Doing Card Tricks

These cartridges and drives blend modern technology with retro-inspired aesthetics to make SD cards a lot more visually appealing.

Nick Bild
13 days agoRetro Tech
A nostalgic SD card-based storage solution (📷: Abe Haskins)

With the rise of high-speed internet connections and streaming services, physical media has been rapidly disappearing. This change brought us many new conveniences, like having our music and movies available to us wherever we go, and on any device. But now that we have been living in this streaming world for some time and the honeymoon is over, we are also experiencing the downsides of this transition. There is something about holding the media in one’s hand that is now missing, and all too often the content that we love simply vanishes one day as licensing agreements expire.

Owning none of the media we consume is wearing thin on many people. This has even led to a growing trend in which many young adults have taken to collecting DVDs, records, and other forms of media just so that they can physically own it. Given this backdrop, Abe Haskins’ latest project is very timely. Missing the game cartridges and floppy disks of yesteryear, Haskins decided to build a retro-inspired storage solution that blends modern technology with a drive and cartridge that would have fit in just fine in the 1980s. Is it practical? No. Will you want it? Almost certainly.

Since Haskins decided to use SD card storage under the hood, you might expect that this would be a simple build, but that did not turn out to be the case. The first attempt involved creating a custom PCB that simply broke out the pins on an SD card adapter and routed them to pads at the edge of the board. Inside the drive that reads them, the process was reversed before a single board computer read the card in the usual way. Unfortunately, the stiffness and sharp edges of the PCB damaged the case of the vintage floppy drive that the components were housed in, so this straightforward approach was out.

Next Haskins experimented with 3D-printed cartridges and custom-built drives, but in one way or another, new problems continued to arise. If it wasn’t stickers peeling off of the plastic, it was stripped screws or misalignments caused by soft and bending plastic components. All in, Haskins spent two years working to get this project solid.

Learning from the many mistakes that happened along the way, Haskins finally settled on using a custom cartridge reader PCB with pogo pins that make contact with the card’s edge connector. This afforded a measure of flexibility in the design so that it did not need to be quite so precise for consistent operation. This was paired with PCB cartridges that have 3D-printed covers and labels sprayed with a clear acrylic to prevent peeling. The cartridges use either XTSD chips or SD card sockets for storage.

The card reader components were installed into a 3D-printed drive case that went through multiple rounds of sanding and sealing before it was finally spray painted. The result looks quite beautiful. In reality, it may be just an overly complicated way to read an SD card, but there is no denying that Haskins’ drive would look better on your desk than a plain old SD card. Check out the video to see the unexpectedly difficult path Haskins took to build this nostalgic cartridge-based storage system.

Nick Bild
R&D, creativity, and building the next big thing you never knew you wanted are my specialties.
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