A FDDE for Floppy Disk Drive Emulator (also called sometimes Floppy Disk Hardware Emulator) is a really nice device which can replace a standard 3.5" FDD. It tricks an old device in which it is hooked into thinking it communicates with a regular FDD. Basically it's a device that takes modern medium like an USB-based mass storage or a SD card instead of a 3.5" floppy disk, and convert them into the right data signals to communicate with a host via the FDD bus. See it as a Link To The Past anchored into the present.
At first you may thought that it's only a device for a handful of retro-oriented fetichists but as it can be installed in any host that use a standard 3.5" FDD you'd quickly realise that it appeals to many people. Here's some people and use-cases:
- musicians: you can use a FDDE in any instrument that normaly use a standard FDD including but not limited to synthetisers, samplers, MIDI players/expanders, MPCs... You don't have to carry dozen of floppies anymore nor worrying about dataloss following a failing floppy again!
- industries: on the opposite of the consumer side lies the industry with machinery (CNC/cutting machines, embroidery/knitting machines, robots, etc...) and computers that are sometimes 30+ years old! These machines can be made to work longer or event be enhanced by replacing their FDD for a FDDE. It also smooth out the workflow of people working on these machines since it gives them media flexibility and data reliability
- retrocomputer hobbyists: the last category is an obvious one, if you happen to have old computers such as Amiga, Atari, Macintosh or even regular PC you know that FDD tend to fail when they age and that we don't know (anymore?) how to fix them. FDDE can be a drop-in replacement and facilitate transfering data between modern computers and these old ones
I still cannot find a definitive source indicating the story of these pieces of hardware but they seems pretty recent; at least I heard about them only some years ago. My hypothesis is that as soon as manufacturers stopped production of FDD and floppies, FDDE started to appears to fill in the void.
Anyway in 2016 if you want to replace a standard FDD by a FDDE you have many brands/models to choose from. They differenciate by their build quality, software ecosystem and of course media used to replace the floppy. For the last criteria some of them uses USB flash drive, CF or SD card, internal flash memory, USB-host or even network attached storage! If you have very special use-case and/or can't physically access easily the machine you'll eventually go with a network enabled FDDE or a USB-host solution. But for the vast majority, a standalone FDDE with a USB-flashdrive or a SD card would be the right choice. I'll deal with the practice in a following article.