The best way to make a sluggish old computer quicker is to replace spinning rust with some flash chippery. The snag is that loses part of the experience: the sound.
It doesn’t need to be a purpose-made SSD. In fact, right now, The Reg FOSS desk has a smallish CF card and an adapter to turn it into a 2.5″ drive, waiting for a window in the diary so it can give an Amiga 1200 a new lease of life. While the speed boost is very gratifying, part of the authentic retro computing experience is the sound effects – such as hearing the hard disk head seeking.
But German hacker Root42, or Matthias Werner as his mother calls him, has come up with a solution: the HDD Clicker. He designed a tiny PCB that attaches to the connector for the disk-access LED, and which uses a tiny piezo-electric buzzer to emit a brief click every time the LED flashes. An output connector allows it to drive the original LED in turn.
It’s not his first bit of retro computing kit. He has a few other devices on his website and has posted a few demonstration videos on the device’s page, demonstrating the sounds of the device running a DOS disk defrag or a scan with the Norton Disk Doctor.
It’s simple and ingenious. It doesn’t attempt to emulate the different noises a disk makes during initialization and so on, just a sound on access – but even so, we suspect that the rhythm should still allow a practiced ear to tell what the computer is up to. It’s genuinely useful information. As an example, back in the era when Windows NT 4 was new and Intel shipped the PIIX southbridge chip, its first to support bus-mastering DMA, you could hear if a machine had the Triton bus-mastering disk driver installed. Once the kernel started, suddenly disk accesses made a buzzing noise instead of discrete clicks.
To be fair, there are comparable devices out there. Statesside vendors Big Mess O’ Wires offer a solid-state floppy drive emulator for Apple II owners, plus an optional extra, the Noisy Disk. We reckon the clever bit of Root42’s gadget was coming up with a cheap and cheerful way to do this for a (fake) hard disk, in a standard way.
A version is already going into commercial production thanks to Serdashop where it will cost you a princely €25 ($24.49/ £22.06). ®