Vintage Computer Festival GB, Snibston July 2013


I travelled up to the VCF-GB today at the Silicon Dreams event at Snibston Discovery Museum and took the opportunity to capture a few pictures.  It was pretty quiet being a weekday but I suspect it will be somewhat busier over the weekend.

I arrived pretty early and a number of exhibitors were still setting up.  AmigaKit, Amiga North Thames and A-EON were not present when I was there although I did get to see Morph OS running on a Mac Mini G4, demonstrated by a very helpful and enthusiastic Ravi Abbott.  I happen to have a Mac Mini G4 and will have a play with Morph OS later.

The BBC classroom was all set up and running, a most peculiar experience to see such a set up again.  Had my previous Retrochallenge not revolved around programming the BBC I probably would have taken the opportunity to have a play.

In various rooms around the museum there were rows and rows of computers and consoles set up ready to be played with and I took full advantage.  I felt my age when I witnessed a young lad trying to insert a 3.5″ floppy disk the wrong way round, seemingly completely unfamiliar with the technology.

I spoke at length to Dylan Smith of Spectranet fame who has developed the ZX Spectrum ethernet adapter utilising the WIZnet 5100 chip.  I not only admired the finished product but Dylan’s extraordinary soldering skills on the prototypes.  I also saw a working Harlequin board which was very cool.

I missed the IBM SYSTEM/360 Recreation which was pretty disappointing, not sure if they simply hadn’t set it up but I was really looking forward to that.  I would also liked to have seen more equipment from the 60’s and 70’s.

Here are some pictures and video, as you can see it was very quiet on Friday morning so little opportunity to capture visitors interacting with the exhibits.  If possible I may travel back up on Sunday to see if some of the missing exhibits have appeared.

Portfolio Tweeting And Memory Modules

I’m still enjoying messing about with the Atari Portfolio and I’ve now finally got my hands on a serial interface.  Much the same in appearance as the parallel interface the unit plugs into the Portfolio’s expansion bus and carries a male DB9 connector with fortunately, unlike some other retro machines, a standard pin layout.

Serial Interface

The RS232 parameters, baud rate, parity and so on can be set via the Atari’s Setup menu with a maximum baud rate of 9600.  After plugging the interface in and initialising it I had a look through the library of Portfolio software that I have downloaded from various sources and selected a terminal emulation program called ‘Acom’ from Roudley Associates.

I connected up my trusty US Robotics modem and loaded Acom.  Taking a gamble I simply entered ‘atdt’ and the phone number of my BBS, the modem duly dialed the number and I was soon logging into Nostromo without problem (apart from the screen size limitations.)

Thrilled with my success I fired off the obligatory Tweet using the same method as I’d used with my PX-8 and downloaded a couple of files before successfully connecting via Telnet to another Synchronet board.

Memory Module Internal

I’m also thrilled to have acquired what I believe is a pretty rare 1Mb expansion module.  From what I understand these units were available from DIP, the original creators of the Portfolio and retailed in the UK for the best part of £400, a considerable outlay.  I opened the unit up and replaced the CR2032 battery before connecting it to the Portfolio.  It formatted without problem and I transferred a good selection of software onto it from the Zip drive, thus far it has been working without fault.

Module Attached

I have seen some Portfolio’s for sale that have been converted to allow the use of standard compact flash cards in the memory card slot, this would be very cool, although battling with the restriction of the original hardware is for me part of the fun.  Another possible upgrade is a backlight for the display, there’s a company selling a kit specifically for the Portfolio, however the existing screen has very good contrast, certainly in comparison to the Epson PX8 so this would have to be a luxury addition.

I took some video of the Portfolio connecting to my BBS and Tweeting via Tweety Mail, completely pointless of course but somehow very satisfying.

Atari Portfolio & Zip Drive

One of my favourite retro machines is the lovely little Atari Portfolio.  Originally developed in the UK by DIP the design was licensed to Atari who released the Portfolio in 1989.  The unit has an 80C88 CPU running a customised version of MS-DOS called DIP DOS 2.11. There’s 128 kB of system RAM and a 256 kB ROM which contains the operating system and some built in utilities.  There’s a non-backlight monochrome LCD displaying 40 characters x 8 lines.

As is the case with many retro machines the challenge is getting software onto them.  Fortunately there are a number of options available with the Portfolio including a PC-Card reader unit, compact flash adapter, parallel cable transfer and the method I’m going to discuss here, attaching a parallel port Zip Drive.

I’ve already tried the cable method which requires the Portfolio parallel interface and a suitable cable.  It works fine and is a good option for the occasional transfer but gets a bit tedious when you want to move a lot of files around.  I decided to take the Zip Drive route as I already have a suitable drive and disks.

Parallel Port Interface

The first port of call then was Klaus Peichl’s site, Klaus developed the required driver, Pofozip.sys for the Atari and is still selling it for a very reasonable 8 €.  A word of caution, the driver only works with the original Zip 100 parallel port drive, a later model was released which is not compatible.  Klaus will kindly waive payment until you have things working, just in case you have a later drive.  You’ll also need at the very least Zipman which will partition and format the zip disk in to three 32 Mb partitions, this can also be downloaded from Klaus’s site long with a couple of other utilities.

Of course you will need a method of transfering the driver and utilites to the Portfolio before you can set up your Zip Drive, I used the parallel cable and  Once transferred you need to create a config.sys file with the Portfolio’s built in editor.  Press and hold the red Atari key and tap E to bring up the editor.  If you’ve copied pofozip.sys to your c: drive type device=c:\pofozip.sys into the editor then press and hold the function key and tap F1 to bring up the menu, ‘Files’ should be highlighted, press return and scroll down to ‘Save As’ and save the file as config.sys on your c: drive.

Now do a CTRL ALT DEL to reboot the Portfolio and load the driver.  Ensure your Zip drive is correctly connected to the parallel interface and fire up Zipman.  At this point if your driver has not successfully loaded you’ll get an error message, if everything’s fine you be presented with the Zipman menu.  From here you can choose which partition to format by pressing ‘P’ to select each of the three choices.  Pressing ‘T’ will cycle through the format options, the option that worked for me was 32M/FAT12.  I ran into problems reading and writing to the disk from Windows 95 when I tried the other options.

Zipman Menu

Format each of your partitions and you should be ready to roll.  Attach the Zip drive to your Windows 95 machine (if you need Win 95 drivers for the Zip drive you can get them from Iomega here) and transfer your Portfolio files onto the Zip drive.  Windows will only see the first partition but you can copy files from there to the other partitions with the Portfolio if necessary.  I found that all the software I have fitted onto the one partition anyway.

Once you’ve reconnected your Zip drive to the portfolio you should be able to access all your files from the d: drive.  You can move them to the other partitions now if you want to clear the d: drive and transfer more stuff onto it from your Windows machine.  If you’ve got that many files for the Portfolio do let me know.

I’ve downloaded various stuff for the Portfolio, most of it from here and am working my way through trying it all.  I’m also hoping I’m to acquire a serial interface for the portfolio before too long and hook up a modem.  Here is some video of me loading the game ‘Phoenix’ from the Zip Drive:-