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.

Kim Kimberley, Zork & CP/M

I had a spare hour or so today and decided to hunt around for some games for my PX-8.  Given the limitations of the display and my own fondness for interactive fiction I decided to see what text adventure games I could find for CP/M.

A quick search for CP/M games took me immediately to the Retroarchive where I’m pleased to say the first three games of Infocom’s excellent Zork series were to be found along with a number of other games.

Pleased with this result I wondered if there were any CP/M versions of Level 9’s adventure games out there and I quickly found Snowball and Lords Of Time here.

Annoyingly my plans for a bridge machine with both USB and network support remain exactly that, plans, for some reason Filink will not run on the Pentium III under DOS and I have therefore been forced to resort to my Fujitsu in order to transfer files to the PX-8.  The downside of this is I have to burn a CD every time that I want to transfer files downloaded with my Mac on the Fujitsu for transfer to the Epson.

Nevertheless I was soon transferring the games I had downloaded with Filink from the Fujitsu directly on 5.25 floppies via the PX-8 (picture below.)

All of the Infocom and Level 9 games appear to be working fine.  Some of the location descriptions are too long for the PX-8 to display without some of the text scrolling out of view and if I’m honest the LCD on the Epson is not one of the best I’ve seen, in fact the PX-4 has a much better screen with clearer better contrast.

However the keyboard is a joy to use, it has that lovely clackety clack that you don’t seem to get with modern day equivalents so I shall get stuck in again to the world of Zork and see what I can remember.

I’ve copied Zork 1 to the ram disk and will store my save games on cassette for the shear hell of it.

I am indeed standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. Maximum verbosity.

That reminds me, I’m sure there was a another version on the Vic 20 called The Colonel’s House?  Oh, and I’ve also discovered that you can play Zork in your browser at

Epson PF-10 Disk Drive Working Again

I recently stripped down my two PF-10’s and managed to reassemble one working drive from the components.  The drive is working quite well, the only real problem is the battery is only lasting about 30-40 minutes before needing a lengthy recharge.  However this at least gives me enough time to perform a few tasks.

Today I formatted some disks using Copydisk, I found some old 1.0 MB double sided double density disks which seem to work well, the high density ones that I tried did not work.  I then daisy chained the TF-20 and the PF-10 to the PX-8 by running the cable from the TF-20 into the back of the PF-10.  This required opening up the PF-10 battery compartment in order to flick a dip switch to ensure there were no drive letter conflicts.

This set up gives you the PF-10 as drive F and the TF-20 dual drives as D and E.  The PF-10 came with some old disks and I took the opportunity to copy their contents using PIP onto some 5.25″ disks just in case the PF-10 dies again.  This included some original copies of Microsoft Basic and Compiler.  That proved to be enough work for the main battery and the back-up battery light began to flash.  It’s a shame the unit won’t run off of the AC adapter however I’m just thrilled it’s now working at all.

I shall use Filink to further back up the files I transferred today onto my bridge machine and I shall see if there’s any chance of building another working PF-10 from the left over components.

Epson PX-8 & PF-10