As I am becoming increasingly aware with my work restoring a Series III Fairlight CMI, probably the weakest link in its chain is its storage method, I.E. its disk drives. The first two series of the CMI relied on 8″ floppy disk drives. Back then, these were current technology, but they were still fragile and prone to damage. When Fairlight introduced the Series III, the installed, what was then, a new fangled Winchester Hard Disk Drive. This had around 190MB capacity but was large and very heavy! Here is the one I have here, next to a modern day 3.5″ IDE drive…
For people who are restoring and using Fairlight CMI’s today, this can be the single most difficult and important thing to worry about, seeing as the disks carry the operating system as well as sample, song and instrument data. This is particularly relevant with the Series I and II machines. A Series III can be retro fitted quite easily with a SCSI 3.5″ drive, just like we have done here.
So, what can be done? Well, how about a Flash Drive that uses a present day SD card? Lots of storage capacity, no moving parts, lightweight, relatively cheap and extremely portable! Well this is exactly what Fairlight fan/user and synth restorer extraordinaire Jean-Bernard Emond has done and for a respectable €400, you can retro fit a CMI I, II or IIx with such a drive, giving you reliability, capacity and speed benefits.
Here’s what Jean-Bernard has to say, in his own words…
“Why should you replace one of the 8’’ floppy drives of your Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument by this diskdrive emulator ?
There are three reasons :
It’s currently very difficult to find or to buy functional blank 8’’ floppy disks.
The floppy drives are often faulty or grimey, and it is more difficult to find a cleaning floppy or alignment floppy ! And what about a new functional diskdrive ?
The original floppy disks, which are often more than 30 years old, are very often unreadable because they are worn, damaged (by scratch, mildew) or corrupt (by magnetism).
The Fairlight C.M.I.’s FLASH KIT is the solution to these problems and new features are added !
Indeed, the flash kit allows you to do the following :
save your sounds on your computer (Mac or PC),
easily exchange your sounds and compositions via Internet,
access to hundreds of virtual disks with out having to carry large and heavy 8’’ disks,
not have reliability problems disks that do not work at a crucial moment.
The Flash Kit includes :
documentation (the one that you are reading now),
a SD type flash Memory card where the disk images are stored,
a Flash drive (The black metal structure with many electronics boards),
a fifty way cable,
a thirty-four way cable with converter attached,
a two way power cable.
How does the flash drive work ?
The Flash player behaves like a 8″ floppy drive ! When you start and depending on the setting of the switches CMI nothing will happen as long as you do not select a startup disk image !
You can choose between several modes of operation the drive 8″ remaining, which by default is configured as drive 0 (boot drive) and flash drive that comes configured drive 1 (data drive).
The Flash player is able to emulate two virtual drives! The A and B ! The hole in the front is to insert an SD card.
The use of the flash drive is very easy. As it is based on the HxC drive, it works like it ! There are also three LED : green, orange and red.
The left and right black buttons allow you to scroll through the choices. The validation button is to confirm your choice. In order to have the configuration mode, press and hold the validation button for many seconds. A specific menu will appear on the LCD display.
The display contrast can be adjusted using the knob to the right of the front panel.
You have also a sound beep when the flash drive change of virtual head and when you move in folder’s, file’s and when you confirm a choice.
Compatible flash cards are SDHC Card and up to 32GB capacity. They are being formatted in FAT32 format. Caution !! I do not recommend to use a Macintosh, because Mac OS/X creates hidden files that can affect the proper functioning of the Flash Player. Use a PC.
You can get more details on setting up the Flash kit by reading the documentation.
The last update of the installation documentation is in the file : FLASH-KIT_UK.pdf
UPDATE: 11th Sept. 2013. I’ve spoken to Jean-Bernard today and he tells me that this kit will also work with a Series III CMI but that the front plate will need to be modified. He has told me that this is something he is planning to do soon Hmmm… I wonder…
Here are some demo videos that Jean-Bernard has made…
Jean-Bernard needs at least 5 orders to justify a production run, so if this kind of thing appeals to you, you can order directly via his website, MuStudio.
Excellent work from Jean-Bernard. A superb effort to keep these great machines going for many more years