The days of floppy disk drives

If you never had the joy of using floppy disks then you don’t know what you’ve missed out on as far as I’m concerned… and I don’t even mean the old 3.5″ disks, they weren’t floppy enough for me… I’m talking about the good old 5.25″ disks!

But anyway… in my quest of reliving by days with an Acorn BBC computer, I dug out my old collection of 5.25″ disks, tracked down a working floppy drive and was stunned to find that they all still worked! Not one had corrupted, fantastic! I don’t have that luck with CDs I’ve recorded last week!

Now, there is a tonne of BBC software on the internet, thoughtfully put there orignally for use with emulators. However, this software works just as well (if not better) on a real BBC.
But how to transfer it?

It turns out that whilst modern PCs don’t come with actual floppy disk drives, some do still come with FDCs (Floppy Disk Controllers) on the motherboard.
This I thought was a promising start.
However it seems that to save costs, manufacturers have cut corners on these FDCs so that most do not support Double Density operation, let alone the Single Density operations needed to write standard BBC DFS (Disk Filing System) compatible disks.
What I needed was an old computer with an old FDC in it.

As it so happens, I have an old Dell laptop I rescued from a bin at work several years ago – it’s totally knackered – however it has a SD compatible FDC and built in 3.5″ drive – Bingo!

So now I have a PC capable of writing to Single Density 3.5″ disks (making use of fantastic OmniFlop program) and a BBC capable of reading 5.25″ disks…

Bugger…

However, after some reading up I discovered that a choice upgrade my old BBC had been fitted with was an improved Disk Controller, based on the 1770 chip as opposed to the standard 8271 that Acorn used (it had, at the time been fitted to give access to Double Density as well as Single Desnity formats). The 8271 wasn’t able to work with 3.5″ drives, but 1770 based systems were! Hooray!

So I tracked down a internal 3.5″ drive, hooked it up and it worked!

5.25 and 3.5 inch drives, living in harmony

The 5.25″ drive I’d gotten my hands on had originally been part of a dual disk system, but only one of the drives still worked. With the help of a drive enclosure from eBay (where else?) I was able to snuggly slot the 3.5″ drive into the housing along with the 5.25″ drive.

Twin drives in their housing

Sweet!

Retro Computing

I’m a bit of a lover for retro computing, by that I mean the heady days of 8bit computers! Being a kid in the 80’s I grew up around the likes of the Commodore 64, the Atari VCS and most importantly, the Acorn BBC Micro! The BBC Micro was my machine – I had one and it rocked! Ah, the memories!

Years later, one the world wide web had caught on, I discovered the joy of emulators and was able to play the likes of Repton, Elite and Exile once more!

Then, more recently I got my hands on my original BBC again, managed to coax it into life and hey-presto, I was transported back to being a kid in the 80s. Emulators are good, but you can’t beat the real thing!

I needed to scavenge a few parts of of Ebay and enlist a bit of help from some knowledgeable fellows, but i got it working!

My Acorn BBC Micro
My Acorn BBC Micro

And here’s the proof:

Contents of a 5.25" floppy disc
Contents of a 5.25" floppy disc

Yes, that is an 80’s 8bit BBC Micro home computer connected to my 21st century plasma tv – deal with it!

Even more recently I laid my hands on the best thing ever*, A BBC Master Computer!

But that’s a topic for another post…

* in the eyes of a 10 year old in 1986