Spirit HDA-506 interface for the Amiga 500/1000

The year is 2011. Storage is astonishingly cheap and ubiquitous with even basic mobile phones providing gigabytes of space for whatever stuff people deem fit to put on there.

Roll back 23 years or, to put that in context, very nearly a human generation.  The 3.5″ floppy was the storage device of choice, and compared to cassette tape or 5.25″ floppy enjoyed by home computer users of yore was fast, cheap and reliable.  But of course, we wanted more and hard drive technology was becoming nearly accessible.

The earliest standard was the ST-506 interface, developed by Shugart Associates in 1980 and rapidly adopted by other manufacturers.  The drives were basic, taking control signals in and returning raw magnetic stream information to the controller card, but they worked – providing the controller card and drive would speak to each other.  Drives really were dumb, needing everything doing for them because they were just there to read flux changes of a disk. It’s not an accident that IDE stands for Intelligent Drive Electronics, because these precursors to that system were anything but!

Controller cards using 8-bit ISA interfaces were the standard way of connecting these to computers, and thanks to a bit of ingenuity these PC controller cards could be used on other systems.  Omti was probably the best known manufacturer of such cards.

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