Computer hardware orchestra The Floppotron reaches v3.0 • The Register

2022-06-16 09:34:57 By : Mr. Huawang Zhou

The Floppotron computer hardware orchestra has reached version 3.0. The question is, where do you even find 512 floppy disk drives? Its creator, Paweł Zadrożniak, tells all.

The Floppotron is a marvellous bit of engineering. Its tones frequent many a YouTube video (this writer was rather taken by the rendition of "Take On Me" performed by the device's second iteration) and as a repurposing of obsolete hardware, it would be hard to come up with a more imaginative approach.

The first version made its debut in 2011 and consisted of a pair of floppy drives. The device's performance of the Imperial March has clocked up 6.7 million views at time of writing.

Version 2.0 increased the drive count to 64 and added eight hard drives and a pair of flatbed scanners. The latest incarnation ups the ante with 512 floppy drives, 16 hard drives and 4 scanners.

Zadrożniak has documented the construction of the machine (we're particularly impressed with the "floppy disk drive wall"). But why?

"The project has started with just a random idea in 2011," he said. "I'm an electronics hobbyist and like to do those small projects for learning purposes or just for pure fun.

"I also like music. I used to play a little piano and when those projects involve any music then it's getting more fun to me."

"Fun" is one word for it, although there is undoubtedly considerable skill in getting MIDI from one end to play out via the instruments (for want of better word) made up of whirring and clunking device motors.

"Maybe it's not a particularly useful device," conceded Zadrożniak, "but it was a little challenging and super fun to make."

Also challenging is scrounging all those parts. After all, where would one even go to find that many working drives nowadays?

"I got the floppy drives in small batches from advertisement/internet auction services," he said. "They usually came from off-lease refurbished or scrapped computers. Sometimes the leasing companies sell the individual parts when the lease period ends.

"The floppy disk drives as well as the scanners are getting more difficult to find as hardly anyone uses them today and they are no longer manufactured. If nobody needs them today, most of them may up in the junkyards."

Or as the beating heart of the Floppotron.

Decades-old hardware does, however, present its own challenges. "It's 20 or 30-year-old hardware and its prone to failure," he said. "Electronics in floppy disks drives tend to fail sometimes when powered up after spending 20 years in dusty warehouse. In my case, 11 FDDs out of 512 have failed shortly after powering up for the first time. Since then, the rest is working fine.

"But I don't know for how long – time will tell."

While much of the electronics are of Zadrożniak's own custom design, another issue is how to power the beast. A PC ATX power supply is nowhere near strong enough to cope, and making hardware scream means high power consumption. "One stack of 32 drives can draw up to around 16A of current when all drives are active," said Zadrożniak, so an array of 16 modular 5V/18A power supplies have been used to power the stacks of drives.

As for the future of his creation, Zadrożniak is eyeing the addition of new instruments, perhaps involving dot-matrix printers.

Curious about the history of home computing both west and east of the iron curtain? Berlin's ComputerSpieleMuseum in Germany's capital has you covered.

Museum director Matthias Oborski was The Register's guide around the ground floor site of the museum, which is located among the Soviet buildings of Berlin's Karl-Marx-Allee (a five-minute metro ride from Alexanderplatz, or 25-minute walk if you want to take in the brutalist architecture).

After the reception, with its impressive Soviet-era mosaic still in-situ behind the cheerful staff, there is a temporary exhibition celebrating the role of food in computer games. Oborski winced a little at the word "temporary" – it had been set up in 2019 and was still in place due, mainly, to the events of the last few years.

Ikea is introducing a fresh take on a product it hasn't sold since 1973: The record player.

Introduced as part of the upcoming Obergränsad collection, the turntable was designed in collaboration with Swedish electronic music group Swedish House Mafia, and serves as a reminder of how much vinyl has surged in the past several years. 

Record collecting has been growing in the past few years to the point where in 2021, Statista said, LP sales jumped by more than 50 percent year-over-year to beat both digital and CD album sales. Keeping it in context, that figure shrinks to a meager 4.7 percent when streaming and downloading of music is included.

Though the Wordle fad appears to be fading, engineers continue to find new and exciting places to port the game. Today we present a version using Pascal on Multics.

For those either not of a certain age, or unaware of historical operating systems, Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) dates back more than half a century (development of the OS began in the 1960s) and is a time-sharing operating system.

It is an undeniably neat system, with a modular architecture supporting both scalability and high availability. Resources could be added while the service was running, and security was front and center with innovations such as file level access controls.

Obituary The IT community has suffered a double loss with the passing of two industry icons.

A post in the Facebook group for former Inmos staff says that the company's founder, Professor Iann Marchant Barron, died at the age of 85 last month.

The IEEE called Barron "the one-time enfant terrible of the UK computing industry." In the words of his son, Marchant Barron:

The astonishing PicoPuter emulation project can run a transputer emulator on multiple Raspberry Pi Picos, and clustering them using the transputer's native inter-processor link protocol.

The Raspberry Pi Pico is a surprisingly capable device at $4 apiece, and one of its less well-known features is its eight programmable IO state-machines on board. As programmer-archaeologist Andrew Menadue wrote in a blog post:

Interview The Register took a road trip last weekend to celebrate the ZX Spectrum's 40th birthday, and visited The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park and the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge in search of the origins (and clones) of the rubber-keyed marvel.

Present at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) were hardware designer Richard Altwasser, computer scientist Steve Vickers, and Crispin Sinclair, son of ZX Spectrum inventor Sir Clive Sinclair.

Prepare yourself for a weekend of wobbly power connectors and Daley Thompson digit-mashing: tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

The ZX Spectrum, released on April 23, 1982, was a follow-up to Sinclair's ZX81. Referred to as the ZX82 or ZX81 Colour during development, the final product arrived with either 16KB or 48KB of RAM (depending on pocket depth) and a case designed by Rick Dickinson, who had previously worked on the ZX81 wedge. Dickinson was also responsible for the ZX Spectrum's infamous rubber keyboard.

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