Retromaster’s Electronics Projects

…related to old computers and other assorted stuff…

TFE+ Underway

Posted by retromaster on February 19, 2010

Before my MF70 to CNC conversion, I had started working on UFE, the successor to TFE. It was intended to be a much more advanced version of TFE, with color touch screen interface, on-board SDRAM and USB host. However, a friend of mine recently gave me an idea for a new floppy emulator that seems much more interesting now.

Except for the lack of write support, TFE works fine, although it is not very practical in certain aspects. First of all, it has to sit outside the computer case, since it has joystick input and video output ports for the user interface (case modding is not something I am very fond of). For this reason, the floppy cable somehow needs to be brought outside the case (as can be seen from the photos on the TFE page). All of this creates a mess of devices and cabling. Furthermore, when you need to use it, you need to pick up TFE’s own joystick and switch the monitor input to TFE video output, etc. Similar problems exist with the other floppy emulators, which have switches on them for the user interface, or simple two-line character LCD displays that are too small to be practical, in my opinion.

So, the idea was to develop a new version of TFE that fixes all these problems. The TFE+ will sit inside the host computer case and it will utilize the host computer’s keyboard for user interaction. It will overlay its own video on top of the host video when the UI is activated. This way, the only external physical access required is for the SD card socket, which can be aligned with the floppy opening in the case to allow this. In addition to all that, I intend to implement write support. The downside to all this is that the user interface circuitry now becomes host system dependent. That is, the ability to control TFE+ using the host keyboard requires that the TFE+ has circuitry specifically tailored for hijacking the host keyboard when necessary. This would require system specific keyboard connectors on the TFE+ board, for example.

It seems to me that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages here, so I have started working on TFE+. My first target is the Amiga platform, and specifically the A500. TFE+ versions specific to other systems (e.g. CPC and ST) may come later. I’ll try to make the main firmware compatible between versions. Other systems may or may not benefit from the new features that TFE+ brings, and those for which I do not design a TFE+ can always use the original TFE (or any other floppy emulator, for that matter).

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