Mac and PC On The ST
MichTron Joins the PC
BY DAVID PLOTKIN,
START CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
PC Speed is a hardware-based PC emulator for the ST that works quite well and advances the state of PC emulation considerably. It comes with all you need to get going except MS-DOS, and can be installed by someone only moderately comfortable with a soldering iron.
Installing PC Speed
The PC Speed package consists of board, two 64-pin sockets, a disk and a manual. To install it, you must open up your ST and remove the metal shield to gain access to the 68000 microprocessor. This is not especially difficult and is explained moderately well in the manual, but if you're uncomfortable "under the hood" you should have the job done by a qualified technician or dealer. (Editor's Note: Please keep in mind that any modification you make on your ST may be a violation of the computer's warranty.)
To actually install the board into the ST, you must solder one of the 64-pin sockets to the 68000, with each pin being soldered to a leg of the microprocessor. This is tricky and requires a steady hand and a fine-tipped soldering iron. You must also be careful not to overheat the 68000. Still, though this is complicated, you do not need to unsolder and remove the 68000 itself, an even tricker task.
Certain internal modifications (such as the JRI J.A.T.O. board) will not permit you to use PC Speed. According to notes posted on GENIE, PC Speed is also incompatible with Jim Allen's Turbo-16 accelerator board.
Once each pin of the socket is soldered in place, the PC Speed motherboard just plugs into the socket. Then you "button up" your ST and you're ready to go.
Running PC Speed
To run PC Speed, all you need to do is double-click on the program PC_SPEED.PRG. At the prompt, insert a disk with MS-DOS (unless you have installed an autoboot from hard drive) and you'll soon be looking at the A> prompt. MS-DOS is not supplied with PC Speed, and a full package of the 3.3 version (the most recent before the ill-conceived version 4.0) costs about $70.
Also included on the disk is a program you can place in your AUTOEXEC.BAT file that will install a mouse driver for your ST mouse. Unfortunately, this driver only works with graphics programs and is not compatible with the text modes of many programs. However, you can purchase and install a real PC serial mouse which will work with programs that support such devices.
PC Speed also comes with a program for configuring the product. This program lets you modify the keyboard, floppy-/hard-drive configuration, screen and colors. The configuration program is a little rough around the edges, including untranslated phrases (from the German) and absolutely no documentation on what some of the choices mean.
For the floppy drive, you can set Floppy A to be either your internal or external drive. Of course, some machines don't have an internal drive, in which case you'll just have to try the two choices and figure out which drive is which--there's no information provided about what occurs in this case. Since I do have an internal drive, I wasn't able to see which way this worked.
|PC Speed is Michtron's debut into the world of emu-
Floppy B can be set up as None, 3.5 or 5.25. Again, it's not clear whether the selection for 5.25 will set the step rate down to what those types of drives can handle, or whether you'll have to use the software that 5.25-inch drives normally come with to achieve this effect.
Hard drives can be set up as None, Yes or MD-BOOT. If you select "Yes," your hard drive will be available in the PC environment. Interestingly, no hard-drive driver is provided with PC Speed. PC Speed uses your own hard-drive driver, which should work better.
If you select MD-BOOT, PC Speed will attempt to load MS-DOS from the hard drive. For this to work, you must reformat the partition you want to use to load MS-DOS as a system disk under DOS. The manual leads you through the process for this. Be warned that doing this will erase anything on that partition. (The manual does notwarn you of this!)
The configuration for the screen lets you set up what video card you want PC Speed to emulate. The default is CGA, which is a good choice because most programs run under CGA. Other choices include Hercules, a higher resolution that allows monochrome graphics; Hyper Herc, an enhanced Hercules mode that is not supported by much software; and two I don't recognize: Olivetti and Grafikcard.
PC Speed also lets you set the fonts used one of three ways: Both, Light or Dark. Again, the lack of documentation makes this feature less useful. Configuration for colors lets you choose from the following modes: 40-character with four colors, Graphic or SM-124.
Note that you can set a mode that your monitor can't support; that is, you can select a mode that shows color even if you're using a monochrome monitor. In Graphic and 40-character modes, you can display all 16 colors that CGA is capable of. In 80-character mode, you can only display four colors, so you must assign the 16 colors of CGA to the four colors on the ST. Set each color by using the left and right arrows to select R, G or B, then using the up and down arrows to vary the amount of that color you want. Again, this is not documented in the manual. There is also a bug that prevents you from viewing the amount of green or blue that you've selected because another character on the screen obliterates the number.
How It Works
The proof of the pudding, of course, is how well PC Speed works as a PC emulator and I am happy to report that it works quite well. It ran every PC program I tried, with one exception. While mine is not an exhaustive list, it bodes well because it includes such tests of PC compatibility as Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft's Flight Simulator. It also ran the Norton SI program, returning a respectable value of 4, or four times as fast as a standard IBM XT. Compare this to the advertised value of 3 for pcditto II which is not available as of this writing (early December 1989). The high SI rating is possible because PC Speed uses a NEC V-30 that runs at 8 MHz.
PC Speed does not support a math coprocessor at this time, giving the edge in that department to Supercharger, but it does work well with a hard drive--something I can't say for Supercharger.
The program that would not run on PC Speed is Prodigy, the driver software for the new Prodigy bulletin board service from IBM and Sears. (Prodigy also doesn't work under pcditto.)
And then There's the Manual
The manual for PC Speed consists of 13 pages including the title page and two entire pages of license and disclaimers. Beyond that, there are the instructions for installation and some information on customizing the program--setting up the hard drive and an 80-track floppy. The language is stilted and some of the manual is confusingly written. Further, the instructions for setting up the 80-track floppy, while they will work, allow access to only one floppy (for a better way, see my "Mac and PC on the ST" column in the August 1989 issue of START). The manual does not warn you that formatting the hard drive will erase the information thereon, warning you instead to "Pay Attention doing any format operations, especially on hard disks!!!"
The photographs that purport to show the internals of the machine for installation are photocopied and therefore worthless. Further, there is no information on using the configuration program and what the different options mean. You can eventually figure out most of it, but I was never clear on what some of the options did. Michtron manuals have unfortunately tended to be extremely poor and for $400 the user deserves better than this inadequate attempt.
At the current time, the only hardware PC emulator that works to my satisfaction is Michtron's PC Speed. It's fast, compatible, handles hard drives and is available now. It's more expensive than the projected price of other emulators, but until they become available in bug-free incarnations, PC Speed is the only game in town. The incomplete manual notwithstanding, this emulator works and works well.
David Plotkin is a contributing editor for START and writes our "Mac and PC on the ST" column on a regular basis.
PC Speed, $399 95. MichTron, 576 S. Telegraph, Pontiac, Michigan 48053, (313) 334-5700.