December 2, 2022

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Gizmo makes overly silent computers noisy again • The Register

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.

Youtube Video

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). ®