Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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I’ve found an answer for the Atari disk question by now with the help of friends and a comment on that post. The basic problem is to transfer a file which most likely resides on Syquest cartridge in some Atari format on our Atari ST to a current computer. Obviously the old machine doesn’t have an Airport connection and I’ve also never used a modem, an Ethernet adaptor (I think those exist) or a serial connection on the Atari, so those aren’t viable options and the only reasonable way of doing this transfer is using a disk.

The Atari uses 3,5″ double density disks in a sort of MS DOS format. It can read and write MS DOS format disks but its own way of formatting them must differ in some small way. At least the average MS DOS computer or Mac will refuse to read them. I think there used to be special software for reading these disks but that’s just extra trouble. So I decided to get a proper MS DOS formatted 3,5″ double density disk.

It turns out this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nobody has double density disks these days. Well, nobody has floppy disks these days. And those who do have high density ones. Not good for the Atari. But, ‘no problem’ I thought, we just format it as double density. I seem to remember that you always got that option when initialising a high density disk on the Mac. And it didn’t sound unfamiliar to the Windows guys (i.e. the people who actually still have floppy drives) either. But, we had to learn the hard way that Windows XP dropped the feature of formatting high density disks in double density format. In fact, Windows seems to have a very Windows-eseque dialogue for formatting disks. It has three drop-down menus, each of which contains exactly one option. Well done.

The next hint my flatmate found was to use Windows’ DOS window and use the good old format command with some options there. This looked promising and failed with some error message on track 0. After three previously good disks gave us that error message, we decided it was the software’s fault rather than the disks. And further internet search by Leif revealed that this was correct. And that there is a way to solve this problem after all.

And the solution is a freaky as it is cool. Remember how back in the days you could punch an extra hole into your double density disk to potentially turn them into high density ones? Well, more than a decade later we just reverse that process. Start with a high density disk and stick some tape over the hole that isn’t the write protection one. The computer will then ‘sense’ that it’s a double density one. And using the DOS command FORMAT A: /T:80 /N:9 – optionally in non-capitals, but that’d look less authentic – will format the disk in double density format.

So, yup, it’s freaky that the software to do the formatting still exists but can’t be used easily. But on the other hand, any problem solution involving ‘tape’ of some kind is reasonably cool…

And, in fact, it worked just fine. Sitting at the Atari and trying to copy over the files, I was reminded that file management wasn’t particularly comfortable back in the 1980s. And file copying wasn’t particularly fast either.

December 11, 2005, 9:48


Comment by d.w.: User icon

“FORMAT A: /T:80 /N:9 – optionally in non-capitals, but that’d look less authentic”

Classic, Sven. :)

December 11, 2005, 19:26

Comment by Dave2: User icon

I have an old Mac I keep around, specifically because it has a SCSI bus that I can use for my old Syquest drive. It also has other older storage technologies like “magneto-optical” and “ZIP” and “JAZ” drives so I can access most anything I dig up.

I’ve long-since transferred all my files off my trusty Atari ST. But it too is kept around for some cool old games that I can’t find for my Mac (the original Populus is GOLD!).

December 11, 2005, 19:41

Comment by ssp: User icon

Games are the main usage of our old ST now, that’s why it’s in the holiday flat :) But we only have the black and white screen so we don’t have that much of a choice. It’s mostly stuff like Pacman, the wonderful Wizard Royal or the addictive Empire we’re playing.

Unfortunately SCSI won’t do any good for the Atari’s Syquest drive, but I don’t mind too much. I transferred all my data back in the days (getting to know the wonderful world of line-end conversion right away…)

And Atari games obsessed us enough for Steffen to go and re-program Ballerburg (which at least in Germany was an absolute classic and must-have for the ST-owning people). Hmmm, must play that again. There are even plans to allow network games… and those used to work already in some test version. Unfortunately that never got quite stable… perhaps I need to bug Steffen a bit more about this.

December 11, 2005, 20:02

Comment by Ebby: User icon

Found myself hugging and kissing my Atari this afternoon after it switched on etc. I have not switched this Atari on for 8years now. I had very important MIDI files to xfer onto my PC & MAC systems and “You” would have got a load of my kisses and hugs today trust me! Thank you very much for your advise / article it worked like magic. Thanks again. Ebby

February 25, 2006, 21:25

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