Scor­pio News


October–December 1988 – Volume 2. Issue 4.

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8087 to improve its already quite reasonable facilities and performance.... All was sweetness and light until my wife – one of those highly motivated people who take Open University courses seriously, decided to bite the bullet and register for the brand-new course on computing, which started in February. “I’ll need the Amstrad”, she said. I was stunned – bereft, even – MSDOS leaves something to be desired but the range of appropriate software available for PCs, which I had become used to was greater than I had ever found for CP/M. The prospect of returning to CP/M didn’t excite me either (murmurs of “what about CCPZ then?”), since I rather liked WordStar Professional and found that even CP/M WordStar 3.3 was very slow and lacking in useful features. This is quite an important consideration when one spends a lot of one’s time grinding out words rather than programs.

There was a solution – get the DTC PC-clone working. A couple of abortive sessions revealed that there were a few bridged tracks but I failed to spot a number of dodgy soldered joints (and even unsoldered pins) – typical of the sort of problems which used to beset Nascom constructors. I was talking one day to Ian Cullen and he kindly agreed to have a look at it. After quite a lot of hassle, he managed to get it working and even after the kind attentions of the Royal Mail, who managed to damage the power supply and keyboard with a well-aimed kick, it arrived and has been in regular use since. Fortunately, it is a very close clone of the IBM PC-XT and will boot up and work quite happily with any of the versions of MSDOS that I have. I’ve also had a go at improving its performance – the original 256k of memory was upgraded to 640k and the 8088 CPU was replaced with a second-hand Victor 80286 board which plugs into the 8088 socket – this improved its performance quite dramatically. (about 6 or 7 times better than an IBM PC, according to the infamious Norton SYSINFO program).

So why go to the bother of building a PC from scratch? Amstrad PCs are relatively cheap and are likely to become available on the second hand market as newer models become available. The answer is probably most obvious to those who built their Nascoms from kits – it’s the challenge of actually getting the b****r to work and possibly the addiction that some of us have for burnt fingers and solder fumes. Regrettably, now only one 80-BUS manufacturer allows us to construct our boards from kits. The financial saving is worthwhile in some cases, as it was for me since the majority of the i.c’s were salvaged from obsolete but working boards obtained from suppliers such as Greenweld for extremely low prices. The technique used for desoldering sounds horrendous – a gas blowtorch, carefully applied to the pins, a quick flick of a thin-bladed screwdriver underneath the chip and out it comes – but it is a lot easier than fiddling around with a soldering iron and solder pump, and much safer if you do it outside the house! I rescued 48 41256 DRAMs this way and all of them worked afterwards…

Bare PC boards are obtainable (if you persist) in the UK but I purchased mine from an American firm (Display Telecommunications Corporation in Texas). Bare, as

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