A Brick for Some Bytes: My First Hard Drive

The first hard disk I ever owned was a MiniScribe. It was a “hard card” arrangement from some mail order place with a shamrock / Irish themed magazine ad [UPDATE: apparently, Shamrock Computers]. The 30MB drive cost, I think, $350 and was for my Tandy 1000TL. I managed to convince dear old ma’ to order it for me as a Christmas (’88) present. It arrived in early December and had been sitting under the tree for a week when I mentioned how hard it was to wait until Christmas to open that lovely piece of tech porn on a local BBS, The Blues Exchange in Williamsburg, VA.

The SysOp, a guy by the name of John Trindle or “The Bluesman,” laughingly suggested I go ahead and open it, remove the drive, place a brick in its place, close the box, and rewrap the lot. Who could tell I’d gotten the goods early? It was a perfect plan and I set it in motion at once. Less than an hour later I was installing XTree Pro onto my capacious storage device. (And no, mom was never the wiser!)

So the other day I was CoolIrising my way through a few retro computing photo pools on Flickr when I ran across an image of an old MiniScribe hard disk. This triggered all the above memories and I wondered just whatever happened to MiniScribe. I hadn’t seen a sign of them in years. So I hit Wikipedia and what I found just made me laugh out loud.

It seems the company went bankrupt in 1990 and was subsequently purchased by Maxtor. But the circumstances surrounding the company’s demise are rather bizarre. And particularly amusing to me, given the method of deception I employed in order to gain early access to that lovely Christmas present.

    The primary scandal erupted in the final weeks of 1989, when after failing to procure short-term financing, the company executives decided to embark upon a fraudulent course of action to bring in the financing unwittingly from their customers. As each unit sold was tracked via serial numbers and also sat uninspected for some weeks inside warehouses in Singapore awaiting use in production, the decision was made to ship pieces of masonry inside the boxes that would normally contain hard drives. After receiving payment, Miniscribe then planned to issue a recall of all the affected serial numbers and then ship actual hard drive units as replacements, using the money received to meet financial obligations in the short term.

    Astoundingly, Miniscribe embarked upon a round of layoffs just before their Christmas shutdown, including several of the employees that were involved in the packaging and shipping of the masonry. These people immediately called the Denver area newspapers, which broke the story during the holiday season. Following immediate investigations in Singapore and in Colorado the fraud was confirmed. Miniscribe lawyers filed for bankruptcy within minutes of the start of business on January 2, 1990.

So there it is. I snuck down to swap in a brick for the real goods when there was a half decent chance that MiniScribe’s execs had already done me the favor!

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9 Responses to A Brick for Some Bytes: My First Hard Drive

  1. James says:

    I’ve got an Amiga 1500 with a 40megabyte hard card in it :)

    Your blog reminds me that I really should get around to cataloguing and taking pretty photos of all my retro kit.

  2. Matthew Reed says:

    By the way, the “mail order place with a shamrock / Irish themed magazine ad” was Shamrock Computers of Westlake Village, CA. In an early 1988 advertisement (the latest I could find) they listed a Miniscribe 32 MB card that was “specially designed for the Tandy 1000, A, SX, and TX” for $419. That price must have dropped a bit by Christmas.

  3. Sneaky, you. I read about how the first hard drive ever had to be forklifted into an airplane, and it was only 5 MB or something. Man, how far we’ve come.

  4. Jason says:

    I remember getting an external HD as a Christmas gift in 1991 or so. It was for my Mac Plus, which would then sit on top of this drive. I can’t remember the brand of the drive, but it was 32 megs or something like that, and I know it was a few hundred bucks at the time. What a difference it made for that Mac Plus! Since I only had one floppy drive for that Mac, all my programs ended up on their own disc with a stripped down version of system and finder to avoid swap nightmares.

    After the addition of the hard drive, the system became a whole new computing experience!!

  5. @Jason: My Mac Plus has a Rodime drive enclosure under it. I replaced the 40MB drive that was in there with a 512MB Fujitsu. Works great. That Fujitsu was the first drive in five that actually worked with the Mac Plus’ “SCSI” interface… (The Plus was released a bit before the SCSI spec was actually nailed down.)

    MacBottom and Jasmine also made under-the-Mac drives, among others.

  6. Gregg E. says:

    My first hard drive was a 5MB Tandon, 5.25″ full height. To get it to work, I had to run a DOS park utility. It was cool to see the external position sensor on the head stepper motor zip around to its stop. Then FDISK could find the drive.

    I installed DOS 3.3 and all the software I had, the drive was still half empty! My next task was a full backup- onto 360K floppies. My first thought after, while looking at that tall stack of disks was “This is BS. I’m not doing this again!”. Never have done a full backup of any PC of mine since. ;)

  7. Gregg E. says:

    My first hard drive was a 5MB Tandon, 5.25″ full height. To get it to work, I had to run a DOS park utility. It was cool to see the external position sensor on the head stepper motor zip around to its stop. Then FDISK could find the drive.

    I installed DOS 3.3 and all the software I had, the drive was still half empty! My next task was a full backup- onto 360K floppies. My first thought after, while looking at that tall stack of disks was “This is BS. I’m not doing this again!”. Never have done a full backup of any PC of mine since. ;)

  8. Daniel says:

    I remember my first hard drive: it was a 3.5″ half-height drive for the PS/2 Model 25 that I took to college. It was a 30MB unit, and I was very excited to get it. I later replaced it with an 84MB drive.

    I always thought those HardCard drives were cool, and always wanted my father to get one for our IBM PC, but he never would. I used to save ads from old PC magazines, and I had a bunch of HardCard ads – those were such neat drives.

  9. Robintel says:

    Hi!

    I am curious about one thing about a MiniScribe HDD PCBA. I cannot seem to find the model that it belongs to. The EPROM chip says Model: MXX, PCBA: 06AC, E-P: 701. On the back of the PCBA there’s a number (2588) near the IDE interface and away from the power connector that lies on one side. The P/N is: 300867102 P3.

    It’s like I’m chasing ghosts here. I’ve been google-ing for hours without any result. Any ideas?

    Thank you.

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