10 Aug 2006

Keeping the Emulator III alive - part 1: Internal Hard Disk

I own an Emulator III keyboard and although it's one of the best sounding samplers ever made it's also a high maintenance machine.

I am not a trained technician but found out that I have enough technical skills to keep the EIII going to this day. I'll post my EIII repairs/solutions here so other EIII users can benefit of it. Not that there are that many left. Only 1200 Emulator III's were ever made.

A while ago the internal Hard Drive decided it was time to meet its maker. It was still the original 40MB from 1987. The EIII needs its internal HD to operate. You can boot the machine with a OS floppy disk but the OS still requires a HD to be present on the internal SCSI cable.

Googling for a replacement drive only the Seagate ST51080N is mentioned on EIII related pages and forums. A 1GB SCSI drive that is still being sold for $225.

So I started going through all my spare SCSI drives and here's a list of EIII compatible HD's:

Quantum Trailblazer
IBM WDS-L80 (80MB) - As found in the Apple II si
Quantum ProDrive LT 700MB SCSI - As found in the PowerMac PPC6100
Quantum Maverick ProDrive - As found in PowerMac PPC8500

To format the HD I used the standard interleave setting of 2:1.

It took about 2 hours to get the Quantum Maverick HD formatted and verified. It is essential that you don't abort the verification process (like I did at first). When you do so, you won't be able to copy the OS onto the HD. If you try so, you'll get the Error: "Bank does not exists!".

I also tried more recent SCSI Hard Disk models but they don't get recognized by the EIII. If anyone knows why please let me know.

Here's a picture of the internal HD:



Blogger Jerry Langford said...

Wow - it's so very hard to find anything about the EIII on the net (except Emulator Archive.com). Only 1200 units is probably why. What type of hard drive problems were you having before you replaced yours? I'm currently having very frequent boot up problems. In the rare event that it does boot up, I can usually access the sound banks. Some times it plays and other times it will freeze after a few minutes.

When it doesn't boot, I get random characters on the LCD, or no characters. Some times all the lights on the front panel will turn on at the same time, other times there will be no lights.

I'm not sure if my problem is hard drive related, because it is also difficult to boot from floppy. If I can find a cheap drive, I suppose its worth a try.

7:25 pm  
Blogger dvdborn said...

The symptoms you describe are the very ones that I got from malfunctioning hard drives.

Most common problem with a malfunctioning HD's were:
- Machine boots, works fine for a while, then Error message on display: SCSI System Failure.

- Machine does not boot, shows garbage characters in display.

- Machine does not boot. Hard Disk makes clicking sound and stops spinning.

Each time the problem was solved by replacing the HD.

I must say that I've already replaced 4 HD's. Each one worked for a while, but after a few months they started to show their age and stopped working.


9:20 am  
Blogger Jerry Langford said...


Do you know of any specific drive specs I should stay away from? Do you think any 50 pin internal SCSI 1 gig or under would work? I've been scouting drives on ebay and have seen several that fit the bill (cheap too), but I'm not sure if they would work. I did find one of the 80Meg drives you listed, but I would love to have more storage (much more)if possible.

I'm glad I found your blog. I was getting ready to put the EIII in storage and write it off as dead.

4:02 pm  
Blogger dvdborn said...


I had hoped to find some specific drive specifications which always work with the EIII. But unfortunately there aren't any. I have tested a dozen different HD's with the EIII and there were some that were <1GB that didn't work.
Overal I had the most luck with different Quantum drives that were < 1GB.
All the Quantum drives came from old Apple PowerPC's (8500, 7500,...).

I hope you'll get your EIII back on track.

11:30 pm  
Anonymous Moonpony said...

I am a synth service technician, I have an EIII and an EIIIx in the basement. After seeing your blog I pulled them out, and I can see that I need to replace a tantalum capacitor in the memory section of the EIIIx, and the EIII keyboard has no system floppy so I can't check it for full functionality. I guess I will scrap the EIII for spares as I have no way of booting it, but I will go ahead and fix the EIIIx. I remembered that I have several full tubes of new zip RAM for the 'x, so I will max out it's memory and try it out.

9:26 am  
Blogger Escobar said...

Nice to find some new and more in depth info about EII and EIII samplers. A few month ago I bought an EIII rack with 8mb but I have problem to make it sound. Anyway, I read that you have problem with SCSI HD and I might have a solution to your problem. My HD sounded terrible so I replaced it with a CompactFlash-card. I bought a SCSI to IDE Bridge Adapter and connected it with a CF-card adapter, formated the CF-card (1GB) and installed the 2.42 OS to it. It find the CF-card everytime without problem and it's absolutely silent. The SCSI to IDE adapter I use is named AEC-7720U and is manufactured by www.acard.com. You can find very cheap CF-adapter on ebay from companies in Hong Kong, I bought mine for $5. The SCSI to IDE adapter cost something like €55 (euro) or $70 - $80 dependning on where you buy it.
I hope you find this info helpful.

10:00 am  
Blogger dvdborn said...

Hi Escobar,

Many thanks for this tip. I didn't know that it was possible to use a CF-card reader with the EIII.

I'm certainly to check it out.


7:29 pm  
Blogger David Noller said...

Escobar, is there a size limitation on the card size ? can you use larger card sizes and store massive EIII libraries on them?

11:38 am  
Blogger dvdborn said...

The EIII can only address 1GB. Anything above that will be ignored.

Join us at http://EIIIforum.com if you've got more questions.

5:16 pm  

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