Linux and parallel port IDE devices

PARIDE v1.03 (c) 1997-8 Grant Guenther <> PATA_PARPORT (c) 2023 Ondrej Zary

1. Introduction

Owing to the simplicity and near universality of the parallel port interface to personal computers, many external devices such as portable hard-disk, CD-ROM, LS-120 and tape drives use the parallel port to connect to their host computer. While some devices (notably scanners) use ad-hoc methods to pass commands and data through the parallel port interface, most external devices are actually identical to an internal model, but with a parallel-port adapter chip added in. Some of the original parallel port adapters were little more than mechanisms for multiplexing a SCSI bus. (The Iomega PPA-3 adapter used in the ZIP drives is an example of this approach). Most current designs, however, take a different approach. The adapter chip reproduces a small ISA or IDE bus in the external device and the communication protocol provides operations for reading and writing device registers, as well as data block transfer functions. Sometimes, the device being addressed via the parallel cable is a standard SCSI controller like an NCR 5380. The “ditto” family of external tape drives use the ISA replicator to interface a floppy disk controller, which is then connected to a floppy-tape mechanism. The vast majority of external parallel port devices, however, are now based on standard IDE type devices, which require no intermediate controller. If one were to open up a parallel port CD-ROM drive, for instance, one would find a standard ATAPI CD-ROM drive, a power supply, and a single adapter that interconnected a standard PC parallel port cable and a standard IDE cable. It is usually possible to exchange the CD-ROM device with any other device using the IDE interface.

The document describes the support in Linux for parallel port IDE devices. It does not cover parallel port SCSI devices, “ditto” tape drives or scanners. Many different devices are supported by the parallel port IDE subsystem, including:

  • MicroSolutions backpack CD-ROM

  • MicroSolutions backpack PD/CD

  • MicroSolutions backpack hard-drives

  • MicroSolutions backpack 8000t tape drive

  • SyQuest EZ-135, EZ-230 & SparQ drives

  • Avatar Shark

  • Imation Superdisk LS-120

  • Maxell Superdisk LS-120

  • FreeCom Power CD

  • Hewlett-Packard 5GB and 8GB tape drives

  • Hewlett-Packard 7100 and 7200 CD-RW drives

as well as most of the clone and no-name products on the market.

To support such a wide range of devices, pata_parport is actually structured in two parts. There is a base pata_parport module which provides an interface to kernel libata subsystem, registry and some common methods for accessing the parallel ports.

The second component is a set of low-level protocol drivers for each of the parallel port IDE adapter chips. Thanks to the interest and encouragement of Linux users from many parts of the world, support is available for almost all known adapter protocols:





Microsolutions backpack



DataStor (old-type) “commuter” adapter



DataStor EP-2000



Shuttle EPAT



Shuttle EPIA



FIT TD-2000



FIT TD-3000



Freecom IQ cable



Freecom Power



KingByte KBIC-951A and KBIC-971A



KT Technology PHd adapter



OnSpec 90c20



OnSpec 90c26


2. Using pata_parport subsystem

While configuring the Linux kernel, you may choose either to build the pata_parport drivers into your kernel, or to build them as modules.

In either case, you will need to select “Parallel port IDE device support” and at least one of the parallel port communication protocols. If you do not know what kind of parallel port adapter is used in your drive, you could begin by checking the file names and any text files on your DOS installation floppy. Alternatively, you can look at the markings on the adapter chip itself. That’s usually sufficient to identify the correct device.

You can actually select all the protocol modules, and allow the pata_parport subsystem to try them all for you.

For the “brand-name” products listed above, here are the protocol and high-level drivers that you would use:








PD drive






8000t tape



EZ, SparQ















5GB Tape



7200e (CD)



7200e (CD-R)


All parports and all protocol drivers are probed automatically unless probe=0 parameter is used. So just “modprobe epat” is enough for a Imation SuperDisk drive to work.

Manual device creation:

# echo "port protocol mode unit delay" >/sys/bus/pata_parport/new_device



parport name (or “auto” for all parports)


protocol name (or “auto” for all protocols)


mode number (protocol-specific) or -1 for probe


unit number (for backpack only, see below)


I/O delay (see troubleshooting section below)

If you happen to be using a MicroSolutions backpack device, you will also need to know the unit ID number for each drive. This is usually the last two digits of the drive’s serial number (but read MicroSolutions’ documentation about this).

If you omit the parameters from the end, defaults will be used, e.g.:

Probe all parports with all protocols:

# echo auto >/sys/bus/pata_parport/new_device

Probe parport0 using protocol epat and mode 4 (EPP-16):

# echo "parport0 epat 4" >/sys/bus/pata_parport/new_device

Probe parport0 using all protocols:

# echo "parport0 auto" >/sys/bus/pata_parport/new_device

Probe all parports using protoocol epat:

# echo "auto epat" >/sys/bus/pata_parport/new_device

Deleting devices:

# echo pata_parport.0 >/sys/bus/pata_parport/delete_device

3. Troubleshooting

3.1 Use EPP mode if you can

The most common problems that people report with the pata_parport drivers concern the parallel port CMOS settings. At this time, none of the protocol modules support ECP mode, or any ECP combination modes. If you are able to do so, please set your parallel port into EPP mode using your CMOS setup procedure.

3.2 Check the port delay

Some parallel ports cannot reliably transfer data at full speed. To offset the errors, the protocol modules introduce a “port delay” between each access to the i/o ports. Each protocol sets a default value for this delay. In most cases, the user can override the default and set it to 0 - resulting in somewhat higher transfer rates. In some rare cases (especially with older 486 systems) the default delays are not long enough. if you experience corrupt data transfers, or unexpected failures, you may wish to increase the port delay.

3.3 Some drives need a printer reset

There appear to be a number of “noname” external drives on the market that do not always power up correctly. We have noticed this with some drives based on OnSpec and older Freecom adapters. In these rare cases, the adapter can often be reinitialised by issuing a “printer reset” on the parallel port. As the reset operation is potentially disruptive in multiple device environments, the pata_parport drivers will not do it automatically. You can however, force a printer reset by doing:

insmod lp reset=1
rmmod lp

If you have one of these marginal cases, you should probably build your pata_parport drivers as modules, and arrange to do the printer reset before loading the pata_parport drivers.