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Off to the Fab!

The Yellowstone 2.0 disk controller PCB has been sent to the fab. Now we wait. It took longer than I planned to finish it, first because I wasted a couple of days trying to shrink the board by 7 mm, then because I was obsessing over tiny layout tweaks. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief… except for the bad news. And the problem. And the other bad news.

Bad news #1 isn’t really a surprise. Thanks to the global IC shortage, the prices of components have increased. When I compare the IC prices from 2017’s Yellowstone 1.0 bill of materials to today’s prices, they’re up anywhere from 15 to 300 percent. Doh! I’m hoping this won’t affect the retail price too much, since the cost of materials is only one element of the total, along with cost of assembly, programming and testing, parts shipping, and general business costs like order fulfillment and customer support and other overhead.

The second problem is also cost-related. The twin DB-19 female adapters and cables for connecting the two disk drives are going to be more expensive than I’d like. The raw parts cost for a Yellowstone board with two DB-19F adapter cables is like 60 percent more than just the Yellowstone board alone! How can that be? Mechanical parts like connectors and cables just seem to be inexplicably expensive compared to most ICs except the FPGA. The worst offender is the DB-19 female, which isn’t manufactured anymore and is only available as new-old-stock from surplus suppliers.

As a result, I’m seriously considering selling Yellowstone in two versions: one that’s the board alone, and another that’s the board plus DB-19F adapter cables. With the board alone you can attach Floppy Emus, or Disk II drives, or internal Macintosh drives, or anything else with a ribbon cable and rectangular connector. But you’ll need DB-19F adapter cables if you want to connect drives like the Apple 3.5 or Unidisk.

Bad news #2 is my biggest concern now. The supply of the FPGA chip that I selected has shrunk dramatically in just a few weeks. I assume this is also due to the global IC shortage. It’s close to the point where I wouldn’t be able to manufacture any boards even if I wanted to. Only a few weeks ago, several different suppliers each had thousands of parts available, but as of today only a few hundred remain. I’m strongly considering buying them all right now, even though I don’t need them yet and the board design isn’t even finalized, just so I’ll have something on hand to do at least an initial run of manufacturing.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Tux2000 May 5th, 2021 8:00 am

    Consider yourself lucky. At work, we desperately try to get a hand full of H-bridge driver chips (for DC motors) to be soldered on a batch of existing PCBs. The most optimistic distributor expects to deliver in 52 weeks from now. You can’t even get those driver chips from shady brokers for 10 or 50 times the original price.

    Feel free to guess how happy our customer is, who wants to mount the PCBs on the mechanics they are designed to control. Guess how happy his clients are, who want to integrate the mechanics with the PCB into an even larger assembly.

  2. groinksan May 5th, 2021 10:13 pm

    When I visited Akihabara a few years ago, I found a few Apple 3.5 drives. Dirt cheap – around $5 each, as they were sold tested/broken. They were all broken because of the gears breaking in them. But rather than fixing them, I just kept the DB-19 cables and connectors and sold the shell and other parts on eBay. As the Floppy Emu becomes more common of a replacement for physical disks, it is more feasible to keep the good parts on these drives, than to fix the drives.

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