E-mu Emulator Sampler User Forum for the EIII EII EI and EIII XP - Floppy Disk Hardware Emulation: Your EII floppies on a memory stick?

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Author Topic: Floppy Disk Hardware Emulation: Your EII floppies on a memory stick?  (Read 28037 times)
HideawayStudio
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« on: February 01, 2009, 03:57:00 AM »

Hello all...

This is a repost of a new topic I raised on on the VSE website on request of the EIII forum owner:

Having done a ton of research on the subject of hardware floppy disk emulation, pursuading myself the potential product was unique and therefore I should develop one, and then only to find one already exists, the following may be of interest to some (including Emulator I/II/III owners....)

Much of the now cherished studio gear from the 80's and into the early 90's featured a floppy disk drive. Although these were all the rage 20 years ago it's becoming increasingly difficult to find 5.24" and DSDD 3.5" floppies not to mention good S/H replacement drives. Although one or two floppy disk emulators are emerging for use in home computers for the retro market, many are taylored for specific applications/formats, and most are in kit form eg. HxC.

I have recently tracked down a new product range, currently not distributed outside of China, which fully hardware emulates a Shugart compatible drive and permits several virtual floppies images to reside on one memory stick. The product is unique in that it emulates the disk at a very low level thus making the data format irrelevent. As long as the unit has been spec'd for the correct density, and set for the right drive ID it should theoretically work. The unit has the same dimensions as a 3.5" floppy drive which means it should also fit in a 3.5" to 5.24" drive bay converter for use in older gear such as the Emulator II. The front panel simply features a memory stick socket and a two digit LED display permitting the user to select the virtual floppy of his choice. This means you should have the equivalent of several boxes of floppy disks residing in the space once taken up by your floppy drive!

This product has some very interesting potential as, in theory, it means for the first time users of the increasingly classic popular 8 and 12 bit samplers not featuring hard drives will have a convenient, cheap and faster method of moving data between their samplers and their pcs. This could suddenly open up the opportunity for classic sampler users to share their samples on the internet in a standard form. What is not clear at this stage is whether a PC app similar to EMXP will be required to manage the data on the memory stick or whether it's in FAT32 format.

The product should work with a whole variety of other studio gear too. I have put a quick list together of the kit I think could potentially be transformed by variants of this product:

Native Shugart compatible DD/HD 3.5" 34 pin Floppy Drive Sampler Applications:

SCI Prophet 2000 & 2002*
Ensoniq Mirage
E-mu EMAX I & II*
AKAI S900, S950 & S1000*
Casio FZ1
Roland S-330, S-550 & S50

Atari ST
Alesis Datadisk*
Korg 01/WFD

Shugart signal compatible 3.5" Applications requiring 34 pin to 26 pin ribbon adaptor:

Yamaha SY77, SY85 & SY99*
Yamaha DX7IIFD*
Yamaha V50*

Shugart 5.25" Applications requiring drive bay converter and edge connector adaptor:

E-mu EII
Fairlight CMI Series I/II with some possible tweaks to the emulator firmware.

I am currently liasing with the supplier to obtain some samples for evaluation. These products were originally developed for industrial applications such as knitting machines and machine tools where the initial cost of investment was high and therefore means to extend equipment life highly advantageous. Although this is definitely not the case for old pcs it's also very true of vintage studio gear.

I am hoping to blog the progress of this evaluation work in order to determine which kit can be successfully adapted and what, if any, adaptors/cables/options are required.

* denotes applications I can evaluate without the loan of hardware.

Once I've established that the product does what I think it should do I'm hoping that I might find some tech savvy Emulator and Fairlight owners that might be able to help me determine whether we can adapt these beasts and in due course help to provide a simple to install upgrade kit.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2009, 08:10:25 AM by HideawayStudio » Logged

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Elmbeatz
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2009, 04:51:28 AM »

Hi!

That sounds very interesting, though I have some serious doubts that it will function properly...

My doubts specifically concern a Floppy Emulation for the Emulator II (which is my favourite anyway Smiley:

The EII is the ONLY device which can WRITE EII - floppies. There is the Oberheim DPX-1 which is the only device (besides the EII) that can READ EII - floppies.

What is not clear at this stage is whether a PC app similar to EMXP will be required to manage the data on the memory stick or whether it's in FAT32 format.

The only other EII-dedicated data format is the *.EII file format (Sound Designer). This format is recognized by modern PCs (EMXP) as well as vintage Macintoshs. BUT NOT DIRECTLY by the EII Smiley   

Let's hope that all thuis will function anyway...   Roll Eyes

(don't think so though...)

Greetz,
Elm.

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HideawayStudio
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2009, 02:26:32 PM »


Hi Elm,

                I'm not sure your seeing what this devices does.  The device emulates the Shugart drive mechanism itself in a transparent manner - ie. it very low level emulates a virtual head reading any old virtual data from a virtual disk.  The EII is fitted with a perfectly normal 80 track constant angular velocity double density Shugart compatible drive and therefore I see no reason why it won't work.  The only devices I suspect will cause an issue are hard sectored 8 inch disks or old Mac style constant velocity drives applications - I'm not sure if the Fairlight, for example, used Hard Sectored 8" disks.  The device runs raw and therefore doesn't need to understand the disk format as in a typical PC disk reader/conversion utility - it mearly records and plays back raw data from a virtual head mechanism.

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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2009, 02:50:14 AM »

Hi!

Hm, okay - so this drive emulator can be installed instead of for example the lower disk drive of the EII?
But still: How could I store SEVERAL disk "images" (or banks) on ONE memory stick and then tell the EII which of those images to load (as a physical EII floppy disk can only hold ONE bank)?!

(Maybe I'm still getting all this wrong?  Roll Eyes Huh Roll Eyes

If so, excuse me, I'm not a tech guy  Wink
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wintermute
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2009, 03:26:29 AM »

Hi guys,

this sounds very interesting.
I was able to modify regular floppy drives for the usage with the EII so I think it is possible to use a low level emulator too.
I was also searching for a floppy disk emulator since I think using floppy drives for the EII is just a temporary solution. It will only take some time until all floppy drives have disapeared from the selves of the computer stores (especially the ones without USB).

Since the HxC projekt mainly focuses on the AMIGA, is not standalone and unable to write to disk images this is not an option yet.
There are a few other manufactures who claim that they are able to replace a Shugart floppy drive with a memory card based solution. Examples are here http://www.datexdsm.com/emulator/docs/DTX200en.html and http://www.cscheidl.de/Projekte.html .

But as you said, they mainly focus on the industrial sector rather than consumers as we are. So I had no luck with them until now. If you really manage to get a Floppy emulator device that actually works you can count me in. It will be a pleasure for me to try that out on my EII.

Another question is the price that such a device will cost...did you see any pricetag yet?

cheers
wintermute
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esynthesist
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2009, 04:31:36 AM »

This sounds all very interesting.

And if this device actually works on the EII, I promise that I will adapt EMXP so that it understands the floppy disk images on these memory card as well !
That will be a very easy thing to do. But it has to be done since the EII floppy disk images are not exactly the same as the SDII (.EII) images used by Sound Designer. The reason for this is that the EII disk also contains the operating system.
Mmm... this also means we will have access to the binary code of the EII operating system. Very interesting indeed !

Keep in touch.

///E-Synthesist
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Elmbeatz
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2009, 04:43:15 AM »

things keep rollin...  Cool
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wintermute
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2009, 05:02:38 AM »

I just called a German manufacturer of o similar device that is described here. The emulator handles 99 Images of one SD-Card.
They will send me the technical docs and I might be able to testdrive the device for 2 weeks if I am really interested.

Although the price he stated is far beyond being acceptable for one device he is willing to discuss if we order in bulks.

So my question to the group is:
- What price would be acceptable for such a device
- @esynthesist If I testdrive the device would it help the developement of EMXP if I am able to dump the EII OS?
- is it possible to decomplie the OS if we have a binary dump?
- is the other device capable of the same features and is it lower in price?

...to be continued Smiley
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Elmbeatz
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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2009, 05:06:07 AM »

Don't know what I would be willing to pay...
how much does that manufacturer want for it?
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wintermute
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2009, 06:03:01 AM »

Almost the price a EII will cost you  Roll Eyes
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2009, 07:03:04 AM »

 Shocked Shocked Shocked Shocked

huiuiui

Those guys are nuts!
Hmmmmmm  Huh Embarrassed Undecided Cry
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wintermute
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2009, 07:05:18 AM »

I received the pinout...
since I dont have the EII pinout here maybe someone could verify it matches the EII?



edit: oops..just realized that I posted the wrong picture...sorry
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 12:54:09 PM by wintermute » Logged
micromoog
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2009, 10:26:18 AM »

Very interesting topic here...

Belong the fact, that a old mac with SD works very fine, the price for a working CF-Reader should not be higher than 50-100!

A reverse engineering OS-hack seems to be more interesting Smiley
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HideawayStudio
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2009, 01:19:49 PM »

Hi Guys,

                       In answer to all of your questions.....

I have just received the technical manual for this product and it's exactly what I was hoping it to be - it even supports disk change line options.

The reason why this product is very interesting for me is that it's both a very low level emulator and surprisingly cheap!   Initial quotes are around 80 dollars - much cheaper than anything else commercial I've seen.

The drive is very clever in that it features a 2 digit LED display to allow the user to select 1 of up to 100 virtual floppies.  All you have to do is make a catalog of what you stored on each virtual disk.  What I am really hoping to do is to persuade the company that they should produce a version with an OLED display to permit the user to label his virtual disks in text!

I have just received an email from the company that produces the device in China and they promise me that some are already being used in musical instruments.  I am currently liasing with them in order to ship a sample of each format variant.

As our hero esynthesist has offered - it would be really cool it we went one stage further and supported the manipulation of the disk images the product creates on the memory stick.  Until I evaluate the drives I won't know whether this is feasible.

As one has suggested - since the EII has two drive bays it should be possible to set the ID of the virtual drive to permit the sampler to read disks and copy their contents to the virtual drive - this is a luxary that owners of other sampler models wont have and it's a bit of a headache for me at the moment.

If this works this is the closest chance we have of immortalising the EI/EII & EII as well as EMAX I & II as, as long as we all agree to a standard image format, our samples (possibly including the official ones with permission) will be in a modern format that we can share and post on the internet.  Smiley

Since I'm a huge fan of vintage studio gear I'm hoping to make similar upgrade paths for all of the major synths and samplers of the time.

I'm also interested in affordable silent running solid state SCSI HD options - but this is another story Smiley

Many Thanks for all of your interest.... keep posting your questions/ideas.....

Dan.
Hideaway Studio
http://www.last.fm/music/D.A.Wilson
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 01:40:52 PM by HideawayStudio » Logged

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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2009, 02:07:22 PM »

So it all gets even more interesting :-)

@Wintermute: the dump of the OS will not help the development of EMXP dramatically, but it surely is something very interesting for binary hackers ! So once you have a test device, please make a raw image  of the memory card in one way ore another on your PC/Mac. This image will be a good starting point for further reverse engineering. The main advantage for EMXP would be that we will finally be able to create an "EII bootable" disk on a PC... for those people who buy an EII without any disk supplied with it.

@HideawayStudios: I hope the memory stick will have a normal FAT layout containing several 560K files, each containing the EII OS + sound bank. The question is how this device is dividing one memory card into several emulated floppy disks. Does it hold a small OS which performs this formatting ? We'll only be sure once you're testdriving it. Anyway, even if the card will "not be recognized" by your PC/Mac, this doesn't mean we will not be able to read/write the images on the card. Because the same is true for e.g. EIII CD-ROMs. If that's the case it's just a matter of analysing the raw disk layout created by that memory card device. And if we are lucky, the vendor will even provide us with this (low technical) information !

@both: I like a price tag of 80 euro more than the price tag of my EIIs. Well, at least at the price I bought them (500-700 euro) :-). I would be surprised that the german manufacturer will lower its price to the chinese level, but still it's interesting to continue talking with them & testing their device.

If these companies realize that their device can be used in all of this vintage music & computer hardware, they may be interested in the consumer market & lowering their prices.

If bulk orders must be placed, please let us now on this (and other) group forums !

///E-Synthesist
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