Vintage Computers — 9

This enchanting vintage computer journey began with wanting to image some floppy disks.

MS-DOS has a diskcopy command, but to my knowledge the command does not support copying to an image file. Possibly the FreeDOS version of the command supports images, but I do not have anything configured with that software. While many of the floppy disks are related to MS-DOS and Windows 3.x, DOS is not needed to image the floppies.

Creating images of floppy disks is straightforward with the dd command. I did need a floppy disk drive though.

The computers with floppy disk drives were not in the office. They are stored on basement shelves, next to the basement workbench. While much of the basement is finished, that particular location is “raw basement.” The part of a map that warns, “Here be dragons.”

Being isolated by finished walls, that location is always colder than other parts of the basement or the house. There is an Ethernet cable there, mostly because long ago I thought perhaps a computer at the workbench might be useful. While that “remote” network connectivity would allow me to image floppy disks to a shared network directory, I did not relish doing so from that “cold corner of the basement.”

This has been much the case for all of the infrequently used computers resting on those shelves.

That spawned the idea of moving the K6-III+ and Pentium II systems into the office. This required nominal revamping of the house network, of which the office is the center hub. The idea that the computers would be readily available on the house network in a comfortable office seemed more palatable than fetching computers off the shelf, playing sneaker net, or sitting in a cold corner.

Fortunately I had sufficient Ethernet cables, power strips, monitors, keyboards, and an extra network switch to enable the expansion.

The K6-III+ system can boot into three different operating systems — Slackware 14.1, Windows NT4, or MS-DOS with Windows for Workgroups (WFWG). The Pentium II system has Slackware 14.1 on the hard disk.

I moved the K6-III+ and Pentium II systems into the corner of the office near the router and network switches. To avoid dealing with carpeting I rummaged a couple of 1/4 inch plywood sheets that coincidentally were cut to an appropriate size to be used under each computer. A power strip connected both to provide power.

I connected both computers to an IOGear GCS612A 2-port KVM to provide a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. That KVM has been in use for about 20 years. Through the KVM both computers use the Samsung SyncMaster 712N monitor. An el-cheapo TP-Link 5-port network switch that was being used to provide multiple connections in a VLAN no longer was needed in that capacity and was used to connect the computers to the primary network switch.

I updated the house network maps. So ended Yet Another Side Journey.

I powered on the K6-III+ and Pentium II systems. From there I needed only dd the floppy disk images to a network share. All computers in the house network are configured to shuffle files all over the place, just like a network should function. Concurrently using both computers I finished imaging the 3.5 floppy disks.

There were some 5.25 inch disks that I wanted imaged. The 486 system has that disk drive. To image those floppies with dd I had to temporarily restore the original 20 GB disk and use the painfully slow Linux. Fortunately that did not take long and soon I had the 486 restored.

Contemplating I might again need to temporarily use Linux on the 486 I created an image backup of the 20 GB hard disk.

Unlike the other two vintage computers the 486 was relegated to remain in the land of dragons. Some reflection unveiled a way to bring that computer, keyboard, mouse, and monitor into the office. A 4-port KVM might be more ideal, but for now the arrangement suffices. Other than basic file sharing there is no two-way “remote” access with SSH, but now I no longer have to tread into the cold land of dragons to access the computer.

Likely I will move the 5.25 inch floppy disk drive into the K6-III+ system. That system has WFWG installed but more importantly, a Slackware system to provide easy access to the device as well as SSH. The WFWG operating system is the most likely candidate for accessing and archiving such old disks. I might never again need the 5.25 inch floppy drive, but if I did I do not want to depend on the 486 for that access.

Too many side journeys. Yet now all of the floppy disks were imaged and archived.

That I have been able to archive all of these floppy disks is remarkable. Floppy disks that have sat in storage for two to three decades and the data remained readable.

More to come.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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