Who Are You Calling Fugly?

Epson PX-16 (Gorgeous)

OK, I know it looks a bit like a cash register, especially when it’s sitting on the disk unit but I like it!  I’ve removed all of the internals today and given the cases a good clean inside and out.  I’ve secured the FDD and HDD in the working disk unit and made an attempt to get the FDD working.

Epson SMD-400 FDD

The FDD is an Epson SMD-400.  Like the HDD it has a non-standard connection, with power being supplied via the interface cable as opposed to the usual separate cable.  Unlike the HDD it doesn’t work and I’ve been unable to make it read or write to any disks.  I’ve had it apart and fiddled a bit with the spin speed and head alignment but no joy.  Oddly a cable to nowhere has been soldered to the board, I have no idea what it would have been connected to but hope it’s not something painfully obvious like the head.

The unit does spin up and the head moves around but it fails on every disk I’ve tried.  It would of course be nice to slot another drive in there, I’ve got plenty of them but of course they all require a separate power cable.

Piggybacking the FDD

With no serial cable and no FDD I’m rather limited on what I can do with the machine as I’m unable to get any files on to it.  In desperation I opened up my Windows 95 box and trailed the cable from its floppy into the PX-16 disk unit so the Windows 95 box could power it.  However with it connected to the floppy interface on the PX-16 the Epson won’t start up.

PX-16 XTGold

I gave up and turned my attention to the installed modem.  It has an RJ connector that I’ve not seen on a UK modem before.  Usually they’re RJll’s with 4 connections.  This looks more like an RJ45 and it has 8 connections, although it’s a UK specified machine and the modem is made by a UK company.

I started up Term and sent some modem commands to COM 2 and got the usual OK’s back.  I tried to kludge a cable together but was unable to get a dial tone.  So a slightly more frustrating day today although I did have fun playing with XTGold which was on the disk I’d salvaged from the Equity, it seems like quite an impressive file manager.

More PX-16 Adventures

Things are progressing quickly with the PX-16.  Having got the main unit working my attention was today turned to the two disk units that came with the Epson.  Designed to hold either one or two FDD’s or an FDD and an HDD the units sit under and clip onto the main machine.  The two units are then connected via a cable at the back.

JVC JD-3824

The first unit I tried seemed dead, no amount of fiddling would coax it into life.  The second unit however powered up first time, although the FDD in it won’t currently read or write to any disks.  The dead unit had a daughter card and from it a cable with a 26 pin connector which I assumed was for the HDD, although I’d not seen that sort of connector before.

Epson Equity

I enquired over at the Vintage Computer Forums as to whether anyone recognised this connector.  Mike S & Chuck G pointed me in the direction of the JVC JD-3824 drive, Chuck remembering it from a Gridlite he used to own.  I did a search for JVC JD-3824 and had a doh! moment when my own blog came up.  This is the drive in my Epson Equity.  I was considering, somewhat reluctantly, taking the Equity apart and trying the HDD in the PX-16.

26 Pin Connector

Then I remembered I had another Equity, seriously beaten up and not working, tucked away somewhere.  I dug it out, took it apart and low and behold there was a JVC JD-3824 drive in it and on the drive that familiar 26 pin connector and cable, I love moments like that!

JVC JD-3824 in the PX-16

I quickly removed the drive, cleaned it up and put it in the PX-16 drive unit into which I’d also installed the daughter card from the dead unit.  I turned it on and… nothing.  Then I noticed a jumper by the mainboard connector to the daughter card.  On checking the unit from which I’d removed the daughter card I realised the jumper was in the alternative position.

PX-16 & Disk Unit

I swapped the jumper, turned the unit on and the HDD whirred into life.  Not only that but it actually booted to the drive’s original installation of MS-DOS.  I was astonished to say the least, it’s noisy and clunky but I love it.

PX-16 Mainboard with ROM Sockets (Right) & Modem (Left)

The PX-16 is highly configurable, in fact it’s so highly configurable that it makes my head hurt.  There’s a bank of DIP switches in the unit to set depending on which configuration you require.  This includes two boot modes, one of which behaves like a regular PC but also denies access to the system’s ROM’s.  I’m still trying to fully understand the other mode.

I’d like to try and get the FDD working next and I want to build an RS232 cable at some point.  The system also came with some additional RAM which I can’t seem to access in the PC boot mode although it’s available in the standard mode so I need to look at that.

Additional RAM

There’s also a Modem in the unit which I’d like to try and I need to do some swapping around to get all the working components into the cleanest cases and secure the various drives properly.

Commodore 128D and CP/M

I shall be away for the beginning of this year’s Retrochallenge, so in order to hit the ground running when I get back I thought I’d make sure all my machines were primed and ready for action.  To that end I’ve recently sorted out the batteries in my PX-8’s and today my attention turned to my Commodore 128D.

The machine is in pretty good condition, the cassette port is a bit flaky and the built in 1571 drive seems to read and write to disks reasonably successfully.  My interest lies in using CP/M on the C128 and I really needed to secure a way of getting data into the machine in this mode.

This has caused me some considerable headaches, in its native or C64 mode the machine uses Group Character Recognition (GCR) to write data to the disks in the 1571.  The 1571 is also capable of writing Modified Frequency Modulation (MFM) disks as used by CP/M and under CP/M disks using the following formats can be read:-

With third party software such as Juggler even more formats are supported.

Armed with Big Blue Reader, the original CP/M system disk, a clutch of DSDD disks and my bridge machine running DOS and 22Disk I thought I was well prepared.  However no matter which combination of disks and formats I use I cannot successfully format a disk with the 1571 nor the 1581.  I’m pretty sure the disks are OK, they seem to work without problems with the Epson TF-20 and PX-8 and the 1581 and 1571 drives appear happy to do everything except format.

More in desperation than hope of success I put one of the disks that I’d formatted with the TF-20 and PX-8 in the C128, typed DIR.  To my surprise and excitement the C128 came up with some text at the bottom of the screen reading Epson QX-10.  I pressed return and the drive chugged away, thought about it for a while and came back with ‘No file.’ uh, there were definitely files on the disk.

I had a search around and discovered that when the format description comes up at the bottom of the screen you can cycle through different options.  So I tried again and using the right arrow key found the next selection was ‘Epson Euro’ I pressed return, the drive chugged away and up popped the disk contents, yipeee!

I loaded PIP quickly just to check it worked, which it did and I then formatted a fresh disk in the TF-20, copied the text adventure Snowball onto it and put it into the C128.  On the first attempt I got a BDOS error but on the second attempt it loaded.

So I now have a way of getting software downloaded from the Internet into the C128 in CP/M mode, albeit a somewhat circuitous route via the PX-8 but a way nonetheless.

I currently have the C128 hooked up to an IIyama LCD panel via the s-video port which means I can only run in 40 column mode however I do have a cable that will allow me to connect via Scart and run in 80 column mode which I shall try next as much of the software I’ve tried assumes this mode.

So now hopefully I’ll be able to get on with things as soon as I return, try some CP/M software on the C128, hopefully get it talking to the Epson PX-8 via RS232 and I have some unused 3.5″ DSDD disks on the way which I’m hoping I’ll be able to format successfully with the 1581.