For this review, I'm not going to take a bunch of screen pics - I'll do video this time around.
While I mentioned the serial pak and a few other options that CoCoNet works with, this review
will be mainly about the Drive Pak and how CoCoNet works with it; I'll review the serial pak later.
Also, as with the HDB-DOS/DriveWire review, there are no benchmarks-only my observations and experiences using the product. Nor is this review
a 'How To' for the DrivePak or CoCoNet.
For those who do not know (and get out from under the rock already...), the DrivePak is a CoCo ROM pak containing a modified BASIC,
called CoCoNet, and a 2 GB SD card for storage. When I say storage, I'm talking about a high potential for floppy drive replacement here.
The pak's case itself was co-designed by Roger Taylor and the machinist - this is not a scavenged ROM Pak previously occupied by a Tandy ROM.
The pak is slightly larger and heavier than a Tandy ROM pak, it has a very solid feel to it, and overall, is quite nice.
The shipping version of the SD card included with with the Drive Pak is quite literally packed with lots of goodies. For starters,
the pak comes with an impressive array of disk images, including most of the Sierra OS-9 games, all pre-loaded and ready to play.
Just type in:
(Roger notified me that DOS#"KQ1" is the short form version of the same command)
and hit enter - in a few moments King's Quest 1 will start up.
The number of games and programs included is quite staggering. As I already said, many of the Sierra OS-9 based games come included on the SD card,
as are many of the common images available from the internet, as well as a few other libraries such as the T&D and a Colorado user's group
library. Also included is DeskMate 3, which for those like myself, it's quite a novel UI considering I've never used it before. All of the RS-DOS
commands I tried had the same functionality with the DrivePak as they would a CoCo floppy drive.
The DrivePak is quite usable by itself, being a selfcontained mass storage device you can pretty much 'plug & play'. It does not NEED to be connected to a PC.
However, it's my opinion that the connection to the PC via CoCoNet is a major addition to the DrivePak and it's functionality - in other
words, it's one heck of a bonus feature!!! One of the major stregnths of the DrivePak is the ability to move disk images onto a partition
and have the image available on the DrivePak when you start your CoCo. The way this is usuallly accomplished is via CoCoNet - which is simply a
modifed version of RS-DOS. Maybe simply is the wrong word as I can't even begin to understand the work that was done to get CoCoNet to the useful tool it is.
To use the integrated features of CoCoNet with the DrivePak, you need to connect to your PC running CoCoNet Server, via a serial cable from the bitbanger to a COM
port on your PC. If you're running an RS-232 pak or Roger's Bluetooth serial pak, there are other boot options using the 6551
connection, such as NitrOS-9 from a remote image and even booting from a shared disk image on the internet.
The following symbols, when used with the 'DRIVE' command, tell CoCoNet which method to use to connect to the disk image:
! - Instructs CoCoNet to look for the image using the bitbanger serial connection
@ - Instructs CoCoNet to look for the image using the 6551 (RS-232) connection
# - Instructs CoCoNet to look for the image stored locally on the SD card
For example, once CoCoNet Server on the PC is running, turn on the CoCo and let it boot up CoCoNet. Some examples of the commands are as follows:
To mount a virtual disk on drive 1, for Telewriter 128 in the folder 'cocofiles' on the 'c' drive, you would enter this command from the CoCo:
Entering DIR on the CoCo should give you the directory of the mounted disk. If you want to import the disk image to your DrivePak, you'd need to mount
an empty virtual disk on the Pak. I'll mount disk #54 to drive 0 by entering the following command:
To copy the disk contents, just type BACKUP 1 TO 0 as you normally would on the CoCo. It's really that easy. And using the 6551 options via the
serial pack, you can mount virtual disk images on the internet and then back them up to your DrivePak.
Making life a little easier, someone in the CoCo community just released an app that allows external SD card image manipulation from within the
Windows environment. To say it makes image management easier would be an understatement. While it's simple enough to backup virtual disks to the
DrivePak, point and click is much easier. The utility is called CoCoPAK and is available for download from coco3.com.
It must be stated that the DrivePak has the same limitations when accessing virtual disks that other similar products do: if the software you are trying to
use did not use proper DSKCON routines, it will not work with the DrivePak. However, what the DrivePak and CoCoNet server WILL allow you to do, if you have
real floppy drive hardware, is access real CoCo floppy drive systems while still maintaining access to the virtual disks on your PC. This allows you to make
real copies of and run software that is not compatible with virtual drive systems.
One example of this problem is Chet Simpson's outstanding game, Gold Runner 2000 - it will not play on virtual drive systems (or thru an un-upgraded MPI).
Take my CoCo system for example - 6309, 512k, FD-502 w/2 3.5" floppy drives and an upgraded MPI. In the MPI I have a Serial Pak in slot 1, HDB-DOS in
slot 2, MicroSD Drive PAK in slot 3, and the FD-502 controller in slot 4. CoCoNet allows simultanious access to multiple storage types in order to bypass
this limitation with programs like GR2K. At boot, CoCoNet probes the slots to see what storage devices are available. Once Booted, I enter the command:
I then have access to the floppy drive. I can run any CoCo program as would normally be done, including NitrOS-9 based stuff, using the physical CoCo drives.
Now, I can also mount a floppy disk image as well to drive 1:
'BACKUP 1 TO 0'
And I now have a working floppy disk of the Triballs demo.
The same thing can be done with GR2K or any other disk image you have. In order to not have a very long and boring viedo, the next one just shows GR2k loading from the
CoCo floppy disks and not the creation of the disks.
Once done with the physical drive hardware, just enter:
and you're back to working in the DrivePak. And you have the same flexibility with the other physical drives(1-3) as well.
I've had one of the CoCo3.com MicroSD Drive Paks for a month now. While getting started was a little rocky for me since haven't really used a CoCo3 daily
for a long time, the learning curve really isn't that bad. And as anyone who has actually talked with Roger Taylor knows, he's very responsive, helpful,
and fully supports his products. This device is no different - he always responded to questions and even offered to send a new EPROM at his expense - which
The CoCo3.com MicroSD DrivePak is a terrific device. It allows a massive amount of storage on its 2GB card, eliminating the need for floppy disk hardware
for a large portion of the CoCo software library. For those games/applications that must have floppy hardware, the integrated CoCoNet OS offers the perfect
solution with the ability to use real, physical CoCo floppy drives in conjunction with the virtual drives. Software loading times via the virtual drives is
acceptable. Again, no data throughput tests were run, nor did I actually use a stopwatch to clock load times. If there is a problem that causes excessive
load times when using CoCoNet or the Drive Pak, I've not found. it.
The CoCoNet software is a fully functional, enhanced version of Disk BASIC, that works extremely well. Even so, there are a few areas I'd like to see improved.
For one, I'd like to see the ability to set and change mounted disk images from the PC side. The commands in CoCoNet do work, and are easy to get used to, but,
the long strings required to set and change mounted images are cumbersome. They are also a royal pain if you make a typo and have to start over. Another reason
for the ability to make the changes from the PC is for software that requires multiple disks. Once you've started the loading process, currently there's no way
to change the mounted image to continue once you receive the message 'Insert Disk 2'.
In the grand scheme of things, CoCoNet is very early in its evolution. Even with the issues I've mentioned above, I consider it a marvelous addition to my
list of CoCo items I use almost daily. The flexibility is there to access all of my currently owned storage methods, as well as move software from floppy disk
to a PC image, PC image to floppy disk, floppy disk to SD Card, and SD card to all of the above.
In summary, Roger has created a MUST HAVE combo with the DrivePak and CoCoNet. They have become invaluable tools for my daily CoCo use. The flexibilty and overall
storage device combinations borders on staggering.
This review is for the 16v8 GAL upgrade for the 26-3124 MPI by John Turner at GIMEchip.com.
In an effort to not bore the CoCo world with the 'why I did this upgrade,' (if you're a CoCoNut,
you'll know), I'll skip the prelude and go right into the kit and install info right away.
There's not a whole lot to say other than it comes with a pre-programmed GAL, a socket with
an integral decoupling cap, and about a yard of wire-wrap wire to make the necessary connections.
Oh, and instructions:
1. Snip pin 19 of IC1 (74LS245) close to the P.C.B. and bend it up so that it sticks straight out.
2. Take the supplied 20-Pin Socket and snip off all pins EXCEPT: 1,2,4,9,10,19,20.
3. Bend the following pins of the socket straight out: 1,2,4,9.
4. Place the socket atop IC1 (74LS245) and solder pin 10 to pin 10, pin 19 to pin 19 (which is bent out on IC1) and pin 20 to pin 20.
5. Solder a wire from Pin 2 of the socket to either the PCB hole where Pin 19 of IC1 was snipped from or to Pin 52 of IC6.
6. Solder a wire from Pin 1 of the socket to pin 9 of IC4.
7. Solder a wire from Pin 4 of the socket to pin 11 of IC4.
8. Solder a wire from Pin 9 of the socket to pin 3 of IC4.
9. Install the GAL chip into the socket (pin 1 to pin 1 orientation).
10. Put everything back together and the MPI should now be 100% Compatible with the Tandy CoCo 3 Upgraded 26-3124 MPI.
And this file contains the equations if you feel so motivated to program the GAL yourself.
Basically, this was a 15 minute operation. The hardest part for me was stripping that wire - the stuff's pretty darned thin.
Nevermind the green speaker wire - there's another problem with this MPI that I had to fix - no sound output.
That's where the green wire comes into play. Anyway, the images tell the story. It's a pretty simple project,
and the third image says it best - if that '? PEEK (&HFF90)' would have come back a 255, the upgrade would not
be correct. And if that isn't enough, the screen shots for the review of Cloud9's HDB-DOS/DriveWire PAK were
taken AFTER I did the upgrade. If not, I'd never have been able to run Nick's Space Intruders game as the MPI
not being upgrade would have locked it up as soon as the aliens came on screen.
The cost of this kit was $9.99 from his eBay auction, which included shipping. So yeah, it's a worthy kit that
does the job it's supposed to. I'm looking at buying at least one more kit; I've got two more MPI's that need the upgrade.
I'm also considering doing the 74LS10 upgrade on one of them just to say I did. Though, on the next upgrades, I
think I'll use a little less wire...
Been working on so much lately I've had little time to do the things I like. However, I recently received an
HDB-DOS/DriveWire pak from Cloud9. You know what that means? Review time!!! I'm not doing a scientific review
with data throughput numbers and such - just relaying my experiences with it, what I feel it's usability is,
and whether I think others would get good use out of it. Okay, so here goes...
This article is not a bible on how to make the connection between the PC and CoCo. It's simply a review of the
HDB-DOS ROM Pak and it's use with DriveWire 3.
This is what the cart looks like - basically a CoCo ROM pak with the HDB-DOS EPROM inside. To use the Pak you need
a serial cable connected to your bitbanger port on the CoCo and the COM port of your choice on your PC. The DriveWire
Server allows several baud rate settings, dependent upon which CoCo you are using. Mine is a CoCo3, so the 115,200 rate
is selected by default when choosing a CoCo3.
Generally speaking, you need to have the Server up and running before powering on the CoCo. Depending on what
application you plan on using will determine if you need to have a disk 'inserted' in the drive (see the image).
To insert a disk, you click the 'drive flap' and browse to the disk image, click on the 'eject button' to eject
the disk, as you would a real floppy drive. The app is very easy to use and quite intuitive.
Booting up the CoCo will give the familiar green screen - with a twist - the HDB-DOS message is under
the standard Microsoft header. The usual commands for RS-DOS work in HDB-DOS - as far as I have played with it.
The manual claims each mounted 'drive' has access to 256 disk images - I did not test this as I have no images set up
in this manner. All I have done is insert disks and load and run programs, making vague mental notes about load times,
which were quick enough for me. NitrOS-9 load times for DriveWire 4 were very quick, and I'll discuss that in another article.
The first thing I loaded was a demo called 'TRIBALLS'. The image loaded and executed without a hitch.
And, as you can see by the included images, they displayed quite nicely on a 15" LCD via Roy's VGA adapter.
The first image is just two reflective balls generated by the demo.
The second image is very similar, just four reflective balls. While it's no major biggie, this is one of only
a few demos that will actually run using virtual style drive. Many of the known demos, games and applications will
not load properly using this storage method due to programmer's improper use (or complete lack of) DSKCON.
Roger Taylor's MicroSD Pak and Bluetooth Paks have the same limitations (reviews are forth coming on those items as well).
Next up, it was time for some gaming - I chose Nick's 'Space Intruders'. Space Invaders was one of my favorite games, so
this was an easy choice. Simply put, I love this game. My kids think I'm nuts, but, that's their problem. The last thing I
loaded using DriveWire3 was CoCo-Max III. Again, load times were quite acceptable and if I hadn't loaded the files from my
PC myself, I'd never have known there was not a floppy drive providing the data.
The bottom line is this - DriveWire 3 is a very useful tool. If you do not have a floppy drive, cannot afford one, or just do
not want to mess with connecting due to desktop clutter, but still want to use your real CoCo, and not an emulator, then
DriveWire 3 is a very inexpensive alternative. Load times on all tested software was acceptable, and loading the DriveWire4
version of NitrOS-9 was pretty damn quick. You do not HAVE to have it in ROM Pak form - it can be loaded via the cassette port
using a PC sound card. Slower, yes, but just as effective. The caveot to this is unless someone undertakes the massive task of
re-writing a lot of code, DriveWire will never be able to give one access to the entire CoCo software library via virtual drives.
However, it will give folks access to lots of usable disk images stored on a PC, with an easy to use loader, making using real CoCo
hardware possible for anyone who wishes to.
I give it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.
And now, I leave you to just ONE of the potential treasures open to you if you try to use DriveWire 4, which is also accessible
using the HDB-DOS/DriveWire ROM Pak. Happy listening...
TO THE LEFT IS THE TEST SYSTEM: A COCO3 WITH THE CLOUD9 512K UPGRADE, AN MPI AND DUAL FD-502 FLOPPY DRIVE SYSTEM WITH
3.5" DRIVES. I'LL ANNOUNCE RIGHT HERE THAT I AM SCREEN SHOT-CHALLENGED - MEANING I SUCK AT TAKING
STILL SHOTS OF MY COMPUTER SCREEN WITH MY DIGITAL CAMERA...
WELL, TO START WITH I AM GOING TO REVIEW A DEVICE I SAY IS A MUST HAVE FOR ANY COCO 3 OWNER.
THAT WOULD BE THE ROY JUSTICE RGB TO VGA CONVERTER. MY OVERALL IMPRESSION, UPON FIRST INSPECTION,
WAS THAT THIS WAS NOT A 'HOMEBREW' PROJECT. INDEED, IT WAS. THE DEVICE IS PACKAGED IN AN ATTRACTIVE
CASE, COMES WITH A QUALITY POWER SUPPLY (WALL WART TYPE), HAS AN INTEGRATED RESET BUTTON, A POWER LED, AND
THE APPROPRIATE CORD(S) TO CONNECT TO YOUR COMPUTER. MINE CAME WITH AN EXTRA CORD WHICH ROY MADE FOR
ME SO I COULD USE THE CONVERTER WITH MY ATARI 1040ST AS WELL AS MY COCO.
NOW THAT THE OVERALL IMPRESSION AND DESCRIPTION IS FINISHED, LET'S GET TO SOME REVIEW MATERIAL. AFTER ALL,
WHAT'S A REVIEW WITHOUT SOME SCREEN SHOTS? ON THE LEFT WE HAVE THE COCO BOOT SCREEN. I'M HAPPY TO SAY THAT A FEW OF THESE
PICS DO NOT TO THE CONVERTER JUSTICE (NO PUN INTENDED ROY). I DIDN'T NOTICE ANY BANDING OR OTHER VIDEO ARTIFACTS WHEN TAKING THESE
PICTURES, AND THE SCREEN IS EASY TO LOOK AT FOR LONG PERIODS. I SHOULD MENTION THAT I AM USING AN ASUS 24"
LCD MONITOR FOR MY DISPLAY. BEING ABLE TO VIEW THE COCO'S VIDEO OUTPUT ON AN LCD IS MUCH MORE PLEASURABLE THAN
ON MY OLD HITACHI 13" TV I HAD AS A KID.
THE FIRST GAME I TESTED WAS SOCK MASTER'S DONKEY KONG CONVERSION. THE BOOT SCREEN IS SHOWN TO THE RIGHT. AS I UNDERSTAND IT,
NICK MARENTES (OF PAC-MAN AND GATE CRASHER FAME) DESIGNED AND CODED THE BOOT LOADER PROGRAM AS WELL AS THE CONFIGURATION SCREEN USED BY DONKEY KONG ON THE COCO 3.
ALL OF THE TEXT AND GRAPHICS ARE CRISP WITH NO TEARING OR ANY OTHER ANOMOLIES THAT COULD BE
PRESENT WHEN USING A DEVICE SUCH AS THIS - JUST GOOD, CLEAN IMAGES. IT SHOULD BE MENTIONED THAT THE DISPLAY LOOKS JUST AS GOOD ON THE
15" LCD MONITOR USED ON COCO3 MY REPACK PROJECT, AS WELL AS WHEN I'VE GOT MY ATARI 1040ST HOOKED UP.
AS PROOF OF MY INABILITY TO TAKE DECENT SCREEN SHOTS, I PRESENT EXHIBIT 1 - THE VERY FIRST LEVEL OF DONKEY KONG. I HAVE
NO EARTHLY IDEA WHY IT CAME OUT THE WAY IT DID, BUT, I CAN ASSURE YOU THE REAL SCREEN LOOKS FAR BETTER THAN THE STILL IMAGE DOES.
AS FURTHER PRROF, I PRESENT YOU WITH DONKEY KONGS SECOND LEVEL - AKA THE RIVET LEVEL. EVEN THOUGH THERE IS AN ANNOYING
LEVEL OF GLARE PRESENT, YOU CAN SEE THE DETAIL IN THE SCREEN.IT'S CRYSTAL CLEAR WITH NO NOTICABLE TEARING ALONG THE EDGES.
THIS LEVEL DID SHOW A LITTLE BANDING, BUT, YOU HAD TO LOOK REALLY CLOSE TO SEE IT.
MY NEXT TOOL IN THE REVIEW IS Z-89, THE ZAXXON REBOOT BY STEVE BJORK. ONE THING TO POINT OUT RIGHT AWAY IS THE AREA I ZOOMED INTO
ON THE BOOT SCREEN. DURING DISK DRIVE ACCESS, THE DARKER RED AREASOF THE 'Z-89' WERE DISTORTED AND NOISY LOOKING. I'M NOT SURE IF THAT'S CAUSED
BY INTERFERENCE FROM THE DRIVE MOTOR, THE DRIVE SIGNAL OR WHETHER STEVE PUT THAT IN THERE ON PURPOSE (I HAVE A HARD TIME BUYING THAT LAST POSSIBILITY,
BUT HEY, YOU NEVER KNOW). THERE'S ALSO A LITTLE BIT OF VERTICAL BANDING PRESENT.
THE LAST PIC IS AN IN GAME IMAGE OF THE FIRST FIGHTER LEVEL. LUCK WAS WITH ME WITH THIS PIC, AS IT TURNED OUT MUCH BETTER THAN THE REST OF THE IN GAME PICS.
EVERYTHING IS CRYSTAL CLEAR, THE FIGHTER'S SHADOW IS WELL DEFINED, THE MISSLE LOOKS CLEAR, NO TEARING OR OTHER BAD GRAPHICAL ARTIFACTS. AND IF NOT SHOWN
CORRECTLY IN A FEW OF THE OTHER PICTURES, ALL OF THE COLORS ARE VERY WELL DEFINED AND LOOK FANTASTIC.
ROY HAS DONE A TREMENDOUS JOB WITH THIS VIDEO CONVERTER. CM-8 MONITORS, WELL, RGB MONITORS IN GENERAL, ARE GETTING SCARCER BY THE DAY. AND LET'S FACE IT,
THE RG-8 IS NO WHERE NEAR AS FUN TO LOOK AT AS A GREAT BIG LCD MONITOR - THERE'S JUST NO COMPARISON. I BOUGHT MY FIRST CONVERTOR FOR MY REPACK PROJECT IN 2006.
I PURCHASED THE ONE USED IN THIS REVIEW IN THE FALL OF 2009. IF I COULD FIND A USE FOR A THIRD, I WOULD BUY ONE IN A HEARTBEAT. IF YOU ARE GOING TO USE REAL
COCO HARDWARE FOR WHATEVER REASON, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND PICK UP ONE OF THESE CONVERTERS FROM ROY. IN MY OPINION, IT'S WORTH IT'S WEIGHT IN GOLD.
TO ORDER ONE, CONTACT ROY: RJRTTY AT AOL DOT COM (JUST REPLACE THE AT AND DOT WITH THE RIGHT SYMBOLS AND REMOVE SPACES...)