Retro Challenge - 2015/01 - Day 5

MDFS Setup

Started by setting up the main MDFS unit, and attaching the floppy drive unit to it.
After some searching on the internet found the manual for it.

Now connected my serial cable (which is a standard PC 9 pin to 5 pin DIN connector on the MDFS side), luckily this is the same as the BBC and I managed to find my already wired cable so didn't require soldering a new one.

The MDFS has the coolest on button (or rather a key). To start the server in normal mode you turn it to "Secure" or to "System" if you want to be able to enable "Utility Mode" or access certain functions from a networked BBC once it is running.

To stat off I turned on the MDFS an put the key to the "System" setting.

The power light now comes on and the "Discs Free" light starts to flash.

Now I started a terminal emulator and connected it to COM3 of my PC, pressing return gets a response from a monitor program that is ready to load the main system.

Now I inserted the system boot disk and pressed the "Release Discs" button on the front of the unit.

The disk drives are now polled and the system loads the main boot code from the disc, the "Discs Free" light now goes solid and the "Utility Mode" light also comes on.

At this point if I press return on the terminal I get the following menu.

There are various options available including "Boot the fileserver" which take the system out of utility mode and starts serving files on the network. If I mounted another disk you can serve just floppy discs to the network (this is what the original Acorn fileserver did).

Next I added the hard disc unit and the tape system unit to the stack.

On rebooting I found that the system will boot from the hard disk as it already has the boot code required installed, this means I don't need the floppy disk anymore.

Checking The Discs

After booting back into utility mode I used the "L" item on the menu to check the discs on the system, it turns out that I have 3 hard discs and a tape drive (I didn't realise the tape unit had a hard disc inside).

The discs reported are...

Ver 0703

F : Name: FS1   41600K

Ver 040C0800

I1: Name: FS2   61360K
I2: Name: FS3   1040K

Ver 1002

J1: Name: FS4   61360K
J2: Name: FS5   36400K

So there is a 40Mb, 60Mb and a 100mb drive split into 5 partitions.

I also tried to access the tape drive but this doesn't seem to want to work, I have a spare brand new unit in storage so I will bring that over and try it.

Also ran the verify on the discs, F is fine, J has one block on partition 2 that its not happy about and drive I seems totally on is way out. (Too be honest the drive doesn't sound that good).

Retro Challenge - 2015/01

Another year and a new global format, due to the fact that in the UK we don't really get a summer (Winter warm-up is basically the same as the summer one) we are now numbering the challenges by month (does this mean we can have mini 2015/03 challenges in-between?).

Mini Me...

This year I've got a miniature clone on the way due in February so I'll be fairly busy sorting out various things ready for the new arrival.
Thus this time I'm going for a small project that I might actually have chance to finish.

The Challenge...

As you may have gathered I'm a bit of an Acorn Computer nutcase, my collection of various machines is no longer welcome at my girlfriends so I have to hide my precious at an undisclosed location and secretly sneak them into the house when she's not around.

I recently acquired a set of SJ Research MDFS units from a friend and have all the elements to connect my BBCs together using an Econet network (Acorns cheap networking solution for the time).
Econet is basically a bus network with a clock signal to synchronise each of the hosts.

Initial Econet Network

To create the initial network I will need the following...

  • BBC Micros (I Have lots)
  • Econet cards for BBCs (these are internal cards that upgrade the BBC to allow for Econet use)
  • Econet clock (This provides the clock on the network and synchronises the machines)
  • Econet terminators (These are basically a set of resistors that sit at the end of the cables to stop reflection of the signal back down the cables)
  • Cable (Need to wire these up)
  • Socket boxes (Ideally I'll pull out the socket boxes that provide and easy way to plug the machines into the core network cable)

To start with I will get the clock working and set each machine an ID on the network, they should then be able to use basic services.

File Server

Once the main network is setup I want to look at getting the MDFS file server running, the initial bits to get working are...

  • SJ MDFS (This is a fileserver for the Econet network, it can also act as a clock but we are not using it for this) (I have 2 of these so hopefully at least one will work ok)
  • SJ MDFS Floppy Disk Unit (Add in the ability to load floppy disks and thus boot the system)

Then we can add...

  • SJ MDFS Hard Disk Unit (The SCSI disk unit which will store our files)
  • SJ MDFS Tape Unit (The tape backup unit which I have some backup tapes for, might see if we can restore some data)

Extra bits...

If we get everything working on the MDFS then I have these extra goals...

  • Econet bridge (Allows me to create a fast and slow Econet network, one for the BBCs and another for Archimedes which can have a much higher clock speed)
  • Risc PC / Archimedes (Connect one of the newer Acorn machines to the network, I have an Econet card for the Risc PC which would be interesting to get working)
  • SJ Nexus (This was a newer version of the MDFS that served data via a ATM type networking protocol)
  • A5000 Gateway (An Acorn A5000 which I originally setup to bridge the Nexus to a normal TCP/IP network thus allowing access to the Nexus from newer machines, Ideally I would like to include connecting this to the MDFS via Econet and using it as a bridge to all data sources, it should also allow me to access the internet from Econet enabled machines)


I have promised to do a session at RONWUG (RISC OS North West User Group) around the use of Econet so would like to get a basic network running and setup ready for 21st January.
We can also use this evening to configure bits and play around with various aspects such as the MDFS and clock speeds etc and generally play around with stuff.
Depending on how far along I am we may try and do something cool like get a BBC on the internet.

Can't Wait...

So there is my challenge. Now to get Christmas out of the way so we can get started :)