The Care of the ADAM
Digital Data Drive
by Claude Ferland


"Coleco data drives are prone to error." How many of you have heard this statement or read about it in assorted ADAM articles? My limited experience tells me that, on the average, this is true. Can anything be done to help minimize the error count? The answer is YES. Temperature control, routine maintenance and operating speed verification are the keys to attaining maximum performance from your data drives.

Temperature Control can be achieved in two ways:

Method #1 - Increase air circulation around your data drives. Do you have a small fan? If so, take the top cover off your ADAM console and point the air flow towards your data drives. I'm planning on cutting a round hole in my top cover directly over the drives and mounting a four-inch square fan (about $16 at Princess Auto). I should then be able to run my drives almost constantly.

Method #2 - Duty Cycle. For every ten minutes of drive activity, let your drives cool down for twenty minutes. This will help limit how hot your drives get.

Once a program is loaded into your ADAM, if the program doesn't have to access the data drives for the next ten to sixty minutes, remove the data pack from the drive. When a data pack is installed in a data drive, the motors have some power applied to them to take up the slack in the tape.

When my ADAM was new, the console had four small rubber feet that would hold it a small distance above whatever flat surface I put it on. The console has many air slots molded into the case to allow passage of air though it. If the rubber feet fall off (three of mine did), and you continue to use your ADAM in this condition, the probability of heat-related problems and heat damage is greatly increased due to restricted air flow. You can buy self-sticking or screw-mounted cushion feet from popular electronics retail stores. You should install cushion feet that hold your console above the table or desk even higher than the original rubber feet.

If your ADAM console barely fits into the chosen location on your computer desk, get it out of there. The airflow afforded by such a set-up is probably unacceptably low. Operating your ADAM on a cloth surface such as a bed or pile of laundry or any cloth surface other than a thin, unpadded table cloth is an absolute no-no. You must not obstruct any air slots for any length of time on any piece of electronic equipment.

Routine Maintenance: Cleaning your data drives is a must. Magnetic particles on the surface of the tape inside all datapacks become loose and fall off regularly. This is known as SHEDDING. Brand new data packs are worse than old data packs for shedding. The most likely time that shedding takes place is when the tape is moving in either direction against the record/playback head in the data drive (normal wind and rewind). Therefore, the most likely place for these ferric oxide particles to accumulate is on the head itself. Some particles will cling to the rubber on the speed-transducer wheel and to the tape guide on each side of the record/playback head. These deposits must be removed regularly to ensure proper tape-to-head contact. This contact is extremely important when "reading" or "writing" is taking place (especially writing).

How thick is a fingerprint? Would you believe thick enough to interfere with the record/ playback process which must be 100% accurate within a computer environment?

Cleaning your data drives is a snap with almost any of the many products on the market. DO NOT use cleaner cassettes because they only clean what they come in contact with in the tape path and may take a path of their own. Most are advertized as non-abrasive, but can become abrasive because they will contain foreign matter accumulated during previous cleanings. Solvents specially designed for head cleaning are perfect. Cotton-tipped cleaning sticks are just right for the job. Dip the cleaning stick only once into the container of solvent. Then, rub the cleaning tip back and forth over the record/playback head, concentrating on visible deposits. Next, clean the tape path guide on each side of the head. Hold the cleaning stick in the guide in approximately the same position as a loaded tape and slide it back and forth while exerting a small amount of downward pressure. Then clean the rubber speed-transducer wheel. Do this by holding the cleaning stick against the rubber wheel and turning the wheel with your cleaned finger. Finally, throw away the cleaning stick. DO NOT contaminate your remaining solvent by dipping a used cleaning stick into it. The cleaning sticks only cost about two cents each in hundred lots.

I personally clean my drives at least once each computer day and after each datapack that I format and verify. I've taken the cheapie route. I bought a half-litre container of 99% ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL from an economy drug store and a 400-pack of U-tip type economy cotton swab sticks. This route will cost me about two dollars a year. I store my "working" quantity of solvent in a two-ounce bottle that I refill from the half-litre bottle. The cheapie cotton swab sticks are too short to dip into the bottle once a couple of inches of solvent are gone.

Last and certainly not least, Data Drive Operating Speed Verification. Your data drives must operate reasonably close to the original intended speed. If your drives have wandered off the original factory-set speed for whatever reason (components changing value or speed control played with), you should get hold of an ORIGINAL program similar to the SPEEDCHECK program, E.A.U.G. Lending Library tape #169. Upon loading this program, a scale that reads from +6 to -6 percent appears on the screen. After a few more seconds, a pointer will appear under the appropriate number indicating the operating speed of the drive. Many data drives have their speed adjustment control accessible only from the bottom of the data drive. You will need a Phillips screwdriver to remove three screws at the back of each data drive to allow removing the drive from its normal location. The two data drive connecting cables must remain connected to the console. Locate the speed adjustment control - about one tenth of an inch in diameter with a small screwdriver slot in it. You will need a very small screwdriver to adjust this control. Turn the control one full turn counter-clockwise and notice the effect it has on the pointer on the screen. You will also be able to physically see and hear the difference in the operating speed of the drive. Adjust the control so that the pointer appears under the "0" on the screen. Of the dozen or so data drives that I have adjusted, only one was operating more slowly than the correct speed prior to adjustment. Several drives were operating beyond the +6 percent indicator. Once adjusted properly, re-install the data drives in your console.

IMPORTANT - Be aware that if you are using a non-original copy of the SPEEDCHECK program, this copy of the program might not have been produced on a data drive that was not operating at the correct speed. This would cause an erroneous result and could leave you worse off than you were before attempting this procedure.

SUMMARY - Your data drives should now be ready to give you many, many hours of trouble-free operation. If, after following these steps, your drives have difficulty loading programs such as your original SmartBASIC V1.0, either there is a problem in your ADAM's console, or you could probably use a new data drive. I'm embarrassed to say how many replacement data drives I bought before getting around to applying the steps that I have just described. Happy computing!

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