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Build a Cheap Media-Reading PC? 255

tsm_sf writes "A recent Slashdot article got me thinking about dead and dying media. I'd like to build a cheap PC with the goal of being able to read as many old formats as possible. Size and power consumption would be design considerations; priority of media formats would be primary. How would you approach such a project?"
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Build a Cheap Media-Reading PC?

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  • existing pc (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spandex_panda ( 1168381 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @03:56AM (#25438313)
    what is wrong with your existing pc? what with between open office and mpd on Ubuntu ... I can read most formats!!
    • Re:existing pc (Score:4, Informative)

      by ccguy ( 1116865 ) * on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:21AM (#25438421) Homepage
      I don't think openoffice will be very useful to read any document a 5.25" floppy, a QIC-20 tape, a IOMega drive, etc...

      Anyway I don't think this guy is going to be very successful building a computer that can read everything. Some tapes need a controller that must be plugged into an ISA slot, for example.
      • Re:existing pc (Score:4, Interesting)

        by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @05:46AM (#25438729)

        I don't think openoffice will be very useful to read any document a 5.25" floppy, a QIC-20 tape, a IOMega drive, etc...

        Anyway I don't think this guy is going to be very successful building a computer that can read everything. Some tapes need a controller that must be plugged into an ISA slot, for example.

        Not exactly true. What you are likely thinking of are qic-02 or qic-36 tape drives where you have an isa controller. However, scsi->qic-xx controllers exist. I remember buying some PC solutions with their proprietary software and isa card just for the drive, specifically a Wangtek 5xxx series. Wangtek I know offered a drive that could write 120+megs to a DC600a tape. Very handy. However in my quest for speed and efficiency I discovered issues reading things written on Archive 5945C drives, or was it Kennedy 6500? It's hard for me to remember such details at this point but I do remember the joy of

        1) Compatibility between drives
        2) Compatibility between controllers
        3) Compatibility between software

        Come to think about it, it was about the windows 95 era that I thought it was a wise idea to ditch the whole QIC concept and go with Exabyte 8mm, or better yet CD-R via the good old HP 8200 series.

        But to be fair, I'm sure I have some tape lying about off a qic-02 drive using some funky arse proprietary software. []

        God I hated that era. But I imagine you could get a few drives for each given size and get software that would read the various formats. I'm sure compression would be tricker but I'm sure it would be possible. I see this as being useful to those few bits of tape that haven't been moved yet.

        • a drive that could write 120+megs to a DC600a tape.

          Hey! I could store 1/6 of an xvid movie on that.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by zakezuke ( 229119 )

            Hey! I could store 1/6 of an xvid movie on that.

            It was 150megs, not 120 as I remembered. You have a point by today's standards it was pretty small, but by early to mid 1990 standards that's equal to 104 floppy disks. The tapes were about $10 each, or $1.00 if you were lucky. 6.6c/meg wasn't really a bad deal. There is linux support for many of these drives, good solid support but that doesn't help you out as they were often shipped with those funky arse ISA controllers and dos software. Before 2000 the respective companies maintained BBSes with free

        • Wangtek? (Score:3, Funny)

          by Loki_666 ( 824073 )

          Wang-tek? No, i really don't want to know what sort of interface cards they make!

          • Re:Wangtek? (Score:4, Informative)

            by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:18AM (#25439331)

            Wang-tek? No, i really don't want to know what sort of interface cards they make!


            Wangtek is a company, they made tape drives. IIRC their 5150ES was the one I was thinking about, 150meg not 120. I'm sure at some point I upgraded to 350meg or 525meg but still used the supply of 60/150meg tapes. They may have also made scsi controllers for the tape drives.

            As you might imagine, since it was primary storage, I wanted the fastest one available. Wangteks were pretty quick and were often offered on PCs with a qic02/qic36 isa controller and some minimal software.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by savuporo ( 658486 )

      >>mpd on Ubuntu ... I can read most formats!!

      Try UFS-formatted compactflash ..

    • Magic Wand (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gewalt ( 1200451 )

      What the op, tsm_sf, is looking for here, is a magic wand. He wants to build a cheap small machine he can stick anywhere and with it be a wizard at reading obsolete physical formats. But that's just plain absurd. The reason the old formats died off was simply because they WEREN'T small and cheap (and they ran out of bits).

      So I offer two solutions to the OP. One is a usb floppy drive, which is everything his overly vague request requested. The second is a magic wand from Flourish & Bott's, 'cause

      • by Gewalt ( 1200451 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @07:24AM (#25439093)

        /sigh. of course, I meant Olivander's [], not the bookstore. While you're accidentally in Flourish & Bott's, please be sure to check out my new book "Pedantical Me".

      • Re:Magic Wand (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:55AM (#25439537) Homepage Journal

        We had such a thing at university, so that students and staff who had odd hardware could get data on to the network, and from there store it on something more common.

        I'm assuming that around that time (when 3.5 inch floppies hadn't completely replaced 5.25) there were many proprietary formats in fairly common use. Amiga or Atari, perhaps.

        Can't see why you'd want such a Frankenstein jobby one at home.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by mdwh2 ( 535323 )

          I'm assuming that around that time (when 3.5 inch floppies hadn't completely replaced 5.25) there were many proprietary formats in fairly common use. Amiga or Atari, perhaps.

          Things weren't really any worse than the different file formats around today - IIRC, Atari used the same PC format, and although Amiga and Mac had their own custom formats, they also supported reading and writing using PC formatted disks.

          In a way, things are worse today - e.g., I believe that non-Windows platforms can't write to NTFS dr

          • this seems to have changed in later versions of the linux kernel, and in earlier, there was ntfs-write support, with the EXPERIMENTAL warning.
        • waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

          by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @10:17AM (#25440411)
          Can't see why you'd want such a Frankenstein jobby one at home.

          He doesn't. If he was serious, he'd already know exactly what kinds of disc/tape/card/wax cylinders he wanted to read and Googled how to do it. The only reason the question was submitted was to make a provocative "Ask Slashdot" topic. Same as 90% of these, hardly a word in their backstory is true, and all the brain sweat and long detailed posts written to attempt to help the poster are wasted.

  • Big long SCSI bus (Score:5, Informative)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @03:58AM (#25438323)

    Or, several of them.

    Archive format of the future: []


    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:04AM (#25438365) Homepage

      Sounds like a winner to me!

      A backup of my PC will only be about five million pages or so.

      If the disk ever goes down then rescanning the pages will be a doddle.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by bigjarom ( 950328 )
        Hey hey hey, you're forgetting that you can print on both sides of the paper!
        2,500 sheets of paper is only like 2 feet high. What's the problem?
      • See... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @07:32AM (#25439115)

        A backup of my PC will only be about five million pages or so.

        2 things...

        1: Once you take out your operating system, applications, porn and downloaded music collection... How much real data do you actually have? I'd bet it'd fit on a handful of pages, particularly if you convert it to a standardised data format which might still be readable in 10,20 years.

        2: An archive is not a backup. And a backup makes a poor archive. An archive is a copy of something you may want to read or access in 10 years, 100 years, 500 years. A backup is something you do to preserve your current working data set in case of failure.


        Having said that. Even though paper has a proven n hundred year archival track record, I doubt it is a practical solution for digital data.

    • Re:Big long SCSI bus (Score:5, Interesting)

      by somersault ( 912633 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @06:47AM (#25438965) Homepage Journal

      Reminds me of our old Office Manager. When she wanted to archive an important email, she copied the main text into Word, then printed it off before storing it in files in her desk. Rather than, you know, at least printing it out from Outlook, or freakin storing it in her personal folders like everyone else.

      I wasn't aware of her weird filing system, so when she scanned in one of these emails and sent it to me as a type of 'forward' I thought she was trying to bullshit me. It clearly said at the top of the scan that it was a Word document.

      The text of the message actually included something like "I have sent this email to you on 20th of Whatever" which made the whole thing look incredibly fake.

      The sad thing is that it turned out it was actually a real email from her to me months before, but I had deleted and forgotten the original because it was so incredibly dumb as to be offensive to both my Inbox and my mind. The headers are there for a reason, technophobes! I don't need you to tell me the date in an email, thankyou very much.

      I was relieved when she got made redundant last year. There's something about having half-wit control freaks in positions of authority that disturbs me.

      • by NeilTheStupidHead ( 963719 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @08:10AM (#25439287) Journal

        There's something about having half-wit control freaks in positions of authority that disturbs me.

        So... you don't normally deal with middle management?

        • Well, it's a pretty small company, so often I'm dealing with the top level of management directly as I'm one of two IT staffers. Most of our management aren't actually trained as managers - they're trained as engineers or accountants, and on top of that are actually nice people!

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Fair enough. I work in a very large organization where the majority of people have no idea what happens when they push a button on a keyboard. I had an office manager once that had index cards with stepwise instructions of everything she had to do with her computer. EVERYTHING. She had to write out a new index card every week when her password expired and she had to change it... but first she had to consult the index card that told her how to change her password. They replaced our old CRT displays with LCDs
  • USB adapters (Score:5, Informative)

    by name*censored* ( 884880 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @03:59AM (#25438333)

    What's wrong with getting a commodity PC, a couple of USB hubs and as many adapters as you can lay your hands on? Most every connection I can think of has a USB adapter for it..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Get real. Do you think there are USB adapters for all those old tapedrives? Zipdrives? Floppy formats?

      • Exactly. I have some old 3.5HDDs that can be used with an enclosure. Requires too much power I'm guessing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 91degrees ( 207121 )
        Tapedrives are usually SCSI and ZIP drives are SCSI, IDE or USB so with aUSB SCSI interface you should be able to handle them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gravis777 ( 123605 )

          Great. So how do you propose I handle an MFM drive? Last I checked, you needed an MFM controller, not just the right kind of connector.

          I think the question will most likely be what can be built to handle the most number of controller cards, and so forth. You will probably also need to dual, triple,or possibly quad-boot the PC, because some of the drivers are DOS, some are Windows 3, some are 95, some may be OS/2, etc. Now, I am sure someone is going to bring up the concept of virtual machines, so let me put

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by 91degrees ( 207121 )
            Great. So how do you propose I handle an MFM drive? Last I checked, you needed an MFM controller, not just the right kind of connector.

            True but you can get adapter circuitry that makes them look like SCSI devices. Or are they the other way round?

            I truthfully doubt that you are going to be able to find a one-machine solution. You will not have enough ISA and PCI slots

            IRQs will be a problem. PCI is too modern to be an issue. There aren't any interfaces that are only available in PCI format except US
      • Re:USB adapters (Score:5, Insightful)

        by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @07:00AM (#25439023) Journal

        Look at his ID number.

        USB was probably around all his life.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Do you really think people are joining slashdot when they're 11? (2008-1995 - ~2 years of this account). I'm not even close to 13.

          Ignoring the fact that GP is wrong - I happen to own both a USB floppy drive and a USB Zip drive (via adapter), why would my age necessarily invalidate my point? There _ARE_ USB adapters for pretty much everything, 5.25" floppies can be hacked using the guts of a 3.5" floppy drive (same connections), and short of using 2 computers (one legacy and one modern), that's pretty much

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Get real. Do you think there are USB adapters for all those old tapedrives?

        Possibly, but one thing that is definitely available is SCSI to iSCSI converters so you can put that thirty year old tape drive on a network.

        There are other problems. While I have access to a tape drive that can read and write reels of tape it is a bit of a different story if the tape was actually recorded in the 1980s. There is the problem of that tapes deteriorating so it takes more skill and gear than I have to read the tapes wi

    • by bwcbwc ( 601780 )

      Do you have a USB 8" floppy drive (or even 5 1/4") on hand? Not to mention things like 9-track tape, or punch cards.

      tsb_sf isn't clear enough about how far back he wants to go with this. I'd say his best bet is a combination of SCSI, firewire and USB connections, but there's a good chance he won't be able to interface any of the truly ancient stuff. With SCSI and USB (and a MB that still has a floppy connector), he can cover:
      -Most QIC-xx tape formats
      -5.25 and 3.5" floppies, all formats.
      -CD/DVD/Blu-ray and t

  • Get busy with eBay (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:03AM (#25438357)

    Get yourself a big tower case and one of each of these: 5.25" floppydrive, Zip-drive, Travan tape-reader, Creative tape-drive, DAT tapedrive, single speed cd-rom (for these *really* pesky cd's), dvd+/-RW. And a 77-in-1 flashmemory readers.

    Then, make sure you have a parallel port, a serial port and a game port (there is actually backup media that connects to the game port, what where they thinking).

    After the hardware, start with software: DOS, Win'98se, Win2000, WinXP at least. Then Linux (drivers for almost any filing system) and, i kid you not, FreeBSD (very good drivers for obscure hardware, especially backup hardware).

    That's a start, at least.

    • by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @06:01AM (#25438783)

      game port (there is actually backup media that connects to the game port, what where they thinking)

      I can't say I've seen the gameport used that way, but I can somewhat imagine why.

      On the PC, there was IRQ hell. You have the serial ports at 3 and 4, IIRC lpt1: was 7, and IRQ 5 was that wonderful general purpose one that anything you wanted to add was set to. The game port, which doubled as a Midi port, was something that could be had cheaply, that didn't really add to the IRQ hell as it was the standard on sound cards.

      But what were they thinking? They were likely thinking it was cheap.

      Gawd how I hated that age.

    • by ConanG ( 699649 )
      Don't forget the 3.5" floppy drive!

      Instead of a Travan drive, I would get an Iomega Ditto 3200 (or 2GB) and Ditto Max (or Max Professional). The combo would be compatible with far more Travan-style tapes than any Travan drive (QIC, Travan, and Ditto drives).

      There's also the Iomega Jaz, Bernoulli, Rev, and Orb removable drives.

      For Data8 format (8mm helical scan tapes), the combo of the Mammoth LT and Mammoth 2 will give you at least read access to the various capacity tapes.

      There are soooo many o
    • by eggoeater ( 704775 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @07:59AM (#25439233) Journal
      You'll also need a food dehydrator.
      Think I'm kidding?
      It's commonly used in the recording industry to get reel-to-reel tape to "re-adhere" the magnetic coating to the plastic.
      After about 10 years, and certainly after 20, the tape becomes brittle and the magnetic material just flakes off.
      I have read several articles (from the early 90's when I was a sound engineer) about how a food dehydrator like this one [] is perfect for treating the tape, since the reels fit right inside it.
      I think you leave it in for about 24 hours and the tape comes out like new, and the temperature is low enough not to damage the magnetic layer.
    • After the hardware, start with software: DOS, Win'98se, Win2000, WinXP at least. Then Linux (drivers for almost any filing system) and, i kid you not, FreeBSD (very good drivers for obscure hardware, especially backup hardware).

      you can install all the operating systems as virtual machines, but what would you use as the primary OS?

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        virtual machines may not cut it. A lot of those devices need to bang the bits to work and VM don't let you get down to that level... With good reason.
        You will need to boot from each of them probably.

    • by Soruk ( 225361 )

      Don't forget the video capture card, and VHS, V2000 and Betamax video machines, in both PAL and NTSC format. (Forget the ones that can play out NTSC tapes on PAL systems, they screw with the picture due to the line count and frame rate.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PitaBred ( 632671 )

      Don't get a single-speed CD drive. The lasers on those are woefully underpowered, and can't read rewritable or recordable discs properly. You can generally use software [] to slow down the CD read speed if you need to. I know it's an option in the BIOS of my T61, too.

  • Consider Macs... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:03AM (#25438359)

    I guess that you probably don't want to build around a Macintosh heart since it's probably easiest to get interesting older devices for the PC architecture. However, there's a whole set of interesting media related to the apple 3.5" floppies which used variable angular density of bits to achieve more even linear density (in other words, more bits on the outer tracks, less on the inner tracks). This needs special hardware and I think only some PC drives could possibly support reading this. This is, of course, a bit sick but not as bad as Apple II gaming media where you actually have to be able to load bits of the device driver from the disk as you go along. In a primitive form of Digital Restrictions Management, they used to stop the drive motor and continue to reaad as they went along.

    Later apple media 3.5" Floppy was mostly 1.44Mb standard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:06AM (#25438373)

    You probably want a motherboard wit as many PCI slots as possible. Depending on your needs, you might even need to find a motherboard that has one of those rogue ISA slots. I'd browse around ebay and to look for such gnarly old hardware. If you could find a motherboard that had

    A quick google found this:
    Gigabyte Ga-6Vtxea
    Gigabyte Ga-6Vtxea ; Via 694T , On-Board Ac97 Audio , Ata100 ; 3X 168Pin Dimm, 5X Pci, 1X Isa, 1X Agp, 1 X Amr

    That would be right up your alley. It probably has serial ports as well. Wow, it's pretty: image []

    They don't make them like that anymore.

    From there, get one PCI card with USB support, get a/multiple usb hubs... grab some parallel and/or serial to usb adaptors.

    Don't forget to track down a scsi card for one of the pci slots, among other random interface cards.

    • I keep a Gigabyte GA7IXE for this purpose; it's got a Slot-A 700 Mghz T-bird & 512mb of ram, a Adaptec 2940 SCSI card, a ISA Soundblaster AWE64 gold (the best frakking sound card ever made, BTW, and has hook ups for the old proprietary CD formats), and I keep a box of ISA cards sat next to it that I've collected over the last 18 years, like MFM & RLL controllers, ARCnet cards, TCNS cards.. it's a big box. I used to keep a 486DX4-160 with VLB (and EISA) up and running, but it's been probably 5 years

    • by Skater ( 41976 )

      He should contact me - I have plenty of motherboards laying around, including a 386SX, a 486, a couple Pentiums, etc. Most of these probably work (or at least did when I pulled them out of the computer). Some have that wonderful VESA Local Bus [] port!

      There is plenty of other hardware, too - a Soundblaster Pro 2 comes to mind, for example. I have a QIC-02 tape drive, controller board, ribbon cable, and a couple tapes (at least I think it's QIC-02). Lots of crap...err, vintage hardware... laying around.

  • by digipres ( 877201 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:09AM (#25438383)

    Usually to read old media, you wouldn't start by building a PC. The first thing is the hardware that works with the media, for example a reel to reel tape drive, 8, 5 1/4 or 3 1/2 inch floppy drive, tape drive for old cartridge tape formats etc. Then you look at the interface needed to work that old hardware, then you look at what computer you need to host that interface, then an operating system, then the tools needed to get to and make sense of the data.

    Luckily the OS part is pretty easy. Linux has support for all sorts of weird and wonderful interfaces right out of the box. It's also usually packaged with all manner of powerful tools good for getting data off old media.

    It's getting old hardware to actually work that'll challenge you.

    • by zwei2stein ( 782480 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:30AM (#25438451) Homepage

      It's getting old hardware that'll challenge you.

      It requires extensive scouting for parts that actually work, and obtaining them.

      And when you get it and make sense of data, you would want to transfer it somewhere: you will end-up leapfrogging it trough couple of systems each decade apart from other unless you can interface everything with your target system (either not option or you would miss some hardware).

      Definitely say good-bye to single, power efficient machine and say hi to couple of hard to maintain dinosaurs.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        It requires extensive scouting for parts that actually work, and obtaining them.

        Anyone want an IBM3490E-C11 tape drive with a minor intermittant fault? Bring your own forklift and you might be able to have it - and unfortunately it's a realatively modern bit of gear and some of the older stuff was bigger. Too big to move so it has become a table to put the other drives that actually work on top of it. Some sought after obsolete gear will even cost far more than the overpriced cost the things originally s

      • I actually started digging around just last week for a way to get my data off my old Amiga and Commodore 128 disks.

        For the Amiga I turned up this gem []. It's basically instructions to build a piece of hardware that will plug the Amiga floppy drive's (23-pin?) connector in to a parallel port. If you still have a parallel port.

        So like you said, I'd better hope that old floppy drive still works. If it does though, then I can rely on the huge processing power and storage increases since Amiga's heyday to pack

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:10AM (#25438389)

    Expect all old media to contain lots of errors, and expect media readers to die. I would focus on migrating from old media to hard-disk based storage since old floppys, tapes and CDs have a limited lifespan. I would also have multiple readers for the same format since a CD that doesn't work in one reader might work in another.

    I personally would go for a bigtower with multiple 5.25" and 3.5" floppy readers, CD-rom reader, a memory card reader, dvd/blueray and HD-DVD reader and 2 x 1 TB Harddrives in mirror raid to ensure that no migrated data is lost.

    Some media might be unreadable my modern OS:s. Equip the machine with enough memory to run virtual machines which are given direct access to the media readers. If you need DOS to read a diskette, boot the DOS vm.

    • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @06:05AM (#25438805)

      and 2 x 1 TB Harddrives in mirror raid to ensure that no migrated data is lost.

      The triumph of optimism over experience, it seems. Allow me to rephrase the above to something more meaningful:

      and 2 x 1 TB harddrives in mirror raid to protect against drive failure. How to backup that 1TB of data will be answered in a future installment of Ask Slashdot.

      • well, you could put it all back on the 1,000,000 floppies you needed to read for the 1 TB data ...
      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        A collection of cast off disks of recent vintage will be more than adequate.

        Get a USB chassis for each or just have one.

        Copy the data as many times as you feel comfortable.

        Anything past the turn of the century will be big enough to hold ALL your data.

        You could also just buy multiple new drives (not necessarily the largest) and
        still end up with the same level of redundancy.

        Then there's optical media. 4G is probably also large enough for everything you have in in ancient media formats.

        A decade or 2 will reall

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by toddestan ( 632714 )

        and 2 x 1 TB harddrives in mirror raid to protect against drive failure. How to backup that 1TB of data will be answered in a future installment of Ask Slashdot.

        That's easy. Get another 1TB drive in an external enclosure. Copy everything from the tower to the external drive. If the data is particularly valuable to you, consider buying several and stashing in multiple locations.

        Of course, 1TB may be massive overkill. Most of these storage mediums are only going to have a few hundreds of kilobytes to a fe

  • by david in brasil ( 1103683 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:20AM (#25438415)
    8-inch reel to reel, 8 inch floppies, cassettes...You're gonna need some large reels to read some of the formats that I have around. I haven't played the Space Invaders game from my TRS-80 cassettes in 20 years.
  • size & power usage are guaranteed to be tiny. Get a usb floppy drive reader if you need it, it will work.

  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:27AM (#25438435)

    Something with basic I/O sampling so you can read all those old Audio Cassettes... Amstrad, C64, Sinclair, MSX, Oric, Ti99-4A, JR-100, Vic-20, BBC etc.

    I sometimes wonder what I would make of the old things I used to write and do on those old systems...


  • Power (Score:5, Informative)

    by drakyri ( 727902 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:40AM (#25438495)
    This takes some work to set up, but will give you a lot of control over your power consumption.

    As has been mentioned before, a lot of older readers are IDE devices, and so, can easily be converted to USB. (Note that for IDE, the device must be plugged in and powered when the system boots, otherwise it won't be recognized.)

    After converting to USB, splice in relays - on the device power cable and the USB +5V cable (to prevent the device from half-powering-up via USB power). Connect the relay control to the appropriate voltage via a pushbutton switch which you can mount on the front of your computer (can sacrifice a drive bay for a panel of switches).

    This will let you turn each device on and off as you want.
  • CATWEASEL! (Score:5, Informative)

    by kzg ( 634262 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:41AM (#25438509)
    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Catweasel disk controller yet. [] Its a hard to find board since its done in limited production runs.
  • by Chrisje ( 471362 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @04:44AM (#25438519)

    Why? Why do you think you need such a thing? What are you going to use it for?

    There's a plethora of different media out there. Anything from Punch-cards to Single-reel tape to QIC, HDD with different interfaces, hell, even Magneto Opical/UDO and Microfilm or, God forbit, Floppy or even normal Casette Tapes (Remember MSX "DatRecorders"?)

    Then there's a plethora of software used to write to these media. Any tape drive usually was written to with Networker, DataProtector/Omniback II, AMANDA, NetBackup or BackupExec, not to mention older iterations such as ArcServe and whatnot. The Harddisks can be formatted with the most wild versions of FAT, FAT16, 32, NTFS in various flavours, Ext*, Reiser and so on, while Casette tapes were written by a BASIC OS.

    Then there's a plethora of software used to create the objects on those media. You have your CoDecs for rich media, your office formats of yore like WordPerfect 5.1... The list is nigh endless. When you say you want a media reading PC, you need to delimit your project somewhat, because you could end up with half a data center filled with machines for various purposes.

    So, again:
    - Why do you need it?
    - What for?

    Besides, if you still have floppies with your original copy of The Secret of Monkey Island on it, do you really need to be able to read those, or do you simply surf into a retro-gaming site to find the images and a suitable run-time environment for them?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like someone, probably their "friend", wants to view their old pr0n.

  • If you want to start at the bottom...

    figure out how to read the oldest disk first... []
  • Catweasel (Score:5, Informative)

    by Per Wigren ( 5315 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @05:23AM (#25438645) Homepage

    A good start is to get a Catweasel floppy controller []. If you connect a 3", a 3.5", a 5.25" and a 8" floppy drive to it you will be able to read almost any floppy disk there is, including C64, Amiga, CP/M, CPC, Mac, Apple II, Famicom and so on.

    Then comes the bigger problem: Finding the tools to extract files from their filesystems. There are small extraction/conversion tools on the net for almost every format there is, collecting dust on long forgotten areas of FTP servers. Some of them require some slight modifications to compile on post-80s UNIX and some only run in MSDOS with full hardware access, but with some patience, DOSBox [], Google and imgtool from MESS [] you should be able to work with most of them.

    Then finally comes the biggest problem: Finding applications that can work with the actual files...

  • by SenorCitizen ( 750632 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @05:52AM (#25438751) why do Ask Slashdot articles keep getting posted in other sections?

  • Make sure to provide support for this! []
  • It seems a waste (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday October 20, 2008 @06:13AM (#25438837) Homepage

    This will be a lot harder than you think. It's not just the problem of keeping that machine running, having software that can use all those arcane formats, fitting it all into a box etc. The problem is that the hardware WILL die, whether it's the computer (which might have to have ISA slots etc. for some peripherals and so will be tricky to replace) or the media readers.

    The method I use for data (and bear in mind that I haven't really bought anything new for a PC in years, so we're talking cheapskate methods) is to get a large hard drive every now and again (Christmas presents, recovered from broken PC's, old ones from work, etc.), and convert the media up to "hard drive" format. Being an emulation fan really helps here... disk images are the way to go. The first time you do it, it's an immense pain because you're swapping media, etc. But then, say your hard drive gets out of date (e.g. IDE vs SATA). You buy a SATA drive and automatically copy across all that old data including your virtual CD ROM images. Then when SATA is out of date, you do the same again.

    Because of the increases in capacity each time, you'll barely notice that you're carrying around 10-15 year old data. I do this properly about every 2 or 3 years (and gradually over time as well), I end up getting a bigger hard drive from somewhere and "upgrading" again. My current PC has six hard drives (two of which are very old ones which I've already copied onto larger ones within the same machine and so can just disconnect them) and about four CD/DVD players (the first was a CD drive, the next was a CD-RW, then a DVD, then a DVD-RW, etc. each one superceding the last). I still have my very first hard drive laying about (it was a 40Mb Connor) and I still have the data that was on that drive on my newest drives.

    Each one of those hard drives in my PC has the complete contents of at least two previous hard drives on it. And I still have the original hard drives (powered off in the base unit, or kept safely somewhere) for extra backup should I need it. It means that I don't lose my files, I never have to "recreate" something I've already done (scripts, programs, documents, etc.) and that I can do a quick search and know that I'm searching in every bit of data I've ever owned. When you KNOW that you saved something but can't remember the filename, when or where, that's a great assurance to have. I also have disk/tape images on every Spectrum game I ever owned, if you want to get silly. It's ridiculous how little space my entire Spectrum software library that took years to build up actually takes on a modern hard drive.

    For peripherals, what I tend to do is wait for a format to establish itself (e.g. USB) and then slowly get all the adaptors I need to run all my old hardware on that format. So I have USB->just-about-everything adaptors. My main PC runs an AT keyboard with a PS/2 adaptor on a USB->PS/2 convertor. Then, when Wireless USB or some other successor comes along, all I need to do is buy a single USB->Wireless USB adaptor and I'm instantly back in business. No new keyboard required, and I have every adaptor necessary to run ANY type of keyboard should I need to. It means that my favourite hardware can last a lifetime (barring failure of the device itself).

    It also makes things incredibly useful when you need to fix/repair/gut older PC's. If someone is still using an old AT PC, I'll have at least one cable/adaptor that will let me pull the data off it somehow, and a few more adaptors to get it working enough with modern hardware (USB, SATA, HDMI, etc.) so that I can get to the point to diagnose the computer if it's broken. If that means a daisy-chain of adaptors because the format is so legacy, so be it. At one point my mouse was a serial one, with a PS/2 adaptor, plugged into USB. I only upgraded because I wanted a scroll wheel. It can happen with everything. For example, I know for a fact that I have enough adaptors to convert a modern PSU (even ones with only SATA connectors but watch out f

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 20, 2008 @06:18AM (#25438849)

    I do some of this stuff for a living, and even though I can cover only a fraction of the media formats out there I have rack upon rack of obsolete peripheral devices. Most of the more recent ones are SCSI, some differential, some single-ended. A good few of the older ones (especially the old 12" 1GB glass optical disk drives) are bus and tag (I have SCSI converters for those...)

    As for actually *reading* the data, I have about 19 feet of dog-eared, yellowing documentation and a C compiler.

    You *sure* you want to get involved in this?

  • Yeah, I've got a similar problem, I have tons of old disks but I'm mostly an Apple guy, so I've started my own project. I just bought a cheap old Performa, it has a SCSI port so I can attach all my old devices. Fortunately I kept my old Jaz drive, Syquest 40 drive and even an old Bernoulli Box. So I can hook them up and read all my old formats and move them over to my new Mac for archiving. I was pretty lucky that this Performa had an ethernet card in it, most Macs of that vintage didn't have Ethernet, or i

  • If you have a computer club in your area or have a large number of friends you can surely get an old, but working 486 or early Pentium PC for free. That would kick the expense down to zero.
            It is funny when one takes a really old scrolling DOS text and tries to run it on a modern PC. You can't slow it down enough to read it. Even back in 486 days we had "turbo mode" which slowed down older programs enough to actually use them.

  • Qemu/kvm for the software. I have PC-DOS 7, Windows 98, OS2 Warp 4 (for Galactic Civ the way God and Stardock intended) and XP. Still have a floppy and dd'ed my disks, and old CD's. Zips went to CD but I guess a USB Zip for continued availability.

  • You want to read as many formats as possible, in as small a box as possible? What about those 8" floppies? But seriously, first identify what you must have, want to have, etc. and then buy a box that wraps that - I certainly wouldn't want a long lifetime project box like this to be implemented as a hydra of removable plug-ins that will get misplaced, dropped, or broken over then next decade. If you're really ambitious, the motherboard will likely need several ISA and PCI slots, as well as multiple IDE a
  • The simplest, and most reliable way to do what you want, is to hold on to old PCs with those devices.

    Others have already said it: many of these outdated formats depend on legacy interfaces that have been discontinued, like ISA/VLB ports. Keep an old Pentium machine around, most of them are built to survive armageddon anyway. Dig up some spare parts like AT power supplies, and stash them somewhere safe.

    Ultimately, you should just transfer all these old memories to new storage and let go of the obsoleted ph

  • Were the spawn of the devil. Oh they worked ok, but they were so damned slow I honestly did not care if they worked or not.

  • You'd be hard pressed to find anything now. Look at IDE for example, how many systems can you find with an IDE bus. Not many these days, it's all SATA and USB.

    I have studied this issue since I once helped out an archive. During the study it was concluded that it was necessary to migrate old formats to new during the transitional period. Otherwise the further out in time you got, the less likely you could read the old formats.

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.