Tag Archives: Atari

ATW800 Farmcard

Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do 😉 And this time it got to be an ATW800 Farmcard.
A what? ATW800 stands for ATARI Transputer Workstation – basically an Atari ST and a Transputer subsystem in a tower case (just about 250 were build and sold) and looks like this:

Atw front.jpg


Even I still do not own an ATARI Transputer Workstation (yet), I “know” it from the very first presentation when working at the 1988 CeBIT Atari booth back then. The initial demo version used a standard Atari Mega-ST connected to a blunt Atari-PC3 case which housed the Transputer stuff… and the whole thing ran the Helios Operation System about which you can read quite a lot in this GeekDot chapter. Well, actually that was no wonder given that Perihelion Ltd. was not only the creator of Helios but also the birthplace of the ATW800 (Called ABAQ in the early stages).

The final version (the one in the tower case) used so-called Farmcards to expand the number of Transputers available to the system. A Farmcard featured 4 fixed Transputers (T425 or T800) with 1MB of RAM each. Here’s a piccy (click to zoom):

That might be plenty back then, but even in those days progress was made quickly and INMOS presented their TRAM Modules at nearly the same time… and these give you so much more flexibility and also save space. Actually, if you closely read the marketing material from Perihelion you will spot the announcement of a TRAM Farmcard. It just never made it…

I did it my way…

So it was just a question of time until I start to design a TRAM-Farmcard. After many years of unsuccessfully hunting an ATW which is for sale, I at least met shock__ (atari-home.de forum) a lucky ATW800 owner who was happy to help. So using the available documentation and the data provided by shock__ I created this:


So what gives? Well, first of all, there aren’t any original Farmcards available anymore. Even if there were, they’re pretty limited. One Megabyte is enough for a computing slave using pure OCCAM but if you’re using Helios, 300k will already ate up by its core demons. Then there’s space for just 4 Transputers, not many given the size of the card.
That said here’s what this new Farmcard provides:

  • 8 TRAM slots. Can be used for anything. Computing, SCSI, Ethernet or graphics TRAMs. Be it size-1 to 8. There were many, many cool modules available. Today you can at least use my AM-B404 TRAM, a super-fast 2MB size-1 compute TRAM.
    This would mean twice the CPU oomp, and double the RAM.
  • Freely programmable Altera EPM7032/64 CPLD. It will implement Perihelions diagnostic-bus, meant for controlling each Transputer separately. Updates can be done in-field.
  • An external RS422-link. Using differential transceivers (26LS31/32) one can connect external Transputer networks over a distance up to 20-30 meters (vs. 30cm in pure TTL).
  • 4 layer PCB design giving stable power distribution throughout the board. Still, simple layout, easy to patch and only through-hole parts being used to make building as easy as possible.
  • 2 LEDs. Just say’in…

Because of the added Transputer-Slots the network topology looks a bit different than is used to be on the original Farmcard.
This is the “old one”, a simple square, each Transputer has two free links being available at the edge connectors J1-J8:

And this is how the 8 slots are connected:

Now each Transputer has just one link connected to the edge-connectors. Slot 7 uses link-3 to connect to the optional external RS422 connector.

Free as free beer!

Because there are probably only two handful of ATW800 owners out there, I made the schematics freely available here under the GPL license. But to make things clear:
This is untested stuff! The card is huge. It is not cheap to have it manufactured. The best price for 10 PCBs I was able to find was about $250.

The hard part

While the cards design was pretty straightforward the “firmware” of the CPLD will be a different beast. As said, Perihelion used a proprietary bus called “diagnostic bus” (DBus) – a two wire bus used to address all or just a single Transputer in a network to either reset or put him into the so-called analyze-state to do some post-mortem debugging. Pretty advanced stuff given that standard Transputer networks simply used a global reset.

Luckily the DBus is documented in the (short) Farmcard Manual (p.8-10). So we have a rough idea what’s going to be expected:

The DBus is daisy-chained through all Farmcards on the slots as well as on the edge-connectors J9 & J10 (in/out). Because I hadn’t had an original Farmcard at hand I wasn’t sure which of these signals are needed to be controlled by the CPLD. So I connected them all using all available I/O ports.  This is the pinout:

pin function
04 5_ANA
05 1_RES
06 1_ANA
08 LED1 (Error)
09 L_IN
11 L_OUT
24 LED2 (Opt)
25 4_ANA
26 4_RES
27 2_ANA
28 2_RES
29 3_ANA
31 3_RES
33 7_ANA
34 7_RES
36 6_ANA
37 6_RES
39 0_ANA
40 0_RES
41 5_RES

So, this is it for now… it’s an ongoing project and it depends on you how fast progress will be made.

  • Do you own an ATW800? We’re looking for brave testers!
  • Are you a VHDL hero? Grab the manual and do your thing!
  • Transputer nut? Feel free to check the schematic… I’m not swearing it’s 100% bug-free.

To be continued…

Atari, my love.

This blog post is due to the fact I was just reanimating my Atari 2080ST, which triggered lots of memories I urgently needed to write down… so here we go:
Yes, the 1st proper (i.e. not soldered) computer I owned was a C64… I loved it, really. I loved it for 3 years… and seriously dreamt about getting an C128D – until I’ve read the fist reports about that Atari 260ST.

I was hooked just by the specs on paper. For me it looked like a Macintosh but with a realistic chance to own one some fine day.
Actually there was a day in the beginning of 1985 when I sat with Heinrich-Hermann Huth, (one of the founders of later Application System Heidelberg, ASH for short) discussing what’s the best upcoming computer. He was 100% Commodore 128… until I started my Atari ST anthem.
Around June or July, he invited me to his parents house to “show me something exciting”. There it was, one of the first STs in Germany, serial number 6, directly picked-up at Frankfurt airport. TOS came on an awesome 3.5″ floppy, the included Basic was slow as hell and the the Digital Research SDK left me puzzled. C? Compiler? Linker?
It became clear that I have to learn a lot to be worthy for such a serious system.
Looking back I wonder if ASH would ever been founded without my evangelism 😉

So in early 1986 it was my turn: My Confirmation. This is a big deal over here and the most “profitable” observance. While the standard wish of kids in these days were big stereos, mine was clear.
Thanks to perfect timing, the 520ST just became 520ST+ and now had a whopping megabyte… it was heaven.

The glory of the 80s… bad jumpers and paper 3D-glasses.The right half shows the C64 moved into a far corner before it was sold to buy a 2nd floppy for my ST.

Just about that time, Application Systems Heidelberg was founded… in the child’s room of Heinrich-Herrmann, who somehow managed to get the exclusive distribution rights of Megamax C for Germany.
This proved to be a lucky pick, because the ST was taking the German market by storm and there was no good SDK available. So magazine ads were needed and I was the only one who had a design talent. This was my first design made with my brand new 520+:

The company logo was cut out and glued onto the b/w print which came out of a 9-needle-printer.

Mind the small pencil in the lower left corner. In German, that’s a “Stift”, which is also slang for “apprentice” – which was me 😆
There’s even an article about this ad in the german ST-Computer magazine over here (pg. 7/8).  Quote:

Doch selbst der Software­Gigant aus Heidelberg fing klein an: Auf einer Viertelseite bewarb die Firma in der Ausgabe 07­08/1986 das Megamax C­ Entwicklungssystem, gestaltet wurde die Anzeige mit der Systemschrift und den Füllmustern des STs.

Which translates into “Even the software giant from Heidelberg started out small: In issue 07-08/1986 the company advertised the Megamax-C SDK  on a quarter-page, designed using system fonts and the fill-patterns of the ST“.
Yeah, that’s all true. And “The Stift” was payed for this and other ads by being allowed to keep the glorious Citizen MSP-20 9-needle printer.

In the following years I spend my time mostly in 3 places: In school because I had to, at home in front of my Atari ST or in the ASH office because it was just so cool. During these days I did many thing for them:

  • Packed so many, many, many Megamax, Signum! and STAD boxes, labeled 100s of floppy-disks (was payed in M&M currency)
  • Some levels for Oxyd, Bolo and Esprit.
  • Some Signum! Fonts (forgot which ones, but they were in the 1st 251-Fonts book)
  • Phoenix Ornitho Database (containing samples of each bird singing)
  • The cartoon on the last page of their in-house magazine. Was quite a fancy oversized, glossy thing.
  • Probably 10 other things I forgot…

Icons and Infobox for Script v1

…and Scarabus.

Boy – this was definitely one of the top-5 times of my life. Thanks for this H3, Volker, Ojo (always in my heart), Karen (my heart ;)), Oili, Thomas and all the other great guys’n’gals from back then! Love y’all!

Atari 2080STF – a prototype?

I bought this Atari 2080STF in 2003 and stored it as-is in my collection. The ST being my first 16bit machine I thought it could be a good point in time to un-dust and resurrect it 16 years later.

Atari 2080STF2080??  Yes, that’s true. There are different stories out there about their prototype/fake status.
As far as I see, there are two 2080STF versions out there:

  • The “Yugoslavian Version”
  • My Prototype

The Yugoslavian 2080STF is a pretty simple re-batching of a 1040ST which was upped to 2MB RAM and sold by a company called Mladinska Knjiga.

My 2080STF is different. In contrast to the Yugoslavian it features a proper, 3d embossed label, not some flat DIY thing.
Instead of some serial# printing looking like made with a children-stamping kit it says this:

MarkeTTing Sample… should it have been an omen?

Marketting? Well… somebody’s been in a hurry or not native to English. Anyhow, the label shows the same quality as those used with Ataris produced in greater numbers. That said, there’s no serial number and the model ist just a paper-sticker.

Next unique thing is the floppy cut-out on the right side. It’s the same square one like on a Falcon, but the plastics are in the proper ST grey. Mhhhh….

Looks Falcon’ish, but it isn’t…

Finally the mainboard: Yes, it’s very 1040STFM without the M(odulator) part. But then it features a yet undocumented issue number of C100059, production week 8813. And mind the installed Blitter at the lower right.

Lots of ugly mods to be removed ASAP! But I’ll keep that IDE controller sitting on top of the 68k.

So what do we got here? Not having any matching-numbers system like in the vintage car world, we can only guess…
It might be a real “Marketing Sample” made for a planned pimp-up of the 1040 family. On the other hand it also can be a nicely composed Frankenstein system made of parts e.g. being sold at Ataris sell-out in 1995.
Given the sum of the unique parts being used, I opt for the “real marketing sample”, probably being put together using available parts and meant for checking out, if there’s a demand/market for such model(s)… and history taught us that there wasn’t.

Anyhow, I pulled out the crap which had been “installed” over the previous years…

Boy, look at that IDE “cable adaptor”… a soldering nightmare. And who needs more than 19200 baud anyhow?

So the noisy 2.5″ 80MB harddrive got replaced by a CF-Card which nicely fits where the modulator would be, if this would be a STFM.
Additionally I 3D-printed a mounting thing for it which you can download here.
Finally, the build-in Hard & Software TOS-Card II 2.06 (that’s a long product name!) got fixed so it actually can switch between the on-board TOS and the 2.06 sitting on the card.

When everything’s done, it looks nice and tidy down there:

Yeah, that’s a 4MB card… just for testing. I took a “spliced” IDE cable I made ages ago – does a good job to squeeze underneath the keyboard.

So I think I’m all set for some pure 8MHz 68000 fun… oh boy, did I love those days.