Upgrade your old Floppy SNES copier to USB!

Those of us who used mid-1990s copier devices to play <ahem> our homebrew ROMs on have always had to contend with the obsolete technology of 3.5" floppy drives, parallel ports, even -- god forbid -- flaky Zip disks. Fortunately, thanks to bunnyboy's (SNES) PowerPak device and Krikzz's Everdrive line of devices, modern users have a wealth of choices for running ROMs on the SNES, NES, Genesis, N64, etc, straight from an SD or CF card.

However, if you are one of the few who never bought a PowerPak or Everdrive and have still held on to your floppy-based Super UFO or SWC-DX, there are a couple of cheap choices for upgrading to more modern technology.

The one that might be most famous is HxC, a complete SD/USB floppy drive simulator for old computers that use custom disk filesystems and magnetic encoding schemes (think Amiga). The HxC is the most versatile and flexible for playing old game disk images on retro computers. However, at its current price of €80, it's a bit of overkill if your device just uses regular PC FAT formatted floppy disks.

Enter the GOTEK USB-FDD Emulator.

Ostensibly sold as an upgrade path for floppy-based textile machines (in their major markets of China and India) and for synthesizers (coming in a black shell to match the colour scheme, naturally), this device is merely an ARM-equipped FAT12 floppy emulator, so it should work in absolutely any device that uses a regular 1.44MB FAT floppy disk drive.

GOTEK is likely the original manufacturer of this device, but since they are just an OEM supplier, they don't have a webshop or sell directly to consumers as such. (Maybe if you asked for a sample, they'd send you one or two for free, as manufacturers tend to do for legitimate resellers.) Anyway, GOTEK makes the original device, but I've seen obviously the same technology in rebranded devices, sometimes identical, sometimes slightly modified... always more expensive than the simple one pictured here. I got mine for $12 (plus shipping from China) on Yahoo Auctions Japan; you could try e-Bay rather than buy off those expensive re-branders.

Since replacing a regular FDD with the GOTEK unit is quite simple, I'll show a quick pictorial of my work on a Super UFO 8 drive from last night... :-)

Here is a comparison of the USB with the original FDD below it. The GOTEK USB is an inch shorter than the original FDD, so short FDD cables might not stretch all the way...
My UFO 8 before disassembly...
The UFO with the top off...
Here, I've lifted the floppy drive up before removal. Weird... the spinning tray is fully exposed to the UFO circuitry below. I wonder if it acts as a cooling fan, a dust magnet, or a Van de Graaf generator...
I've fitted the USB drive in. Two small problems -- the FDD cable had to be stretched forwards and to the right, so there is a little bit of tension on it. Also, the GOTEK case is all cheap, soft plastic, so when I refitted the holding screws, I had to widen the tiny holes with a bit of pressure on it from my screwdriver.
Anyway, it's in there and working like a charm. Without a USB stick plugged in, the drive acts as if there's no disk inserted. With the stick inserted, I can press the buttons on the face to increase the "virtual disk" number. The USB drive partitions the USB stick into up to 100 1.44MB virtual floppies.
Thus, loading multi-disk ROMs is now super easy. I split up one 32Mb ROM into four 8Mbit files on my computer, and put them each onto one virtual FDD. When the UFO loads one ROM part and asks for the next disk, I just press the face button once to advance to the next disk.

The only complicated procedure is that this device requires that a USB drive be partitioned into 100 sections, only one of which is visible at a time to Windows (or your OS). There is software (usually) included that makes batch partition formatting and switching quite quick and easy. Still, it's kinda disappointing that the technology is not at an advanced enough level to let you access the stick from the UFO and/or PC as one giant 2GB floppy disk...

GOTEK makes several varieties of the same device, specialized for 720k-only systems and so on, AND on their website they actually have a model that uses 100 numbered folders on a single large USB stick (rather than partitions) but I haven't seen any online shops make a single mention of that model for sale. I have heard of related USB FDD emulators that reportedly let you dump all your files in a single directory, and the emulator breaks that up into floppy disk(s), but I have no idea if that works well or not. Anyway, beware that this device needs a little prodding from a Windows program to get it to open up all 100 FDD partitions to you, but beyond that, it's a HELL of a lot easier than swapping those accursed floppy disks over and over.

-- Chris Covell