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New Products From Essential

Bernard Hill assesses the latest products for 512 users from Essential Software.

Product    Fastboot  
Price £10.95 on disc
£14.95 on EPROM
(upgrade cost £4.00, return your disc)
Product        CPFS 
Price £24.95 on EPROM with disc

Essential Software
PO Box 5,
Groby, Leicester LE6 0ZB.

Essential Software, the software house run by Robin Burton, author of BEEBUG's 512 Forum, has recently released two important software packages for 512 co-processor owners. These are Fastboot and CPFS which are described separately below.


It always seems that a 512 system takes an eternity to boot up DOS as it reads from the ADFS-formatted boot disc. The procedure involves loading a number of files including the XIOS (the equivalent of the PC's BIOS), DOS itself (DOSPLUS.SYS), the code which resides in the 6502 system (6502.SYS), to say nothing of AUTOEXEC.BAT and any commands you've put in there. Fastboot is a very simple idea which keeps some of this code in sideways RAM (or ROM) ready for instant use.

The package consists of just a disc containing a ROM image of the system. In common with all Essential Software packages the documentation is in printable form on disc. For my money this is the best way: after initial perusal I tend to put manuals away in the cupboard and rarely refer to them. Not having to bother with printing and distribution costs enables Essential to keep their prices low and their value high, probably chopping about £10 off the cost of the package.

Once you have loaded your RAM image (or blown an EPROM - Essential give you permission to make one 8K EPROM for your own use), you can create an 800K format disc with DOSPLUS.SYS on it, and Fastboot will use that to boot from. This combination of using ROM and the fastest disc format speeds up the boot process quite considerably. On my model B (without an AUTOEXEC.BAT) it reduced the boot time from 31 seconds to 14. With an AUTOEXEC the improvement will be greater because of the faster disc access for each operation in your AUTOEXEC.

Whether it's worth it to you to pay £11 for a saving of just a few seconds must depend on how often you boot up and how much spare cash you have!


This is a much more exciting product which has been overdue for some time. The existence of a half-megabyte of RAM (in my 512) sitting alongside my Beeb and usually switched off has always struck me as a complete waste. Essential Software's Co-Processor Filing System turns this 512K into a complete functioning RAM disc for use with your model B, B+ or Master when working in BBC mode. It comes supplied this time on a 16K EPROM and (again) with the 24-page manual on disc ready for printing or browsing through on screen.

It's important of course after installing the chip (and it must go above the other filing systems on a model B) to be able to start your machine with the Tube off. On a Master you can *CONFIGURE NOTUBE but on the model B the chip provides the equivalent function *NOTUBE to be followed by a Break. Then the filing system can be started with the command *CPFS.

The filing system allows up to 5 files open at a time (as do the DFS and ADFS) and raises the value of PAGE by &100. It allows file names up to 10 characters in length and has a directory structure similar to DFS's, i.e. one-character directories followed by a full stop. There is room for 127 files in the CPFS totalling 503,808 bytes and the lack of a complete hierarchical filing system like ADFS should be no loss in what is after all a temporary system as it loses the files when you power off.

How to review a filing system? There is really no great excitement to what you see, the benefit comes in the speed of access and capacity of the system. The facilities available are very much like those found in the DFS. The commands with an identical purpose and syntax are:

*DESTROY     *DIR *DUMP        *INFO

There is also *MTYPE to perform *TYPE in Master-style, i.e. with an ASCII display of control characters.

Some commands are borrowed from the ADFS:

*EX         *FREE

However, *COMPACT has been modified. Since CPFS performs automatic compaction when required by the system (no more "Can't Extend"s) this command merely forces early compaction when issued. It is also possible to force a file to be last on the disc for faster extension, with:

*COMPACT <filename>

Some commands are recognised by CPFS but do nothing because they are not needed. These are:


Commands omitted are:


I suspect the latter is an omission easily rectified but I wish the former had been included (see below).

The CPFS will also work as a temporary filing system with the Master (and Master Emulation ROM for the model B) with all the advantages that gives.

There is one new command in the system: *TRANSFER, which will copy files or groups of files between filing systems. It requires answers to five questions: the target and source filing system, the target and source directory and the file specification. Wildcards are allowed (although '*' as a directory caused confusion). It can even transfer files between DFS and ADFS when CPFS is not active!

Its most common use must be, of course, the transfer of a complete (A)DFS disc to CPFS at the start of a session, and the transfer back at the end. Beware, however, that CPFS holds more than two complete DFS discs, or more than one ADFS disc if you have a 512K expansion fitted to your 512! Also, I found *TRANSFER rather slow, presumably because it uses byte access.

It was also annoying that having transferred a program to CPFS and modified it, it caused a "Can't Extend" message from the DFS as it tried to overwrite its shorter version on disc. *TRANSFER also won't replace locked files on the target filing system, though I can understand the reason for this, but the obvious way to use this product is with a fast transfer of all files from DFS to CPFS at the start of a session, and an easy transfer of files back at the end. I am finding I have to use a second blank floppy disc for the target at the end of a work period.

The product works very well and fills a much-needed gap if you find floppy discs too slow or too small. In operation it behaves perfectly and gives a lightning response - saving a 64K file with:

*SAVE TEST 0 10000

took 8 seconds on a DFS floppy disc, 0.01 seconds on CPFS!. I have already started to use it for all development work as it is blindingly fast and I can forget the dreaded "Can't Extend" message. It's also ideal for a time-critical data-logging application I have where the floppy disc's slow BPUT makes for much difficulty.

I also like the 'O' flag alongside the 'Locked' flag in catalogues to indicate files which are open and I guess it's a good practice anyway to make me use a blank floppy disc to save onto at the end of my sessions.

A must for every 512 owner who uses his Beeb as a Beeb, and £25 very well spent.

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