bluescsi and an Akai S1000

I’ve got four or five old rack samplers which I’ve been poking at again recently, including this S1000 which I’ve had apart to replace the backlight.

akai s1000, having tea and biscuits in the front room

More on that calamity another time.

I thought I was alright with floppy discs, but I’ve been getting read errors. Possibly they’re just reaching the end of their lifetime, which makes me fret about all those Amiga disks I’ve not backed up yet.

Most of my samplers have built-in SCSI interfaces (apart from the S950, aieeee…) so I bought a SCSI2SD v5.0a off a vendor on ebay, and although it works fine with my S760 and my ESI2000, the thought of spending £109 for each of them for my various samplers wasn’t filling me with joy. (£109! I feel like I was done now – to be fair, the usual UK vendor of SCSI2SD boards seems to have been out-of-stock for a while)

Enter the bluescsi, which is intended to offer an open-source solid-state storage solution for vintage computers, mostly old Macs at this point in time. It’s based on the cheap “blue pill” STM32 board, hence the blue bit in the name.

There was some suggestion on their Discord server that it would work with Akai samplers, so I bought one from https://bluescsi.flamelily.co.uk for £32.

This is it plugged into an Amigakit DB25 to 50 pin IDC adaptor, and then into a DB25 to Centronics 50 pin cable so I can plug into the back of my poor, abused S1000.

Anyway, so I plugged it all in, turned the Akai on, and watch it boot up OK, although it didn’t seem to pick up the hard drive. I poked the hard drive settings for a bit. And then smelt a suspicious smell. And then watched in horror as smoke started to pour out of the back of the SCSI expansion board at the back of the S1000. I hurriedly yanked out the power cable.

The Amigakit adaptor just uses a right-angle header as the IDC connector, and it’s possible to offset the connector in the bluescsi socket by one pin, hence the smoke, which was caused by a burning track on the S1000 SCSI expansion. The track leads to a diode which presumably was blocking the voltage, so hopefully it didn’t cause any catastrophic damage.

If you buy one of the Amigakit adaptors, make sure you seat the connector correctly. I’m sure you’ll be more careful than me anyway.

The bluescsi is intended to work with hard disk images as files on a microSD card, with the card itself formatted as exFAT. I tried creating a blank disk image, but couldn’t get this to be detected by the Akai.

In the end I downloaded an Akai format ISO file from vintagemusicsamples, renamed the ISO to HD00_512.hda, where the first zero after the “HD” bit is the intended SCSI ID, and copied that onto the SD card.

Once I’d twiddled the settings in the Akai to use 0 as the hard disk ID (and moved the Atari disk ID out of the way to 7), it picked up the SD card as a disk, and I was able to load samples from the ISO. I wasn’t really that interested in the sample disc, although it’s nice to know it works, so then I used Arrange in the disk settings to initialise the directories. This had practical effect of binning all the existing samples, or at least marking the space as overwritable, so I was left with hard disks from A to I, with two partitions on the first drive.

The S1000 wouldn’t let me format the disk, which is a bit weird. Possibly there’s some bit set in the file for Akai format CDs which stops it from being able to format. I tested saving some files from an Akai S950 floppy, and that worked, and they loaded from the SD card after a reboot.

For a while I was mystified as to why I couldn’t rename the volumes, but it turned out that you actually need to have a file stored on the volume to rename it – this is common to actual S1000 hard drives as well.

The bluescsi supports multiple drives as files – I’ve had the other sample discs I downloaded as files HD10_512.hda, HD20_512.hda, and HD30_512.hda, accessible via the SCSI IDs 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

The bluescsi itself seems fairly quick, massively so compared to floppies, and infinitely quieter than the noisy hard drive I’ve got in there currently, which is also on its last legs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the limiting factor in terms of speed would be the S1000 given it originally came out in 1988.

The bluescsi has an advantage over the SCSI2SD v5.0a in that it supports more disks, but the v6 supports up to seven, and also allows files to copied to it over USB. But then the SCSI2SD v6 is usually three times the price.

Here’s me booting the S1000 (off floppy! I’ve still not plugged in the v4.4 ROMS yet), and loading a bunch of homemade drum loops I’d previously recorded on my S950 and saved to the bluescsi drive.

From the timings on the video, and given that this S1000 is fitted with 26MB of memory, and the loops take up 20% of the memory, it seems like it took about 17 seconds to load about 5.2MB of samples.

The (newly backlighted!) screen looks a bit rubbish in the video at this angle, but it’s much better from slightly above, and more legible in real life. I think it’s had a hard life – possibly I should’ve just stumped up for the LED screen.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the RaSCSI project as well, which is based on the Raspberry Pi – I just couldn’t find a UK source for the board at the time I looked, although it might be easy enough to buy some boards off DirtyPCBs or something. Check the Open Retro SCSI Discord for further discussion.

My “format an ISO” tactic to get the bluescsi up and running doesn’t seem particularly ideal, but it seems to work – let me know if you find a better way. Now I’ve got to put my S1000 back together, and to work out if I want to install the bluescsi in place of the floppy, or do something else.

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