The KryoFlux Floppy Controller: A Magnetic Media Miracle

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.

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13 Responses to The KryoFlux Floppy Controller: A Magnetic Media Miracle

  1. Silent700 says:

    Interested floppy archivists should also check out the DiscFerret, a similar tool which, while still in development, promises better specs and a more open codebase:

    http://discferret.com/wiki/DiscFerret

    • Just Me says:

      Thanks for the discferret link – I’ve been following Kryoflux for a couple of years now, and I have to say, the attitude of the developers really rubs me the wrong way. I’ve been on the lookout for something better. I have a Catweasel card (which the ferret is an obvious homage to!) and am looking forward to more modern alternatives. For me, Kryoflux isn’t it.

      • Robin MacKay says:

        Interesting, in what way? Actually, I thought the same of the Diskferret guys… Just seem a bit rude. Don’t see why they have to make silly digs at other peoples products. If your product is good, then promote it on it’s own terms. Still, I guess it is academic, you can’t even buy a Diskferret afaik, plus it is twice the price of the KryoFlux.

        The KryoFlux guys are great, and really helpful and responsive on their forums.

  2. gnome says:

    It feels a bit expensive for me right now, but it sadly also feels pretty necessary… Excellent discovery Blake!

  3. Robin MacKay says:

    Looks like you can’t buy that diskferret thing. Also is much more expensive.I also like that with the KryoFlux you are helping fund an effort that does preservation of software.

  4. Chris Vaughn says:

    DiskFerret… double the price for a decent piece of hardware and shoddy, open source software with – in comparison – non-existent features. I am no expert, I need something that works out of the box. Being open does not implement features automagically. Excuse me, but my data is too precious to work with some amateur solution when I can have something from the guys that do software preservation for over a decade now. KryoFlux now even decodes my copy protected C64 disk in real time. Best 150.- US$ ever spent for retro gear.

    • Ashrith Barthur says:

      Hello All,

      I was recently on the hunt for an old floppy recover mechanism when I saw catweasel. Then I checked the reviews for KryoFlux and had one ordered immediately after I read a lot of positive reviews about it. I was wondering if you could tell as to how long it takes to get it shipped to the States? I am in urgent need of it and I am afraid that I might not get it that early. Thanks.

  5. J says:

    When it comes to the DiscFerret, keep your eyes on it, since some nice things are coming in the near future ;-)

    @Robin: if by “preservation of software” you mean only original Amiga games, then yeah, but to the best of my knowledge they aren’t interested in such other stuff. It looks to me that they’re interested in making a large collection of as much Amiga software for themselves…

    • Rob says:

      @J “It looks to me that they’re interested in making a large collection of as much Amiga software for themselves”

      …and on what evidence are you basing that assumption on? The KryoFlux supports almost all popular disk formats out of the box and they actively assist people in their forums. Where are you getting the idea that they are only putting in all this effort just to collect Amiga Software?

  6. vance taylor says:

    will the Kryoflux allow reading and writing to and from the 3.5 floppy as it did using Microsoft XP operating system? Does anyone know?

  7. Pingback: A Dogged Pursuit: Capturing Forensic Images of 3.5” Floppy Disks | Practical Technology for Archives

  8. Brian K. White says:

    After reading some archived list posts from both Kryo and Ferret people, I would not do business with or rely on KryoFlux.

    It happens to be in a more polished state at the moment because they are over 10 years old, compared Discferret is only 1 year old. Well gee good for them. That is no more impressive to me than a 10 year old kid outperforming a 1 year old kid at something.

    And in fact “more polished state” is misleadingly positive. It has total engineering flaws, and legal ones, and procedural ones, and a nice package.

    Whenever the the Discferret guys raise a technical issue, 1) They are right and there is simply no getting around that. 2) The Kryoflux response never shows how they were in fact right, it’s always some evasion or side step or denial.

    They seem like perfect douches frankly. What kind of idiot doesn’t understand that open source is always better in the end? Have you actually used commercial unix os’s and web servers? The shoddy amateur open source ones kill them on every metric. Even db’s are on the way out. Ellison got his entire Hawaiian island from Oracle victims, but now facebook and others have given away dbs and related systems that scale beyond Oracles dreams, for free. And, not just free to use but free to see into the code so you can audit it to your satisfaction, or modify it to suit your needs. The horror! Save me from such wealth and power!

    It’s very enlightening to observe different people’s reaction to when other people give things away. “Here, have some life giving water. It’s free.” “I don’t want your filthy free water. It must be bad or you wouldn’t have to try to give it away.” Wow. Well in fairness that is indeed one possible explanation. I guess if you ever offered to give anyone anything, we all know now what to make of it.

  9. phuzz says:

    Much as I’d like to join in with the bashing of one or another adaptor, right now I can buy a Kryoflux card, but I can’t buy a Catweasel, or a DiscFerret.
    So I’ll buy a Kryoflux, archive all my old floppies, and hopefully be able to sell it on when I’m done.

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