This page documents what you need to do to actually build one. Do not fear, I know several people with mediocre soldering skills who’ve done it (I count myself as one of those).
⇡Bill of materials
This is the physical stuff you’ll need.
One or more floppy disk drives. Both 3.5” and 5.25” work. One FluxEngine will even run both drives (but not at the same time, obviously). You’ll also need the appropriate cabling to plug the drives into a PC.
A Cypress PSoC5LP CY8CKIT-059 development board, which is a decently fast ARM core wrapped around a CLDC/FPGA soft logic device. You can get one directly from Cypress via the link above for $10, but shipping can be extortionate depending where you are. You can also find them on eBay or Amazon for about $20.
Either a 17-way header pin strip or a 34-way IDC motherboard connector (or one of the other myriad compatible connectors; there’s a billion).
A floppy drive cable, preferably one with two connectors and a twist.
A suitable power supply. 3.5” floppy drives use 5V at about an amp (usually less) — sadly, too much to power from USB. 5.25” floppy drives also require 12V. An old but decent quality PC power supply is ideal, as it’ll frequently come with the right connectors.
a Windows machine to run the Cypress SDK on. (The FluxEngine client software itself will run on Linux, Windows, and OSX, but you have to build the firmware on Windows.)
Basic soldering ability.
(Optional) Some kind of box to put it in. I found an old twin 5.25” Hewlett Packard drive enclosure and ripped all the SCSI guts out; this not only provides a good, solid box to house both my 3.5” and 5.25” drives in, but also contains an ideal power supply too. Bonus!
All you need to do is attach your chosen connector to the board. You’ll need to make sure that pin 2 on the cable is connected to pin 2.7 on the board, and pin 34 to pin 1.7 on the board (and of course all the ones in between). Apart from grounding the board (see below), this is literally all there is to it. The actual pinout is described in detail below.
The pads are small, but soldering them isn’t too bad with a needle-nosed soldering iron tip.
⇡If you’re using a connector
Line it up like this.
Note the following:
You’re looking at the back of the board (the side without the big square chips). The connector sticks out of the front.
The notch on the connector goes at the top.
The top row of pins on the connector overhang the edge of the board: they remain unconnected.
Also, be aware that some floppy disk cables don’t have a projection on the motherboard end to fit into that notch, and so will plug in either way round. That’s fine, but some of these get round this by missing a hole for pin 5. That way they’ll only plug into the connector one way round, because the connector is missing a pin. If you have one of these cables (I do), you’ll need to use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to pull pin 5 out of the connector.
⇡If you’re using header pins
Line it up like this.
You’re now looking at the top of the board.
(It’s also possible to put the pins on the bottom of the board, or to use a row of header sockets allowing you to plug the board directly onto the floppy disk drive; for simplicity I’m leaving that as an exercise for the reader.)
⇡If you want to use a PCB
Alternatively, you can make an actual PCB!
This is a passive breakout board designed to take a PSoC5 development board, a standard 34-way PC connector, and a 50-way 8” drive connector. It was contributed by a user — thanks!
Download this to get it. This package contains the layout in Eagle format, a printable PDF of the PCB layout, and gerbers suitable for sending off for manufacture.
You also need to solder a wire between a handy GND pin on the board and connect it to ground on the drive. Because the board is powered by USB and the drive by your external power supply, they can be at different potentials, and they need to be tied together.
If you’re using a connector, the simplest thing to do is to bend up one of the unconnected pins and solder a short piece of wire to a GND pin on the board. Alternatively you’ll need to splice it into your drive’s power supply cable somehow. (The black one.)
⇡Programming the board
You’ve got two options here. You can either use the precompiled firmware supplied with the source, or else install the Cypress SDK and build it yourself. If you want to hack the firmware source you need the latter, but if you trust me to do it for you use the precompiled firmware. In either case you’ll need Windows and have to install some Cypress stuff.
Before you read this: If you’re on Windows, good news! You can download a
precompiled version of the FluxEngine client and precompiled firmware from
the GitHub releases
page. Simply unzip
it somewhere and run the
.exe files from a
cmd window (or other shell).
Follow the instructions below to program the board with the firmware.
⇡Using the precompiled firmware
On your Windows machine, install the PSoC Programmer. Note: not the Cypress Programmer, which is for a different board! Cypress will make you register.
Once done, run it. Plug the blunt end of the FluxEngine board into a USB port (the end which is a USB plug, with exposed traces; this is on the smaller section of the board). The programmer should detect it and report it as a KitProg. You may be prompted to upgrade the programmer hardware; if so, follow the instructions and do it.
Now go to File -> File Load and open
FluxEngine.cydsn/CortexM3/ARM_GCC_541/Release/FluxEngine.hex in the
project. If you’re on Windows, the precompiled zipfile also contains a copy
of this file. Press the Program button (the one in the toolbar marked with a
down arrow). Stuff will happen and you should be left with three green boxes
in the status bar and ‘Programming Succeeded’ at the top of the log window.
You’re done. You can unplug the board and close the programmer.
⇡Building the firmware yourself
On your Windows machine, install the Cypress SDK and CY8CKIT-059 BSP. This is a frustratingly long process and there are a lot of moving parts; you need to register. You want the file from the above site marked ‘Download CY8CKIT-059 Kit Setup (Kit Design Files, Creator, Programmer, Documentation, Examples)’. I’m not linking to it in case the URL changes when they update it.
Once this is done, I’d strongly recommend working through the initial tutorial and making the LED on your board flash. It’ll tell you where all the controls are and how to program the board. Remember that you have to plug the programming connector into your computer to flash it; the microusb socket is used only for application control.
When you’re ready, open the
pick ‘Program’ from the menu, and the firmware should compile and be
programmed onto your board.
Note: If programming doesn’t work and you get a strange dialogue box asking about port acquisition, then this is because the device isn’t responding to the programmer. This is normal but annoying. You should see the device in the dialogue. Select it and press the ‘Port Acquire’ button. The device should reset and an extra item will appear in the dialogue; select this and press OK.
If acquiring the port doesn’t work, resulting in the IDE hanging for 45 seconds and then producing a meaningless error message, you need to reset the programmer (the little board hanging off the side of the bigger board). You’ll see that the light on the programmer is pulsing slowly in a breathing pattern. Press and hold the little button near the light for five seconds until the light stays solidly on. Now you should be able to acquire the port and proceed normally.
⇡Building the client
The client software is where the intelligence, such as it is, is. It’s pretty generic libusb stuff and should build and run on Windows, Linux and OSX as well, although on Windows it’ll need MSYS2 and mingw32. You’ll need to install some support packages.
- For Linux with Ubuntu/Debian:
- For Linux with Fedora/Red Hat:
- For OSX with Homebrew:
- For Windows with MSYS2:
These lists are not necessarily exhaustive — please get in touch if I’ve missed anything.
Windows and Linux (and other Unixes) build by just doing
make. OSX builds by
gmake (we’re using a feature which the elderly default make in OSX
doesn’t have). You should end up with some executables in the current
directory, one of which is called
fluxengine.exe depending on
your platform. It has minimal dependencies and you should be able to put it
anywhere. The other binaries may also be of interest.
If it doesn’t build, please get in touch.
⇡Connecting it up
You should now have a working board, so it’s time to test it.
Plug the motherboard end of your floppy disk cable into the FluxEngine.
The red stripe goes on the right. The lower set of holes connect to the board. See the pinout below.
If you’re using header pins, the upper row of holes in the connector should overhang the edge of the board. If you’re using a floppy drive motherboard connector, you’re golden, of course (unless you have one of those annoying unkeyed cables, or have accidentally soldered the connector on in the wrong place — don’t laugh, I’ve done it.)
Plug the drive end of your floppy disk cable into the drive (or drives).
Floppy disk cables typically have two pairs of floppy disk drive connectors with a twist between them. (Each pair has one connector for a 3.5” drive and a different one for a 5.25” drive.) (Some cables are cheap and just have the 3.5” connectors. Some are very cheap and have a single 3.5” connector, after the twist.)
If you have two drives, plug them into both connectors. FluxEngine, sadly, uses non-standard disk numbering (there are reasons). Drive 0 is the one nearest the motherboard; that is, before the twist. Drive 1 is the one at the end of the cable; that is, after the twist. Drive 0 is the default. You can tell the client to select drive 1 by using
If you have one drive, you may plug it into either connector. FluxEngine will autodetect it and treat it as drive 0. However, you’ll get the most reliable electrical signal if you plug it in at the end of the cable.
A note on termination: some 5.25” drives require jumper configuration to tell them whether they’re at the end of the cable or in the middle of the cable. 3.5” drives don’t, and my 5.25” drives don’t, so I can’t advise there. Consult your drive datasheet for details.
Important. Make sure that no disk you care about is in the drive. (Because if your wiring is wrong and a disk is inserted, you’ll corrupt it.)
Connect the floppy drive to power. Nothing should happen. If you’ve connected something in backwards, you’ll see the drive light up, the motor start, and if you didn’t take the disk out, one track has just been wiped. If this happens, check your wiring.
Strip off the little piece of protective plastic on the USB socket on the board — the little socket at the end, not the big programmer plug.
Connect the FluxEngine to your PC via USB.
Insert a scratch disk and do
fluxengine rpmfrom the shell. The motor should work and it’ll tell you that the disk is spinning at about 300 rpm for a 3.5” disk, or 360 rpm for a 5.25” disk. If it doesn’t, please get in touch.
fluxengine test bandwidthfrom the shell. It’ll measure your USB bandwidth. Ideally you should be getting above 800kB/s in both directions. FluxEngine needs about 300kB/s for a DD disk and about 600kB/s for a HD disk, so if you’re getting less than this, try a different USB port.
Insert a standard PC formatted floppy disk into the drive (probably a good idea to remove the old disk first). Then do
fluxengine read ibm. It should read the disk, emitting copious diagnostics, and spit out an
ibm.imgfile containing the decoded disk image (either 1440kB or 720kB depending).
The board pinout and the way it’s connected to the floppy bus is described below.
DIR/SIDE1is the step direction pin. During reads or writes,
SIDE1is also multiplexed onto it, because some drives expect this. This is harmless on other drives because the
DIRpin is ignored during reads or writes.
TXis the debug UART port. It’s on pin 12.7 because the board routes it to the USB serial port on the programmer, so you can get debug information from the FluxEngine by just plugging the programming end into a USB port and using a serial terminal at 115200 baud. If you solder a floppy drive connector on, then it’ll end up connected to pin 4 of the floppy drive bus, which is usually not connected. It’s possible that some floppy drives do, in fact, use this pin. You may wish to remove pin 4 from the floppy drive socket before attaching it to the FluxEngine to make sure that this pin is not connected; however, so far I have not found any drives for which this is necessary. If you do find one, please get in touch so I can document it.
GNDpin only really needs to be connected to one of the floppy bus ground pins; pin 33 is the closest. For extra safety, you can bridge all the odd numbered pins together and ground them all if you like.
INDEX360are optional output pins which generate fake timing pulses for 300 and 360 RPM drives. These are useful for certain rather exotic things. See the section on flippy disks in the FAQ for more details; you can normally ignore these.
TK43is an optional output pin which goes low when the drive is seeking to track 43 or above. This is useful when using 8” floppy drives, which require reduced write current when writing to these tracks.
You should now be ready to go. You’ll want to read the client documentation for information about how to actually do interesting things.
I do make updates to the firmware whenever necessary, so you may need to reprogram it at intervals; you may want to take this into account if you build a case for it. I have a USB extension cable plugged onto the programmer port, which trails out the side of my drive enclosure. This works fine.