Those of us who are driven to gather computers of decades past about us in order to forever enjoy that magical, early stage of home computing (that’s unknown to so many today) do, indeed, reap rich rewards from the effort. But, keeping that dream alive is not without its challenges. As a long-time collector, I will say that the two biggest challenges those like myself face in the name of retro computing are the finite lifespan of magnetic media and the problem of leaking capacitors.
As for the capacitors — well, there’s nothing to do but replace ’em when it’s needed and hope that no real damage has been done. But, when it comes to dealing with fading floppies, there are a number of approaches out there, requiring a variety of different, and often rather complex, hardware setups. I’m happy to report that I’ve recently discovered one of the most elegant data preservation solutions I’ve ever seen, thanks to Lazy Game Reviews.
LGR recently posted a video demonstration of the KryoFlux USB floppy disk controller. The KryoFlux device is a highly flexible floppy drive controller board that attaches to old school floppy drives — 5.25-inch, 3.5-inch and 3-inch drives that use the standard Shugart 34-pin connector — via ribbon cable, and to a modern computer running Mac OS X, Windows, or Linux via USB 2.0. Software on the modern machine allows you to use the device to read in floppy disk data as a raw stream via measurements of the media’s magnetic flux transition timing, removing the need to worry about source formats, sector density, and the like. The data can then be stored as a disk image file. It is also possible to write disk images out to a wide variety of disk formats, including (but not limited to): Acorn Electron, Apple, Amstrad CPC, Archimedes, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, MSX, IBM PC, PC-8801, Sam Coupe, Spectrum, E-MU Emulator & Emulator II, and DEC RX01 & RX02.
Features, as listed by the manufacturer:
- Read at lowest level possible – precisely sampling the magnetic flux transition timing. Custom formats? Recording scheme violations? Encodings? KryoFlux will read them all.
- Save as raw stream, or export to common sector formats supporting: Acorn Electron, Apple, Amstrad CPC, Archimedes, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BBC, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, MSX, IBM PC, PC-8801, Sam Coupe, Spectrum, E-MU Emulator II and many, many others.
- Write back to disk. KryoFlux supports “one-click” writing of IPF files, and will soon be supporting more image formats as well.
- Write blocker. Disable accidential writes by removing one jumper, impossible to work around in software.
- Parallel export support. E.g. An Amiga/ST dual format disk can be written as raw stream, an ADF and an ST file, all at the same time during a single disk capture.
- Intelligent software allows production of sector images for virtually all normal disks for systems containing a generic FM or MFM floppy controller. Many other weird synthesiser sample disk formats should work right out of the box.
- Read variable rate “zoned CAV” disks in a normal fixed rate drive.
- RoHS and WEEE compliant.
- High quality immersion gold coated boards produced in cooperation with, and assembled by, Olimex Ltd.
In short, the KryoFlux device is something of a miracle for vintage computer collectors who actually like to use their old school hardware. The unit is available to order in two different versions: the Personal Edition Basic (just the controller board) for €89.95 and the Personal Edition Advanced (controller board plus requisite cables) for €94.95.
I will definitely be adding a KryoFlux controller to my arsenal in short order.