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Build a Cheap Media-Reading PC?

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the chewing-gum-memory-sticks dept.

Data Storage 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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existing pc (2, Insightful)

spandex_panda (1168381) | about 6 years ago | (#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 (3, Informative)

ccguy (1116865) | about 6 years ago | (#25438421)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438635)

Some tapes need a controller that must be plugged into an ISA slot, for example.

Er, why couldn't he use an old Socket A or SS7 board that has ISA slots, then? He's not interested in doing computing with the thing so power (or lack pf it) doesn't matter.

Tape?? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438673)

What about punch cards? What, you dont dabble in programming by election ballots from florida? Line by line, byte by byte, just make sure you keep them in order and no hanging chads!

Re:Tape?? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438853)

What about punch cards?

Scanners could be used for that...

Re:existing pc (3, Interesting)

zakezuke (229119) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:existing pc (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 6 years ago | (#25439059)

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

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

Wangtek? (4, Funny)

Loki_666 (824073) | about 6 years ago | (#25439163)

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

Re:Wangtek? (3, Informative)

zakezuke (229119) | about 6 years ago | (#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:existing pc (2, Funny)

savuporo (658486) | about 6 years ago | (#25438821)

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

Try UFS-formatted compactflash ..

Magic Wand (2, Interesting)

Gewalt (1200451) | about 6 years ago | (#25439005)

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 that's the only thing that could possibly fulfill his request for anything older than floppy drives.

Re:Magic Wand (4, Funny)

Gewalt (1200451) | about 6 years ago | (#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".

Big long SCSI bus (4, Informative)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 6 years ago | (#25438323)

Or, several of them.

Archive format of the future: []


Over 5000 pages per gigabyte of data (3, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about 6 years ago | (#25438365)

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:Over 5000 pages per gigabyte of data (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438619)

13.4 Million Pages for me so far, assuming that there is no compression that can be achieved by stuffing it into a tarball and zipping it.

I don't think any scanner could survive that. Not to mention that it would totally crush the document feeder :D.

Re:Over 5000 pages per gigabyte of data (2, Funny)

bigjarom (950328) | about 6 years ago | (#25438739)

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?

Re:Over 5000 pages per gigabyte of data (1)

stonedcat (80201) | about 6 years ago | (#25438779)

Better use cover or card stock, otherwise you'll notice a large bit of data corruption on rescan. :p

(I'm quite sure you were joking, but hey what the hell can it hurt)

See... (4, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 6 years ago | (#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:See... (4, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | about 6 years ago | (#25439271)

1: Once you take out your operating system, applications, porn...

You had me right up to that point.

Re:Big long SCSI bus (4, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | about 6 years ago | (#25438965)

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.

Re:Big long SCSI bus (4, Funny)

NeilTheStupidHead (963719) | about 6 years ago | (#25439287)

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?

Re:Big long SCSI bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439085)

Jebus.. what a waste of paper and toner..

Re:Big long SCSI bus (1)

martin_henry (1032656) | about 6 years ago | (#25439281)

my favorite line from the page:

"Printed books can be now much thinner which would save a lot of trees and be very ecological. However, would require a PC to read."

first post (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438325)

Well. Media reading. As in read any fileformats? or Read any physical formats as well, down to the good old 5.25" floppies.

Any small linux machine could do this. If you dont need the physical ports, check out a fit-pc(google).
Linux has dosbox which is the best dos emulator (with sound) that I have seen, and it has viewers for every media format I encountered so far.

Re:first post (1)

andyh-rayleigh (512868) | about 6 years ago | (#25438873)

down to the good old 5.25" floppies.

Only 5,25"? what about the original 8"?
(actually, it is possible to get controllers that handle all sizes of floppy:
8" SD, DD, SS DS, soft or hard sectored (but the latter may need some fancy software to decode);
5.25" SD ,DD ,HD, SS, DS (the Apple ones will also need some special software as will BBC and SWTPC);
3.5" fewer variations, but still a lot;
Two different (and incompatible) 3.25" drives;
and I think at least one format of 2.5" got released before FLASH cards took over. ... and that is only floppies - then we can go onto at least a dozen tape forms (not counting audio cassette formats):
Reel-to-reel 0.5" 7 or 9 track, NRZI or PE;
QIC in a huge number of different types;
8mm (Exabyte) in 3 versions;
and DLT and its successors (about 8 forms).

But yet hardware could still be the easy part.

Re:first post (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 6 years ago | (#25439223)

"...down to the good old 5.25" floppies. Any small linux machine could do this..."

Insensitive clod! - My kids are on super 8 from the 80's, now get off my lawn or I'll call homeland security and tell them about your concealed linux machine.

Try... (1)

barndoor101 (1289328) | about 6 years ago | (#25438329)

a scanner

cant resist (4, Insightful)

RuBLed (995686) | about 6 years ago | (#25438479)

a time machine

Re:cant resist (1)

MrNaz (730548) | about 6 years ago | (#25438533)

Of course, when you use it be sure to spend ages trolling Internet forums. I know that's what *I'd* do if the Air Force's advanced research projects department gave me a time machine to play with.

That being said, people who spend ages arguing the point about whether or not that was a legitimate time traveler have totally missed the point of what he was saying; Stop and think about where we as a society are going.

Re:cant resist (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438613)

I'm you from the future. They did. You are. All ACs are actually registered users from the future who have nothing better to do.

Re:cant resist (1)

geekboy642 (799087) | about 6 years ago | (#25439319)

You fool! Don't you know better than to actually announce our meddling in the time stream? It's bad enough simply being here, but actually confessing to it? You'll surely cause a massive parado-@#$%&#^%^!@#$#...ERROR NO CARRIER

Re:cant resist (4, Funny)

ciderVisor (1318765) | about 6 years ago | (#25438561)

a tyme masheen

That ride sucks !

Re:cant resist (0, Redundant)

Noroimusha (1267584) | about 6 years ago | (#25438719)

a tyme masheen

That ride sucks !

mod him up!!! extremely funny

USB adapters (4, Informative)

name*censored* (884880) | about 6 years ago | (#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:USB adapters (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438393)

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

Re:USB adapters (1)

shotgunefx (239460) | about 6 years ago | (#25438471)

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

Re:USB adapters (3, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | about 6 years ago | (#25438499)

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:USB adapters (4, Insightful)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 years ago | (#25439023)

Look at his ID number.

USB was probably around all his life.

Re:USB adapters (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 6 years ago | (#25439097)

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 without the magnetic material flaking off - apparently it requires a lot of mucking about with lubricant and variable speeds (don't touch that line kids). Astronomers, geophyisicists etc have a lot of old data that is worth keeping since it's difficult or impossible to obtain again.

Re:USB adapters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439301)

tape drives probably not, for the floppies, you can get USB floppy drives in 3.5 and if you look around on ebay, some of the older USB drives (and I mean first gen, when Macs first abandoned floppies) actually had a real floppy controller in the enclosure with a usb bridge. One of those should be able to be cannibalized to make a us 5.25 floppy, though you will likely need external power, which adds another $10 to the cost. For Zip drives, they came in 3 flavors, SCSI and Serial Port (inline with your printer), both of which are available as USB adapters and IDE, for which you could use a standard IDE Hard Drive to USB adapter. Its the tape drives you will never find.

While you are considering.....Are you also forgetting old hard drive types. Do you need to read MFM drives? RLL? or ARLL?

Re:USB adapters (1)

bwcbwc (601780) | about 6 years ago | (#25439357)

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 their relatives.
-Hard drives from just about any small to mid-range server, assuming he has the file-system drivers.
-Memory cards of all types.
-Old iOmega and Syquest cartridge drives (and others of that ilk).
-DAT tape backups.
If he's lucky, he might be able to find SCSI 9-track tape drives and perhaps 8" floppy, too. But AFAIK the supply of these things gave out sometime during Web 1.0.

Once you have the device channels, the rest of the job is accumulating the hardware and device drivers. Finding 32-bit Windows device drivers for a lot of these will be challenging, to say the least. You'll probably need a multi-boot system with BSD/Linux, Win 95, and Win XP. OS/2 might help too.

Start with the oldest stuff first, since that is what will disappear first. Say anything from before 1990.

You'll also need data recovery software, since a lot of the old magnetic media will have decayed into unusability.

how old is old? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438347)

9-track tape? Hollerith cards? You have to specify a cutoff point.

Step One (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438355)

Post a question to Ask Slashdot.

Step Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438515)


Step Three (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438545)


Get busy with eBay (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

Super Jamie (779597) | about 6 years ago | (#25438595)

I can't believe parent is modded 0. Funny, if not Informative!

Re:Get busy with eBay (3, Interesting)

zakezuke (229119) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

ConanG (699649) | about 6 years ago | (#25438859)

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 older formats, it's nigh impossible to be able to read them all.

Re:Get busy with eBay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438999)

Let me get out the dust rag. I think I have most if not all of that in my attic. Now, how do I get it into my Compaq luggable?

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

Lord_Breetai (66113) | about 6 years ago | (#25439011)

Not to mention the various types of magneto-optical media.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

ConanG (699649) | about 6 years ago | (#25439053)

I thought about that. The thing is, the original question states this is primarily for older media. Magneto-optical is generally fairly recent.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

OolimPhon (1120895) | about 6 years ago | (#25439139)

Fairly. I remember using magneto-optical disks in around 1993-1994. They were a pig, as well. Lived in their own caddies that were almost, but not quite dissimilar to standard CD caddies, so you couldn't share the drives... and the software! I was quite glad when someone stole the drive and the disks.

Re:Get busy with eBay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439341)

Iomega Jaz, Bernoulli, Rev, and Orb removable drives

God I remember format hell when I worked in printing back in the day, every designer handed you a different format, in the days before cheap CD-R and DVD-R. So, dredging up more old memories, don't forget the myriad SyQuest Formats.

Re:Get busy with eBay (3, Interesting)

eggoeater (704775) | about 6 years ago | (#25439233)

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.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | about 6 years ago | (#25439247)

Don't forget SCSI. Just about every removable media drive was commonly available in classic parallel SCSI. (except for LS-120, but EIDE is common enough) At the computer shop I used to work at we had a media machine. Had a Zip, Jaz, EZFlyer, Syquest Sparq, LS-120, 5.25", Bernoulli, and some tape drive. I think we had a Floptical drive somewhere, along with a big old classic Syquest drive for their 44/88MB carts.

Re:Get busy with eBay (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | about 6 years ago | (#25439259)

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?

Consider Macs... (5, Interesting)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Get specific (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438371)

What media do you find a challenge? Brevity can be a virtue but your submission reads like "do my homework for me." Kindly post the range of your question and initial findings.

Ports, ports, and more ports. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Ports, ports, and more ports. (1)

paganizer (566360) | about 6 years ago | (#25438617)

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 since I had a VLB problem come up; I gave it to a friend of mine for a DOS gaming platform.
I used to keep a microchannel machine around, I think I actually misplaced it, I don't remember what happened to it.

Re:Ports, ports, and more ports. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439193)

Wrong end of the stick (5, Informative)

digipres (877201) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Wrong end of the stick (4, Insightful)

zwei2stein (782480) | about 6 years ago | (#25438451)

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.

Re:Wrong end of the stick (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 6 years ago | (#25439151)

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 sold for - for instance the compatible Fujitsu drive that is actually smaller than the computer you attach it to instead of the older IBM one best used to anchor fishing trawlers. Even replacement parts can cost more than decent laptops.

Re:Wrong end of the stick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439183)

Time to correct your slashdot stereotypes. Old P3 class machines use less power. My celeron 1.3GHz machine uses around 60W at full load. Also older graphic card use much less power. Some of them even have passive heatsinks.

It is not like you can play games or run computational intensive stuff on it.

Re:Wrong end of the stick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438461)

Too true. The process usually comes down to finding some obsolete gear on ebay to read the old media, then transferring it to the modern world via serial connection. Of course, if the old gear doesn't have a serial port or terminal software then you're in for some heavy lifting :)

Prepare for damaged media (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Prepare for damaged media (4, Informative)

value_added (719364) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Definitely USB adapters (1)

MaxToTheMax (1389399) | about 6 years ago | (#25438391)

You don't really even need a different PC specifically for the project. Get two USB hubs, that's only two slots and it'll give you eight different drives. Get a 5.5 inch USB floppy drive. Get an IDE a LS240 Superdisk and put it in a USB enclosure (that'll take care of 3.5 inch floppies and Superdisks all in one go.) Get a USB zip drive. Get a tape backup drive (which are still being made, you can get 8 terabyte ones which take three days each to format.) And for the truly retro touch, get a paper-tape reader (I think you'll have to settle for getting that one in a serial port.)

Re:Definitely USB adapters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438513)

Get a 5.5 inch USB floppy drive.

5.5" floppy? Man, that's some obscure kit!

Seriously though, you're not going to find USB-capable interfaces for most of the old obscure stuff.

Re:Definitely USB adapters (1)

MaxToTheMax (1389399) | about 6 years ago | (#25438677)

Blah, I meant 5.25 inch. [] Also you should get an 8 inch one. (Can't seem to find one but if you look hard enough it'll turn up.) Finally, the tape backup: [] Try not to fire all these up at once.

yuo Fa1l It (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438395)

corpse turned over are She had tak3n Common knowledge community. The networking test. CONVERSATION AND Nearly two years community. The it a break, if that has grown up a productivity Up today! If you Goals I personally tops responsibility Give other people list of other and, after initial All our times have hype - BSD's Product, BSD's bloodfarts. FreeBSD project somewhere it 5imple, from the sidelines, contact to see if Numbers. The loss to predict *BSD's consistent with the personal rivalries obsessed - give gave the BSD erosion of user

popcorn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438397)

popcorn hour...

Super-8, 4-track and 8-track (3, Informative)

david in brasil (1103683) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Super-8, 4-track and 8-track (4, Funny)

greenguy (162630) | about 6 years ago | (#25438429)

That's nothing. Wait 'til they get to the wax cylinders and player-piano sheets I have.

Re:Super-8, 4-track and 8-track (1)

ThreeGigs (239452) | about 6 years ago | (#25438753)

You jest, but didn't you ever type in a whole program that was printed in a magazine?

Re:Super-8, 4-track and 8-track (1)

aurispector (530273) | about 6 years ago | (#25439231)

I still have clay cuneiform pictogram tablets and it pisses me off that nobody supports the format.

Mplayer on openpandora (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | about 6 years ago | (#25438425) size & power usage are guaranteed to be tiny. Get a usb floppy drive reader if you need it, it will work.

Re:Mplayer on openpandora (1)

GigaplexNZ (1233886) | about 6 years ago | (#25438737)

Wrong kind of media.

Don't forget an old soundblaster card or similar. (4, Interesting)

GrpA (691294) | about 6 years ago | (#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...


Might be easier to start with an older PC (1)

DeadlyEmbrace (740321) | about 6 years ago | (#25438457)

Depending on how old you want to go with the interfaces, it may be easier to start with an older ISA bus based PC and adapt new technology to it. The older could handle 3 1/2 and 5 1/4 media already built in. Going to card reader style input could be configured to a serial or parallel port. For tape drive interfaces there were a number of special PC boards on the market 20 years ago to interface PC's to reel-to-reel drives. Then you would need to add an interface between the older bus structure and the USB to open up remaining devices.

Power (4, Informative)

drakyri (727902) | about 6 years ago | (#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! (5, Informative)

kzg (634262) | about 6 years ago | (#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.


FridgeFreezer (1352537) | about 6 years ago | (#25439261)

And a great excuse to buy an Amiga 1200.

I think your best chance with old and weird media (EG beyond the floppy drive) is to dig up an old system that supported the drive, from memory most stuff would either just about support a 720k/1.44Mb floppy drive or be able to spit data out of a Serial port. Grabbing RS232 or 485 data and saving it as a file wouldn't be too hard with a terminal package.

Stuff on audio tape should be fairly easy to get in via your sound card, from memory things like C64 emulators often have this functionality.

Oh yes - remember to park those winchester hard drives when you're done with them!

The question nobody's asked yet... . (5, Interesting)

Chrisje (471362) | about 6 years ago | (#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?

A pr0n-viewing PC? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25438569)

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

oldest disk drive... (3, Funny)

retech (1228598) | about 6 years ago | (#25438591)

If you want to start at the bottom...

figure out how to read the oldest disk first... []

Catweasel (4, Informative)

Per Wigren (5315) | about 6 years ago | (#25438645)

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...

Another good question... (3, Insightful)

SenorCitizen (750632) | about 6 years ago | (#25438751) why do Ask Slashdot articles keep getting posted in other sections?

But does it run Vinyl-ROM? (2, Interesting)

bigjarom (950328) | about 6 years ago | (#25438773)

Make sure to provide support for this! []

It seems a waste (4, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | about 6 years ago | (#25438837)

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 for the -5v lines etc.) to old AT style, the newest monitors back to VGA-only, etc. and if all else fails IDE->USB convertors to get the vital info back off the hard drive.

I picked up a Promise PCI IDE controller for 50p the other day to get an old drive working in a top-spec SATA-only machine. It meant that people could replace a computer they blew up with any modern one and still have their data directly accessible.

And it's not expensive to do this. I get most of my adaptors from bootsales and similar places.

In terms of media and data, though, brand new large hard drives really are incredibly cheap so long as you don't try to go mad and buy the largest ones as soon as they are released. All it takes is the first shove of effort to "hard-drive" all your media and then after that, you have a perpetual backup system for free every time you buy a larger hard drive. You'll barely even notice those few Gb's of precious files when you upgrade to a 1Tb drive.

Make sure you have some sort of backup, but large data storage devices and virtual images are basically making media problems a thing of the past (for the home user at least). Why backup to tape when the tape drive is the equivalent cost of a complete RAID set of nearly twice the size? Just keep pushing the data forward onto larger and larger drives and you won't even notice it's there. Plus, because it's all images, if you want to make a "real" disk you can at any time. If you want to load it into an emulator, you can. I'm re-playing RedAlert in Wine direct from an ISO image of my original disk (although they've now released the ISO as freeware on Westwood's website). It's just *so* convenient. I've seen my RA disks lying around somewhere but it'd take an age to dig them out, find out if they still work, etc.

In work, I use images on a hard drive as my primary media store... they are backed up to RAID and tape while the originals sit in a box I haven't opened in months. If I need a boot floppy (e.g. Windows SCSI/RAID controllers etc.), driver disk, installation disk, etc. I build it, use it and then throw the disk away (anyone else noticed that modern floppy media are now inherently unstable?). Same for CD-images. Same for hard-disk images. If I need to use a boot floppy on a machine that doesn't have one, I can copy the image direct and boot it from a USB drive using things like MEMDISK. Or I can put it in my TFTP root and boot off the network into it. Or I can open the image itself and build an equivalent bootable disk for any media from the original files. Or I can put it in QEMU to see if it's the one that does the fancy memory management etc.

Images are just much more flexible. And moving your own data across is even easier than imaging - you just copy/paste.

First, get a building... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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?

Macs.. CP/M.. and even older? (1)

sakusha (441986) | about 6 years ago | (#25438911)

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 if they did, still required external adapters.
But what I really want to find is the Apple 5.25in Floppy drive. That would allow me to read my old PC disks, as well as Apple ][ disks (I have a lot of those too). I'm not sure I can read Apple ][ disks any other way, short of getting an old Apple ][, and then zapping the data over a serial cable. Fortunately I have a USB to Serial adapter that works on one of my Macs, although I may have trouble making an appropriate cable.
Now what really galls me is I have a bunch of old CP/M disks. I'm not even sure what format they're in. Some might be from a Kaypro, some might be from Osborne, some might be from a Vector Graphic. I don't think there was a true common format used by CP/M systems, although I recall that many systems used the North Star format. Well at least I don't have any 8in floppies.
I don't even want to think about the old cassette tapes I have from my Sol-20. I still have the original machine. how could I ever part with my first real computer? I did some serious restoration work and got the CPU up and running, but I can't get my RAM boards to work so I can't tell if the tapes work, let alone load. That will be another long-term project.

Its already been done (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439041)

Just get one of these

I think I understand... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25439087)

1. Get business idea from reading slashdot post
2. Get technical solution from posting an 'askslashdot'
3. .....
4. Profit!

It's a Breeze (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about 6 years ago | (#25439131)

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.

old data (1)

Loki_666 (824073) | about 6 years ago | (#25439177)

Let me guess, the OP works in the IT department of a publicly funded research institute?

Used to get requests all the time from scientist who suddenly realized they needed to get their old data off 5 1/2" disks (or even older formats).

They didnt seem to understand that keeping these things in boxes next to a magnto resonator for the last 10 years didnt do much good for the data stored therein.

Still, the punch card programs still were in ok condition.... just no way of reading them.

Looks like hardware is covered (1)

smchris (464899) | about 6 years ago | (#25439289)

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.

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