Replace an old IDE HDD with an SSD emulator to cut noise and power? The Korg D8 experiment, Part II—Compact Flash

Earlier, I reported on my attempt to swap in a solid-state disk emulator for a small IDE hard drive in an old Korg D8 multitrack audio workstation. (See “Replace an old IDE HDD with an SSD emulator to cut noise and power? The Korg D8 experiment.”) The Korg uses the hard drive to store digitized sound while keeping its OS in an on-board Flash memory chip. It’s a bit unusual in that it does not use a PC motherboard chip set to operate the drive. It’s based on a Mitsubishi (now Renesas) microcontroller that tickles the hard-drive’s IDE port in a way that gets data onto and off of the drive. I doubt that the microcontroller from the early 1990s had a built-in IDE port so the IDE port emulation is likely done in firmware running on the microcontroller.

My first attempt at IDE drive emulation involved a low-cost (less than $10) emulation board that accepts SD cards and makes them look like IDE drives. The Korg D8 had a hard time initializing the SD card (I’m not really sure that it did) and had no luck in using the drive emulator for recording.

When I ordered the SD-card emulator board from eBay, I also ordered a similar board that took Compact Flash (CF) cards. CF cards have built-in IDE emulation and so the emulation board is really just an adapter that changes the 2.5-inch, 44-pin IDE connector into a CF card socket.

IDE to CF Card Adapter and 1Gbyte CF card

I had hoped that the built-in nature of the CF IDE emulation would have delivered more satisfactory results. It didn’t.

I found this interesting discussion on a site operated by an Australian company named Yawarra Information Appliances that discusses different levels of IDE compatibility among CF cards from different vendors. Here’s an excerpt:

“However, not all CF cards are created equal. As compact flash was originally intended for photographic applications, some manufacturers have created CF cards that work well in digital cameras, but not so well in computers, which need good IDE emulation. The SanDisk cards have very good IDE emulation.”

I had CF cards from several different vendors including SanDisk in my collection of cards I use for my Canon 20D DSLR. Capacities ranged from 512Mbytes to 8Gbytes. I’d hoped that one of these cards in the CF adapter would satisfy the Korg D8 but that proved not to be the case. The Korg had just as much trouble initializing the various CF cards as it had with the SD-card IDE emulator.

The key indicator of a problem is that the Korg would finally return to operational mode after trying to initialize the drive and there would be wonky characters used in the name for the first song. Clearly, there’s a problem with data transfer between the emulated IDE port in the Korg and the emulated IDE ports in the SD-card and CF-card IDE adapters.

At this point, it’s not worth it for me to continue this particular experiment. The Korg is a terrific piece of equipment but it is long in the tooth compared to what you can do with a laptop these days. The Korg’s built-in 4Gbyte limit for all song files per attached disk drive pinches a bit. (There’s a 25-pin SCSI port for external drives on the Korg D8 to save more songs and tracks.) However, I’m convinced that this would be a smart move for bringing older embedded systems based on more standard PC hardware into a more reliable operating mode that draws less operating power in the bargain.

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One Response to Replace an old IDE HDD with an SSD emulator to cut noise and power? The Korg D8 experiment, Part II—Compact Flash

  1. miamigroove says:

    I did something similar with my Roland MC-80 Sequencer, only I was a bit more persistent and finally achieved good results. Here are a few things I discovered:
    1. I first ordered a “dual” compactflash adapter (with slots for two cards) as they appeared to be cheaper and more common. That didn’t work though, so I had to order the single adapter, which is what you have pictured here I think.
    2. I had to go through some trial & error with the type of CF card as well. Finally, I found one that would work. It was a generic 2GB 133x Type I model. I could not get my Sandisk Ultra to work in mine.
    More discussion about it can be found here:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/MC-80/conversations/topics/1223

    It took a bit of doing but it is great to breathe some life back in to these old machines! Sometimes hardware is better :)

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