable adaptor.

            There was a HDD for the PCW, but that didn't use the floppy cable.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Embedded systems!

              An ordinary 3.5" 720K DS drive works fine on a PCW, and the 3" PCW drive on a PC (though you need utillity SW for the CP/M FS), it's a dumb adaptor cable is all that is needed."

              Seconded! My first "sale" was an invoicing system I wrote for the local car repair garage in BASIC on a DOS PC for use on and Amstrad PCW. Copied the files over just as you say. Plug the 3" drive in then used Hyperdisk(??) to access the CP/M format file system. IIRC, Hyperdisk had 100's of preloaded configs for all sorts of (mainly) CP/M disk formats and was incredibly useful back then. I think the first version I used was on Tandy TRS-80 to copy files to various CP/M boxes we had on site.

    2. }{amis}{

      Re: Embedded systems!

      +1 this a couple of years ago I used to have to regularly dig data out of an aging 486DX4 100 pc that ran the Tote management system in a £100M+ stocked warehouse it’s probably still their! the vendor of the system had quoted over £500K to rip out the control cards and upgrade to something that supported a network!

    3. Mage Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Embedded systems!

      But does the BIOS and DOS see it as a floppy? Just because it uses a floppy interface and bay doesn't make that true.

      Mine's the one with a 3.5" bay USB CF/SD/MMC/Firewire/USB €10 add on.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Embedded systems!

        But does the BIOS and DOS see it as a floppy?

        That was my thought too; my assumption, given the intended market, is that this is the case. In other words, any PC that can handle a floppy drive (even if it's a 25-year-old 386 connected to a CNC lathe or something) can accept this upgrade. This is not a mass-market consumer product - however for its intended niche, it sounds perfect.

        But yes, I'd be interested to know how the BIOS and DOS handle the changed geometry; IIRC there were only so many "pre-defined" FDD types in the BIOS (720K single-sided, 1.44MB double-sided, etc etc) and no mechanism for drives to declare their own. If this thing needs drivers or TSR-type workarounds, that's a whole new level of validation and effort.

        1. stucs201

          Re: But does the BIOS and DOS see it as a floppy?

          It depends...

          I used to have a non-standard format utility which would create (for example) an 800K floppy by formatting with an extra sector (*). On some PCs these discs were fine as standard, others needed a small TSR to read them.

          Later versions of MS-DOS actually allowed the creation of these discs without a special utility, if command line arguments were used to specify the sector count.

          (*) more than one extra sector or additional tracks were also possible, but reliability went down as sectors went up. Extra tracks was dependent on the drive being able to move the heads far enough.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: But does the BIOS and DOS see it as a floppy?

            "I used to have a non-standard format utility which would create (for example) an 800K floppy by formatting with an extra sector (*).

            Back in the day when 1.2MB HD floppies cost so much more than 360KB DSDD floppies, backup of a 40MB HDD was so much faster on cheap DD floppies if you formatted them as 800KB instead of the intended 360KB :-)

  6. John Mangan

    But . .

    . . . does it make the genuine coffee-grinding noise when you access it?

    If not, I'm not interested.

  7. Draco
    WTF?

    Looks over engineered

    Is it just me, or does it seem there is far too much electronic componentry in that beast?

    Surely the same could have been done using something like a Pi Zero and a bit of electronic glue.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Looks over engineered

      You need to add a level converter to the Pi anyway (Pi GPIO's are 3.3V logic, floppy drive is 5V logic), a pin header in the right place, couple of Blinken LEDs, and design a chassis to mount it all on anyway. Once you're dealing with all that, you might as well design the entire circuit board using any parts you're familiar with that are fit for the task.

      Building one around a Pi is probably fine when you need just a few and you don't care much about a cobbled-together look. But if you're into runs of a hundred or more and they're going to be used in wildly different gear such as CNC machines, synthesisers and traffic light controllers spending some time on engineering can be quite worthwhile.

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Looks over engineered

      Most of the cheep ones are just a processor and a little logic glue. The more expensive ones typically have some storage, and better software.

  8. GrapeBunch

    Datavue Spark

    In the basement I have a 1980s Datavue Spark, which boots DR-DOS from diskettes. In the 1990s and 2000s I wondered if such a thing would ever surface, but now I'm guessing that it's too late and too expensive. My other retrofit wit dream was drop-in processor replacements with no wait states and negligible power consumption, but again I guess the donkey has bolted on that one too, as tens of millions of old desktops have long since turned to rust in landfills, socketed motherboards and all. One retro-project that I did attempt was to put an 8 GB (8 because the computer won't see any more) IDE SSD in a circa-1994 Thinkpad 701C (butterfly keyboard), for sexy and silent (no fan) computing--but I didn't make it work. In theory it seems straightforward, but I've never seen anybody claim that they have one working.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Datavue Spark

      One retro-project that I did attempt was to put an 8 GB (8 because the computer won't see any more) IDE SSD in a circa-1994 Thinkpad 701C (butterfly keyboard), for sexy and silent (no fan) computing--but I didn't make it work.

      As I have a couple of 701's, one of them rather broken electronically, a project I have in mind is a Butterfleee: an Asus EEE in a Butterfly casing. Requires several round tuits, though, which haven't turned up yet. And it's probably going to morph into a ButterPi once those tuits do materialise.

      The Libretto 110 with a 16G PATA SSD works like a charm. It's got W98SE on it; but I do have Linux distros from around that time ...

  9. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    What I'd like to see

    A USB dongle that I can plug into a PVR (or other box) that will appear to the box to be a standard USB drive, but in reality connects wirelessly to wherever your actual storage resides. It might not be the most effective use of your wireless bandwidth, though: a USB2 connection would saturate an 802.11n link, but you might get 2 or three such devices working on on .ac link. Still, the convenience and cool factor seems like it could be a useful gadget to have.

    I suppose a more useful version of this would come with wires. Do any NAS boxes exist that let you emulate a different disk drive (each with its own storage space/quota) over different USB OTG links?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: What I'd like to see

      A USB dongle that I can plug into a PVR (or other box) that will appear to the box to be a standard USB drive, but in reality connects wirelessly to wherever your actual storage resides.

      There's the Eye-fi SD card, adding wireless connectivity to certain digicams (not all of them, and I doubt that it'd work in a SD card reader which you'd need to plug one into any random USB host).

  10. kmac499

    Seen it all before

    On t'original Star Trek. Mr Spock slotting neon coloured memory units into his science station.

    (still wondering If I should mount my tablet onto a wedge of foam so it looks like the captains log.)

  11. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    At 500 kb/s

    That is going to take 6 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes and 50.912 seconds to write a 32Gb flash disk. I can see how that might be problematic.

    1. fnj

      Re: At 500 kb/s

      @Loyal Commenter:

      That is going to take 6 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes and 50.912 seconds to write a 32Gb flash disk. I can see how that might be problematic.

      Yep. You're the only one who noticed this painfully obvious fact. This piece of crap makes an ancient USB 1 (remember that?) port running at 1.5 Mb LOW SPEED seem like a speed demon! It's not much faster than a freakin' SERIAL port running at 115,200 baud.

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: At 500 kb/s

      It is likely to be used in systems where the HDD is measured in MB and the data files will be under a MB, so that won't be an issue.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: At 500 kb/s

      It seems that the device can hold multiple selectable floppy images so the host system will never see more than a single floppy disk image of up to ~2.88MB (never a common format) at any one time. The (selectable) transfer speeds are so you can configure the floppy emulation to suit what the hardware expects to see. There's no point in having fast data transfer speeds if the old hardware it's plugged into can't deal with it. After all, the early IBM PCs used sector interleaving on the hard disks because the controller couldn't digest a whole sectors worth of data in the time it took the next sector to arrive under the head. Finely tuning and optimising the low level format of hard disks for the maximum speed was a badge of honour back then. eg sector 1, skip three, sector 2, skip 3, sector 3 etc so the controller had time to pass on the data to RAM just in time for logical sector 2, physically three sectors around the track, to arrive at the optimal time to be read. It was possible to do that with floppies too, with software trickery, and was done when HDDs were still not ubiquitous and you were running a (small) database on two or three floppy drivers, but for most practical purposes you would use track read, not sector read since a track didn't really hold all that much data anyway.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: At 500 kb/s

        The (selectable) transfer speeds are so you can configure the floppy emulation to suit what the hardware expects to see.

        Heh, my AMD K6 was too fast for the software! Windows couldn't install without a patch because the 200 MHz cpu was "too fast". And the fsking TX chipset meant that windows loaded into uncached memory because I had "too much RAM". The Good Old Days?

  12. GrapeBunch

    Copy protection

    In the old days, some software copy protection relied on damage to an area of the diskette. It would look for data in a certain area, and if an unreadable error code came back, it would let you proceed, but if the read came back with data or zeroes or unused area, HONK, you're out. I wonder if this system lets you emulate unreadable areas on a diskette? And is it programmable enough to emulate 5.25" or even 8" true-floppy disk interfaces? Returning to my Datavue Spark laptop, AFAIR its diskette drives are not full size, so this would be a non-portable solution for it. I'm not complaining, this seems like it is geared to be a godsend to some ("the few") with thorny and potentially very expensive problems to overcome, not a hobbyist toy.

    1. Maldax

      Re: Copy protection

      Oh and the noise it made!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Copy protection

        I believe the software preservation society have disk reading software that will image a disk, including those bad areas, allowing copy protected disks to work in emulators

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, but...

    32 Gigs of data at 125 or 500 kbps? Time to go make a pot of coffee. And water the plants. Maybe catch a baseball game on TV. Shag the old lady. Have a kidney stone removed. Done yet? No, still got 17% to go.

    Also, since this is an 8-bit wide parallel connection, why is the speed listed as Kilobits per second instead of Kilobytes per second?

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Yeah, but...

      The quoted 125/500kbps is for the 34-pin floppy drive interface. Supporting anything faster would be quite useless since the drive controllers in the legacy PCs and devices still won't talk to it any faster. If the device could emulate an ED drive (2.88Mb) then it would sport a 1Mbps connection. But I'm sure the CF flash can be operated MUCH quicker in a PC card reader or through that network interface.

      I'm not sure how parallel vs. serial connection makes a difference in the speed listing - everyone who knows the difference between bits and bytes can easily do the calculation in head.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah, but...

        "I'm not sure how parallel vs. serial connection makes a difference in the speed listing"

        Eh, back in the old days (well, maybe not THAT old), parallel device speeds were normally given in bytes per second, not bits per second - that was usually used for serial devices. The article claims the speed is 125-500 KiloBITS per second, but 3.5" floppy drives of old were usually rated at 500 KiloBYTES per second.

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Yeah, but... @AC

          "The article claims the speed is 125-500 KiloBITS per second, but 3.5" floppy drives of old were usually rated at 500 KiloBYTES per second."

          No, you're wrong.

          If they were 500 kbytes/s then you'd be able to fill/read that 1.44MB floppy in approx. three seconds.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yeah, but... @AC

            Well, the sources I could find disagree with you, Sandtitz

            http://www.interfacebus.com/PC_Floppy_Drive_PinOut.html

            http://www.retrotechnology.com/herbs_stuff/drive.html#data

            http://www.techspot.com/community/topics/anybody-remember-floppy-drive-speeds.1573/

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Yeah, but...

      Also, since this is an 8-bit wide parallel connection, why is the speed listed as Kilobits per second instead of Kilobytes per second?

      Because it isn't (parallel, that is)

  14. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
    Go

    Even oldish cars would benefit from this.

    I heard the ECU in a Bugatti Veyron can only be read and written using an positively ancient Compaq Presario notebook, which is carefully preserved by Bugatti maintenance crew, along with data from each and every customer.

    Without a $150 notebook, you can brick a $3.8M car. Or ALL of them.

    (I'm not saying the Veyron ECU ran out of floppies, but it is totally possible.)

    This is the type of thing that this technology tries to prevent.

  15. Nightkiller

    A great solution for the US Military

    Since Strategic Command still uses the granddaddy of them all

    https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjwueKjze7OAhVC1h4KHXJxDtYQFggxMAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.popsci.com%2Fyes-pentagon-still-uses-floppy-disks-for-nuclear-launches&usg=AFQjCNH3fNlYHFtvh1IrDEAS5vZzChLJyA&bvm=bv.131669213,d.dmo

    Why not supply custom versions at $US 2 million a pop?

  16. Adrian Jones

    Not the best thought out name

    No, boss, I was searching for removable storage, I've no idea where all these limp willies came from!

    1. paulf Silver badge

      Re: Not the best thought out name

      What about the logo? I took one look at that logo and my first thought was the lengths SanDisk were going to to get people buying more memory cards.

  17. Eddy Ito

    * There have long been rumours that certain launch codes are stored on a floppy....

    There have long been rumours that certain launch codes were 00000000.

  18. Fuzz

    FAT

    Floppy disks on DOS/Windows etc. used FAT12. You're going to need FAT32 to format a 32GB flash card. How do the ancient systems this device is intended for cope with that?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FAT

      It's an emulator. The data format on the CF card is totally unimportant; all that matters is that (presumably) you remote program it to tell it what type of floppy drive it thinks it is, and remote supply the data. Nice thing for CNC is that presumably you can store the entire library on a CF instead of a pile of floppies.

      The issue with things like this is usually the OS, which needs to be real time to provide the bits and respond to the commands in a timely fashion. I guess a Pi would not be deterministic enough. But you could use a Pi to buffer the current disc image to static RAM and then use a fast PIC or similar to provide the floppy interface. Back in the 1980s it was quite difficult to interface 6502s and Z80s to floppy drives and all kinds of tricks were devised to do this with simple LSTTL logic. I suspect a lot of the assembler is still out there for anybody curious. The thing to remember with floppies is that the data rate is determined by the rotation speed of the device, and reading the data is time critical with slow processors. But there is a gap between sectors, and when stepping tracks, during which any background processing takes place. Really slow machines used to read a single sector and then take time off to think for a whole rotation before reading the next sector.

      1. khooke

        Re: FAT

        The Cosmosex is a FD and HD emulator built around a Raspberry Pi, for the Atari ST : http://joo.kie.sk/?page_id=384

  19. Servman

    Really?

    Seldom have I seen a better example of the answer to a question that no one asked.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Really?

      Seldom have I seen a better example of the answer to a question that no one asked you.

      There, FTFY.

  20. Paul

    apparently there are versions for retro computer enthusiasts which can make the sound effect of a floppy drive in action, even including the gronk gronk sound that an Amiga used to make.

  21. khooke

    SD and CF replacements have been in use for years for replacing aging or failed floppy drives in 8bit and 16 bit computers like the Amiga and Atari ST, even sewing machines and synthesizer keyboards. Like the HxC2001 : http://hxc2001.free.fr/floppy_drive_emulator/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, 80s and early 90s synths sprang to mind when I read this article. A lot of them saved patches on floppy drives and while those synths are still very much in demand, they're a pain when those drives fail.

  22. Inspector71
    Go

    Meanwhile, for your classic Mac floppy

    I am seriously thinking of getting one of these (http://www.bigmessowires.com/floppy-emu/) for my Quadra 700.

  23. david 12 Silver badge

    Hired a new public relations consultant?

    Announced (pre-announced?) a couple of months ago, with almost no impact.

    Intersting, it appear that in the mean time they've gone from the (5 1/4) edge connector, to the (3 1/2) pin header. The device will also emulate 8" drives. Which leads me to wonder if the device predates even the June announcement.

    I was looking for one of these a couple of years ago, and they had disappeared from the marketplace. I still might be a buyer, we'll have to wait and see what the price is.

  24. David O'Rourke

    I still have a machine with a 3.5in floppy drive, and I still use it regularly.

    Admittedly for somewhat esoteric reasons.

    It's the only PC I have left with a parallel printer port, necessary for a piece of hand-built data gathering hardware. Unfortunately that PC also has a broken IO subsystem, and no Ethernet, so the only sensible way of getting the data back off the machine again is via floppy.

    Still it's a hobby isn't it

    1. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

      Even older hardware

      Some older Tek DSO's can only be updated, etc with a floppy disk which is a pain when the drive belts have turned into glue and are made of unobtainium.

      Once that internal memory or battery dies if you don't have the special disk your >£900+ 'scope will be only useful as a brick, gives a whole new meaning to "built in obsolescence".

  25. fLaMePrOoF

    So replaces an ancient technology with a slightly less ancient technology which has been strangled by a bottlenecked interface..?

    WHY?!

  26. jelabarre59 Silver badge

    3.5 only?

    I remember seeing some large network controllers (probably for mainframe systems?) at a prior job that still had 5 1/4" floppy drives. These things were nearly the size of a household refrigerator, and I don't think anyone would dare trying to replace them, I suspect the entire site would g dark for weeks if they ever tried replacing them. I had looked at them and wondered what they would do when the supply of *reliable* blank floppies dried up (if it wasn't already), let alone getting reliable replacement drives.

    Of course, knowing that particular, unnamed multinational "technology" company, they probably would invest in plug-replacable flash-media readers that took SmartMedia cards...

  27. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    I used one

    Several weeks ago, to put the USB driver, rollup updates and some other software on a very old grizzly W98 based PIII-600 dinosauroid, because the owner was below the poverty line and could not afford to even replace the battery (did fix, seems to charge now)

    Interestingly the battery issue was the least of its problems, the base plate had disintegrated due to rubber glue issue which I substituted with red Sugru(tm)..

  28. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    IIRC, 'certain codes' were* stored on floppy discs, but of the 8" variant.

    * Possibly still are. It's hard to believe in this day and age, but there are still some things the US military won't post on FB or Twitter.

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