The world's largest USB thumb drive has just 10MB of space

By Shawn Knight
Apr 22, 2015
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  1. The Vintage Computer Festival took place last weekend in Wall, New Jersey. Its mission is to both promote the preservation of obsolete computers and afford people the opportunity to experience the technologies, people and stories that led us to where we are today.

    One of the standouts from the event is this RL02, a 10MB hard disk with removable platters from the late 70s. Looking to learn more about FPGAs (and without the necessary equipment to properly run it), Christopher Parish built a custom controller for the drive that allowed him to essentially turn it into a massive (albeit small in terms of capacity) USB storage device. It's far from practical but cool to visualize just how far technology has come and how old hardware can be made to work with modern equipment.

    Found is a TechSpot feature where we share clever, funny or otherwise interesting stuff from around the web.

    Permalink to story.

  2. As someone who started my career at DEC in 1981, the RL02 brings back found memories of DEC.
    It was an exciting time in the industry, every time you turned around something new showed up.
  3. insect

    insect TS Evangelist Posts: 315   +114

    That is a really cool feat of computer engineering!

    Kind of funny that our data from 198X is no longer safe either... "Forestry data from 1985..." :D
  4. Well, I started MY career in the 1960s - when they had DRUM drives which the hard disk supplanted.
    Ever heard if an IBM 2311? 2314? Or a 2321 nitrogen-powered noodle-picker?
    Right now I'm building a USB thumbdrive using a 100-meg 3330 disk drive (google it)
    It might be hard to fit it into your pocket. Or briefcase. Or car... But it is VERY robust!
  5. Brewskie

    Brewskie TS Rookie Posts: 28   +6

    This is why I love coming to TechSpot

    Someone always comes along talking about cool stuff

    That I haven't a clue as to what their talking about

    cliffordcooley and SuperVeloce like this.
  6. When I worked for DEC, a customer (I think it was Bell Labs) had taken his rl02 cartridge to a show or customer site. It contained compiled code and source for something he was showing. It was his master disk (he didn't make a copy). On the way back in the airport he dropped it.

    He could no longer read it. The local DEC branch manager asked if anyone wanted to try getting the data off it for a $1000.

    We had a support guy (one of the smartest people I have ever met) who took the cartridge and put it in a rl02 drive, and stripped the covers off the drive.
    The rl02 cartridge had a servo track for each data track, with an oscilloscope he was able to find and position the heads over the servo tracks, lock the heads in position with scotch tape and read copy the data to another rl02. It took about 8 hours, but he made $1000 for his work (that was 1980s money).

    As I said this guy was fantastic. He was also able to read VAX hex code printout of a UNIX tape driver (the source was not available) and determine that a wrong value was being deposited in a tape controller register.
  7. Nima304

    Nima304 TS Guru Posts: 365   +81

    That guy sounds bloody amazing. I would have loved to work alongside him.
  8. The headline for this article is very misleading. The device IS NOT a thumb drive. It is a fully fledged disk drive of mammoth proportions compared to the size of an industry standard thumb drive.

    Further, it hardly qualifies as a USB drive. It does qualify as an experiment in rejuvenating old technology. If you want to see another terrific example of such, search the web for the re-birth of the original PDP8 computer used by the physcology department at the University of Iowa from more than 40 years ago. Also, someone built an "equivalent" PDP8 computer with an Arduino micro-controller, and there is a PDP8 emulator out there as well.

    That old technology has some fascination.

    I once brought an old Apple SC40 hard disk back to life (just 40 meg of disk space). This device was a full height 5 1/4 inch mechanism that seemed to weigh a ton by comparison with modern half-height 3 1/2 inch drives. Unfortunately, after recovering the data, the read/write heads exploded and ripped a giant scar into the recording surface. They don't last forever.
  9. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136

    Sorry, another 'Guest' who can't read... Imagine that... It has since been CONVERTED into a USB drive (so that it would function on modern computers). It's a show-piece, not a useful piece of tech, and it's freakin cool.

    All of the large modern USB drives are magnetic or SSD flavor drives in a USB enclosure. This is EXACTLY what they are and how they work!!! This ancient example is the same... Thumb drives are similar, just a smaller footprint and more compressed (the controller is the drive, etc instead of separate items). While I wouldn't put 'thumb' on there as those controllers tend to be far worse then a full drive USB container as these are... They are using that to compare the current smallest (barely fit into the socket) to this. In that respect, it works (but I still wouldn't use thumb myself, it IS, however, now a USB drive).

    However, I do have 'thumb' drives that are controller/drive configurations... uSD card USB chips for example. One of mine is so small I have trouble pulling it out of the USB socket cause there is just nothing to hold onto. That is a thumb dongle. Same size as one of my standard 64G thumb drives but works like a conventional controller/drive setup.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2015
  10. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 8,430   +2,822

    The guest was referring to the drive not being the size of your thumb, therefor making the "thumb" drive classification invalid.
  11. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136

    Wow, read his next sentence... Or my actual post...
  12. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 8,430   +2,822

    I did which is why I know what they meant.

    Oh you mean your sentence which is irrelevant to thumb size dimensions.
  13. Interesting stuff, brings back memories of the time you could actually repair stuff.
    The guy who repaired the RL02 drive was doing something that any engineer trained on DEC would do.
    Place the probes on the head amplifier pins at the rear of the head(s) connector and the with the oscilloscope set correctly you would manually turn the hex key for a particular head until the 'Cats eyes' were set as as best as was possible to achieve, this would mean that the heads were on the servo data tracks between the data. And to change the drive identity you just pulled out the drive number bulb cover and changed it for another number, no need for hardware detection changes there! AAh! the smell of burning heads and platters..........
  14. SirGCal

    SirGCal TS Maniac Posts: 365   +136

    Heh, obviously not, or comprehension is an issue... I'll dumb it down for ya; They quite clearly claim it isn't a USB drive when that is exactly what it is. A storage drive with a USB communication method. Something to transform the old archaic form of drive communication to the new(er) USB method. That's all ANY of the USB drives are. IDE to USB, SATA to USB, etc. Just a drive and a communication converter. And that's all THIS is. To try to argue this is just too big to be a USB drive is... dumb.

    They want to bark 'It is a fully fledged disk drive of mammoth proportions' and claim it's not a USB drive... It is. I've got tiny stick drives, 2.5" USB drives, 3.5" USB drives, even 5.25" USB drives, and far larger, USB connected drive devices. I obviously and clearly agreed that the thumb statement I wouldn't use either. And I clearly stated, MULTIPLE times that this is still a USB drive. And it is. It doesn't matter how complex or simple it is. It talks via USB, it has a memory storage device, it is a USB drive. Doesn't matter if it is a nano-meter or too big to fit in the garage. After that one sentence, 'Guest' goes on to talk about other items unrelated, albiet mildly interesting. If 'Guest' left out the first sentence of the second paragraph, he would have a valid discussion. Thus, he (or she) doesn't on that statement which is where I retort.
  15. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 8,430   +2,822

    They are disputing the thumb drive and acknowledging the qualifications of it being a USB drive. They're saying it barely meets the requirements to be classified as a USB drive. No where did they say it wasn't a USB drive.

    "hardly qualifies" - meaning it qualifies but was hard to see the qualities that make it so.
    The opposite of "Easily qualifies".

    How did I end up defending a guest? I should stop now while I still can, before this becomes habit. Ahh well, I think it is too late now.

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