Compact flash recommendation needed please

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Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby retro games 100 » 2011-1-29 @ 09:27

I've spent a couple of days testing various CF drives on a 386 and 486 mobo. The 386 mobo uses an IO controller, and the 486 uses an integrated IDE controller. I've also tested a couple of HDDs on both mobos. My results are really inconsistent. The only CF drive I can get to work reliably on both systems is an old FujiFilm 128MB.

I've got 3 Transcend 133x 2GB CFs, but they behave differently on all systems. One works perfectly. One allows you to install DOS on it but when you boot up DOS, it displays the letter j on the screen and stops. The last one doesn't get recognised at all by the system. I can't discount the possibility that one or more of these devices are faulty, even though they were bought new. I bought them from ebay. Mistake, perhaps?

I also bought a 300x speed CF. That won't get recognised by either 386 or 486 system. Buying that CF was a mistake. I've also got a 100x FujiFilm CF, and curiously, that one is just as bad.

What's the safest CF to use, for old 386 and 486 systems? I was hoping for something a bit bigger and faster than my old 128MB CF, but if that's going to be safest CF to use, then I'll have to stick with that. Also, I'm having mixed results with a new 80GB HDD. I've also ordered a 2.5" 80GB drive, and I'm hoping it doesn't use 48-bit addressing, because that seems to cause some problems with old systems. I'm thinking that if CF drives can be unreliable on some old systems, then perhaps it's best to stick to a standard HDD. Of course, another problem to add to this situation is that all modern HDDs are huge. 80GB seems to be the smallest you can buy these days.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Markk » 2011-1-29 @ 09:42

I have been using both CF and SD cards in old pcs. With every single card, in the begining I had problems like yours. I mean, I would set it's parameters in bios correctly, then create partitions and format them. Then I would install dos, and it would not boot. But if I boot using a bootdisk, the card works ok as a disk. First I found out that if I installed the card as a disk in my old 286, and low-level formatted it, using the format disk option in the diagnostics, seemed to solve the problem. Another way I've found, is a small dos utility, called clearhdd.exe . If you use that, it wipes out entirely the disk, and seems to correct that problem. You simply have to copy that file on a bootdisk, and on the dos prompt you need to run clearhdd 0 (or probably 1 if it is your second, slave drive). Then you use fdisk and format again, and it should be ok. Recently I've read that a compact flash card needs to be set to fixed disk rather than to removable. I don't know if this applies to windows only or also in DOS, but maybe that is what this utility or the low level format does.
Last edited by Markk on 2011-1-29 @ 09:44, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Mau1wurf1977 » 2011-1-29 @ 09:43

I got some cheap ones from eBay in 2 and 4 GB sizes. The 4 GB one is a lot faster but not sure if 386 boards have UDMA?

The brand is MEMORETTE I believe...
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby retro games 100 » 2011-1-29 @ 10:06

Thanks a lot for the info! :happy: I'd be really grateful if you could please provide a download link to clearhdd.exe, or just upload it as an attachment. Thanks a lot if possible!
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Markk » 2011-1-29 @ 10:29

I found sth. See if that works. If not, I have to get it from my win98 startup disk where I'm sure I have it.

edit : While searching for it, I found out it was made by samsung. It was freeware, but I can't find it on their web site right now.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby DonutKing » 2011-1-29 @ 10:34

Ive been using the Transcend 133x cards on various machines under dos and I've noticed that they will work fine for a while then randomly get a disk read error, sometimes when running a program but most often during big file copies.


No rhyme or reason to it, if you restart the operation it will usually go through, or sometimes fail at a different point.

I'm keen to try this clearhdd util or a low level format and see if that fixes it.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Markk » 2011-1-29 @ 10:41

Sometimes that problem appeared to me also. And I had read and write errors. But it would occur as you say randomly and not always. However I doubt that it is a problem of the card, as it isn't happening on all systems. Maybe it has to do with the controller.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Mau1wurf1977 » 2011-1-29 @ 10:42

DonutKing wrote:then randomly get a disk read error, sometimes when running a program but most often during big file copies.


I had this issue on my Super Socket 7 machine. I solved it by using the secondary IDE controller. So maybe give that a go?
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Markk » 2011-1-29 @ 10:47

Mau1wurf1977 wrote:I had this issue on my Super Socket 7 machine. I solved it by using the secondary IDE controller. So maybe give that a go?

That's exactly what I did! I used to have a transcend 300x 2gb CF card, as primary master hd, on a soyo socket 7 board. Then I replaced it with a physical disk, which I used only for dos games. I had the cd-rom as slave, and the CF card as secondary master, and there I had windows 98. Then it worked flawless....

btw, it was a pentium 166mmx, with 64MB ram, and it needed just 21-22" to boot windows 98 se.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby Mau1wurf1977 » 2011-1-29 @ 10:51

Markk wrote:that's exactly what I did!


Fascinating! Maybe we are onto something here...

DonutKing could you try the secondary IDE controller and see if this resolves your issue?
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby 5u3 » 2011-1-29 @ 12:04

I've had troubles with my Transcend 8 GB 133x CF card before, and I'm still not sure what caused it. There are too many factors involved, especially on my overclocked 486 with an IDE controller that is notorious for bugs.

I never got read/write errors, but the FAT32 filesystems on the card got corrupted twice since use the card. In both cases I had mounted the card in other machines (Win98, Linux) shortly before.

It has worked OK for some time now...

retro games 100 wrote:What's the safest CF to use, for old 386 and 486 systems? I was hoping for something a bit bigger and faster than my old 128MB CF, but if that's going to be safest CF to use, then I'll have to stick with that.

Seen from a technical standpoint, the 128 MB CF is the one most likely to fail: The maximum number of write/erase cycles on old CF cards is lower than on newer cards, so it will fail sooner. The wear levelling feature is less efficient on old cards, and over the long run, the smaller size invariably results in more write/erase cycles per block, which in turn wears down the card even faster.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby retro games 100 » 2011-1-29 @ 12:25

As always, you guys provide awesome retro knowledge! Thanks. I downloaded the very useful clearhdd.exe attachment, and it has resolved some problems which I could not overcome. Here's my current 486 set up:

C: = Working CF drive mounted in primary integrated IDE channel 1
D: = Non working CF drive mounted in primary integrated IDE channel 2

I boot up to DOS on C: I then run clearhdd.exe, and wipe the D:\ drive. Many times, this util reports an error, and I simply rerun it until it works without error. After this, I can put the CF from D: in to C:, and then boot up from an A: diskette. I then FDISK and FORMAT drive C:

I've had two problems so far. Problem #1 = one "random" read error occured on my Transcend 133x 2GB drive. Problem #2 = If I FDISK the drive using LBA, MS-DOS refuses to install on to it. It complains about not being able to write to the boot block sector, or something like that. If I switch off LBA, and run FDISK to make the drive only equal to 503 MB in size, all is well, and DOS installs and boots up correctly on it.

I am currently ploughing through all of my CF drives, of all speeds and sizes, and doing the above operation on them all. That includes installing DOS. I'll report back when I've done all of them, with any more issues that I encounter. I have come to the following very "quick and lazy" conclusion - the best size CF to get could be 512 MB, for compatibility concerns on old 386/486 mobos. Also, the clearhdd is a very useful utility.

Edit: I've noticed that the SpeedSys HDD test does not work on one of my CF drives - the 512 MB one. It just freezes. It works on my Transcend 2GB CF however.
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Re: Compact flash recommendation needed please

Postby retro games 100 » 2011-1-29 @ 13:57

Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. :oops: I did manage to correct a problem with one of my 512MB CF drives, but all of the others still won't respond inside my 486 mobo. I've tried the clearhdd.exe utility using the 486 mobo, and also a slot 1 mobo.
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