A family of external hard drives and tape drives produced by First Class Peripherals for the Apple II series of computers. Probably one of the more popular hard drives available for the platform at the time, mainly due to their advertising and reasonable price.

The name officially is "The Sider", as this is what the name badge on the front of the device said. A bit of a clever name, as the device was designed to physically sit along side the Apple computer, and also it could be interpreted as a pun on "Apple Cider", a drink made from the fruit.

There were three versions of The Sider: a 10MB version, a 20MB version and a 60MB tape drive. The 10MB version was released in November 1984 (according to apple2history.org), and was available for $695. This was very cheap considering that previously drives of similar (and less) size were $2000-$3000 in price. Can say that I purchased my own 20MB version through Quality Computers in January 1987, at the cost of roughly $550. At some point, I will go into my Apple magazine archives and dig up the price of the tape drive.

Out of the box, you received a heavily shock absorbed drive (plenty of packaging foam), three red colored software disks ("SiderWare"), an interface card, a DB-25 cable with all pins connected and a terminator plug.

As the Apple II series did not have drive bays, the hard disk was not a bare unit as you would purchase today. Additionally, the external unit was also much larger than your typical external drive of today (as was common back then). The dimensions of the unit were roughly 3 inches wide, 6 inches tall and about 14 inches deep. On the front was an activity light, a badge with the name on it, and a plastic cover on the lower 60% that seemed like it hid something (it didn't open). On the tape drive versions, this was where the tape drive was inserted. The top and bottom featured vents, and the sides were devoid of any detail. The rear of the unit had a power switch, fuse, standard 3-prong power connector, two DB-25 connectors and a row of jumpers used to determine the unit's ID.

Internally, the unit contained either a tape drive or a half-height 5.25" hard disk, interface circuitry and a power supply. While I never opened one to confirm, I imagine the drive was either a Xebec or Seagate variation (possible a Seagate ST-225 for the 20MB version).

The interface between the computer and the device was SASI protocol, which is a predecessor to SCSI. As such, it worked much like SCSI with the SCSI ID and daisy chaining, but is incompatible with SCSI. It is worth noting that while the Sider did support daisy chaining, the documentation seemed to suggest that you couldn't connect more than two drives to the same interface card. This probably was less due to the interface, and more had something to do with the fact that the Apple II operating systems only supported up to two drives in a 'slot', i.e. if you had the Sider's interface card in the Apple's 7th expansion slot, the operating system would only see up to two drives in that logical slot, regardless of how many drives were connected.

A very cool feature of the Sider was that it supported the four major file system formats in use on the Apple II: DOS 3.3, ProDOS, CP/M and UCSD Pascal. While the CP/M and Pascal partitions were not bootable, the ProDOS and DOS 3.3 partitions were. The interface card provided a nice feature that allowed you to select the right operating system at boot time. For example, you could default to ProDOS, and by pressing the ESC key at boot time, it would boot DOS 3.3 instead. A limitation existed in that you had to create at least one partition for each operating system type, though you could make the unused ones very small to avoid too much of a waste. The DOS 3.3 partition was broken up into volumes, which could be either standard 5.25" floppy disk size (142k) or extra large (400k). ProDOS partitions were limited to 16MB in size, which was more a limitation of the ProDOS operating system's 16-bit block addressing.

There were two 3rd party hardware products available for the Sider drives that I can recall:

  • A replacement ROM for the interface card that allowed you to use the entire capacity of the disk for ProDOS. I was never quite sure how it got past the block addressing limitation, unless it used 1KB blocks instead of the standard ProDOS 512 byte size. Regardless, you didn't have to waste any of your precious drive space on operating systems you would never use anyway.
  • A multiplexer was available that allowed you to connect four computers with the Sider interface cards to the same drive. The multiplexer would connect to the Sider directly and would service the connected machines. I have a flyer somewhere in my nostalgia box; I'll update this node if I ever come across it.

I still have my own 20MB drive to this day, and it still sort-of works, too. It was video taped for the BBS Documentary done by Jason Scott, and if it doesn't end up on the cutting room floor, you can hear its startup sound in all of its whirring glory.

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