As I have been wandering through the graveyard of machines in my "history of technology" collection, I realized that I had started a document on my old (1993) laptop that I very much wanted to get my hands on. I checked all the current machines, but not a copy to be found.
Sensing a challenge that could easily consume days and multiple $$, I immediately plunged in.
Fire up the laptop, an AST PowerExec 4/25 SL. Dead. Power was entering, but nothing was booting or moving. I disassembled the thing, reset all connectors, drive cables and watched as the plastic disintegrated in my hands. No chance of this thing lasting long enough to be discovered as a fossil...
Power up. This time a few plaintive POST beeps, but nothing documented in the manual. This was a no go. I extracted the hard disk and saw that it was contained in a metal box with a connector I had never seen before. Removing the cover, I saw that it was a Seagate 2.5 inch drive. There was hope. The drive came away easily enough, and a quick trip to the web revealed that manuals and diagrams were available. Also that 2.5 inch drives use a special 40 pin cable that supplies power and data. No chance of just plugging the drive into an IDE slot.
Figuring I could mount the drive in an external housing and just connect it to one of the production machines, I researched 2.5 external housings. The Koreans seem to be dominating this area with quite a few suppliers. Found a couple of cases that ran USB2.0 and Firewire, and headed out to Funan to check the stock situation. S$200 for the case. yikes.
And then I remembered that I had used Stacker on the disk. For those who don't remember when hard disks were expensive, Stacker was a disk compression system that loaded a driver at boot time and fooled the OS into thinking that there was a drive twice as large as it actually was. This meant that I had to boot Windows for Workgroups 3.11 if I was going to get the data. No chance for USB or Firewire there.
On a hunch, I dropped into Fast Cables and asked if they had anything that converted 2.5 drive interfaces to IDE. S$7 later, and I had a little printed circuit card with a 40 pin connector on one side, an IDE connector on the other, and a power connector cable dangling from the side. Not pretty, but it had potential.
Home again and I hauled out the old Acer with a Pentium 233 that I had running Linux. The installed hard disk was unceremoniously deprived of its connections, and the now IDE believing 2.5 laptop disk was ready for action.
Power on, BIOS self test, and then .... batch files, memory managers, Norton Utilities, load high statements, Stacker driver, and voila - DOS.
I wondered where Windows went and then remembered that you had to type WIN to get it started. And it worked. No complaints about video drivers, no grumbling about missing anythings, just straight into Windows. And with the 233 Pentium, it moved along quite nicely.
Fired up File Manager, found the file, and then realized that I still just had the data on the same disk and had no way to move it to the production machine. But of course, just connect to the network and transfer the file that way. Except the laptop had some old 3Com PCMCIA card, and the Acer was running a 10BaseT NIC from somewhere else.
In went the network cable, a click on Network Setup, and sure enough, no NIC found. Back to the web. 3Com actually still had the drivers and documentation for the NIC, so a driver floppy emerged from that visit.
Back to WFW and install the NIC. It worked. Wow, this is too easy. Start the network setup routine. "Install disk 7 of WFW" .
OK, now we were pushing even my collection of "stuff that should have been disposed of long ago". Into the disk vault and, unbelievably, a complete set of WFW install disks. Back to the Acer, feed it the disk, and once again, it worked. It had only been 30 minutes and the whole project was threatening to be successful without a struggle.
Restart the machine (some things haven't changed), load Windows, and get a login screen this time. Start up File Manager, punch the Map Drives button, and there they are, most of the computers on my network are visible. Of course, the new uber puter only runs TCP, so just the NETBEUI PC's are visible. The drive maps correctly to E:, I start the copy, and that's it. It worked. 47 minutes.
Now to find something else to break.