The World's Smallest Atari 810 Disk Drive
By James Grahame
I was still a kid in the early 1980s, but I vividly remember my father's excitement when he bought an Apple II equipped with a 9" monitor and two 5-1/4" floppy drives. I get nostalgic every time I see a dusty old floppy disk.
Rossum has similar memories of his Atari 400, which came with a hulking Atari 810 drive. In 21st century hacker fashion, he decided to use an 8 GB microSD flash memory card to build a minature replacement capable of emulating up to 8 drives. The original stored 90 K on a single sided disk. His solid state version can store the equivalent of about 90,000 floppies.
The Atari 810 was an intelligent peripheral with its own microprocessor (a similar scheme was used by Commodore) that communicated with the host computer using a 19,200 bps serial connection. It's relatively easy to get a modern microcontroller to emulate the drive signals and pass data from a flash memory card, and Rossum chose an LPC1114 microcontroller for the task.
And the case? He reveals its secret: "The enclosure is a 3D print from Shapeways. This is the first time I have used them and I have to say I was delighted bt the experience. My inexperience in 3D modeling is evident but Shapeways sent me a lovely collection of little enclosures in various materials. I tried to make it as small as possible and still accomodate the microSD card. Testors enamel completed the look (make sure you mix in some olive with the light tan and cream)."
The great thing about this hack is that it's more than just a clever conversation starter. Floppy disks were never terribly reliable, and years of neglect and flaking oxide has made many virtually unreadable. Modern flash drives provide a convenient way to program vintage hardware, ensuring that future generations can experience they glory of 8-bit.