Replace an old IDE HDD with an SSD emulator to cut noise and power? The Korg D8 experiment.

I’ve got an old Korg D8 digital multitrack audio wokstation. It was state of the art for recording sound back in the mid 1990s. The whole concept of digital audio workstations was new back then. The products were just starting to replace analog audio workstations that used compact audio cassettes to store sound and music and the sound quality you could get from an audio workstation was a big jump up from analog tape audio.

Korg D8 Multitrack Digital Audio Workstation

The Korg D8 was the top of the line digital audio workstation for prosumer gear back then. It was equipped with a 2.5-inch hard drive to store the multitrack audio. You could store 34 minutes across eight audio tracks with 16 bits of uncompressed resolution at a 44.1KHz sampling rate with the supplied 1.4Gbyte drive. Back then those specs were hot stuff. Now almost any self-respecting laptop can record two tracks of that type of audio for hours and hours at a time on fractional Terabyte drives.

I boosted the hard-drive capacity of my Korg D8 a long time ago by switching out the 1.4Gbyte hard drive and replacing it with a 4Gbyte Fujitsu hard drive. (The Korg D8 used a proprietary operating system stored not on the hard drive but on board-mounted Flash memory and the OS has a built-in 4Gbyte limit on the size of the hard drive.)

I’ve still got the Korg D8 packed away and I thought it would be fun to try upgrading the hard drive to a Flash drive. There are a few reasons you might want to revisit an old embedded design based on a hard drive and update it to an SSD. The first reason is acoustic noise. It’s not loud but I can certainly hear the hard drive spinning in the Korg D8. That’s not something you want in an audio workstation. You don’t want any extraneous acoustic noise in the audio recording zone if at all possible. The same holds true for many embedded designs. Acoustic noise—whether it’s the hard drive or a fan—calls attention to the embedded system. SSDs make no noise.

A second reason you might want to make the conversion is for ruggedness. Hard disk drives can be broken by physical shock or vibration. SSDs cannot.

A third reason you might want to convert an embedded design from HDD to SSD is for power reduction. It does cost power to spin the disk(s) of a hard drive and it generally takes less power to move electrons in and out of the floating gates of Flash memory. In addition, you can power down and power up an SSD much faster than an HDD.

A final reason you might want to convert an embedded design from HDD to SSD is for volumetric reasons. An SSD can be nothing but a circuit board. In fact, SSDs in Ultrabooks are already heading in that direction using the mSATA board format. HDDs are bigger.

With so many reasons for making such a conversion, I decided to see if I could make such a conversion on the Korg D8. Now the IDE disk interface used in the Korg D8 is already obsolete and it’s getting hard to find 2.5-inch HDDs with that interface much less SSDs that emulate 2.5-inch IDE HDDs. In fact, the 2.5-inch IDE SSDs I found were damned expensive like this one by Transcend from Memory.com for $67.35. That was too steep for my experiment. You can’t sell a Korg D8 for that much on today’s market, even one in pristine condition like mine.

I searched for other alternatives and came up with this slick little IDE to SD Card adapter on eBay for $7.79 including postage. This board accepts an SD or SDHC card and exposes a 44-pin IDE interface to the host system. I already had a 4Gbyte SD Card on hand, so this approach looked ideal for my experiment. It was cheap.

IDE to SD Adapter Card and 4Gbyte SD Card

I ordered the IDE to SD Card adapter board from China. It arrived in about two weeks in a small bubble-pack envelope. A couple of days later, during a weekend, I had time to try the experiment. I removed the board from its bubble pack. Shipping across the Pacific Ocean had not been kind to the board. One of the pins on the connector was bent (as shown in the above photo) and the SD Card sheet metal enclosure on the back of the board was also slightly bent. The bent pin would prevent easy connection with the IDE cable and the bent SD Card enclosure prevented the insertion of the SD Card.

Neither of these injuries was fatal. A pair of pliers and a flat-bladed screwdriver fixed the problems. I then inserted the 4Gbyte SD Card into the IDE to SD Card adapter board and was ready for the HDD to SSD transplant.

I opened the Korg D8’s drive bay on its bottom panel and folded out the 4Gbyte Fujitsu SSD.

Korg D8 HDD, 50-pin connector detail

The first problem reared its head. The Fujitsu drive uses a 50-pin IDE connector and the IDE to SD Card adapter board has a 44-pin connector. The difference appears in the diagram below. The 50-pin IDE connector has four extra vendor-specific pins and two key pins, shown at the top of the diagram.

50-pin IDE header

These six pins were added to the conventional 44-pin IDE standard for the 2.5-inch drive format. The original 44-pin format was derived from with the 40-pin 5.25- and 3.5-inch IDE HDDs and added pins for power. Well, these six extra pins present no real problem as long as you’re careful to bottom-justify the connector pins on the IDE to SD Card adapter board and are also careful about polarity. Polarity is a bit of a problem because the IDE to SD Card adapter board comes with no instructions but there’s both a triangle on the board’s silkscreen and a square pad on the connector pins to denote pin 1 of the 44-pin connector.

I lashed the whole thing together and switched on the power. The 5V LED and another LED lit on the IDE to SD Card adapter board. That was a good sign. The Korg D8’s LCD displayed “Working” and then indicated that it did not recognize the internal drive, which I’d expected. It then asked for permission to initialize the drive, which I gave. The Korg D8 chewed on that command for a while and then displayed an “almost” correct indication of readiness but then the audio workstation locked up.

I tried reformatting the SD Card in a laptop computer and I also tried some other things but in the end I concluded that the IDE to SD Card adapter board was not emulating an IDE HDD with enough fidelity to satisfy the Korg D8. It might be good enough for old laptop computers with standard chipsets and BIOS ROMs but it wasn’t good enough to fool the proprietary OS in the Korg D8.

A noble experiment, but a failure. Sigh.

However, the reason for the experiment is nevertheless valid. Perhaps one of the actual IDE SSDs on eBay might have worked. I’ve since found 4Gbyte, 2.5-inch SSDs (not adapter boards for SD Card or Compact Flash cards) in the $25 to $28 range. Had I found one of those before, I might have tried one of them. Perhaps I will at a later date.

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3 Responses to Replace an old IDE HDD with an SSD emulator to cut noise and power? The Korg D8 experiment.

  1. Liam says:

    Hi there, I have a Kord D8 also and its original 1.4Gbyte HDD is getting tired (and noisy). Did you manage to find a workable solution with a 4Gbyte, 2.5-inch SSD and if so, if it’s just a question of plugging and initializing, could you please send me a link to a SSD that would do the job? If not, would you be so kind as to let me know the reference number of the Fujitisu 4Gbyte hard drive and I’ll try to get my hands on one of them – Cheers!

  2. sleibson321 says:

    Liam,

    I did not succeed in finding an SSD solution for the Korg. Your best bet for a 4Gbyte drive is eBay. Fujitsu and Toshiba drives work, in my experience.

  3. Liam says:

    ok cheers :)

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