Micro ZoomFloppy

Micro ZoomFloppy
Micro ZoomFloppy

During a discussion on the Lemon64 forum, someone suggested a version of ZoomFloppy that would fit inside the CBM drive.  After some tweaks to the idea, I hereby present “Micro ZoomFloppy”.  This unit will sit in the 6522 IC socket and provides complete ZoomFloppy functionality.  The only external connection is a USB jack

Though the board looks finished, it’s just a rough draft.  Some pin changes would help with layout, and I still have one wire to route.  Still, it is coming along nicely.

In case you’re wondering, the 2×8 connector on the bottom is the parallel port header.  The PCB serves double duty.  When fully populated, it’s a complete ZoomFloppy unit.  But, if not populated, it can still be used to add parallel port capabilities to a 1541 device.


Underage Workers

Staff Member Belle Affixing Product Documentation
Staff Member Belle Affixing Product Documentation

ZoomFloppy response has been overwhelming, and we became swamped with orders.  We needed help to push through the last shipments, but I don’t want to pay a lot for staff.  After considering various options, I found these two underage workers who seemed interested in product fulfillment opportunities.  I think I can pay them less than minimum wage and skip FICA and withholding.  I’ll take care of their medical benefits and investments, though.

Seriously, those who are getting the final batch of boards might notice the stickers on the packages are a bit mis-aligned, those were lovingly packed by Belle2.  All units were programmed and tested for functionality by Brent1.

Staff member Brent programming and testing ZF units
Staff member Brent programming and testing ZF units

Also shown is the temporary worldwide headquarters for RETRO Innovations.  Advanced Technology in Action!

IEEE 488 Connectors In Stock

ZoomFloppy with IEEE-488 Connector

Though not immediately useful, to help with the development of IEEE drive support for ZoomFloppy, I acquired a small batch of IEEE connectors for the store.

I’m continuing to looks for a cheaper source of connectors, but they aren’t in huge demand, so the options might be limited.

If interested, they are available in the store.

Initial ZoomFloppy Shipments

ZoomFloppy Orders
ZoomFloppy Orders

The first 25 ZF units arrived on January 12, and the remaining units arrived January 20th. At present, 66 orders have been sent out, and 20 more will go out this weekend.  Shown at left is a record 41 orders shipped out this morning.

We appreciate the interest and orders.  It’s become obvious a new order is in order.

To help with questions about driver installation and/or usage,we’ve listed some resources on the product information page at http://www.go4retro.com/projects/zoomfloppy/.  In addition to a FAQ, there is a Google Group for questions and discussion.  Please consider joining and learning more about this product.

ZoomFloppy Production Started

ZoomFloppy PCB (Assembled)
ZoomFloppy PCB (Assembled)

Although parts were delayed due to a Blizzard in the Midwest this past weekend, I was able to construct ZoomFloppy #1 Monday night.  Though one hopes for first attempt success, that is not often the case.  It was indeed not the case for this construction.

When I designed the board, I knew the 0402-sized surface mount components were small, 1/4 the size of the 0804-sized components I normally utilize for SMT designs.  Still, it’s a bit academic until one actually tries to solder the parts.  At a size that is seems near my eye’s minimum ability to resolve details, the components truly tested my soldering abilities.  For comparison, my finest iron tip is 1/32″, and the parts were about the same size as the tip.  Still, I was able to place each component on the board.

When first powering up the unit, it did register as a USB device, and I was quickly able to load the required firmware.  However, upon re-insertion, the unit registered as “xum1541 (ZOOMFLOPPY)” and demanded USB drivers I did not have.  Since it was late, I left the project at that point and solicited help from Nate (the project designer) and others.

Tuesday night, I had learned what version of OpenCBM to load on the PC, the correct USB drivers had been sent to me in a ZIP file, and progress was made.  The correct drivers were loaded, and OpenCBM commands were issues to the device.

Sadly, initial tests failed.  Before assuming the worst, I checked all solder joints, and measured impedences, on the assumption I had soldered a component incorrectly.  During the inspection, I noticed two resistors attached to the IEC lines were shorted to each other, thus effectively shorting the IEC lines together.  After resolving that issue, the unit successfully passed the tests by transferring data from the drive ROM to the PC.

With no need to spin a new PCB, I released the 98 first batch units to production and ordered the required parts for assembly.  The plan is to quickly assemble 25 units and potentially ship before end of year, with the rest coming quickly in January.  Since the 2×8 header X3 was nominal in cost, I ordered it for inclusion in assembly.

Sale price target is $35.00, and I will add a pre-order option in the store shortly. Given the ease of installation and configuration, I predict significant sales.  This device eliminates the need to fiddle with parallel port settings, trying to remember a myriad of differently lettered adapters, and a need to maintain older systems with legacy ports for disk access purposes.

ZoomFloppy Updates

ZoomFloppy PCB
ZoomFloppy PCB

PCBs for ZoomFloppy are finished and the first 2 are enroute to the US for manual assembly and testing.  Those following the blog for a while or having chatted with me at shows know the sequence for a new product:

  1. Initial prototyping
  2. Unit and system testing
  3. Schematic capture
  4. PCB CAD design
  5. PCB manufacturing
  6. Limited run hand assembly
  7. Final testing
  8. Automated Assembly

Key commitment points include step step 5 and step 8.  Before step 5, little expense is involved, and truly, many projects cease before that step.  Step #5 has become much more economical, so much so that initial production board runs approximate the cost for limited quantity prototype manufacturing.  Thus, I don’t often run a true prototype phase.  At worst, the design has an issue and I need to run another batch of boards, which costs no more than a prototype run + production PCB run.  At best, the first revision works fine, and the money saved can be used elsewhere.

Step #8 is a larger commitment.  Whereas a board run of 100 boards might cost a couple hundred dollars, parts acquisition alone for step #8 can easily cost 1 to 2 thousand, more if the design is a higher end product.  Thus, it makes sense to, in the absence of a prototype PCB phase, hand assemble a few production boards to check final placement, fit, and function.

One the design passes testing, it becomes a waiting game for final assembled boards to arrive for sales.  As in all things, there are 3 criteria: speed, quality, and price.  You can select 2 of the 3 for your project.  I select quality and price, so I typically wait a bit longer for assembly.  In perspective, some assembly houses can do 100 units in 5-10 days, while I typically figure 15-20 days.

Still, things should progress smoothly and quickly once the final testing is done.

ZoomFloppy Production

ZoomFloppy PCB
ZoomFloppy PCB

After a couple rounds of final tweaks by myself and Nate Lawson, I’ve released the ZoomFloppy PCB to production.  The board has been designed to fit inside a standard Hammond 1591XX Black ‘S’ or Translucent ‘TBU’ case. In addition to the normal IEC connector and the Mini USB Type ‘B’ connector, you’ll find a number of additional connection options:

  • A DB-15 “Parallel” socket.  This uses the defacto standard pin mappings
  • A 2×8 Header.  This uses RapiDOS/ProfessionalDOS pin mappings
  • 2×20 Debug Header.  This provides access to each pin of the interface and was designed to allow use of industry standard IDE cables
  • 2×12 IEEE-488 Header.  Since the IEEE-488 Centronics connector can be hard to source and expensive, this connector offers a much cheaper alternative.
  • IEEE-488 24 pin Centronics connector.  The industry standard GPIB/HPIB/IEEE-488 connector.
  • User Port Edge Connector.  This allows the use of older parallel drive cables that assume a connection to the C64 user port.

Only the Mini USB, IEC, and DB-15 connectors will be populated standard.  The IEEE-488 connectors will be stocked when ZoomFloppy adds IEEE drive support, though they will be optional.

Announcing ZoomFloppy

It’s a sad fact that, as technology marches forward, it affects even retro enthusiasts. For years, Commodore users have archived their personal disk collections using the ubiquitous “Star Commander” and some variant of the venerable “X-1541” adapter to connect IEC-based disk drives to the PC. As parallel ports have changed through the years, designers have adapted the X-1541 design to keep up. But, with the advent of the USB port, parallel ports have all but disappeared from the marketplace. The inherent design of the X1541-style cables cannot overcome the loss of a connection to the computer!

A few years ago, Till Harbaum created the XU1541 project, designed to connect via a USB port on newer machines. However, the project was eventually cancelled, with development efforts stalled.

ZoomFloppy Prototype (Courtesy Glenn Holmer)
ZoomFloppy Prototype (Courtesy Glenn Holmer)

Nate Lawson decided to do something about that. Taking a cue from the XU1541 design and identifying its shortcomings, Nate started working on a new implementation using a hardware USB-based Atmel AVR microcontroller via a Bumble B Mini USB Development Board. I got involved in March, when Nate asked if I would be interested in helping with the PCB design. Though initial ideas were to simply build a base for the Bumble-B, cost analysis led us to simply design the Bumble B functionality into a specific-use board.

Nate Lawson Presenting "ZoomFloppy" Details (Courtesy Glenn Holmer)
Nate Lawson Presenting "ZoomFloppy" Details (Courtesy Glenn Holmer)

Though my recent relocation hindered the timeline, I am excited to now announce the upcoming sales of the ZoomFloppy Commodore Drive USB Adapter.  The schematic is finalized, board design is nearly complete.  Nate presented details on the device at the recent Chicago ECCC show, outlining the many features of the new device on his web site, including his ECCC presentation.