Brother word processor disks are weird, using custom tooling and chipsets. They are completely not PC compatible in every possible way other than the size.

Different word processors use different disk formats — the only ones supported by FluxEngine are the 120kB and 240kB 3.5” formats. The default options are for the 240kB format. For the 120kB format, which is 40 track, do fe-readbrother -s :t=1-79x2.

Apparently about 20% of Brother word processors have alignment issues which means that the disks can’t be read by FluxEngine (because the tracks on the disk don’t line up with the position of the head in a PC drive). The word processors themselves solved this by microstepping until they found where the real track is, but normal PC drives aren’t capable of doing this. Particularly with the 120kB disks, you might want to fiddle with the start track (e.g. :t=0-79x2) to get a clean read. Keep an eye on the bad sector map that’s dumped at the end of a read.

Using FluxEngine to write disks isn’t a problem, so the simplest solution is to use FluxEngine to create a new disk, with the tracks aligned properly, and then use a word processor to copy the files you want onto it. The new disk can then be read and you can extract the files. Obviously this sucks if you don’t actually have a word processor, but I can’t do anything about that.

If you find one of these misaligned disks then please get in touch; I want to investigate.

Reading discs

Just do:


You should end up with a brother.img which is 239616 bytes long.

Writing discs

Just do:


…and it’ll write a brother.img file which is 239616 bytes long to the disk. (Use -i to specify a different input filename.)

Low level format

The drive is a single-sided 3.5” drive spinning at not 300 rpm (I don’t know the precise speed yet but FluxEngine doesn’t care). The 240kB disks have 78 tracks and the 120kB disks have 39.

The Brother drive alignment is kinda variable; when you put the disk in the drive it seeks all the way to physical track 0 and then starts searching for something which looks like data. My machine likes to put logical track 0 on physical track 3. FluxEngine puts logical track 0 on physical track 0 for simplicity, which works fine (at least on my machine). If this doesn’t work for you, get in touch; there are potential workarounds.

Each track has 12 256-byte sectors. The drive ignores the index hole so they’re lined up all anyhow. As FluxEngine can only read from index to index, it actually reads two complete revolutions and reassembles the sectors from that.

The underlying encoding is exceptionally weird; they use two different kinds of GCR, one kind for the sector header records and a completely different one for the data itself. It also has a completely bizarre CRC variant which a genius on StackOverflow reverse engineered for me. However, odd though it may be, it does seem pretty robust.

See the source code for the GCR tables and CRC routine.

Sectors are about 16.2ms apart on the disk (at 300 rpm). The header and data records are 0.694ms apart. (All measured from the beginning of the record.) The sector order is 05a3816b4927, which gives a sector skew of 5.

High level format

Once decoded, you end up with a file system image.

120kB disks

These disks use a proprietary and very simple file system. It’s FAT-like with an obvious directory and allocation table. I have reversed engineered a very simple tool for extracting files from it. To show the directory, do:

.obj/brother120tool image.img

To extract a file, do:

.obj/brother120tool image.img filename

Wildcards are supported, so use '*' for the filename (remember to quote it) if you want to extract everything.

This is extremely experimental. The data structures I’ve figured out are mostly consistent, but it looks like there’s always garbage in the last sector of each file, so maybe I’m not getting the file lengths right.

Any questions? please get in touch.

240kB disks

Conversely, the 240kB disks turns out to be a completely normal Microsoft FAT file system with a media type of 0x58 — did you know that FAT supports 256 byte sectors? I didn’t — of the MSX-DOS variety. There’s a faint possibility that the word processor is based on MSX-DOS, but I haven’t reverse engineered it to find out.

Standard Linux mtools will access the filesystem image and allow you to move files in and out. However, you’ll need to change the media type bytes at offsets 0x015 and 0x100 from 0x58 to 0xf0 before mtools will touch it. Once done, this will work:

mdir -i brother.img
mcopy -i brother.img ::brother.doc linux.doc

The word processor checks the media byte, unfortunately, so you’ll need to change it back to 0x58 before writing an image to disk.

Converting the equally proprietary file format to something readable is, unfortunately, out of scope for FluxEngine.

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