One of the pitfalls of being tasked with maintaining legacy hardware is that the hardware in question is often tied to out-of-date storage technologies (for example, floppy drives or PATA-connected hard drives), which are prone to failure -- like many consumable storage devices -- particularly, with age. However, with a bit of creative engineering and a great deal of ingenuity from Chinese vendors, you can update your legacy hardware using some rather neat devices.
USB floppy drive emulator
The SFR1M44-U100 USB floppy drive emulator is an interesting little device that, with a corresponding driver for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, can accept a USB drive and transfer the data to a computer as a floppy drive. Using the controls on the front, you can move between partitions on the USB drive. In theory, this is faster than using a traditional floppy disk, as the transfer rate of the device is 500 kbps. The peak speed of a 3.5" floppy disk is about 1000 kbps, but due to the involved overhead, the actual speeds are typically much lower.
A somewhat more expensive version of this product, the SFR1M44-FU, is capable of supporting USB drives formatted as FAT32, and it has onboard memory to store data as FAT12. It also has support for Tajima and Happy brand computerized embroidery machines.
Parallel ATA disk on module
This particular storage solution isn't exactly novel, and it's only been available in high capacities for reasonable prices in the last few years. For 32 GB at $36.00 (USD), the disk on module (DOM) is a reasonable replacement for a failing PATA hard drive. There are other benefits to this sort of replacement as well, as the disk on module replaces both the platter hard drive and the airflow-obstructing PATA ribbon cable that goes along with it.
Other IDE flash solutions
If you'd prefer to use your own memory for this, there's always the option of using a CF to IDE converter, though the performance of this depends largely on the quality of memory being used, and fault handling is similarly dependent on the CF card. Alternate configurations of this are available, including a PCI expansion-size slot version, a 44-pin version for laptops and mobile devices, and another 44-pin version that chains two CF cards as a master/slave configuration.
4x microSD to microSATA 1.8" drive
This idea is really somewhat amazing, but it makes perfect sense, particularly for smaller and embedded drives. Using this card converter, you can insert four microSDHC cards, which will be grouped as a RAID0 device and identified to the computer as a standard hard disk drive. This is an interesting form factor to work with, as there are not an abundance of cheap or readily available solid state drives at 1.8". Considering the relatively inexpensive cost of microSD cards -- particularly during Black Friday sales -- this is a useful option for portable embedded devices that use this form factor, such as UMPCs.
For users who don't need that small of a form factor, this is also available as a 2.5" drive package that accepts full-size SD cards, which are typically cheaper than microSD cards.
There are an endless number of legacy devices out there, such as shifty old ATMs still running IBM OS/2 (if not eComStation) on hardware that's easily a decade old. Point of sale (POS) terminals also get overlooked in upgrades, because they aren't crunching numbers big enough to warrant replacement for the sake of replacement. Matthew Nawrocki, another contributor at TechRepublic, noted that he spotted a 486DX being unloaded at a BlockBuster video store clearance sale.
Older hardware is still churning along and, with these interesting storage solutions, you can keep your deployed legacy hardware churning along, or even give it a new spring in its step.
Have you tried any of these storage solutions? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware. James is currently a student at Wichita State University in Kansas.