First post, by Ozzuneoj
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.
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
Now for some blitting from the back buffer.