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View Full Version : Making new 5.25" Hard Sector Disks and Northstar Software



Abob
February 23rd, 2018, 02:56 PM
Hi,

I don't post much but wanted to reach out and see if anyone has any interest in this.

I restored an Northstar Advantage this winter. However, it came with no software. I bought a few hard sector disks off Herb at Retro Technology and found someone to put software on them for me. That all went well but I had no backups or way to get more software and little chance of finding any more hard sector disks.

Last month I tried to make hard sector disks out of new old stock 5.25" soft sector disks. I slit the back of the cover open, put the magnetic disk in a clamp and used a CNC machine to make the other 10 holes. It worked 100%. I was able to format and use every disk I made. See pictures below.

Why am I posting this? If anyone out there has Advantage software and wants some "new disks" I would send 2 disks for every 1 you send me back with Advantage software on it. I will pay for return postage. I have a bit of software, but not much. To be clear, I don't want to sell these, anyone can find a laser cutter or CNC and do the same thing. I can send you my CAD files if you want. Also, this is a hobby, if you are one of those people I have run into that think an original software disk with a word processor on it is worth $100, go away.

In addition to this I have been talking to another Advantage hobbyist (you can find him on You Tube and I have tried his software!). He has figured out how to transfer from a modern PC to Advantage memory using Python and a small machine language program on the Advantage. If that can be made to write to disk and we now have new disks for the Advantage we can really bring these systems back to life and also make a modern archive of software.

If anyone has anything to contribute let me know.

Thanks,

Aaron

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djones1960
May 31st, 2018, 05:35 PM
Are you still offering to make write hard sector disks for people? I have an Northstar Advantage with a minimal WordStar CP/M boot disk. So I'm looking for a full set of CP/M Disks for it.

Thanks
David

durgadas311
June 1st, 2018, 06:42 AM
There are people actually making 10-hole punches for converting soft-sectored 5.25" diskettes into 10-sector hard-sectored. I believe NorthStar also uses 10-sector. You can start unraveling this email thread on SEBHC google group (Society for Eight-Bit Heathkit Computers - The Heath H17 controller used 10-sector diskettes).

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/sebhc/yUAGpjHILj0

From what I've heard, it's fairly easy and not prone to error.

djones1960
June 1st, 2018, 11:02 AM
Actually, I'm already a member of that group. I can make the hard sector disks from soft sector ones.

The problem is, I just currently don't have a way of writing an image onto the resulting disk. So far, I haven't come up with any way to get more software onto the Advantage with no utilities to work with. The only boot disk I have just has the WordStar, pip, and disk copy utility on it. Worst comes to worst, I'm getting boards together to build a S-100 system with a NortStar floppy controller.

Very long term, I've been toying with the idea of using an Arduino as a floppy interface and use it to read/write hard sector disks. I found another project that did that to write Amiga disks. So it would sure as a starting point.

Dwight Elvey
June 2nd, 2018, 05:58 AM
It is based on an original design that I did. The first versions were not as good as I hoped because the machinist made a number of changes to cut cost that compromised the design some. It still worked but alignment wasn't as good and it would dull the punch, requiring sharpening. The design they have made recently is better but cost are now up to around $100 each. This has the advantage that one doesn't need to remove the disk from the envelope and one doesn't need to punch any holes in the envelope.
You need to start with a 360K disk ( not a 1.2M ). Other than that it is simple to use. The HeathKits also used 10 sectored disk. When I made my first batch, I made a number of 16 hole punches. These work on the Vector machines. If anyone want one, I have them at $35+ postage to recover my cost.
I had another fellow, recently, asked if they could buy one to modify to a 10 hole. I explained that this was not practical as the holes would overlap. It would require machining, not much different than just making one from scratch.
Dwight

Abob
July 5th, 2018, 04:04 PM
Hi DJones,

I did not get a reply to my hard sector post for a few months so I stopped checking until today.

I would be happy to make you some disk and I do have some good software I can send you, plus I know a guy who might have more. My Advantage has two floppy drives that work 100% so copying is easy. You would just have to send me some SS disks and pay for the shipping or something similar.

However, I don't do the vintage computer hobby in the summer. I bought a Osborn and Acorn Atom this summer but did not even power them up, just put them in storage. I will get back into the hobby in the winter, the summers are short here. I will PM you in October or November and see if you are still interested.

Aaron

ef1j91
July 10th, 2018, 04:08 AM
I've been using the DeRamp Virtual Sector Generator with soft sector media on a Sol-20 / North Star disk system. It works without issues, but I've been interested in making hard 10-sectored disks as well.

KC9UDX
July 10th, 2018, 05:12 AM
I don't know why you'd pull the cookie out of the sleeve to do this...

Dwight Elvey
July 10th, 2018, 12:48 PM
I don't know why you'd pull the cookie out of the sleeve to do this...

He does it with his CNC machine, without a rotary table, just an XY table.
The punches we made clamp the biscuit at the center, similar to a drive. Once it is aligned to the index hole, the envelope is rotated.
If he used a CNC rotary table he could make a clamp similar to what we did with our punch designs. You'd just need something to hold the envelope from rotating.
Dwight

KC9UDX
July 10th, 2018, 03:22 PM
Or, clamp the cookie hub, and rotate the sleeve. The sleeve could be aligned with a protractor. I'd do whatever I could to avoid disassembling the diskette.

I don't want to rail on him, of course hindsight is 20/20. But if I had to do it, that's what I'd do. On the other hand, putting a floppy disk on my mill table would be more hassle and risk than fabricating a punch probably similar to what you did.

djones1960
August 22nd, 2018, 10:15 AM
Hi DJones,

I did not get a reply to my hard sector post for a few months so I stopped checking until today.

I would be happy to make you some disk and I do have some good software I can send you, plus I know a guy who might have more. My Advantage has two floppy drives that work 100% so copying is easy. You would just have to send me some SS disks and pay for the shipping or something similar.

However, I don't do the vintage computer hobby in the summer. I bought a Osborn and Acorn Atom this summer but did not even power them up, just put them in storage. I will get back into the hobby in the winter, the summers are short here. I will PM you in October or November and see if you are still interested.

Aaron

Thanks for the offer. I originally tried making the boot disks on my Sol-20 but it died :( One of these days, I'll figure out what went bad this time.

In the meantime, I ran into a better solution and have boot disks. The Hxc project now has alpha software that allows you to use that device with a USB drive to boot off images. So I was able to get it to work and created a set of disks. I'd still be interested in any NS Advantage software you might have. So far, I have: Wordstar, Dbase II, Basic, Fortran, Turbo Pascal.

As far as the hard disks go, I have a design for printing a jig on a 3d printer. I use the jig with a high power laser ( 5W ) to burn the index holes. I really should put that design up on Thingiverse.com

David

Abob
September 10th, 2018, 03:11 PM
Hi David,

Sorry for the delay but I am back and ready to get going on some of this Advantage stuff. Here is what I have for disks, the first four are quite useful:

Factory Demo/Diagnostic
Graphics program, MS-DOS
Dual floppy CP/M boot disk with Kermit
CP/M boot disk for hard disk, but also has all utilities on it
NS Busigraph II disk 1
NS Busigraph II disk 2

I would really like your Basic, Fortran and Turbo Pascal. I would be happy to send you my 6 disks and some blank ones if you copy your software on the blank ones and send them back.

Let me know. I promise to be checking the postings ever day or two.

I don't know anything about HxC but would like to get involved.

Thanks,

Aaron

Novell2NT
February 23rd, 2019, 09:19 AM
Hey ABob,

I just purchased an Altair 8800a, with a full set of Processor Technology Subsystem-B boards and a single density NorthStar FDC. I would love to get a few disks that I can use to install
CP/M for SOLOS / CUTER and for BASIC 5 for SOLOS / CUTER.

Can you help me get a few disks that I can use?

Thank you

Jeff Nay