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Thread: IDE hard drive on an IBM PC Convertible

  1. #1

    Question IDE hard drive on an IBM PC Convertible

    Using some sort of adapter that came with my PC Convertible when I got it, I’ve managed to get it to recognize an external hard drive. The adapter plugs into the rear expansion port and contains a pcb with some chips on it, one of which is labeled “Quickbrick BIOS Copyright 1989”, the board has “Copyright Systems Peripheral Consultants 1990” printed on it. It connects to a hard drive using a 40 pin IDE cable, currently I have it connected to a miniscribe 8225 because that’s what it happened to come with. The Convertible boots up, the hard drive lights up and spins some during POST, and DOS allows me to switch to the “C:” drive without an error. I can’t seem to find anything about using an HDD with a Convertible online, and I’m having some issues with it, so I figured here would be the place to ask.

    First, I can’t actually fully access the drive. DOS allows me to switch to drive C, but attempting to run any commands (dir, chkdisk, frisk, format) it outputs “General Failure error reading drive C”. As the hard drive itself is fairly old, and was sent through the mail and probably knocked around a bit, is this likely to be an issue with the drive itself as opposed to the computer?

    Second, inexplicably whenever I boot up the Convertible with the hard drive adapter in, the A drive continuously has the activity light on and spins. It doesn’t stop spinning until the computer is powered off, but has no problem actually reading the disk or running programs from it. Is this a known problem, and is there any fixes?

    Also, this is more of a question than a problem, but if I were to find an IDE 3.5 or 5.25 in floppy drive, is it likely that this would work too? Or is a hard drive too different from a floppy drive?

    Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions!

  2. #2

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    Can you take a picture of the part where it attaches to the Convertible? I was not aware of any hard drive adapters for the Convertible.

  3. #3
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    Is this an actual IBM PC Convertible/IBM 5140? http://oldcomputers.net/ibm5140.html

    How does this controller even connect to the computer?

    There is a bit of mixed information out there about the "Miniscribe 8225", but the "Miniscribe 8225 XT" would be an IDE-XT interface (not to be confused with the newly produced "XT-IDE" cards) that uses the XTA protocol instead of the ATA protocol (not to be confused with 8-bit ATA used by CF cards).

    In other words, no, although it is "IDE" you can not replace it with a standard IDE/ATA hard drive. Only an IDE-XT/XTA hard drive would work, and those were uncommon even when they were new.

    The hard drive might contain important software. I'd back up the contents of the hard drive as soon as possible.

    You are probably right that it has developed some bad sectors, but the fact that you get a "C>" prompt at all indicates it is not completely dead.

    What I would do is use Norton Utilities 4.5 NU.EXE disk editor to examine the "physical" drive sector-by-sector. It is possible to specify sector ranges and write that content to a floppy disk, although that means manually calculating a set of ranges so each segment fits on a floppy disk, avoiding bad sectors (it will stop writing when it hits a bad sector), and then re-assembling the results in to an image file on another computer. It can be a little less hassle if you have some way to attach some other writable mass storage device.

    Since it is IDE, it is possible that performing a "low-level" format or full drive wipe might re-map any bad sectors permitting the drive to be used again. But only do that after you are sure you have all data off of it.

  4. #4

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    I took some pictures of the device.
    IMG-0047.jpg
    IMG-0046.jpg
    IMG-0045.jpg
    IMG-0044.jpg
    When attached it hangs off the back of the convertible, connected by the expansion bus connector at the bottom.
    Couldn't find anything online about the two names on it, QuickBrick and Systems Periheral Consultants.

    Maybe the fact that there's difference between XTA and normal ATA hard drives is why it wont read, no idea if this device is meant for ATA or XTA.
    Where would I get a copy of Norton Utilities 4.5? And would Norton read the drive even if DOS itself wont?

  5. #5
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    I think you found something interesting! At that time, it would definitely be an 8-bit IDE-XT/XTA drive that it interfaced to, as it wasn't until recently that someone developed a way to use the modern IDE protocol on 8-bit systems (XT-IDE). I'm not certain if you're getting the "General Failure" error due to a problem with the drive being the wrong interface or if it's a failed drive. Since this is using a custom BIOS, it could be doing odd, non-standard things.

    I also found an ad in the June, 1992 "Portable 100 magazine" for this. This could potentially be reverse-engineered and have the ROM dumped in order to facilitate a recreation of this device. This is the only device I've seen reference to that allowed a hard drive to be attached to a PC Convertible. I know a lot of people (myself included) would love to see a way to get a hard drive working on these systems!

    Quickbrick.png

  6. #6

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    This is definitely cool. Also, dumb idea, but the above comment has me wondering what would happen if you replaced the BIOS chip on this card with an XTIDE BIOS chip. Probably would just render the card useless without it's original chip, but who knows. If it did work that would have some really interesting implications for PCjr collectors since this card looks like it would be relatively simple to reverse engineer.

  7. #7
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    I'm assuming you meant PC Convertible, since PCjr already has the jrIDE which is already based on XT-IDE. This does look like a pretty easy card to reverse engineer, but modifying it work with standard IDE drives might be a little more difficult, since this card was designed for a different hard disk interface. I wonder if there's another piece to the puzzle, as that doesn't look like it has the proper logic to demultiplex the expansion bus (or maybe it's a lot easier to do it than it sounds: http://ohlandl.ipv7.net/5140/5140.html#Extendable_Bus).

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbenting View Post
    I wonder if there's another piece to the puzzle, as that doesn't look like it has the proper logic to demultiplex the expansion bus (or maybe it's a lot easier to do it than it sounds: http://ohlandl.ipv7.net/5140/5140.html#Extendable_Bus).
    The device has a couple of 74573's on it, that should in principle be enough to de-multiplex the AD0-AD7. I'm not familiar with the details of the XTA hard drive interface (which is what I assume this uses, the Miniscribe drive mentioned above came in an XTA version) but if it's anything like the 8-bit mode supported by ATA-2 on devices like Compact Flash cards (and used on the XT-CF adapter) there's almost enough circuitry on that thing to make sense.

    (I think an XT-CF would need a couple more chips, unless the Convertable's expansion bus provides some pre-decoded chip enable lines for things like the ROM. I skimmed the tech reference PDF to see how the multiplexing worked but that's it.)
    My Retro-computing YouTube Channel (updates... eventually?): Paleozoic PCs

  9. #9
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    XTA port layout is akin to drives on a PC XT interface; same I/O ports etc. Not at all compatible with ATA drive conventions, even if they look the same.

  10. #10
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    Certainly, there’s no way you could just swap roms and run an 8-bit CF card on identical hardware, but in terms of hardware complexity I assume they boil down much the same. (IE, you essentially need to decode two or three address line’s worth of 8 bit I/O port space for the drive and provide a BIOS ROM in upper memory.)

    Technically an XT-CF could reside at an arbitrary base port address (it’s software configurable) so... from a devil’s advocacy standpoint, what might be the barrier to using a custom adapter to put a CF on an XTA port, assuming you can swap the BIOS code? Again, I am saying this not knowing the pin out of XTA, but didn’t they make drives that could be jumpered between ATA and XTA?
    My Retro-computing YouTube Channel (updates... eventually?): Paleozoic PCs

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