Strange peripherals… the Quick Data Drive

Starting today, I’ll be using the “Friday Commodore” slot to talk about some of the strange and more exotic peripherals that you could use back in the days on your trusty Commodore 64.
It’s surprising to see just how many hardware was manufactured, by Commodore and other companies, as companions to the C64, and it really goes way beyond the tape-drives we all know from our childhood days.

So in this first of the series, I’ll bring you the “Quick Data Drive (by Phonemark)” which is sort of a mix between a datassette and a disk drive.
The Quick Data Drive is connected to the datassette port of the C64 and stores and reads its data from microwafers with sizes from 16 KBytes to 128 KBytes.
The specs were quite interesting for that period (we’re talking the 80’s here!) as it had its own directory system, its own operating system (yes, just like most of the Commodore peripherals, they were little computers and created a network between themselves) and, wait for it, could load and save with a whopping 2 KBytes/sec (a 24x speed DVD reader today can read data at 32,4 MBytes/sec).
OK, it’s not fair comparing it to today’s external media so how did the Quick Data Drive shape up to the other Commodore peripherals like the Datasette and the disk drive?

For this, a small test was done with loading and saving an 8 KBytes Basic program and loading and saving 2 KBytes of sequential data.  The test pitches the Quick Data Drive against a regular Datasette, a Turbo Loader enabled Datasette and a 1541 diskd drive.

The results are quite interesting:

  Quick Data Drive Datasette (Turbo Loader) Datasette 1541
8 KByte Basic-Program (Load) 6 sec. 23 sec. 2:52 min. 20 sec.
8 KByte Basic-Program (Save) 14 sec. 26 sec. 2:54 min. 25 sec.
2 KByte sequential data (Load) 37 sec. 1:54 min. 29 sec.
2 KByte sequential Data (Save) 54 sec. 1:56 min. 38 sec.

(testdata taken from the German C64 publication “64’er” – Issue 10/October 1985, page 37)

When it comes to loading and saving programs, nothing beats the Quick Data Drive (so it really is a quick data drive).  Note however that the datasette with Turbo Loader is actually operating at the same speed as the disk drive!
But, when it comes to loading and saving sequential data, it has to let the 1541 take first place.

The continuous reading and writing is clearly not what this drive was intended for, but rather to be used as a peripheral to quickly load large programs from tape.
So, with all the games around that had to be loaded for hours and hours from tape or that came on multiple disks, surely the Quick Data Drive would have been a great alternative, right?  Wrong!
The design had one big flaw and that had to do with the actual operation of the drive.  To have your Commodore talk with the drive, a special “Quick-Operating-System” had to be loaded in the the C64’s memory, more precisely at $C000 (49152).  This happened to be the very location that many Basic programs used to load subroutines in… resulting in utter chaos and not functioning applications.

Pricewise, the Quick Data Drive was pretty OK, setting you back, calculated in today’s currency, about 100 Euro.  The price of the tapes was rather expensive: 4 Euro for the 16 KByte and 6 Euro for the 128 KByte tapes.

Nevertheless, a nice piece of vintage hardware that not too many people know of.

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4 Responses to Strange peripherals… the Quick Data Drive

  1. Pingback: Strange peripherals… a CD for the C64 | A Commodore Geek's Blog

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  3. Hello,

    I wrote all of the software for the QDD. It was actually very clever piece of hardware – when first started, it looked just like a Datasette. so you could stop load the “driver”. Once the drive was loaded, there was a hardware state machine that switched the QDD into a high speed mode.

    It was 100% compatible with a Commodore hard drive. It supported sequential files and even random access files. Directory info was written on tape in a pre-allocated area.

    There was a tool set I wrote for cloning disks to QDD, cassettes to QDD, etc.

    A note – there were multiple versions of the drive software that ran at various addresses. I even wrote one that was almost entirely relocatable (all relative addresses) with the exception of the jump tables to hook into the system ROMs. I just don’t think the company that made it (I was a contractor) made them available to users.

    Interesting stuff. Great technology, wrong time, wrong company.

  4. of course I meant “floppy drive”, not “hard drive”. been a long time since I typed that phrase :-)

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