HARDWARELECTEURS DE DISQUETTES ★ TIMATIC SYSTEMS 5 1/4 DISC DRIVES FOR AMSTRAD ★

Timatic disc drives - The Bigdisk|Amstrad Action)New Timatic disc drives for Amstrad|Popular Computing Weekly)
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How would you like 800K of disk capacity? Andy Wilton looks at a plug-in that gives you just that and more

Imagine you've just bought an Amstrad FD-1 second drive for your 6128. You get it unpacked, plug it in and boot up CP/M PLUS. When you pop a freshly formatted disk into the new drive and do a SHOW B: you'll find you have just under 180K in the way of free space. Nothing surprising about that, you might think. Well, I've got a second drive on my 6128, but when I do a SHOW B: Arnold tells me I've got 796K free.

And that's not all. When you bought your 360K disk it probably cost you the best part of a fiver - maybe as little as £4 if you really shopped around, or bought in bulk. When I bought my 800K disk it cost me £2.50, and I simply bought the first one I saw. That's 800KI can get at in one go. remember, whereas you can only use yours in two separate 180K chunks.

As you've probably gathered my second drive isn't an FD-1, and it doesn't use 3-inch disks. Instead I've got Timatic's new 6128 Bigdisk drive, also known confusingly as the 6128 1 megabyte drive, which takes 5 1/4-inch floppy disks.

THE DISKS

Unlike the 3-inch disks that Amstrad drives need, 5 Vis have been around a long time. They're cheap, easy to find and were until recently the universal standard for microcomputing. They are also, it has to be said, vulnerable. The disk itself is poorly protected by its flexible vinyl sleeve, and the disk surface is actually exposed in places. Whereas the 3-inch's tough case and metal shutter can take a lot of punishment, 5l*s must be handled with care.

The fact that most micro disk-drives still use 5Vs makes for other advantages as well as the availability of blank disks. With the right software, a 5'/4-inch drive can allow Arnold to read files from other computers'disks. Timatic provide suitable software for several major 5 1/4-inch formats, so there's another reason why you might be interested in the Bigdisk.

THE DRIVE

Compared to the FD-1 the Bigdisk is wide, flat and heavy. The weight is accounted for m part by its outer case, a cream-enamelled steel effort which could certainly cope with all the rough handling you could give it. The drive sits on four little rubber feet which certainly stop it from sliding. The on/off switch is on the back panel, along with a 40/80 track select switch and the slot which the ribbon cable comes out of.

The drive door arrangement at the front seems sturdy and practical. Inserting a disk is a two stage process. First you push the disk deep into the slot, a section of the slot's lower lip hingeing inwards to allow for the fattest of fingers. Then you pull a latch down across the slot, clamping the disk in place. To remove the disk again, you simply push the hinged portion of the lower lip. This releases the latch and ejects the disk quite forcibly.

Below the drive slot is a red LED which acts as a 'power on' indicator. There's no 'disk access'indicator, but that's not what I'd call a serious omission. Firstly, the one on our FD-1 has never worked properly, which has never caused me any problems. Secondly the Bigdisk, while quiet by 5'/4-inch standards, makes a lot more noise than the Amstrad built-in drives. Thus you can tell fairly easily the difference between motor running and motor idle. As for actual disk access, that's While you're sorting out what you want on your boot disk you'll need to give some thought to FORMAT.COM, another of the programs supplied with the disk. As you might expect, it's a utility for formatting 5 1/4 s. It takes quite a bit longer than DISCKIT3 does on a 3-inch, but that's hardly surprising when you think about the size of its task.

That's about it in terms of using Bigdisk as a big, cheap drive B. All the programs supplied for this purpose are simple to use and require nothing in the way of technical knowledge. But there's more to Bigdisk than this, as I've already hinted.

CP/M 2.2, AMSDOS AND BEYOND 

If you're sharp-eyed, you'll have noticed I mentioned S80TRK.COM, and said it was used to set Bigdisk up as a 400K drive but didn't say why you'd want to do that. You can't use Bigdisk to its full under CP/M 2.2 or AMSDOS, hence all the specific references to CP/M PLUS so far. But you can use it from both operating systems as a 400K drive. Under 2.2 you use 80TRK.COM to set it up and under AMSDOS you use 80TRK.BAS, both files coming on the bundled disk. Timatic provided S80TRK.C0M so that you can get at these low-capacity files under CP/M PLUS, if you need to. This common standard across operating systems is a nice touch, and could come in very handy.

Bigdisk can cope with a much wider range of formats than this. though. If you want to set it up to read CP/M 86 files written by an IBM PC, Bigdisk can do it. It can also cope with FTS and iCL format CP/M files. Far more important, it can read from and write to MS-DOS and PC-DOS disks.

Thanks to the PC and its compatibles, MS-DOS is the :pe:ating system for serious computing today. If you use an MS-DOS computer in the office, at school or in college, the chances are you've wanted to transfer your files to your Arnold at some stage. Using Bigdisk and another of the bundled programs, TDOS.COM, you can. There are some restrictions: TDOS can't cope with directory paths, and demands double-sided disks. It's worth bearing in mind too that you can't transfer MS-DOS applications programs only the files they produce. So you'll need a CP/M application that can cope with the given file structure.

In practice you're most likely to want to transfer text as an ASCII file, and that presents no problems at all. TDOS is a very flexible tool allowing you to transfer files either way, catalogue drives A: and B: or erase files from the MS-DOS disk. It's very friendly too. When I tried to transfer files from drive B: to drive B:, it told me that I'd set up "silly drive assignments" - and of course it was right.

CAMELION

If you want still more freedom and don't mind spending an extra £49, Timatic sell a very powerful format selection utility called Camelion. I'm not sure, but I think the spelling error's deliberate - after all, CHAMELION.COM is too long to be a legal CP/M filename.

Anyhow, I've not seen the package myself but it sounds very impressive indeed. It offers a host of different pre-set formats, or lets you define your own if you can't see the one you want. The latter option does involve 'getting your feet wet', but Timatic do offer to help you find the settings you need. If you've got a lot of info you want to transfer one way or the other, it could well be worth it.

VERDICT

If you can spare the £249 asking price, Bigdisk is wonderful just as a second drive. The feeling of freedom you get from knowing you've got 800K to work with is amazing. It can transform some programs in a way that a normal second drive can't hope to.

Take Digital Research's Pascal/MT+, for instance. Under normal circumstances you need one disk for the compiler and editor, another for the linker and at least one more for the debugging tools, library routines and everything else. Even with this arrangement the compiler/editor disk soon starts to nudge 180K - and that's with a small, no-frills editor. With a Bigdisk on the other hand you could fit the whole lot onto one disk, use WordStar as your editor, and still have several hundred K for your own program files - without touching drive A:, that is.

As for transferring files to and from other machines, that depends entirely on your needs. Only you can work out whether it's worth the price, but it does seem straightforward and reliable from the file-transfers I tried. Bear this in mind: even if you buy Bigdisk chiefly for transferring files, you can still use that great big HDENS format when you use the machine normally.

Andy Wilton, AA

★ PUBLISHER: Timatic Systems
★ YEAR: 1986
★ CONFIG: CPC 6128 or 464/664 under CP/M Plus
★ PRICE: £149 (Amstrad CPCs) ; £209 (Amstrad PCW 8256/8512)

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.