A wild Macintosh Plus appears!

1MB Macintosh Plus, with extended keyboard & original mouse.
Mac Plus!

This was rather unexpected, but this auction for a loaded Macintosh Plus had shown up, and it was shipping local, and very cheap for what it was. It included the larger keyboard, original mouse, and an external 20MB hard disk.

Rodime ro652 20mb hard disk
Assembled in Scotland!

Sadly, the hard disk is dead. And not like dead dead, but dead dead dead! After I freed the disk from the external enclosure, and tried to power it on, stand alone, the PSU refused to start as the disk has a hard short in the board somewhere. And I can’t say that I’m all that surprised that a hard disk from 1989 is broken. I’m more surprised that someone was using this in 1989 and didn’t take the plunge and upgrade the machine to the full 4Mb of ram.

Anyways I have this chunk of plastic and glass on a desk, but I can’t do a thing with it. I’ve heard of various SCSI emulators out there, and decided to go with a bluescsi v1 with a DB25 interface as they are generally cheaper, and the Macintosh Plus isn’t exactly all that fast so the effort of the v2 is mostly lost.

bluescsi on the back of the Macintosh Plus
Bluescsi module on the back of the Macintosh Plus

Documentation on the bluescsi is scant, but it seems that a diode needs to be soldered onto the Macintosh Plus motherboard to enable bus power, so you don’t need an external USB power source. I’m a bit worried about opening up this thing as I’ms suspecting the plastics are a log weaker than they look, so I opted for just using a USB cable to power the device.

Anyways let me cut to the chase, I have an 8Gb Micro SD card that I formatted ExFAT (the documentation says Fat32 will work, but I found it might work once, but it’ll definitely never work after a reboot), with a single file emulating a 100Mb hard disk (Luxurious!). I named the file simply ‘HD10_512.hda’ which specifies it’s a hard disk, SCSI ID 1, target 0, 512 bytes/sector and it’s a ‘hda’ image. It’s what the Bluescsi want’s so don’t fight it!

To prepare the virtual hard disk, I used Cockatrice III, since the Macintosh Quadra 800 emulation includes SCSI, which let me create a raw disk image, partition it, and format it under MacOS 8.1. The real trick was installing the operating system.

I first tried MacOS 7.0.1, but it would boot up greeting me with the error that needs more than 1Mb of ram. I tried installing a MacOS 6.0.8 manually, but it crashed saying the system folder was corrupt, and then it just went empty disk mac on further boots.

I’m not sure what the problem was, it’s possible it was the filesystem on the card, or some other issued with the Macintosh, I have no idea.

So I broke down and ordered a pre-installed diskette with MacOS 6.08.

reproduction System 6.0.8 disk
Repurposed System 6.0.8 disk

I booted off the diskette, and amazingly the floppy drive worked! And in about a minute I had booted up, and it saw the hard disk! I dragged the System folder over the hard disk, and rebooted, and yeah it booted right up!

Obviously, the next step will be to get a proper screwdriver to open this thing, figure out how to discharge the CRT so I don’t kill myself, and add some additional RAM. I know it’ll be slow but I do want to see MacMiNT run on this thing! Maybe I’ll find/order the needed diode and make the DB25 bus powered eliminating one cable.

A long long long time ago I did own a Macintosh Plus, with 4Mb of RAM, although I mostly used it as a terminal, since it powered up quickly (it was the mid 90s!) and doesn’t take up that much space, so maybe I can slave it to an ESP32?

39 years ago, the dawn of home 32bit computing.

Clive on the QL announcement day

Much like the ZX Spectrum the Sinclair QL was a machine largely unknown to me growing up in Canada, then moving to the Miami area as a teenager. While the ZX 80/81 were pioneers in low end home computers barely able to do anything the ZX Spectrum with it’s 80kb of RAM (48k usable, as half the 64kb was defective), the QL announced in the start of 1984 was announced to the world as a very serious business machine. No gaming around to be found here!

While the IBM PC had been released in 1981 with it’s 16bit Intel 8088 processor utilizing a much slower & cheaper 8bit bus, the QL went one step further utilizing the Motorola 68008, a hybrid 16bit processor with 32bit registers, also using an external 8bit bus. However, being always on the cheap sifde, the QL only offered a single expansion slot, unlike the IBM PC. Also it eschewed floppy disks in favour of it’s endless loop ‘micro drive’ cassettes. Every corner that could be cut was, and sadly the resulted in a machine that just wasn’t ready as one has to wonder if the word of the Macintosh launch the following week was out, and Clive knew that it was either announce it now, or be a meetoo going forward. For better or worse he launched.

On paper it sounds fantastic, 128kb of ram, 32bit capable processor, and 2 drives all for £399! The IBM PC was an eye watering £3,325 by comparison, while the similarly spec’d Macintosh was £2,698! Indeed the QL stood for Quantum Leap, as the jump from 8bit to 32bit home computing was going to be phenomenal.

The avid jogger, Clive taking his Quantum Leap.

But how could it all go so wrong? Within a year the price had been slashed to £199, and stores were said to be further marking them down to a mere £99 the year afterwards. How could a seemingly on par machine fail so badly? The 128k Macintosh also was limited to a paultry 128kb on it’s motherboard, while the more expensive, and expandable IBM PC/XT maxed out at infamous 640kb, and it supported up to two floppy drives, and 2 hard disks although the IBM AT would be announced later that year, and it could go well beyond 640Kb, but the lack of protected mode operating systems & software would hinder the platform for quite some time.

If the trades are to be believed it was a combination of announcing too early, and failing to deliver burnt people on the QL. Additionally the ZX Spectrum had been busy wining apps at the time (games), but Sinclair wanted so much to be a serious company, not the man who brought you jet-set “fucking” willy. Sound and video capabilities of the QL were no match for the Spectrum, just weren’t there, and also missing was the incredibly cheap European storage of choice the audio casette. Many people were also dismayed that the operating system was much larger than expected and it needed to occupy both internal ROM sockets, and the cartridge port. And of course, the microdrives themselves were seen as easy to corrupt, stretch and tear. Not the kind of thing someone in business wants to hear. The ironic thing about the QL was that in my opinion it was too cheap. The PC/XT offered plenty of expansion at the base price (albeit a high one), and Apple also quickly added a much more realistic 512kb model Macintosh. The QL never got a ‘big brother’, basically condemning it at launch as nothing more but a toy. Which is a shame.


The operating system, burnt into ROM feels kind of 8bit as it has a basic interpreter built in, and it’ll open several hard coded windows in which you are expected to interact with. However, it feels more like a minicomputer with input on the bottom, running lists on the left, and output on the right. Indeed, it can feel outright baffling. And certainly nothing like an 8bit machine, or like the later home 32bit machines like the Amiga, or Mac. Even the TOS based Atari ST felt more ready for the world with its GEM burned into ROM.

Building my dream system

Despite all of these downsides, I was still intrigued by the machine, and I have to admit I really love the look of it. When I’d first read Neuromancer around the time of the video game, and this is what I’d imagined a cyberdeck to look like. While I was wasting my youth with an 8bit machine I wanted to experience this seemingly parallel universe where affordable 32bit micros were a thing.

My QL getting ready for surgery

Since I’ve heard of the machine, I’ve been trying to get one. Surprisingly for such an unloved machine they are incredibly hard to find, and they do go for quite a bit of money. However, thanks to making contacts on the QL User’s forum, I had managed to get my hands on one, so I could start my journey. I sent it off to RudeDog Retros, luckily located across the bridge from where I’m staying and within a week. I was able to get back a working system. I also had managed to get a tetroid ram expansion/CF card addon as well for my QL bringing it up to 880kb of RAM, and an 8MB CF card, making the machine a top of the line experience. Although the card was given to me with known issues, for the most part it worked, except when it didn’t, and it was always the same, bad ram at the 128kb boundary. Which is a shame, having mass storage certainly gets around the microdrives, but 128kb of ram just isn’t enough when factoring in mass storage.

Fully loaded!

Much like other 68000 based machines, the Sinclair QL is no stranger to hardware modifications. I ordered a 512kb memory expansion unit (Sinclair QL 512KB Internal Memory Expansion from *der_englaender*) to fill in the 128k gap from the Tetroid card (plugged into the left). The red 68008 socket is a real pain to deal with, and it took an unreasonable amount of force to get the RAM expansion into the QL. No doubt nearly 40 year old sockets are just not that flexible. I had thought the board was in, but I was getting a buzzing black screen, it only took a bit of reassuring and swapping in another 68008 to verify the machine was fine, and more pressing to get it to seat into the socket.

Sinclair QL effectively with no CPU!

You can also spot the Hermes 2.20 co-processor upgrade to support 19,200 baud serial operations, along with the Minerva OS upgrade, and you can see the numerous RAM chips that had to get replaced to make the unit functional. With an appropriately upgraded system it can begin to feel like a real machine.

Thanks to the folks over at The Sinclair QL Forum, I was able to complete the upgrade!

With enough luck my machine now has reliable memory, mass storage, and faster communications with the outside world. Everything you’d want in a modern computer! I now have a capable machine to do the one thing I always worry about when doing cross compiling, actual hardware verification.

SIxteen/Thirtytwo into EIght dreams…

The 68000 was used by Stanford University in it’s project based motherboards, that gave way to the 68010 based SUN-1/SUN-2 based machines, where other companys also used the 68000 line of processors in their Unix based machines. While the QL with it’s cost conscious 68008 was not going to run a ‘real unix’, it was however capable of running real programs. The big AT&T compilers (PCC!) can target the processor, just as other new and upcoming compilers, even GCC, although even 880kb of ram is probably not enough for running GCC natively. But going back to 1985 this leaves room for something more restricted to mini-computers, Hack.

While Hack had been ported to 16bit machines like the IBM-PC, or sixteen/32bit machines like the Amiga, I was surprised to find that it had not appeared on the QL. For someone like me that first meant getting a cross compiler in place to target the QL. Thankfully xXorAa had done a lot of the hard work in xtc68, qdos-libc, and Dilwyn Jones had saved the GCC patches by Richard Zidlicky, Jonathan Hudson, Thierry Godefroy and Dave Walker. With a working cross compiler, time to get hacking!

From the mini-computer to the 32bit home micro-computer

Doing my thing I put together a simple cross compiler so that I could begin work. With enough RAM, the QL is in the surprising league of many a minicomputer of the early 1980’s. It’s incredible to think of what a missed opportunity this is. When I had decided to try to get Hack-1.03 up and running, I went for the Unix version, bypassing the probably more apt PC port, as despite Hack-1.03 being free enough to be still part of OpenBSD, PC Hack however has a more restrictive license. I know it’s weird.

Using a VT library that gives the QL, something akin to ANSI.SYS functionality and another library to set environment variables (yes QDOS doesn’t have either…) a simple basic program to setup the screen type and point Hack where to find it’s files, and we are suddenly off to the races. I didn’t have to restrict or cut anything down, it’s running the same code that effectively would run on a VAX-11/780 mini-computer, or a SUN-2 workstation. It’s crazy how this machine didn’t fill the home 32bit gap that took Microsoft/Intel quite a few years to fill.

Hack 1.03 on the QL

For those into the javascript, you can download a disk image: hack.win here, and test drive it on ppe/xXorAa‘s emulator here sQLux – MIN198.rom, 4096K (qlforum.co.uk)

Another great program, COM, the 8080 CP/M emulator can also happily run on the QL, again with libvt, emulating a vt52 it opens up an entire ecosystem of software, much like it did on the Commodore-128. If it had been available perhaps it would have greatly helped out things for the platform as it languished.

While the QL was marred with it’s too early announcement/pre-orders, and terrible primary storage medium, and far too restrictive motherboard design, there was great potential in that tiny little machine. I’d like to have thought if I’d known about the QL, I’d have bought one, even though the 128kb is super restrictive, thanks to it’s processor it really was an incredible machine for 1984.

In the days of cheap arm machines, and who knows what the downstream effects of those will be, it feels like there was a much earlier missed window with the Sinclair QL.

Cockatrice III 0.5a update

Here’s to US!

Well this is a ‘small’ update, but with a big change, the audio is for the most part working great now thanks to this fix from rakslice. Namely changing SDL to MSB:

desired.format = AUDIO_S16MSB;

And another MinGW tweak, and yeah it’s GREAT!

Even stuff like RealAudio work now! I’ll add some self hosted video later as it’d just get struck from anything public.

Also since the RealAudio player is timebombed for installing, I added some lazy offset to remove however many billions of ticks from the clock letting you jump in some random point in the past when it won’t care.

I guess the final if any justification for a bump would be rebuilding with GCC 8.1.0 on MinGW. I somehow butchered the slirp.h to make it too MinGW’ish so it won’t clean build on Linux or OS X, but I have re-butchered a private branch and it works.. I just need to merge and clean but I’m not in the mood at the moment.

I could be crazy but it “feels” faster.

At any rate, I found that System 7 is more agreeable to running Return to Zork, just use some toast image mounter from within MacOS, and it’ll run!

Also there is some ULONGLONG weirdness going on, so I had to backout Peter’s changes for larger disks. No doubt some standard type thing change in GCC 8.

You can download binaries/source from Sourceforge.

Download Cockatrice III
Download Cockatrice III

Thanks to shadyjesse Philpem’s FreeBee can now run the C compiler!

I call it Freebee with C!

Again super thanks to shadyjesse for finding and fixing the larger issues, and philpem for his great emulator, freebee!

So 1970’s

I have to say, having never played with an AT&T Unix PC, it’s kind neat with this windowing non X11 UI. Although even in emulation it’s incredibly slow. But such was the Unix microprocessor revolution of the era, it’s crazy to think the mighty SUN-2 is also on the same level of performance, although SUN would at least go the way of the 68020 before giving up on the 68k for SPARC.

Even though the 68000 lacked the ability to recover from bus faults, allowing a better path to UNIX with the 68010, OEM’s still brought their own MMU technology to flesh it out, leading to divergent systems. Not that it mattered all that much for AT&T as they started to establish themselves as the new defacto go to UNIX vendor they quickly abandoned the market leaving the Unix PC, and 3B2’s to die off. While so many like to think that the ‘Unix’ business is booming, it really only boomed once AT&T exited the market until Linux had started to gain enough mindshare post 1.0… Which also included 68000 support, although aimed for the the stronger 68030/68040’s.

Anyways I’m sure you didn’t come here for my ramblings about the 68000 instead you want an easy to run package to click and GO!

So here, you are, freebee based on build d3c9486 of freebee.

There are two executables, for normies, tourists, and people only wanting to witness the fun it doesn’t matter which one you use. For anyone wanting to install the 3B1 Unix, you’ll want “freebee-10sec-O2.exe”. Since the 3B1 uses a non standard format, if you want to use FAT 360kb disks from a PC emulator then you’ll need “freebee-9sec-O2.exe”. Isn’t compatibility great?

Re-visiting the SUN-2 emulator: Adding SLiRP!

While I’ve covered Brad Parker (lisper)’s ‘emulator-sun-2before, booting into SunOS isn’t anything that new.

However, with the latest updates, from github, adding in a prior botched attempt, and some messing around, and finally, I got it to ping at first, then it was a matter of where to place the ‘slirp tick’. I first though putting it on the interface poll was a good spot, but for some reason the machine causes a deadlock/stall on boot before the PROM can even initialize. I’m not sure why. Searching further I found a good timer portion and injected the code. And sure enough I was greeted with the login banner:

I’ve been able to paste in about 100kb of a uuencoded tar file, and it didn’t lock the VM, and I was able to uudecode it, and actually build the source (Infotaskforce ’87 if anyone cares). So I’m at the point I think it’s stable enough to shove into the world, although I guess until I revisit it again.

You can download it on sourceforge: sun2.zip

Philip Pemberton’s 3B1 emulator moved

It’s been a while since I played with Philip Pemberton’s excellent emulator, however the source code has been moved to github

As a nice bonus it’s been updated to build against the newer source drops of Karl Stenerud’s Musashi.

The Makefile is so nice it chains in c files from sub-directories to build, which unfortunately it doesn’t work so well with the latest Musashi. Like a bull charging into the China shop I just smashed together a build script, and got a working exe:

And it’s so nice to see it actually boot up.

Things like the C compiler still break, apparently the 6100 had an actual physical memory buffer for IPC? It’s all so confusing.

Not that mine is all that great but my crap fork is here:



Since I was playing with the 68000 based GCC ’87 I know it was going to be more geared to SUN workstations, certainly of the early 80’s vintage as they would be the most ‘affordable/cheap/donated’ to FSF (Or so I’d imagine).

Naturally the go to emulator is TME, however this time while searching around for the install scripts and stuff I found lisper‘s (heeltoe.com) emulator-sun-2, a greatly cut down and SUN-2 focused emulator that emphasizes ease of use.

Wait, what? SUN-2, and ease of use? Why yes, not only that, as it uses SDL 1.2 it also means it’s much easier to compile. After an hour of messing around with it, I had it running on Windows. After a few minutes I had it running on my ARM based Acer NovaGO.

At it’s core is the m68k 68010 emulation from Karl Stenerud‘s Musashi core which is a great choice for the SUN-2 as it’s a 68010 based machine. Some fun notes from web.cuzuco.com/~cuzuco/sun2/ include:

  • CPU is a Motorola 68010 running at 10MHz
  • Maximum physical memory is 4 Megabytes
  • Maximum virtual memory is 16 Megabytes
  • All I/O is via a Multibus (an Intel design)
  • Main disk is a SMD, the largest size is 380Mbyte
  • Has a SCSI adapter, but the disk is slow and small (42Mbyte)
  • Sun was just finishing NFS
  • alludes to future AT&T UNIX System VI and VII
  • Display supported dual heads and a resolution of 1152×900
  • List price as tested: $44,900
  • Sun was still private, had 400 employees and sold 1500 units

You can read about the debut of the SUN-2 in the UNIX/WORLD Magazine, VOlume 1, Number 5 dated October 1984 in archive.org. It starts on page 86.

I started to integrate sigurbjornl’s patches for networking but I think I need to work through SunOS 2.0’s weird VAX 4.2BSD arp issues (anyone have the source code to SunOS 2.0?!). I’ll probably update it with UDP or some fixed ARP thing to remove that or just let the SUN-2 talk to a VAX with 4.2BSD so they can be weird, together.

I’m also pretty sure my old Cockatrice III sort of debugged SLiRP thing broke the packed structs to let it work properly when compiled with Microsoft C, so I’ll have to break down and either try to fix that, or update and borrow the vastly updated SLiRP from SIMH.

For Windows users who want to play along the bundle is on the terribly named page “Ancient UNIX/BSD emulation on Windows” as SUN2.zip.

GCC from ’87 on the 68000

Years ago I found the ‘first’ released version of GCC, and had built it for the VAX. And things were… fun.

While digging around on bitsavers for new and interesting things, I saw some newer stuff from MIT, and stumbled into the GNU directory and rediscovered the early GNU software depot.

And I re-built the early GCC to target the 68000 which I’d imagine primarily was for the SUN target.

simple program

Using a simple program I can run it through the pre-processor, and the compiler to get the following assembly:

assembly from ’87 GCC

Then it’s a matter of running it through the cross assembler, uuencoding it, and sending it to the target.

I used the cross assembler from the AtariST cross ‘project’, to get an object file. I fired up MachTen, pasted my object file to the VM, and uudecoded the object.

And yeah, much to my surprise the object file linked fine, and I got my native EXE.

It’s not much of a cross toolkit, and honestly it’s kind of useless… but I thought it was maybe worth a bare paragraph to show the other available target available for the 1987 release of GCC.

Also on the MIT archive is TRIX, the MIT Unix work alike that almost became the GNU Kernel, until Mach stole their hearts, and basically lead them on a wild goosechase.

I haven’t bothered uploading binaries or patches or anything yet, I don’t know if people are interesting in such a fringe thing……

I think I’m chasing a struct packing issue

i386 breaking on the AASTINKY texture

On the i386 a texture info lump loads up just fine. However on a big endian G5…

OS X 10.2.8 on the G5 on the same AASTINKY

…It clearly has problems. Although notice that the positions and sizes are the same, as they ought to be.

Notice how originx is 24, which should be the width. This code was running with GCC 1.30/1.40 hammered x68000 GCC. Although I have been unable to get the much vaulted gcc-1.30.atari.tar.bz2 to do anything useful, well until tonight, when I found this file: GNU_HEAD.ARC.

That’s right, it’s the gcc-1.23 release headers for GCC on the Atari ST. Now I know other places people have been saying I should use MINT or some GCC8 port. And I wanted something to run on bare TOS, and I cross compiled the simple Infocom interpreter but it just crashes out after a few commands. It’s hardly stable.

3 bombs and an exit under GCC 8.0

Which is just a damned shame, as it was easier to just download someone else’s work.

Anyways, I now can build the old gcc-1.30 libc however… the linker that I’m using that works for GCC 2 links away and it looks like a working program but it doesn’t do anything. I have a feeling the linker drifted in those years between GCC-1.30 and GCC-2.something when it was adapted. Certainly by the time of 2.5.8. So yet more endian ghosts to chase down if I try to adapt that linker.