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Nama
July 14th, 2014, 10:59 PM
Great news!. Finally no more reliance on 5.25" hard sectored media!

Over a year ago I got one of Chris Elmquist HSFE's (http://sebhc.lesbird.com/storage/storage.html) which he designed for use with a Heathkit H-8 system. My first attempt at getting this working in my SOL-20 with Northstar controller card was unsuccessful. Last night I spent quite some time working through all the DIP switch settings and using Dave Dunfield's NST util (with Corey's modified SOL-20 stub) to write disks. After finding a setting that allowed writing with no errors, I then read the disk back and compared it to the origin disk image. Again this took some playing around, but finally I was able to find a setting that allowed me to both read and write....and ultimately boot both CP/M and Northstar DOS on my SOL-20 (+ Northstar controller) with regular non hard sectored media on my 5.25" drive. Chris himself said that 5.25" drives can be unreliable with the HSFE as it was designed primarily for 3.5" disk usage. Although I have not used this setup for any extended period of time, I have yet to see any flakiness with my 5.25" drives.

One problem still persists though. The HSFE was designed for the Heathkit H-8 system which uses the drive selects differently than the Northstar floppy controller. Although a single drive setup works, I know that the pins and drive selects are actually a little whacky. Unfortunately this means that a two drive setup does not presently work. After talking to Chris and studying the schematics, I believe I can get it to work by cutting a single trace on the HSFE, and adjusting the shunts on Drive 1. I'm hoping for confirmation from Chris before I go ahead and do this, as cutting traces is not something I do lightly.

Once I get my two drive setup running I'll post the final settings and instructions as it may be useful to others.
I'm sure this will also work on other machines such as the Northstar Horizon (and possibly others too).

Phil

Corey986
July 15th, 2014, 01:44 AM
That's pretty cool. But if you are going to "modify" the setup, the 3.5" might be the better way to go on a daily basis. The media is a bit more indestructible than 5 1/4 disks. Keep your hard sector stuff for "history" and use the 3.5 " for daily storage.

Cheers,
Corey

Nama
July 15th, 2014, 01:55 AM
Hi Corey,
Well, I haven't done any mods to the HFSE yet, but I believe that when I do they should work for both 5.25" and 3.5" drives on the Northstar FDC. It's about getting it to work with the controller rather than the type of media. However, I don't really want to run 3.5" drives, as I would rather keep the 'feeling' of using these machines as original as possible. I'm sure you understand.

Phil

Corey986
July 15th, 2014, 08:05 AM
I kinda like the idea of the hard sector disks. I would love to get one of the "Jigs" that can be used to drill soft sector to hard sector. The irony for me is that I have more Hard Sector 5.25 and 8" blank floppies than I have soft sector. Having a CFFA card for my Apple II and a JrIDE for my PCjr, means I don't use soft sectored floppies often.

Cheers,
Corey

Nama
July 15th, 2014, 11:25 AM
In keeping with my philosophy of having things as close to original as possible, I also like the idea of hard sectored floppies. However, the fact that these floppies are rarer than hens teeth is somewhat problematic.

About a year ago, Dwight was kind enough to punch me a set of hard sectored floppies, made from soft sectored ones, using his punch tool. However I have found them a little unreliable. I think the punching causes tiny burs on the edges of the holes that then cause drag when the media spins. Once you have 10 of these holes all causing drag it can sometimes be a problem...hence my desire for another solution.

deramp5113
July 15th, 2014, 01:15 PM
You can order brand new 5.25 and 8 inch hard sector floppies from Athana (http://www.athana.com/). You'll need to call or email them as it is a special order item and you'll have to meet a minimum order of $100. Not too bad if you can get a few people to order together with you

Mike

Nama
July 15th, 2014, 03:14 PM
I've actually emailed them twice over the last year, and they never got back to me!!!!

Nama
July 15th, 2014, 06:25 PM
I had a good head scratch session last night as I worked through the schematics, and I decided I probably didn't need to cut any traces, or install any jumper wires on the HSFE at all.

The way the HSFE was built the drive side MOTOR-ON line (pin 16) is actually shorted to drive 1 select (pin 10). This was initially a problem for a two drive setup, but worked with a one drive setup because when MOTOR-ON was enabled in any way, it selected drive 1. Unfortunately this setup would not allow for a second drive because when ever drive 2 was enabled, MOTOR-ON would be enabled and because of the short between pin 16 and 10, drive 1 select would also be enabled. This would mean that both drive 1 and drive 2 selects would become active at the same time....not good.

All I needed to do was move the drive select on my drive A from 'Select 1' to 'Select 3', and put the HFSE DIP switch settings as OFF OFF ON OFF OFF ON OFF OFF with a straight through cable (no twist). This would mean that the MOTOR-ON would still enable drive select 1, but now that drive select 1 is not used it didn't interfere with any of the drives...Hopefully my explanation isn't too confusing.

So this is what needs to be done to get dual 5.25" drives working with HSFE with a Northstar controller:

- Switches 1-4 are set to OFF OFF ON OFF. This puts controller pin 12 (drive 2 select) onto drive pin 12 (drive 2 select). Basically a direct connect from pin 12 to pin 12...easy!

- Switches 5-8 are set to OFF ON OFF OFF. This puts controller pin 10 (drive 1 select) onto drive pin 14 (drive 3 select).
Then I switch the shunt on my drive A so that it's on 'Select 3', so when controller pin 10 (drive pin 14) is active, this now selects drive A as active.

Simple solution in the end.

Phil

Nama
July 18th, 2014, 09:05 PM
Full writeup here:

http://www.neoncluster.com/projects-sol20/sol20-HSFE.html

Phil

atod
July 29th, 2014, 08:50 AM
In keeping with my philosophy of having things as close to original as possible, I also like the idea of hard sectored floppies. However, the fact that these floppies are rarer than hens teeth is somewhat problematic.

About a year ago, Dwight was kind enough to punch me a set of hard sectored floppies, made from soft sectored ones, using his punch tool. However I have found them a little unreliable. I think the punching causes tiny burs on the edges of the holes that then cause drag when the media spins. Once you have 10 of these holes all causing drag it can sometimes be a problem...hence my desire for another solution.

I too tried the punch for 5.25" media. I was never able to get a disk working reliably even after punch 5 disks. This was with my Northstar hard sector controller in a Horizon.

atod
July 29th, 2014, 08:51 AM
I had a good head scratch session last night as I worked through the schematics, and I decided I probably didn't need to cut any traces, or install any jumper wires on the HSFE at all.

The way the HSFE was built the drive side MOTOR-ON line (pin 16) is actually shorted to drive 1 select (pin 10). This was initially a problem for a two drive setup, but worked with a one drive setup because when MOTOR-ON was enabled in any way, it selected drive 1. Unfortunately this setup would not allow for a second drive because when ever drive 2 was enabled, MOTOR-ON would be enabled and because of the short between pin 16 and 10, drive 1 select would also be enabled. This would mean that both drive 1 and drive 2 selects would become active at the same time....not good.

All I needed to do was move the drive select on my drive A from 'Select 1' to 'Select 3', and put the HFSE DIP switch settings as OFF OFF ON OFF OFF ON OFF OFF with a straight through cable (no twist). This would mean that the MOTOR-ON would still enable drive select 1, but now that drive select 1 is not used it didn't interfere with any of the drives...Hopefully my explanation isn't too confusing.

So this is what needs to be done to get dual 5.25" drives working with HSFE with a Northstar controller:

- Switches 1-4 are set to OFF OFF ON OFF. This puts controller pin 12 (drive 2 select) onto drive pin 12 (drive 2 select). Basically a direct connect from pin 12 to pin 12...easy!

- Switches 5-8 are set to OFF ON OFF OFF. This puts controller pin 10 (drive 1 select) onto drive pin 14 (drive 3 select).
Then I switch the shunt on my drive A so that it's on 'Select 3', so when controller pin 10 (drive pin 14) is active, this now selects drive A as active.

Simple solution in the end.

Phil

Phil, I'd be interested in hearing how reliable this is as you use it. I have a NS Horizon with HS controller. Hoping to use this product with SS disks. Thanks

kyeakel
July 29th, 2014, 09:16 AM
I queried them a few months ago on 8" single and double density diskettes. Their answer was $150 per box, so I've been buying what I need in the marketplace or the bay.



You can order brand new 5.25 and 8 inch hard sector floppies from Athana (http://www.athana.com/). You'll need to call or email them as it is a special order item and you'll have to meet a minimum order of $100. Not too bad if you can get a few people to order together with you

Mike

Dwight Elvey
July 29th, 2014, 11:06 AM
I think the problem with HSFE and 5.25 was mainly the
belt driven drives. The ones with the direct drive should
work similar to the 3.5 drives.
Sorry about the problems with the burs. I'd kept the punch with the
poorest alignment. Still, if using with a belt drive, tightening
the belt helps.
Dwight

Nama
July 31st, 2014, 03:53 PM
Sorry for the late reply,
I'm actually moving countries, so I'm presently surrounded by mountains of boxes. The SOL-20 is still unpacked though and will be one of the last things boxed up.

Dwight, actually your punched disks were great, although ultimately I found about 50% to be a little unreliable. They did allow me to get my system up and running which was a huge hurdle. Thank you very much for you help and time, it was invaluable.

After some conversations with Chris I decided to use my dual drive setup, which has the direct drive system as I thought that this might offer the best chance of success. Although when I first set it up I was very briefly using full height belt driven drives and It still seemed to work. I still haven't had a lot of time to play with the SOL-20 with HFSE, however my limited impression is that it seems quite reliable for the basics. i.e. booting the OS, launching programs etc. It may be a slightly different situation when it comes to things like copying files, formatting or copying CP/M and N* DOS etc. I briefly tried a few of these things and the results were mixed. Although I can't confirm as I only spent about 10 mins on it, copying files, or duplicating disks between Drive A and B may be a little funky. Again, I have to say I really haven't tested this but it did seem to take a couple of attempts to get it to work.

Sorry I can't be of much more assistance at the moment, just too busy with putting stuff in boxes. However, if there is any specific thing you want me to try on my setup, then I can spend a few moment on it and give it a whirl.

Cheers

Phil

JDallas
August 30th, 2014, 11:04 AM
...My first attempt at getting this working in my SOL-20 with Northstar controller card...
Was that possibly the North Star MDS? I have some old N*MDS floppies (hard sectored) that I need to read and I'm looking for some documentation on their format.

I could use the schematics of the MDS board to figure out the format but would prefer to download a file if its already available on some North Star archive.

Dwight Elvey
September 2nd, 2014, 03:11 PM
I don't have the info you need but I believe there are schematics someplace.
They may not help you much though. Much of the format is done in software
and not hardware. As I recall, the boards used a simple clock separator
and a USART. Your best using a logic analyzer and capturing
a track to figure what you need to do.
Dwight

JDallas
September 2nd, 2014, 03:17 PM
Thanks for the info. I do have the schematics. I downloaded some NorthStar documentation recently but haven't gone through it all yet; transferring it to the right computer. One of the titled documents made me optimistic. If I find the format documented, I'll share it here.

cbolvin
September 8th, 2014, 09:53 AM
I have a Horizon with dual floppies and this would come in very handy. Is there a source for bare boards?