QL Microdrive Software Preservation

Recently in the Sinclair QL italian mailing list we have talked about the Microdrives dumps. Particularly Simone Voltolini started a real preservation exertion for all the software produced on MD during the 80’s and 90’s to conserve it, avoiding the so-called “digital oblivion”. In order to clearly explain Simone’s work I decided to make a detailed interview.

Hi Simone, everyone in the Sinclair QL Mailing List knows about the work you are doing to preserve QL Microdrives software, producing MDV images to be used on Q-emuLator. When and why this idea arose?

I started on December 2013, 30 years after the purchase of my first Sinclair Zx Spectrum 16k. I bought a Spectrum 128k on eBay (my +2 was dead) in order to recover all my Speccy stuff purchased from 1983 to 1993 (original cassettes), and in particular to test and dump my MGT floppies containing rare softwares like the multiloads created by Outsoft (me and Cesare “Squonk” Falco) that were in every respect MIA’S.

From that point I started to collect all the remaining Sinclair computers and the biggest for my was the QL: a wonderful machine with a bad fame as a faulty production, almost exclusively because of his native suppported device: the Microdrive.

I contacted Rich Mellor that sold me all his original QL software, helped me about the responge process, and suggested me the contacts in UK. After a quick entire catalogue of all that stuff, I started to dump some MD’S with mDump.

So I asked Massimo Raffaele, a Sinclair fan too, to help me with the project and to re-elaborate the dumped material.

Immediatly we found a lot of different results from loading the MD’s on the original QL and on Q-Emulator, so we contacted the author Daniele Terdina for create a new dumping program with our required features for a more accurate process.

So in November 2015 mDump 2 was born, with which now we are able to make 100% dumps for any original QL title on MD with a great precesion and most of all without responging.

Some original software was just converted for the QL but there isn’t a real place where everyone can download it as we do on the Spectrum scene. Once ended this fine job, will it be available for us?

Of course the initial project was intended to put online all our findings, but we haven’t do anything for now because we are still very busy with the first phase: dumping all.

To publish the software, there is always the intricate copyright issue. Did you contact all the copyright owners and ask if you can publish?

Max and me are officially part of the QL preservation program by Rich Mellor who works in parallel to us: they recover everything in cracked format usable with QPC II and Q-emuLator, while we take care of recover all the original SW with protections and dump it in its original form (from MD in particular but also from Floppy).

For this reason we are constantly monitored by Rich who is currently the only holder of the distribution rights of the QL software currently copyrighted.

When we’ll get close to the online publication initially we’ll insert the commercial products that are totally FREE but also the complete list of all the recovered material so everybody will see all the receovered material.

What kind of hardware was used to perform this conversion?

An Italian QL (manufactured by Samsung in 1985 for Sinclair) with a Trump Card with 768kb, a Miracle Systems Double Drive (720kb), Eidersoft ICE Rom with Mouse, an RGB cable by Retro Shack and an HDMI upscaler that allows me to connect the QL to a last generation TV LED and get a perfect picture in FULL HD, essential to manage the 4 color HI RES of the QL.

In addition I use an MD TAPE CLEANER, manufactured in UK to clean the tape before being inserted in the drives for dump, and a cartridge called “capstan roller cleaner,” tailored to my idea by an Austrian guy (born in Poland) named Leszek Chmielewski and produced with his 3D printer. It can clean up after each job the precious Microdrive rollers , the real “problem” of the entire system.

How many microdrives have you converted and how many cartridges had problems?

We got more than thousand dumps. Problems were due not so much to the cartridges itself, but to the responge progress. With time I managed to select the sponge pads for quality and less friction.

What are the most common problems encountered during the process?

Initially, the main problem was the first version of mDump: we needed to know if making dumps with it would be safe or not and, as amply demonstrated, we needed a second revised and corrected version to make the whole process more friendly; Daniele terdina kindly wrote for us mDump 2 as the results of many tests and ideas came properly from our work: now we can get a 100% dump ad the first reading of the cartridges, so we are very proud for this.

In the second place, the SPONGE that disintegrates after 3/4 readings (if we are lucky), and also the responge itself because If not well done creates too much friction and makes the cartridge unusable.

After various techniques I managed to get a result of almost a 85% success of all material dumped.

Once you get the images ready, can you dump them back to original microdrive cartridges too?

Good question, we recently discussed with Daniele Terdina about the importance of a reverse utility, first of all because It can confirm which bugs are still to be corrected on Q-Emulator and on the other side allows people collaborating with us to save their own material.

I don’t hide the fact I lost at least 20-25 original cartridges after double/triple dumps to get a 100% certification from MaxRaf.

How did you make the responge?

Initially using the sponge coming from Dave Park from the USA (the best), but then I sent everything to David Marling in the UK because It uses a two-colored sponge (red and black), and it’s durable, can be pressed and properly smoothed to avoid the friction problem.

Any additional comments and other information about the project?

This interview is very important in order to take the opportunity to launch an appeal to all QL fans: if you have MD or Floppy to recover you can email me at simone.voltolini@tin.it . I can provide all the necessary to make the dump, or I can collect all your MD’s with the courier and take care of everything.

I offer a free responging to those who will help us, as well as the backup copy of all the material; the same about QL floppies that often must be cleaned inside to be read after 30 years.

Thanks for your time and good luck for your valuable work!

Many thanks to you and for the opportunity you gave me.

A hug.

3 thoughts on “QL Microdrive Software Preservation

  1. Thank you (and Rich Mellor!) so much for this important and useful work you are doing!

    Best wishes, Michael

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