Many moons ago, my late grandmother gave me her Tandy 1000 RLX. It was an old computer even at the time. However, I'd sometimes turn it on and play around with random applications installed on the machine.
Since the hard drive on that computer was manufactured at the dawn of the 90's, and hard drives seldom last forever, I decided it would be prudent to back up the hard drive - there were a few things on it that I'd hate to lose. This task has proven to be difficult - as in "one of the toughest things I've ever tried to do" difficult.
My first thought was to use the 3.5-inch floppy drive - the hard drive is only about 40 MB, and there aren't a lot of files on the computer, so using floppies would be quite doable. When I insert a floppy into the drive, the drive lights up and spins, but it doesn't recognize the disk. It won't recognize any disks - in fact, I've had this problem since at least 2002. I've tried cleaning the drive (including with Tandy's very own cleaning disk), but that didn't help. And sadly, installing a known working floppy drive from another machine wasn't an option...
Tandy was one of the biggest names in personal computers back when computers were becoming mainstream. They produced some great-quality machines - my Tandy is still running flawlessly (except for the broken floppy disk drive) after almost three decades. However, Tandy also used a lot of weird proprietary hardware that doesn't play nice with more standardized component. An excellent example is the floppy drives for many (all?) Tandy computers - instead of using separate cables for transmitting data and power, Tandy used a single cable for both data and power. This might be convenient, but it means that a typical floppy drive won't work if connected to a Tandy - in fact, doing so might damage the drive or the system.
The Seagate ST351A/X hard drive installed in the Tandy has proven to be amazingly reliable, but it also has an infamously complex jumper configuration. My Tandy recognizes the drive only if a jumper is placed diagonally between the "bus reset high" and "bus reset low" pins. This is extremely unusual - I've talked to a known expert in this field who confirmed that she's never seen such a monstrosity. I've tried using an IDE-to-USB bridge adapter to connect the hard drive to a modern PC running Windows 10 - the drive powers on, but the drive isn't recognized. It's possible that the adapter isn't producing a firm connection, but I suspect it's an issue with the jumper configuration.
I looked into a few other options as well - using a serial or parallel connection might be doable, but navigating old-school PC communications settings is no easy task. I also considered buying a known working Tandy floppy drive, but demand for Tandy stuff has increased and the supply isn't increasing, so prices have gone up substantially in recent years, and it's hard to find drives. (Plus, I'm not sure if any of my floppies are even good anymore!)
After lots of discussion and failed efforts, I found something that seemed viable - the GoTek floppy drive emulator. These are kind of like emulators for video games - they make computer software think it's talking to its favorite kind of hardware, when it's really something very different. The GoTek floppy drive emulator is a little chipset wrapped in a slightly flimsy plastic board, complete with the usual floppy drive pinouts for data and power. However, I still had the same problem with it being incompatible with Tandy's motherboard. Fortunately, I found a special adapter that "directs traffic" so that the pins being used to transmit power through the data cable go to the place where non-Tandy drives expect to receive power.
So here's what I did. Don't attempt to follow these steps yourself unless you feel comfortable in your ability to safely use multimeters, razor blades, and possibly soldering. You can hurt your drive, your computer, or possibly even yourself if you're not careful.
1. I bought a GoTek floppy drive emulator (model SFR1M44-U100, for what it's worth)
2. I bought a
Tandy 1000 Internal Gotek Adapter
. It only took about three weeks to arrive from Australia, which is pretty impressive, especially when you're in the middle of a global pandemic. (Also, thanks Nite for finding this!)
3. I found a USB thumb drive - the GoTek needs one to store the floppy disk images. A 16-GB drive was more than enough space. Make sure the drive is empty (or has nothing important on it) before you begin - your drive will be reformatted and you'll lose any existing data on it.
4. I adjusted the GoTek's jumper pins. I kept the jumper on S0 for the Tandy, but the Windows XP machine wanted S1. If one setting doesn't work, try the other. You might also need to keep the jumper that connects J5 and JA. You probably won't need any other jumpers.
5. OPTIONAL: I tested the GoTek in a Windows XP machine (one with a normal pinout) just to make sure that the drive would power on and was usable. If it's working correctly, the front LEDs will turn on as soon as the computer is turned on, and the computer will detect the GoTek as drive A.
6. POSSIBLY OPTIONAL: The firmware that comes installed on the GoTek is known for being... not great. You'll have a better user experience and more configuration options if you install FlashFloppy (which is free) or HxC (which is not free). To do this, first you'll need to connect two pairs of pins on the back of your GoTek. You can use a bent paper clip to connect them (that's what I did), although soldering pins onto the holes and connecting them with a jumper is a far more professional approach. You'll need these two pairs connected to allow you to update the firmware over USB. Once you do that, you'll need a USB-A to USB-A connector (I had to order one from Amazon - these are a little bit tricky to find) to connect the GoTek directly to your computer. You'll need to download
the FlashFloppy files
the software from ST Microelectronics
to update the firmware.
is very helpful in explaining the full process.
is also good.
7. Don't forget to remove the jumpers (or paper clips!) you added in Step 6.
8. I made sure that the USB drive was formatted in FAT32 with MBR enabled. Then I made sure that it had a few floppy disk images (in .IMG format) on it.
9. I also uploaded the FF.CFG file to the FF folder in the root of my USB drive. The default settings are probably OK.
10. OPTIONAL: Once again I made sure that the drive was working in my Windows XP machine - I wanted to make sure the firmware update worked properly.
11. Now I'm ready to test the GoTek drive on the Tandy. I connected the adapter to the back of the floppy drive, and then I connected the floppy drive cable to the adapter. I made sure that the blue line on the cable aligned with pins 1/2.
12. I turned on the Tandy, and nothing happened - the GoTek's LEDs didn't turn on at all, and the Tandy didn't detect the drive. I used my multimeter's DC voltage mode to confirm that the adapter's power pins weren't getting any voltage.
13. POSSIBLY OPTIONAL: It seems that my floppy drive's cable was incompatible with the adapter. I used a utility knife to (carefully) cut off the notch on the end of the cable that connects to the floppy drive. Then I connected the cable to the drive upside-down. Before reconnecting the GoTek drive, I used the multimeter to confirm that the power pins were getting the correct voltage from the adapter when the computer was powered on.
14. Then I turned on the Tandy, and behold, it recognized my drive! Yay.
, Aug 2nd, 2020 @ 3:20 pm
Never change your avatar
Jul 31st, 2020 @ 12:41 am Perma-link
Course clear! You got a card.
Jul 31st, 2020 @ 1:09 am Perma-link
EXCELLENT! Glad to hear that you were able to get everything working!
Never change your avatar
Aug 3rd, 2020 @ 10:40 pm Perma-link
Note about Step 13: The fellow who makes the adapters updated his product listing after talking to some people (including myself!). He makes two different kinds of adapters, and it seems that certain Tandy models require his other adapter. If you buy the correct adapter, you won't need to flip the floppy cable - although it certainly wouldn't hurt to confirm that the cable is getting the correct voltage before you connect the drive.
Course clear! You got a card.