Standards, the prevailing wisdom in the electronics world goes, are great; everyone should have one of their very own. Where standards can cause problems is when the steady march of time moves on, as Steve Chamberlin knows only too well: a fan of vintage computing systems, Steve's clever floppy drive emulator system relies on the increasingly rare DB-19 connector to interface with his target systems. With supplies running out, Steve had but one solution in mind: kicking off a production run of something nobody's made in the last few decades.
The DB-19 connector, also known as the DB-19P and arguably as the DE-19, is familiar at a glance to anyone who works with RS-232 serial connections: it shares the same D-profile shape as the far more common and still in-use DB-25 and smaller DB-9, but with just 19 pins in total. While it was once a common sight for floppy drive connections, the death of the diskette meant manufacturers soon dropped it from their production lines - leaving Steve buying up increasingly smaller quantities from the dusty corners of increasingly far-flung stockrooms.
Rather than attempt to hack something together or ask collectors to modify their vintage machines - unthinkable for anyone who has kept their pristine Apple II in unmodified condition this long - Steve found a manufacturing partner to build brand new units. The journey was far from simple, as he details in his latest blog post, with issues ranging from finding a company with spare manufacturing capacity and the ability to produce D-sub connectors and a minimum order quantity of a whopping 10,000 pieces - far more than he needed.
Setting up a group buy for other vintage computing enthusiasts in need of DB-19 connectors, Steve was able to create a mechanical diagram - based on a DB-25 and modified to suit the DB-19 shape and pin count - and send it off for manufacturing. In a surprisingly short time - just two months' worth of prototyping and tooling - the first DB-19s to be built in the 21st century arrived at his doorstep, Steve's house now acting as the repository for the world's only quantity supply of brand-new DB-19 connectors.
In the future, it wouldn't be surprising to see similar posts from vintage computing enthusiasts bemoaning the difficulties in finding stock of the old-fashioned USB or Thunderbolt connectors - and we can only hope Steve or someone like him steps up to the plate then as well.
This is a happy story about the power of global communication and manufacturing resources in today’s world. About 15 months ago, I first started looking into the idea of manufacturing new DB-19 connectors. So here’s the thing – how do you go about having something like this made? I had no clue, and it took me over a year.