VOGONS


First post, by Ozzuneoj

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After seeing the discussion in this thread about a Parallel SD card reader, I started investigating Parallel CF card readers.

I was a bit put off be the prices of new parallel CF readers on eBay, since many are in the $50+ range. Also, only a few mention DOS compatibility, which greatly limits their usefulness.

I found a listing on ebay for a model that looked super generic but was really cheap ($12.99 with free shipping) and was brand new in package. I decided to take a gamble on DOS compatibility, made an offer and got one for $10.

I received the device a few days later and was impressed with how solid it was and how complete the package was. It came with a parallel cable that had a small auxiliary power socket and a passthrough for another device (so you can still use your parallel port). There is also a 5-pin DIN or PS/2 (both on one cable) passthrough adapter that plugs into the parallel cable for aux power from the keyboard socket.

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The package for the device only mentions Windows 95 and NT compatibility, and the driver disk also makes no mention of DOS compatibility. After digging into one of the .sys files however, I saw several references to a device called a "Commuter" made by Datastor Technologies. I'm assuming this device is a copy of the Datastor Commuter, using the same internals with a different package and a modified driver disk. I Googled the "datastor commuter" and found some other posts from several years ago where someone was trying to find a very old version 1.03 of CDISK.EXE and CDISK.SYS to load drivers for the device in DOS. I was quite glad to see that these files were included on the disk that came with my generic reader, but at this point I didn't know what version they were. I downloaded some newer driver packages from DriverGuide and looked through them a bit but only found much newer versions of the software (3.10 and 4.10... though there may be others).

My intended use for this reader is for easily transferring files to and from very old computers that have no hope of using USB, so I wanted to use the oldest driver possible for best compatibility. I decided to just copy CDISK.EXE and CDISK.SYS from the floppy that came with the reader to a blank 720K disk. My IBM 5150 was going to be the guinea pig for this experiment. It has DOS 3.3, 640k of RAM, a 21MB MFM hard drive, 720k and 360k floppies, an Everex EV659 Micro Enhancer Deluxe (EGA + Parallel) and an Orchid Tiny Turbo 286 ISA upgrade card (7.16Mhz AMD 286, with a switch to use the original 4.77Mhz 8088).

I had a 16MB CF card that came with a Canon camera I bought back in 2004, so I put that into the CF reader, attached it to the parallel port on my EGA card, ran the aux power passthrough to the keyboard port, started up the computer, ran CDISK.EXE from the floppy, it found the card, walked me through the very simple install process and it was done! I rebooted, the CDISK driver loaded (it does a nifty little boop-beep! when it loads) and the card mounted as D drive without any issues at all. I was able to read the contents of the drive with the original formatting from 2004 (it still had an empty DCIM folder).

I am now able to easily copy files to and from the CF card, passing it between my main system and my IBM 5150 (with a 286 upgrade). It appears that the system needs to be restarted to see any changes made to the CF card on another computer, so at this point I can't hot swap to and from the older system without rebooting, but there may be a way around that. I mainly wanted it for doing backups FROM my IBM though. This sure beats having to fill a 720k floppy 30+ times!

This version of CDISK says it is1.0, but it did not include the "read.me" file for the DOS program so it is probably a later version of the driver and has simply been renamed for this generic device. The one major caveat I have found is that the driver I installed appears to require the 286 to be switched on, at least for my setup. When I switch the 286 card off (enabling the 8088) and reboot, the driver starts to load but freezes either at "Initializing..." or immediately after with either an "overflow" error or repeating screens of gibberish characters and a beeping PC speaker. I haven't tried running the setup program again with the 8088 enabled... maybe it just needs to be setup for the correct processor or something. If I can find any older versions of the Commuter software, that may help too.

Anyway, hopefully there is some way to get 100% compatibility with this device with the 8088, but for my current needs it isn't 100% necessary. I'm going to attach some pictures of the device and its internals. I'll also upload the drivers so others can get this set up easily without needing the original driver disk or having to go to driverguide.

I'll post again here if I find any other drivers that work with just the 8088 CPU enabled.

Also, if anyone is looking for one of these, there are still some available on eBay from this seller, brand new. Just look for: filmreader pic2

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Last edited by Ozzuneoj on 2018-03-01, 00:45. Edited 1 time in total.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 1 of 35, by BinaryDemon

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A very interesting read, I'm sure your detailed research will end up helping others.

Check out DOSBox Distro:

https://sites.google.com/site/dosboxdistro/ [*]

a lightweight Linux distro (tinycore) which boots off a usb flash drive and goes straight to DOSBox.

Make your dos retrogaming experience portable!

Reply 2 of 35, by britain4

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This is very nifty, I’ll have to keep an eye out for one of these myself. Thanks for the write up.

I’ve been looking at simple PCI slot mounted CF to IDE adapters but this looks like the more versatile and convenient option.

Reply 3 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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Thanks for the feedback guys!

I just ran some quick benchmarks using Checkit 3.0 on my 5150 with the 286 enabled.

Two drives:
C: Drive = Miniscribe 8425 20MB 3.5" MFM hard drive, connected to a WD MFM controller (all originally in the system from the late '80s, including this installation of DOS)

D: Drive = FilmReader Parallel CF Reader with 16MB Canon CF card, connected to Everex EV-659, with generic 1.0 driver from the disk, running in SPP mode

And here are the results!

Transfer Rate:
C: - 29.5K/sec
D: - 42.6K/sec

Average Seek:
C: - 78.5ms
D: - 3.7ms

Track Seek
C: - 15.1ms
D: - 3.7ms

Its incredible how much faster the CF card is, even though it has to transfer over the parallel interface of an EGA card from 1988 in SPP mode.

I'd be curious to know if there's a difference in CPU overhead when using the CF card, but generally if the hard drive has to do something the system grinds to a halt as it is, so it can't really be any worse.

Its crazy to think that I can download from anywhere in the world around 500 times as fast (120mbps) as this old computer can transfer things from its own hard disk to memory. These old computers are hilarious, fascinating and so much fun to play with. 😀

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 4 of 35, by keenerb

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Ozzuneoj wrote:
After seeing the discussion in this thread about a Parallel SD card reader, I started investigating Parallel CF card readers. […]
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After seeing the discussion in this thread about a Parallel SD card reader, I started investigating Parallel CF card readers.

I was a bit put off be the prices of new parallel CF readers on eBay, since many are in the $50+ range. Also, only a few mention DOS compatibility, which greatly limits their usefulness.

I found a listing on ebay for a model that looked super generic but was really cheap ($12.99 with free shipping) and was brand new in package. I decided to take a gamble on DOS compatibility, made an offer and got one for $10.

I received the device a few days later and was impressed with how solid it was and how complete the package was. It came with a parallel cable that had a small auxiliary power socket and a passthrough for another device (so you can still use your parallel port). There is also a 5-pin DIN or PS/2 (both on one cable) passthrough adapter that plugs into the parallel cable for aux power from the keyboard socket.

IMG_20180228_135531 (2048x1536).jpg
IMG_20180226_170014 (1536x2048).jpg

The package for the device only mentions Windows 95 and NT compatibility, and the driver disk also makes no mention of DOS compatibility. After digging into one of the .sys files however, I saw several references to a device called a "Commuter" made by Datastor Technologies. I'm assuming this device is a copy of the Datastor Commuter, using the same internals with a different package and a modified driver disk. I Googled the "datastor commuter" and found some other posts from several years ago where someone was trying to find a very old version 1.03 of CDISK.EXE and CDISK.SYS to load drivers for the device in DOS. I was quite glad to see that these files were included on the disk that came with my generic reader, but at this point I didn't know what version they were. I downloaded some newer driver packages from DriverGuide and looked through them a bit but only found much newer versions of the software (3.10 and 4.10... though there may be others).

My intended use for this reader is for easily transferring files to and from very old computers that have no hope of using USB, so I wanted to use the oldest driver possible for best compatibility. I decided to just copy CDISK.EXE and CDISK.SYS from the floppy that came with the reader to a blank 720K disk. My IBM 5150 was going to be the guinea pig for this experiment. It has DOS 3.3, 640k of RAM, a 21MB MFM hard drive, 720k and 360k floppies, an Everex EV659 Micro Enhancer Deluxe (EGA + Parallel) and an Orchid Tiny Turbo 286 ISA upgrade card (7.16Mhz AMD 286, with a switch to use the original 4.77Mhz 8088).

I had a 16MB CF card that came with a Canon camera I bought back in 2004, so I put that into the CF reader, attached it to the parallel port on my EGA card, ran the aux power passthrough to the keyboard port, started up the computer, ran CDISK.EXE from the floppy, it found the card, walked me through the very simple install process and it was done! I rebooted, the CDISK driver loaded (it does a nifty little boop-beep! when it loads) and the card mounted as D drive without any issues at all. I was able to read the contents of the drive with the original formatting from 2004 (it still had an empty DCIM folder).

I am now able to easily copy files to and from the CF card, passing it between my main system and my IBM 5150 (with a 286 upgrade). It appears that the system needs to be restarted to see any changes made to the CF card on another computer, so at this point I can't hot swap to and from the older system without rebooting, but there may be a way around that. I mainly wanted it for doing backups FROM my IBM though. This sure beats having to fill a 720k floppy 30+ times!

This version of CDISK says it is1.0, but it did not include the "read.me" file for the DOS program so it is probably a later version of the driver and has simply been renamed for this generic device. The one major caveat I have found is that the driver I installed appears to require the 286 to be switched on, at least for my setup. When I switch the 286 card off (enabling the 8088) and reboot, the driver starts to load but freezes either at "Initializing..." or immediately after with either an "overflow" error or repeating screens of gibberish characters and a beeping PC speaker. I haven't tried running the setup program again with the 8088 enabled... maybe it just needs to be setup for the correct processor or something. If I can find any older versions of the Commuter software, that may help too.

Anyway, hopefully there is some way to get 100% compatibility with this device with the 8088, but for my current needs it isn't 100% necessary. I'm going to attach some pictures of the device and its internals. I'll also upload the drivers so others can get this set up easily without needing the original driver disk or having to go to driverguide.

I'll post again here if I find any other drivers that work with just the 8088 CPU enabled.

Also, if anyone is looking for one of these, there are still some available on eBay from this seller, brand new. Just look for: filmreader pic2

That's interesting, I picked up one of these a while back but never looked into it, mine specifically states a pentium is required to use it, and Win95 minimum. I need to dig it out and see if it works on my 1000TL...

Reply 5 of 35, by lolo799

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Ah you took a gamble and got that one, nice that it works on your 286 atleast.
The Datafab model works on a 8088 cpu, and I believe the one by Sandisk should too as they use the same driver for Windows 9x.

PCMCIA Sound, Storage & Graphics

Reply 6 of 35, by bjwil1991

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That's interesting to see a CF card reader in the Parallel port version. I wonder if you can use that as an external disk drive primarily, or is that impossible?

Discord: https://discord.gg/U5dJw7x
Systems from C64 to FX-6300.

Reply 7 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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lolo799 wrote:

Ah you took a gamble and got that one, nice that it works on your 286 atleast.
The Datafab model works on a 8088 cpu, and I believe the one by Sandisk should too as they use the same driver for Windows 9x.

Yeah, I figured it was worth a try since they were cheap and brand new. The alternatives were either really used\dirty looking or really expensive.

I'm going to keep tinkering with the drivers when I get a chance. I'm hopeful that a different version or possibly some different settings will make it work with just the 8088.

bjwil1991 wrote:

That's interesting to see a CF card reader in the Parallel port version. I wonder if you can use that as an external disk drive primarily, or is that impossible?

It isn't bootable, since it requires a driver to be loaded, but I don't see any reason why it couldn't be used as an external hard drive for systems that only have a floppy drive. You could easily just put the driver on a bootable DOS floppy and it will load without any problems. I would think you could even put a more complete DOS installation on a CF card and simply add "C:\DOS" to the PATH command and it will run completely from the external drive once the floppy has booted to DOS and loaded the driver. I ran some games from the CF card (after booting from the hard drive) and it worked without a hitch.

Once I get some more CF cards (32MB is the limit for DOS 3.3) I plan to actually have lots of games stored on a CF card since the 20MB drive is already getting full, and its a bit time consuming to transfer EGA games via 720k floppies. I can just stick the CF card in my PC's card reader, dump the folders from a bunch of DOS games onto the card, put the card back into the CF reader on my IBM, reboot and I'll have a whole slew of games to test out. I do like things to be somewhat authentic, so whatever I end up using frequently will get stored on the hard drive (the hard drive noise and blinking light is part of the experience!), but since there's a lot of trial and error involved in testing old games for compatibility with such an old system, this will save a ton of time.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 9 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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Okay, small update.

I tried using the 3.10 and 4.10 Datastor Commuter drivers and neither one will detect the external drive. The "1.0" generic driver that came with the device always detects the drive as long as the 286 upgrade CPU is enabled. The read.me files do mention that for version 2.00 and later of the driver the Commuter used a new custom chip, so presumably the drivers were totally different. Its possible this generic device was built with all of the original "old" Commuter chips and some older version of the driver was modified and shipped with that device. When I try to install the 1.0 driver fresh with just the 8088 (by running cdisk.exe from a floppy) it freezes at "please wait..." , so I am unable to install it without the 286 enabled.

So, unless someone knows of ways to modify drivers to improve compatibility with an 8088, or if there is possibly some other problem, it looks like this particular reader may only be useful for CPUs newer than the original 8088.

I'd be interested to know if this works when using a V20 CPU, since I know those add some additional features. Sadly, I don't own one... I wish I did!

Also, what is the best way to tell exactly how much memory a certain application or driver uses in DOS 3.3? This is before the MEM command existed.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 10 of 35, by bjwil1991

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There is a way to check how much memory (conventional) is free. Type in chkdsk, and it'll display at the bottom. Note, this doesn't show how much is used and by which TSRs. I found a thread on VCFed.org entitled: Mem Command for older DOS versions that someone compiled in BASIC.

Discord: https://discord.gg/U5dJw7x
Systems from C64 to FX-6300.

Reply 11 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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Just wanted to report back with some additional findings. I won a pile of old CF cards on eBay that will be perfect for very old DOS systems (7 32MB cards and one 128MB) for less than $10. The 32MB cards are all Pretec model CFL032. When benching the new cards, unsurprisingly, checkit's disk benchmark gives basically the same score (less than 2% lower) as my old 16MB Canon card. The SPP parallel interface is probably the bottleneck here, but its still so much faster than an MFM hard drive it doesn't make any difference.

Using chkdsk to check for free memory (thanks bjwil1991!) gives the following results:

With CF card driver loaded: 591,008 Bytes
Without CF driver loaded : 603,616 Bytes

So, it looks like it uses 12,608 bytes. 12K doesn't seem too bad for a driver that gives you a 32MB removable drive that's significantly faster than the internal hard drive.

I just have to see if there's an easy way to make it something I can choose to enable at startup. I'm sure there will be times that I'm not planning to use it and I might need that extra 12K. I know how to do this with .bat files but I've never done it with config.sys.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 12 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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One more thing I wanted to mention... I had trouble reading the CF card in my IBM if it was formatted or partitioned on a different system (even when I used Minitool Partition Wizard to format it with FAT16 and 512byte sectors). I even tried running fdisk in DOS 3.3 and creating a partition and it was still somewhat flaky (I think there were some leftovers that fdisk saw as non-DOS partitions). It appeared to work but gave an error part way through formatting. After this I could actually copy files to it, but I didn't trust it. Then I remembered the CDISK.EXE application actually has a format option, so I used that and it worked flawlessly. Surprisingly, it seemed aware of the old DOS version and mentioned that it would partition\format the drive for "DOS 3.3 (Or Lower)", so that was nice. I'm currently copying the contents of my 20MB hard drive over to a 32MB CF card after formatting it in CDISK and its working as expected with no surprises.

Its really too bad that the driver has issues running on just an 8088. This thing seems PERFECT for old PCs. I'm still open to any suggestions to fix that. I'd even be willing to modify a driver file if there was some way to tell if there were unnecessary limitations that cause it to crash on anything older than a 286.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 13 of 35, by lolo799

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I tried Checkit on my XT to benchmark my Datafab CF parallel port reader, my results are different than yours...
C: is 20MB MFM hdd on a WD controller
D: is a 512MB Sandisk card, Datafab adapter plugged on my monochrome card parallel port

Transfer Rate:
C: - 133.4K/sec
D: - 55.5K/sec

Average Seek:
C: - 69.6ms
D: - 7.1ms

Track Seek
C: - 20.3ms
D: - 7.1ms

PCMCIA Sound, Storage & Graphics

Reply 14 of 35, by Pierre32

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Obligatory apology for the old thread bump. However, this is definitely where this information belongs. I stumbled upon this thread when looking for parallel port storage options, and in a crazy coincidence, immediately found the unit below on ebay. Completely new in box for $12. This model is a PIA2 (as opposed to Ozzuneoj's PIC2), and is actually an ATA flash reader. Just add a PCMCIA adapter, and you've got a CF card reader.

Thanks to the info posted, I knew exactly what to look for on the disk. And the set of files was pretty much identical. The disk wouldn't read in my 486, but I managed to get everything off it with a USB floppy drive (save for setup.bmp which was corrupted- not needed here but I did grab the one from the PIC2 package so I could put together a complete zip to upload).

Connections including the keyboard connector power tap were identical to those described. And so was installation; run CDISK.EXE and that was that. A new storage option on my 486, this time at the front for easier access.

So thank you Ozzuneoj for this thread, and I hope my info also helps others in the future.

The package (my CF card and PCMCIA adapter are also pictured):

ftTCdIul.jpg

More pics (label & box details etc) in high res: https://imgur.com/a/Ed4VAOw

PIA2 driver files attached.

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Reply 15 of 35, by Ozzuneoj

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Glad to hear that this info was helpful Pierre32!

I was just thinking about this again today and I never did figure out a way to get the drivers to load on just an 8088.

Does anyone know of an application that could be used to analyze the code in cdisk.sys for any 286-exclusive instructions? Just in case it can be modified. I am not a programmer, so if anyone already knows how to do this it'd probably be 100 times faster for an experienced programmer to look at it.

Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401

Reply 16 of 35, by 4xtx

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Hi all,
I just won an ebay auction for a datafab MDCFE-SR and am hoping to use it on a luggable 8086 which has no HDD.
Keen to know if anyone has jerry rigged up a power adapter to it instead of using keyboard port (luggable doesnt have one)

If it works I am considering making a small bracket for the luggable so it can sit internally.
The beauty is I'd just be making my own panel and keeping the original intact

Reply 17 of 35, by lolo799

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4xtx wrote on 2020-08-24, 05:03:
Hi all, I just won an ebay auction for a datafab MDCFE-SR and am hoping to use it on a luggable 8086 which has no HDD. Keen to […]
Show full quote

Hi all,
I just won an ebay auction for a datafab MDCFE-SR and am hoping to use it on a luggable 8086 which has no HDD.
Keen to know if anyone has jerry rigged up a power adapter to it instead of using keyboard port (luggable doesnt have one)

If it works I am considering making a small bracket for the luggable so it can sit internally.
The beauty is I'd just be making my own panel and keeping the original intact

From the readme:
Notebook/palmtop computers may supply insufficient power(through
external keyboard connector) for operation of the system; however,
some do not have the external keyboard at all. To overcome this,
an AC/DC adapter or a dry-cell battery pack can be used as an
auxiliary power supply. These optional power supplies can also be
used in normal and mobile applications.

If your luggable has a serial port maybe you could use a serial-ps/2 adapter to provide power to the CF.

PCMCIA Sound, Storage & Graphics

Reply 19 of 35, by 4xtx

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I think I'll power it externally.. I don't expect it'd use much, but I don't want to risk anything.
The motherboard in the PC-7100 is super-small and compact (about 22cm x 15cm) ! Replacing components would be tricky

lolo799 wrote on 2020-08-25, 18:13:
From the readme: Notebook/palmtop computers may supply insufficient power(through external keyboard connector) for operation of […]
Show full quote
4xtx wrote on 2020-08-24, 05:03:
Hi all, I just won an ebay auction for a datafab MDCFE-SR and am hoping to use it on a luggable 8086 which has no HDD. Keen to […]
Show full quote

Hi all,
I just won an ebay auction for a datafab MDCFE-SR and am hoping to use it on a luggable 8086 which has no HDD.
Keen to know if anyone has jerry rigged up a power adapter to it instead of using keyboard port (luggable doesnt have one)

If it works I am considering making a small bracket for the luggable so it can sit internally.
The beauty is I'd just be making my own panel and keeping the original intact

From the readme:
Notebook/palmtop computers may supply insufficient power(through
external keyboard connector) for operation of the system; however,
some do not have the external keyboard at all. To overcome this,
an AC/DC adapter or a dry-cell battery pack can be used as an
auxiliary power supply. These optional power supplies can also be
used in normal and mobile applications.

If your luggable has a serial port maybe you could use a serial-ps/2 adapter to provide power to the CF.