Reference: Reference 40
Reference: Reference 100
Connection: Seitlicher Expansion Slot

- SCSI controller in a steel box for A500/+
- DMA
- Max Ram: 4MB
- External PSU

Autoboot, Autoconfig and Zero wait state.

REVIEW

PRODUCT NAME

    Reference 40 40MB SCSI HARD DRIVE


BRIEF DESCRIPTION

    A SCSI/Autoconfig RAM interface for the Amiga 500/500+ bundled with
a 40MB (45MB?) NEC SCSI drive and 0, 2MB, or 4MB of SIMM RAM.

    There is a similar Reference 100 bundled with a 100MB drive but
otherwise identical.


COMPANY INFORMATION

    Name:       Evesham Micros Ltd

    Address:    Unit 9
            St Richards Road
            Evesham
            Worcs WR11 6XJ
            UK

    Phone:      (+41) 386 765500

    FAX:        (+41) 386 765354


LIST PRICE

    All prices are in British Pounds.

    REFERENCE 40 (0k):  #229 (includes VAT)
    REFERENCE 100 (0k): #329 (includes VAT)

    Add #60 (includes VAT) per 2MB SIMM installed into device.


SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS

    HARDWARE

        A500 or A500+ with free side expansion port.

    SOFTWARE

        Recommended for use with Kickstart 1.3 or higher, but special
        arrangements have been made to ensure compatibility with
        Kickstart 1.2.


MACHINE USED FOR TESTING

    Without board:  A500+, printer, monitor.
            No extra disk drives, extra RAM, accelerators, etc.

                    AmigaDOS 2.04

                    1MB Chip RAM

    On Board:   45MB NEC hard drive

            2MB in 2x1MB SIMMs
            - Both factory fitted. I added no extra SCSI 
              peripherals nor SIMMs.

            Hard disk setup disks, RAM test software, and
            MRBackup Pro hard disk backup software, all bundled
            free with drive.

            I configured the drive as a 3MB "DH0WB:" partition, a
            30MB "DH0:" partition, and the rest was left alone
            "for future expansion".


REVIEW SCOPE

    This device has come out within the last year, and I have not seen a
review of it anywhere else.  I feel it needs a review as it is comparatively
cheap and should be considered by anyone needing to expand their A500(+) in
the near future.  I bought it as a first hard drive -- I've never had one
before (on anything!), and can't compare it in terms of speed, reliability,
or ease of use to anything else.  I can give technical information and my
general impressions of the drive (i.e., "Did I regret it?" etc.).


APPEARANCE

    The Reference 40 is contained in a metal box fitting flush against
the side of the Amiga. The case is very roughly the same shape as the rest
of the Amiga case except the very front where it has been cut short. There
are Power and Access lights at the front, a grill is at the top with two
screws, and the back has a game switch, power socket, fan grill, and
SCSI-through port.  Opposite the Amiga's side of the casing is a small hole
with some dip switches inside it.

    There is no Amiga [bus] through port on the other side of the
device, so the drive must terminate any chain of Amiga add-ons.

    Inside the box, the drive dominates the box.  At the back are 4 SIMM
sockets for either 1MB or 256K SIMMs, and there are two jumpers for
configuring the RAM.

    A huge power supply plugs into the power socket.  It's the same size
as the normal A500 power supply and looks like it's probably a replacement
for one.


FIRST IMPRESSIONS

    My very, very first impression was, "Argh! It doesn't f***ing work!".
After a short conversation with Evesham's technical staff, it became apparent
that the controller ROM had blown, so it was sent back and fixed pretty
quickly. I discovered in the course of all this that I had been put through
to "the person who wrote the manual."  Not quite as good as "the person who
designed the drive" perhaps, but I'm still happy!

    The manual itself isn't quite is clear as it could be.  A dip switch
described as "enabling RAM test" actually just switches any internal RAM off.
Also, I'm wary of such advice as asking the user to switch the Amiga on with
a Workbench disk inserted (as you are supposed to do on first using the hard
drive) especially as when I did it my WB disk (a backup thank goodness)
appeared to have developed a disk fault.  Whether this was coincidence or was
actually corrupted by the disk drive while it was switched on I couldn't say.

        [MODERATOR'S NOTE:  Would someone from Commodore please
        comment on the above?  Is it not recommended to turn on
        the power with a disk in the drive?  My feeling (and this
        is not official) is that it is OK.  - Dan]

    The power light dims just about every time the computer has to
"think" about anything.  This includes whenever a key is pressed, and also
when the "flying toasters" blanker starts animating any toasters (in which
case it flickers like mad).  This is a potential source of irritation.  The
fan is fairly loud.  I don't find it irritating when working, but I sleep in
the same room as my computer and like to leave my machine on overnight for
various reasons -- the fan does become irritating then.


SETTING UP THE DRIVE

    As far as hardware goes, the system is practically set up the moment
you get it.  All I needed to do was plug it into the Amiga, and plug the
power supply into it.  Partitioning the drive is done with a program rather
strangely written in "CanDo".  The program is slow but does the job and has
continuous online help.  I don't know if anyone will ever design a perfect
disk partitioning system, but I really wish I could have typed in something
simple like, "Give me a 3 MB partition called "dh0wb", and a 30 MB called
"dh0", and leave the rest free for when I suddenly discover I've screwed
everything up", and the software could go away and set everything up that
way.  But in the meantime, the software provided seemed to do a reasonable
enough job once I knew more about its quirks.  You can type in figures into
the "partition size" field, and the program adjusts the "hicyl" value for
that partition correspondingly.  Stuff like that.  It usually does what I
want it to do.  The program also lists your SCSI devices and lets you choose
which to partition, etc.

    The RAM test software is less useful.  Most of it seemed to be geared
toward giving you information about RAM.  The program basically just tells
you how large your autoconfig RAM boards are.  Rather than CanDo, this
software is written in compiled AMOS Basic!

    A large proportion of the designers' time seems to have been spent on
making the thing work with Kickstart 1.2, which does not support autobooting
hard drive controllers.  A workaround has basically been added involving a
recoverable RAD: drive.  You boot from that, the RAD drive hands control
over to the hard drive, and you've effectively got a bootable hard disk --
although you still need to boot from a floppy when you first switch on.

    Once it is installed, it appears to work reasonably transparently.  I
noticed nothing I wouldn't expect to notice having any hard drive.


MRBACKUP PRO

    I have to admit I have yet to actually back up my hard disk.  MR
Backup Pro is the backup software bundled with the drive, and from the specs
at least looks very good.  The program includes the ability to write a
compressed backup to any stream based device (such as a SCSI tape drive with
suitable handler), including a floppy disk format designed more or less to
work in that fashion.  I have no idea how it compares to other backup
software, as I haven't even used the WB2 stuff.


QUIRKS

    Despite the provision of a games switch, the hard drive also appears
to be disabled if you hold down both mouse buttons while booting --
something which under 2.04 is irritating, since holding down the mouse
buttons is necessary to display the boot selector screen.  It is possible to
get the 2.04 boot selector screen, but it involves knowing exactly when to
hold down the mouse buttons.

    The manual for the drive describes the possibility of having lots of
filesystems in the RDB of the disk, but doesn't really go into how others are
added.  The FastFileSystem, of course, is built in.  The manual also
suggests that the NEC drive is specially treated by the built-in software to
make it autoboot quicker.  I really can't comment on what this means.


MY COMMENTS

    The drive is fairly quick, fairly easy to use, and flexible.  Full
support is included for six more SCSI devices -- they've even included the
socket (hoho!).  There may be questions about the use of SCSI as opposed to
IDE drives after recent decisions by C=.  My feeling was that supporting SCSI
is a boon for the drive -- after all, new Amigas are bound to have third
party SCSI interfaces sold for them in the near future, and SCSI is faster
and more flexible than IDE.  It's just that if I get an A1200, I can't
immediately plug my drive into it -- but then, just how many IDE interfaces
come with 2.5" drives?

    The fan and the power light I find irritating.  The flickering power
light is probably easy to solve:  I can always stick a bit of cardboard over
the thing, and I'm sure it may even be useful after a while (determining
whether the computer has crashed, etc.).  However, I would appreciate
some way of dealing with the fan.  Perhaps a future version of the drive
could include some way of turning it off when it isn't needed.

    A more serious limitation is the 4MB RAM expansion system.  I can
understand the A590 having a 2MB limit (after all, the aim is to create a
usable minimum system), and the 8MB limit everywhere else, but a 4MB
expansion just means the drive is postponing the inevitable -- the day when
the owner goes out and buys a 8MB RAM board.  It's not as if RAM boards with
a 4MB limit are widely available.  Having said all that, I'm glad it has RAM
expansion at all.

    I'm also worried about Minix compatibility.  No information is
provided in the manual regarding the way the interface works, and I have no
idea whether it's available from Evesham themselves.  I suppose few people
actually use Minix, but it is a direction I could head into sometime in the
future.

    In all I'm very glad I bought the drive.  It has much better
specifications than the A590, is fairly easy to use, is fast, and does the
job of turning what is essentially a games-console with pretensions into a
powerful mini-workstation.

    I'm not sure it's a competitor to devices like the GVP HD8.  These
have definite advantages, such as improved expansion capabilities.  But if
the aim is to turn an Amiga into something very useful the R40 does it very
cheaply and very well indeed.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE

    This review is in the Public Domain.

Paul Harrison
cmp0119@uk.ac.uea.sys
*** (Disclaimer) My opinions may differ from those of UEA ***
 

Contributions to this page by:
Ryan Callaghan


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