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19 : Questions and Answers        


This final chapter provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by Master 512 users.

Q:     Can I write a !BOOT file which will turn on the Master 512 and load DOS Plus?

Not from floppy disc, because there is no room on DISC 1, the DOS boot disc to fit a !BOOT file. You can do it from hard disc with the following lines:

0001 *BASIC
0003 *FX151 78 127
0004 CALL !-4

This will re-boot the machine with the co-processor turned on, which will in turn load DOS. IF you have an AUTOEXEC.BAT file in your root directory, this will also be executed.

Q:   Can a floppy disc be partitioned in the same way as a hard disc?

Yes, but not with the HDISK program. The method to do this is fairly complicated, and is not stable – ie when a disc contains both ADFS and DOS data, each does not know of the other's existence, and so writing to one format can overwrite the other. If you have a good understanding of disc formats, what you must do is:


Format the disc in DOS, using 640k format.

b)   Copy any files you require onto the DOS disc.
c)   Exit DOS, and examine the disc with ADFS.
d)   There will be free space, but *FREE reports all space to be used.
e)   Alter the free space map, by directly editing the disc (Sectors 0-1), to show the true free space.
f)   Create a dummy file entry – by editing the $ directory sectors, not *CREATE – which uses up, say, half the disc.
g)   Save ADFS files on the remaining portion.

Note, however, that if you fill the DOS disc, you may well overwrite the ADFS files. The technique is perfectly good, however, for read-only discs, and has been used, for example, on my Master 512 Utilities disc.

Q:   Can I transfer my ED files to VIEW or Wordwise on the BBC?

Yes. This is done with the PUTFILE command. Copy the PUTFILE.CMD file from DISC 1 onto another disc, and place this in Drive 0. Save your ED file onto this disc as well. Put an ADFS disc in Drive 1. If your ED file is called TEXT.TXT, and the ADFS filename is to be Textfile, then, at the DOS prompt type:

A>PUTFILE A:TEXT.TXT :1.$.Textfile

The file will be transferred. Note that, like all PC text files, there will be linefeed characters (ASCII &0A) after the carriage returns at the end of lines. These can be removed by loading the file into Master EDIT and using the global search and replace command as follows:


(ie replace CTRL-J with nothing). If you are using VIEW, you can ignore this, and READ the file directly into VIEW – the linefeed characters will be automatically removed.

The process is, by the way, much simpler if you install a memory disc, and copy the PUTFILE program, the ED program, and/or the ED file created into the memory disc.

Q:   Can I use my modem with the Master 512?

Not normally. Most PC comms packages use an MS-DOS assignment for the communications port called COM1: (or COM2:, COM3: or COM4:). DOS Plus does not support these. The serial port in DOS Plus is called AUX:, 'Legally written' software addressing COM1: will in fact be directed to AUX:, and thus to the serial port, but very little PC comms software is legally written, because of speed problems. This topic is covered in more detail in the Dabs Press Master 512 Technical Guide.

Of course, simple serial port transfers using such commands as:

COPY <filename> AUX:

will work perfectly well, as would your own comms program written to use DOS Plus. Remember than most comms work is neither space nor speed-hungry, and the job can usually be done perfectly adequately using the BBC in native mode.

One comms package that has been found to work correctly is COMM+ by Margolis & Co, *******

Q:   My mouse is not moving freely, and the ball seems to be sticking. Can I cure this?

Yes, by turning the circular plate underneath the mouse, you can remove the ball, and clean both it, and the roller mechanisms inside. A 'baby bud' soaked in alcohol or some other evaporating solvent will do the job. Particularly sticky lumps of dirt should first be removed gently with the end of a pin or penknife. Generally, it is the rollers, rather than the ball, which pick up the dirt.

If your mouse is for any reason totally destroyed, you may be interested to know that the standard AMX Mouse is compatible with the 512 mouse, which means, of course, that you can use the Master 512 mouse with AMX software in BBC mode. Note that the 512 mouse is 'lower geared', ie it takes more desk movement to move a given distance on screen, than AMX mice, which actually makes for more accurate positioning when using the mouse with software designed for the AMX device.

Q:   Is the 512 board expandable?

A RAM expansion system is available from Solidisk Technology, which increases the available RAM to 1Mb. This is accessed by using a special version of DOS Plus supplied by Solidisk, or DOS Plus Version 2.1, which works automatically with the upgrade if present. See Chapter 18 for more information.

Normal PC expansion is done through hardware 'cards' which contain such things as extra RAM, modems, digitisers, hard discs, and so on. There is no way of plugging such cards into the Master 512. Some custom expansion projects are provided in the Master 512 Technical Guide.

Q:   Do I really need two floppy disc drives?

Not if you have a hard disc, and in most cases, not if you are running programs which still have sufficient memory to run when a memory disc is installed.

The DOS Plus system, including, command interpreter, stays resident in memory once loaded, and as long as you don't need the transient utilities, you can get away with a single drive. DOS operations like copying, formatting, and so on, and running small utilities can quite easily be done from one drive.

The problem usually arises when you are running a program, such as WordStar, which requires two drives because the software will literally not fit on a single 360k disc. However, even this is avoidable, as a two-disc program can often be copied onto an 800k drive, and run from one disc. Sometimes, the software may have to be installed on a hard disc, and copied back to an 800k floppy for this to work.

What you must have is a double-sided 80-track drive. The system simply will not work with 40-track drives, nor with single-sided drives.

Q:   Can I use the 512k of RAM with BBC programs.
A:   Yes, the 512k of RAM is accessible using the standard Tube protocols, or by directly accessing the Tube port. Programming through the Tube ports is explained in another Dabs Press publication – 'Master Operating System:A Dabhand Guide' by David Atherton. Using the memory is however, highly dependent on special software being written – programs such as VIEW and Wordwise do not automatically recognise the RAM.
Q:   What is the difference between MS-DOS and DOS Plus.

MS-DOS is the Operating System supplied with standard PCs. It is published by Microsoft. When supplied on a genuine IBM PC, it is called PC-DOS. DOS Plus is an alternative Operating System from Digital Research which is highly compatible with MS-DOS, but not completely so. However, DOS Plus also has two important features which improve on MS-DOS, the ability to run background programs, and compatibility with the earlier PC operating system CP/M86.

Quite a lot of IBM software does not run on the Master 512 – by and large, however, this is due to illegal programming techniques, directly accessing hardware which simply isn't there on the Master 512, or expecting more memory than is available. If you have access to an Amstrad PC1512 or PC1640, then you can check whether software incompatibility is a DOS Plus problem, or a hardware problem, by loading DOS Plus, the alternative Operating System supplied by Amstrad, and seeing if the software works.

Q:   Tell me which BASICs will run on the Master 512

M-TEC's BBCBASIC(86) interpreter works well, and provides a very BBC-like environment. It is quite fast, and has a run-time module for producing stand-alone programs. Microsoft QuickBASIC 3.0 also works well. This is a true compiler, and produces stand alone EXE files. It is reported that Microsoft QuickBASIC 4.0 also works – certainly it seems to, but this version has not been in use long enough to give a definitive confirmation that everything is supported. The Microsoft editor will not, unfortunately, work with the mouse.

Borland's Turbo BASIC, and Locomotive Software's BASIC 2 for the Amstrad do not work. GWBASIC and BASICA seem to work to a certain extent, but there are problems with printing.

In general, compilers for other languages (including Borland products) seem to work well. Zortech C, for example, is a favourite of many 512 users.

Q:   Can I add a maths co-processor?
A:   No, the 80186 chip is incapable of supporting a maths co-processor, and so no provision has been made for one on the circuit board.
Q:   If I write programs for the Master 512, will they work on other PCs?
A:   Unless you use the special OSWORD calls provided, the answer is yes. The only problem is that doing this, you would almost certainly do everything 'legally', which may be quite fast on the Master 512, but very slow on a real PC. Screen text, for example, is almost always produced by direct memory writing.
Q:   Can I use GEM/3, the latest version of GEM, and all the new desktop publishing software which works with it?
A:   No. GEM/3 will load on the Master 512, but unfortunately, will not read the 512 mouse, making it practically useless. Therefore Finesse, Timeworks DTP, Artline, and other GEM/3 only programs cannot be used. GEM Draw will work, as this can perform under GEM 2, the Master 512 version.
Q:   To what extent are MS-DOS or PC books and magazines relevant ?
A:   If discussing software, for example, the wide range of books on Lotus 1-2-3, then they are almost totally relevant. Books on using and programming in MS-DOS are useful, although there are quite a few differences. There are some technical manuals on DOS Plus from Amstrad, as this operating system is offered as an alternative on their PC1512/1640 range.
Q:   Can I network the Master 512?
A:   Yes, but you need a special version of DOS Plus, available from Acorn or dealers at £150, and the networking is done through Econet, and is not compatible with Microsoft networking protocols, so network versions of PC software may not run correctly.
Q:   How does the Master 512 compare in speed to Amstrads etc.?
A:   The Amstrad PC1512 runs about twice as fast as a standard PC. The Master 512 runs about four or five times as fast, although some operations, such as writing text to screen are much slower. The net result is that most programs run about twice as fast as on an Amstrad.

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