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Master 512 Forum by Robin Burton
Beebug Vol. 10 No. 1 May 1991

This month I'll start with a simple query which may benefit some of you without you even realising there was a question. I know that the Forum has a number of readers who are not 512 owners, some of whom may become users in time, so some of these too might benefit.


I've had a couple of letters from new 512 users who have managed to purchase a machine after considerable effort, searching through classified advertisements and chasing numerous potential buys before finally achieving success (see Members' ads in BEEBUG, for example). It's clear that 512s are getting very difficult to find nowadays, and also that buyers can't always expect to receive everything that should be included with the machine, always assuming of course that they know what should be supplied.

I've been trying to locate three 512s myself, for a school that wants to upgrade its Master 128s to allow them to run DOS, so I can verify that tracking down 512s is no easy job these days. One obvious but unfortunate side effect of an active demand but limited supply is that prices can increase dramatically and this seems to be happening to the 512.

Frequently, even in private sales, prices of £180.00 are being asked, and sadly this now seems to be the standard 'going rate' for a second-hand 512 purchased from a dealer. Those who purchased their 512 after Acorn's final price reduction can therefore feel literally doubly pleased with their machine, since it would today cost about twice as much, even though it would be second-hand.

The other fact which often afflicts a used machine purchase is that various bits of the original package can have been mislaid by the previous owner, and that's the real motivation for this part of the Forum this month.

From my discussions with dealers and letters from users it's obviously quite common for the mouse, the manual, the four DOS issue discs (especially with 'proper' Acorn labels) or the numeric keypad layout card, or sometimes all of them, to have gone missing when a machine is sold or traded in. If you are a prospective 512 purchaser or you recently acquired one, the above is the list of items you should receive with the board. If anything is missing the price should be reduced to reflect this, for example by £20.00 or more for the mouse.

Although there's a thriving second-hand market for 512s, it's clear that Acorn's lack of support and especially the lack of publicity for the machine when it was a current product are still affecting buyers today. Although it might seem incredible to most of us, dealers have told me that they have traded in Masters against an upgrade to an Archimedes system only to discover later, when they took the lid off the Master, that there was a 512 inside.

Obviously in these cases the previous owner didn't know about the 512, and equally neither did the dealer at the time of the trade-in. The result for the next owner of the 512 of course is a board with none of the normal items which should be supplied as standard.

512 keypad layout
Click for full-size

I've had a couple of requests to include the keypad layout in the Forum from recent 512 purchasers, which is why the information is reproduced here this month. This, and my own recent search for machines is basically responsible for the ramblings above, but it also leads me to think about the following mystery.


According to the best figures I have, Acorn manufactured and sold (eventually) about 13,000 512s in total. Judging by the overall response to my 512BBC BASIC offer in 512 Forum over the last two years, BEEBUG readers account for about 400 or so of these (since the software was free I assume that almost everyone sent for it). As a percentage of BEEBUG membership that's roughly 5%, which is an extremely high proportion when compared to the overall number of 512s versus BBC micros. If I include Essential Software and Dabs Press customers, the total number of 512 users I 'know about' one way or another is still probably less than 750 in all (there's naturally a good deal of overlap between all three sources of information).

I don't suggest that absolutely every 512 user reads 512 Forum, nor that they all must alternatively be either Essential Software or Dabs Press customers, but it's a fair bet that the vast majority of active users fall into at least one of these categories. The question that I keep wondering about therefore, is where are the rest of those 512s?

From the (admittedly unscientific) available evidence it would seem that somewhere there are up to 12,000 512s that are not being used. An even more appalling thought is that, while there are reasonable numbers of BBC micro users who would dearly love to get hold of a 512 to use it properly now they belatedly know about it, it's equally possible, even likely, that thousands of unused machines are owned by people who don't even know they have them!

You might well feel this idea is just too far fetched, but I don't think so! Apart from the numerous stories I've heard from dealers, I recently bought a 512 from a primary school (thanks to the help of Seymour Leeds, a 512 Forum reader) The school concerned most certainly didn't use the 512, in fact they didn't actually know what it was! That 512 is now on its way to a much more active and productive life, while the school's finances have benefited appropriately. In this case there's therefore a happy ending all round, but it does illustrate my point.

By the way, if you bought a used Master 128 and you're now looking for a 512 but you've never taken the lid off your micro, it might be a good idea to do so. You never know!


Long time Forum readers will remember previous encounters with this program (designed to help with installing and running PC software on a 512), a story which in retrospect was more like a television 'soap' than a software review.

Shibumi Soft, the suppliers of Problem Solver, seemed to disappear from the scene after a series of regular advertisements over quite some time, leaving those who had yet to purchase or upgrade wondering what happened to them.

A few months ago advertisements again began to appear, though this time under the slightly changed name of Shibumi Software. Most of the more recent advertisements concentrate on their new area of interest, Archimedes software, but thanks are again due to Seymour Leeds and to Steve Clements for providing the following information.

An updated version of Problem Solver is now available (address below) both to new purchasers and existing users. Also, since there is now a U.K. address, telephone orders can be taken if you wish to use Access or Visa for payment.

If you have an original version of Problem Solver you can obtain the upgrade for £5.00 from Shibumi Software quoting the serial number of your original copy, there's no need to return the original disc. The cost to new purchasers is £24.95 plus £1.00 p&p.

I haven't tried the new version myself, so I can't say whether it's a worthwhile upgrade or not if you have the original version. However, according to Shibumi's reply to Seymour, the new version is more reliable than the old one, especially with DOS Plus 2.1, and it has no known bugs. As I understand it, the operation of the new program and the facilities provided by it look just like the old one.

One other fact that emerged is that orders and queries have been taking a very long time to be processed by Shibumi. I know that Seymour wrote several times and waited literally months before finally receiving a reply. In the end however, he did get the software, together with a letter explaining that although they now have a U.K. mailing address and 'phone number, Shibumi Soft still operates from Portugal so sometimes "things take longer than they should".

I've also heard from other members that a response to a letter or an order took weeks if not months, though, so far as I know everyone eventually did receive a reply and Shibumi Soft have promised that their service will improve.


I deduce from one or two queries that some of you have forgotten, or perhaps have never heard of the trick of loading a second copy of COMMAND.COM when you have a package that won't work in the 512. A reminder seems to be in order, therefore.

One package I know that this applies to is a genealogy program called Brother's Keeper. At first sight it seems that the latest version of this program will not run in the 512 although a previous one did. Initially the new version sometimes hangs the system, sometimes it produces an error message. However, it turns out that all that's needed to cure this problem is a second copy of COMMAND.COM.

To try this fix, 'COMMAND' should be loaded a second time before you try to run the package. This is simply achieved by typing 'COMMAND' at the DOS prompt, ensuring that COMMAND.COM is available in a current path. Doing this does of course reduce the amount of free RAM available to the application by about 30K, though in an expanded 512 this is of little concern.

If you have a program that refuses to run normally in the 512 this trick is always worth a try; it could make all the difference. Even if it doesn't, it has the considerable merits that it doesn't take long to try and costs absolutely nothing.

If you do load a second copy of COMMAND.COM and later wish to reclaim the extra memory used by it there's no need to reboot the system (unless it's crashed of course). Simply type 'EXIT' at the DOS prompt, and the second copy of 'COMMAND' will be terminated. This will instantly return you to the normal DOS prompt, so it looks as if nothing happened, but running 'BACKG' both before and after will clearly show that the extra memory has been freed again.

There's one other side effect to loading a second copy of 'COMMAND.COM' which might become obvious if you are in the habit of using the 512's standard function key strings and cursor keys. Of course, if you use a command line editor this won't trouble you.

For example, pressing f5 on the command line produces the word 'COPY' followed by a space. The idea is to save you having to type the command manually: all you need to do is to press f5 and then add the source and destination drives and filenames as appropriate before pressing Return.

However, if a second copy of 'COMMAND.COM' is loaded, all the Acorn function key definitions are lost, being replaced instead by the normal IBM function key actions. This change is temporary though; the Acorn function key definitions return to normal if you later exit back to a single DOS shell.

     Address    Shibumi Software,

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