Enthusiast Brings IDE Back with 2.5-Inch SSD

KingSpec
(Image credit: KingSpec/Amazon)

Keeping a PC from the early 2000s or even late 1990s working is a difficult job. Leaking capacitors and clock batteries are the least of your worries. Most likely the retro PC has an aging hard drive with a Parallel ATA interface that is no longer as reliable as it were in the day. A logical course of action will be to replace it with an SSD. While there are cheap PATA SSDs on the market, they will one day become extinct, making it difficult to fix those old PCs. Apparently, there is a solution: build your own 2.5-inch SSD with an IDE interface. 

This is perhaps what Dosdude1 thought as he decided to build their own drive based on Silicon Motion's SM2236 controller and up to four 512Gb NAND ICs in a BGA152 or BGA132 packaging. Ironically, to build an SSD (whether one of the best SSDs or a cheap drive), one needs basic PCB routing, soldering, and programming skills. Meanwhile, to produce NAND flash memory and an SSD controller, one needs multi-billion fabs and advanced packaging facilities. 

The GitHub post created by Dosdude1 contains blueprints of a 2.5-inch PATA SSD powered by the SMI SM2236 controller, a PCB design, and PCB schematics. The information gleaned from open documents and a serious amount of reverse engineering. Those who decide to build such an SSD will have to procure the controller, memory chips, and build a printed circuit board using the provided design. Also, they will have to find Silicon Motion's SM2236 Mass Production Tool (MPTool) that lists compatible memory chips as well as datasheets for those NAND ICs to set correct voltages for these chips. 

(Image credit: Dosdude1/Github)

Once the drive is assembled, the SM2236 SSD controller will have to be programmed for the installed NAND ICs. This part appears to be interesting as the controller has to be programmed using a Windows-based system running the SM2236 MPTool, yet the SSD will not work if connected simply to a PATA port, but it has to be connected using a PATA-to-USB bridge to the system. 

While building a PATA SSD seems to be relatively simple, the question is whether for now it makes sense to DIY such a drive. There are still inexpensive PATA SSDs sold at Amazon (opens in new tab) or another option is to use a CF to IDE adapter. They may not be cheap by today's standards, but it may be easier to buy one than to build a storage device at home. Yet, these drives will not stay on the market for much longer as IDE or PATA systems have not been produced for quite a while and demand for such SSDs is weak.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • bolweval
    Easy peezy, hold my beer.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    Impressive achievement. Although I'm a bit confused he didn't use one of the many pata to sata adapters.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    digitalgriffin said:
    Impressive achievement. Although I'm a bit confused he didn't use one of the many pata to sata adapters.
    How would you fit that in a laptop's 2.5" bay that is barely large enough to fit the 2.5" SSD itself?

    Since 2.5" PATA drives are slower than today's SD cards, a more convenient way would have been to use an SD-to-PATA adapter, though SD cards may not like the write load as a system drive.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    InvalidError said:
    How would you fit that in a laptop's 2.5" bay that is barely large enough to fit the 2.5" SSD itself?

    Since 2.5" PATA drives are slower than today's SD cards, a more convenient way would have been to use an SD-to-PATA adapter, though SD cards may not like the write load as a system drive.
    I strongly suspect Dosdude1 did this for fun, just because he could. He was probably not to bothered about it being practical, or really making any sense.
    Reply
  • elfenix
    digitalgriffin said:
    Impressive achievement. Although I'm a bit confused he didn't use one of the many pata to sata adapters.
    But why, some say, build a new PATA SSD? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 95 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
    Reply
  • eyesroll
    SATA SSDs are plentiful and PATA->SATA adapters exist. I have several in my drawer right now that werw had from Aliexpress for a couple bucks each, one of which was in the past used yo revive an old fruity G4 iMac. Modding the SSD is completely unnecessary unless you just don't want to see the tiny adapter stuck to the back of the SSD? Why?
    Reply
  • gggplaya
    We actually need these for some old laptops we have at work, Dell D510's I think with windows XP on them. We keep them alive for old applications that we have. I just bought new batteries for them last year, but the HDD's are incredibly slow.
    Reply
  • Stealthdeburgo
    Admin said:
    Enthusiast builds custom SSD to replace his 2.5-inch IDE hard drive.

    Enthusiast Builds DIY 2.5 Inch IDE SSD for Retro PCs : Read more
    I wonder how he gets around the SSD trim command being Windows XP does not support it. With out the trim command, the SSD will balloon with untrimmed data plus it will shorten the SSD's life span.
    Reply
  • eyesroll
    Stealthdeburgo said:
    I wonder how he gets around the SSD trim command being Windows XP does not support it. With out the trim command, the SSD will balloon with untrimmed data plus it will shorten the SSD's life span.
    Can't speak for him, but when I use SSDs on systems without trim I typically leave 10-15% unformatted and occasionally boot into a different system to do a trim. However at least for me the systems I have used it on don't fill up or do a lot if writes in general so typically it isn't an issue, but there are certainly offline maintenances you can do if needed.
    Reply
  • DingusDog
    Cool but you could just an get IDE to SATA adapter...
    Reply