Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

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jonb
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Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Mon Sep 08, 2014 3:37 pm

Hi

Has anyone got one of these, or any diskettes / software for it? I am about to acquire one (a QD, no less) and would love to chat about it!

Cheers

JonB

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby DutchAcorn » Mon Sep 08, 2014 3:54 pm

You do pick your challenges, don't you?! :lol:

I had to look this one up on Wikipedia :oops: nice modest name for a computer :lol:

At least it should support the Kermit protocol, that gives some options....
Paul

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby george.h » Mon Sep 08, 2014 5:34 pm

jonb wrote:I am about to acquire one


Jealous! :mrgreen:

Never used one of those but always lusted after one (so to speak!). Now they LOOKED like a computer ought to! I'm always on the look out for a Vector Graphic III, maybe even one of the dual processor Vector 4's. Problem with those though is that when they do come up (couple on eBay) they are £<cough><cough><wince> :shock:

Plus they used hard sectored floppies! What are the chances of finding any of those!
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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Mon Sep 08, 2014 5:48 pm

@george_h: Errm, nil. Well, you might get a boot disk with the machine, but I don't think any old PC 5.25" drive can read or write them. If you want a "real computer", try a TRS-80 Model 4. It runs Lots of versions of TRS-DOS and CP/M too. Got more i/o than the Superbrain as well. Let me see: Superbrain: RS232 x 2, errr that's all (apart from an internal bus connector). TRS80 Model 4: RS-232, External floppy, Centronics printer port and expansion bus. There are also a number of add-ons you can get for the TRS-80, but not the SuperBrain (AFAIK).

@DutchAcorn: Yep. :lol: But it's not that esoteric a machine, it is a CP/M jobbie, so loads of software for it. Actually more than for a BBC Micro.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Tue Sep 09, 2014 12:02 pm

OK Jon, you've inspired me :)

Got a long weekend on my own coming up so I'm getting these prepped for some work.
The spare parts MIII gives you a sense of the scale of these things.

Image

Neither of these two are working, but the one on the right has video output - sometimes a block cursor, sometimes a bunch of characters filling the screen. It's fitted with some additional boards, the purpose of which I'm not entirely sure just now. Someone has chopped up the top bezel at some point to accommodate a half-height drive. Nice clean white keyboard though and generally in really good nick and super clean inside.

Image

The other machine was acquired for spares. The plan is to reinstate two full height drives in the better machine and replace it's bezel with the one from this fella.
The whole lot then needs a professional respray at some point.

The priority is to get the better machine fully working and I'll work on the cosmetics later.

Lots of fun right?!

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Tue Sep 09, 2014 12:36 pm

Is it me or is one of them grey, the other brown?

Nice pictures. We should talk about the additional boards, as I am wondering what they might be. Could you post some pictures, please? Guesses, based on what was available for the Superbrain: Parallel printer interface, HDD interface, S100 adapter (maybe this is connected to the HDD interface). We can only really tell by looking at what the major chips are and their datasheets (assuming there is nothing printed on the boards themselves). I would be very interested in cloning them.

Now the other thing is the disks. I'm not sure you can read or write them with a PC, even one with a "compatible" controller. I read on one forum that although 22disk has options for the Superbrain formats, none of them actually work. This is a great concern to me because I know of no other way to transfer the software, other than via serial. The discussion is here http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum/showthread.php?25851 and it isn't encouraging. But as I understand it you have a PC with a compatible controller (that board only supports a single floppy, though, AFAIK - does it support 5.25" drives?) so you may as well try.

What disks do you currently have for them? Mine will come with several, but right now I do not know what's on them, apart from a boot disk and CP/M.

Also, regarding your M3, is it white screen and if so would you like to swap the CRT for a green screen and some beer money? I'm dying to ditch the green (as I think I said, but in the context of the SuperBrain..)

Cheers

JonB

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Tue Sep 09, 2014 1:28 pm

An update for you. Check out this page from Dave Dunfield's site, specifically the "system / install disks" link. He's got the Superbrain system disks as images for download in a .zip file. Not sure if these are a QD or 64k images.

http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/img/index.htm

That said, the README.TXT is interesting:

Code: Select all

These disk images were created with ImageDisk.
ImageDisk is available from www.dunfield.com :
 - Go to my "old computer" website link near the bottom
 - Go to "disks/software images" (near the bottom)

These disks are for: Intertec SuperBrain

To view the details of a disk image, please use the IMDU
utility provided with ImageDisk. You can also simply TYPE
the file to view the image comment.

Dave Dunfield
www.dunfield.com
----------------
NOTE: This disk is a slight modification of the original
SuperBrain distribution disk - which has non-standard
address marks and cannot be read or written with the PC
controller.

Turns out the SuperBrain controller can read/write disks
with standard address marks, but it formats with non-
standard address marks.

To create this image, I used ImageDisk to create a blank
disk with standard address marks, then used PIP on the
SuperBrain itself to copy the content of the system disk
to the new disk - then used ImageDisk to inject the system
tracks (fortunately the system tracks on the original
disk have standard address marks).

To recreate a completely standard Intertec disk:
  - Boot this disk on your SuperBrain
  - Format a blank disk in drive B:
  - Use PIP to copy all files from A: to B:  - PIP B:=A:*.*
    ** NOTE1: Be sure to copy all three USER areas of CBOOT.IMD
    ** NOTE2: PIP in USER 2 of CBOOT.IMD is called PIP22


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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Tue Sep 09, 2014 2:09 pm

See I knew this would be lots of fun.

Mmm just a thought: I got the original 'brain from Jason at the Cambridge computer museum. They have another machine there but not sure if its working. They also have storage boxs labeled #091 and #092 on their asset list that seemingly contain Superbrain books and software/disks. I'll email him and see what exactly is there.

My machine came with a single CP/M disk.

Yes the two machines are different colours, the left hand one has a definite suntan. Not sure what the front panel is painted with but seems to yellow like plastic. The right hand machine has been in museum storage for quite some time I guess hence the fresh appearance. The casework and panels are made from high density expanded foam which is common for machines of this era. Very tough and hard wearing material but susceptible to cracking if really abused. Same material that the original Apple ][ was made from but the brain cases (☺) are really heavy duty. The foam casing is painted so normally there's no yellowing. The top and bottom case halves on both machines show a little chipping etc but are very good for their age.

You would be welcome to the M3 screen but you wouldn't really want it. It's the standard analogue display common to the M3 and M1 TRS-80s - I.e. just a television. The M4 is fitted with a proper monitor tube with digital driver. Having said that, I'm not sure if you could drive the tube from the M4 board and get a better result. There was some discussion about this on the VC forum if I remember correctly. I'll see if I can dig it out.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Tue Sep 09, 2014 3:12 pm

That is all very useful and I hope Jason can help. There's nothing worse than knowing there is a huge cache of stuff just beyond your reach!

We need a means of duplicating and creating these disks from online images. It's not completely impossible, as explained above (albeit this isn't guaranteed to work and looks fiddly). I have been looking for a motherboard that passes all the testFDC tests. I put an offer one of those ASRock boards you mentioned but I think I've found a better one - much older, it has a Pentium 133Mhz processor and a whopping 12Mb of RAM, but it needs a graphics card. Should be perfect for a DOS V / Windows 3.1 installation, and is listed as passing all tests.

Watch this space...

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Wed Sep 10, 2014 11:26 am

Richard, I'm also scoping out possible HDD solutions but these will all need a controller, drive and (more difficult) BIOS / BDOS. But do-able.. maybe, with one of these: http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum/showthread.php?44078. I think the key is finding a Superbrain BIOS that supports the WD1002 controller, then configuring the I/O address the card is at on the bus, so it is compatible. Failing that, modify the existing BIOS; CP/M was designed to make this fairly easy (so they say).

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Thu Sep 11, 2014 5:50 pm

Good work Jon.

Some pics of the additional boards. I'll post hi-res versions of these and additional stuff up on my flickr page for anyone who's interested.

Seems that this machine had a make-over from a company called Micromods Ltd back in Feb 1986. The modifications comprise five boards:

Overview:
Image
Image

#1. A large board replaces the socketed CRT8002 character generator and is labelled 'Supervid':
Image


#2. A board replaces the Boot ROM (2716) with a 2764 EPROM with DIL switch:
Image

#3. A small board re-sockets the FD1971 disk controller with crystal and a few bits of logic - note the snapped off pin - this must be deliberate as the same pin is snapped off on my other system:
Image

#4. Another small board re-sockets the INS8255 PIO - just some flying leads and a SIL resistor (see main photo).

#5. Finally, sneeking around to the side of the machine, a buffered (I think) breakout board to access expansion from outside the brain case:
Image

Evidence... Micromods and Agnew in Canada?? Interesting.
Image


From an archived newsletter on bitsavers:
http://archive.org/stream/bitsavers_int ... 8_djvu.txt

SUPERVID!

Now available from MIcroMods,
Ltd., New York. $475 single
unit, end-user price.

SUPERVID is a plug-in module
that provides a variety of screen
enhancements, controlled on a
single character basis and
mixed on the screen.

Enhancement modes are: Blink,
Dim Video, Reverse, Underline
(or Strike-Through) and up to 3
additional character sets
including a block-graphics
option.

Write or call:

MicroMods Ltd., New York

924 West End Avenue

New York, NY 10025

(212)222-6294

SUPERBIOS also available!

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:33 pm

I see. That board with the three ROMs must be alternative character sets. I read that Superbrain I has no proper lower case descenders, but this is fixed by SBII. I'll wager that board is doing likewise.

I bet the single rom is the SUPERBIOS thingie. Would love to see a dump of it, can you read it with an EPROM programmer? Not sure it needs an updated BIOS just to boot from a high density floppy. All it does is load the boot sector off the floppy, but what are the switches for? Hmm...

The FDD controller must be to support the added drive. I bet it's DS DD 80 track 720k. I doubt the normal controller can do that, but you also need an upgraded FORMAT.COM to take advantage of it. You got the boot disk, right?

So to your screen problem. I recon the video board is playing up. Have you checked all the connections, reseated all the boards, checked for folded under chip legs?

By the way, there is a common problem with these machines, apparently. The boot ROM loses it's content over time. To fix it, you just reblow the EPROM and job done. This could be an easy fix for your non working machine.

What I'm saying is we might be able to get both of them working....

These are just random thoughts. I won't get mine until it's got a new boot ROM and been resprayed. About a fortnight, but in the meantime I have the TRS80 Model 4 to play with. Got XMODEM working last night.. Small steps....

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Thu Sep 11, 2014 8:51 pm

Who's doing the respraying on your machine?

Replaced the supervid board with the standard char gen and still just get a static cursor.

Potentially lots wrong with this machine. However I'm determined to get it working.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Thu Sep 11, 2014 9:01 pm

The guy who is selling it. I am sure he would be prepared to do yours, but let's see how good the finished item is. He's doing the ROM and spraying with two coats of lacquer. It's going to look like new, I hope...

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Thu Sep 11, 2014 9:41 pm

OK sounds good. Would love to see how that goes as I have loads of systems here that could do with a respray from a professional. Not sure why your man is messing around with the ROM though...
(Edit ...ah right you said it needed a new boot ROM).

I'll see if I can get my ROMs read at some point today.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Fri Sep 12, 2014 2:36 pm

I meant to ask you - are either of them "QD" models? You can tell by looking at the label below the disk drives, if they are still there. This may be significant for the BIOS.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:20 pm

Yep both are QD.

A little more on the boards from the 'Superletter - Serving SuperBrain® Owners and Users Around the World', April/May 1981 - new products:

MICROAGE CONSULTANTS
53, Acton Road, Long Eaton
Nottingham NGI0 IFR
England
(06076) 64264
Contact: Andrew Billson
HARDWARE: SUPERBIOS is a
strong product from these English
SuperBrain experts. It contains a
real-time clock, XON/XOFF or
ETX/ACK protocols, repeat and
type-ahead keyboard functions,
compatible with their own designed
8" hard-disk system with the
Decitek 8000/S. Also, the product
makes W ordstar workable.
S UPERVID is a product of their
MicroMod division. It permits dim
video, reverse video, blinking and
underline, line drawing and graphics,
lower-case descended, attributes
mixed on the screen and three alternative
character ROM sockets so
that you can use chess symbols,
APL, etc. Distribution of their products
will be handled by special
dealers on both American coasts.
They'll be introducing a new
INTERFACE CARD for Seagate
Technology'S ST-506 5" Winchester
Disk providing 5 Meg storage inside
the cabinet.


I'll make a copy of the standard ROM (It has the Intertec label on it so should be original) and the MM SuperBios.

Meh - no Winchester disk interface unfortunately.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Fri Sep 12, 2014 4:14 pm

Great, thanks. I expect you will find the Intertec ROM is blank, but perhaps not.

QD, that's good news. They won't be Superbrain IIs because that one has several of the BIOS enhancements you mentioned, so there would be no need to fit an add on.

I think cloning the Multi Character rom and BIOS board would be very nice, but I'd need your help. First off, I'd need hi rez pics of both sides of each board with socketed chips removed, so we can draw up a circuit diagram. How do you feel about dismantling it all? ;) (also lists of the components used)...

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Fri Sep 12, 2014 4:43 pm

I work for an electronic design and manufacturing company and very very occasionally use the cad system. Might be a good project to knock some rust off for me. Should be easy enough to reverse engineer the boards or maybe just knock out a few copies.

Hurumph - my planned weekend of 'brain fiddling has to be postponed due to urgent decorating duties. :|

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:21 am

richard_g wrote:I work for an electronic design and manufacturing company and very very occasionally use the cad system. Might be a good project to knock some rust off for me. Should be easy enough to reverse engineer the boards or maybe just knock out a few copies.


Oh yes... Nice one. Didn't know you were electronically inclined (I was getting the gist when you said you could dump the EPROM). What great news!

I'll have one of each, please! ;)

richard_g wrote:Hurumph - my planned weekend of 'brain fiddling has to be postponed due to urgent decorating duties. :|


Wives, eh? Who'd 'ave 'em?

:roll:

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby daveejhitchins » Sat Sep 13, 2014 8:39 am

jonb wrote:Wives, eh? Who'd 'ave 'em?
Me! :shock: Actually, my theory is: if you get enough together you'll have all the time in the world to yourself, as they won't stop talking to each other :lol: :roll:

Anonymous :D
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Products: ARA II, ABR, ATI, AP6, MGC, AP5 . . .
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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Sat Sep 13, 2014 3:44 pm

@richard_g:

Well this is interesting. I have (as you may have read) got me an HxC floppy drive emulator, and external one in a little black case. Using it I have built a set of Montezuma CPM boot disks for the Model 4. And whaddya know... it can read / write Superbrain disks (and all manner of other CP/M machine disks), thanks to a very flexible disk configuration tool.

I just have to work out how to get it to recognise the HxC, then we're golden. At present HxC is configured as drives 2 and 3, and both TRS-DOS and CP/M Plus (the Tandy distro of CP/M 3.3) can both see it, so it is going to be a Montezuma config somewhere. Much reading of manuals... but once I get it working, I can load up a Superbrain image and test it.

:D

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Sat Sep 13, 2014 5:27 pm

Update: I loaded a Superbrain boot disk from Dave Dunfield's site onto the HxC and Montezuma had no problem reading it. Actually treats it like any other disk drive. I don't know if writing is going to be do-able, it'll just be a matter of setting drive 1: to be a Superbrain SS DD 35 track disk, then copying stuff directly onto a formatted Superbrain disk - or just plug HxC into the Superbrain, that'd work too, as long as its FDD can support another two disks... otherwise I'll have to open her up and plug HxC into Drive B:'s connector.

I have to say, this HxC rocks...!

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Tue Sep 16, 2014 7:18 pm

Yes the HxC was on my shopping list for the trs-80 stuff but if it can work with the brain disks too then that's excellent news.

God I hate decorating. Hired a man to do it but he's useless and keeps calling off so it seemed like a good idea for me to take up the brush. Regretting.

daveejhitchins wrote:
jonb wrote:Wives, eh? Who'd 'ave 'em?
Me! :shock: Actually, my theory is: if you get enough together you'll have all the time in the world to yourself, as they won't stop talking to each other :lol: :roll:

Anonymous :D


Too true :)

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:50 pm

Yeah, looks like HxC is compatible, but it is only doing what a Shugart drive would do. It's up to the CP/M implementation to format, read and write, and to do that there are loads of parameters at play.

It's Montezuma CP/M that is doing the biz here, because you can configure a logical drive to be a Superbrain disk (via a menu) and then it can be read if the disk has the capability - Model 4 has SS DD drives whereas the Superbrain (well mine, a QD) has DS DD so it can read a SS DD Superbrain disk formatted on the TRS80 but the TRS80 can't write a DS DD disk.. if that make sense...

The main things stopping you fitting HxC to the Superbrain as I see it are the case and the lack of a secondary drive interface for C: and D: drives. While one may be able to hack it internally I don't know yet if the on-board interface supports 4 drives natively. It doesn't look like HxC can be configured as C: and D: either. I think it only works on the TRS80 because the interface is hardwired as C: and D: (so your external drives can be configured as drive 1 & 2 and it just works).

So now we are left with taking an internal drive out of action and connecting HxC in its place. I did that to transfer the Montezuma CP/M boot disk to a physical floppy on the Model 4, but it was only a temporary thing. I had to crimp an IDC floppy connector to the existing ribbon, but it's necessary to remove the case lid to get at it. Not a problem as it is only for creating TRS80 boot disks from downloaded images. You need to do this - boot the downloaded image directly - in order to read and duplicate it; for all other images it is connected to the external drive connector.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby 1024MAK » Wed Sep 17, 2014 7:52 am

The only difference between drives on a Shugart floppy interface, is the drive select line. The Shugart interface allows for four drive select lines. But of course not all computers provided all four drive select signals. Older disk drives (mostly 5.25inch) did of course include jumper shunt/links for all four drive select signals

Drive select lines can be numbered DS0 to DS3 -OR- DS1 to DS4.

So if your version of the HxC does not have jumper shunt/links for all four drive select signals, a simple hack can be done to either the IDC cable, or by soldering a wire to your HxC PCB.

Mark
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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Wed Sep 17, 2014 7:43 pm

Ah ha, right Mark, nice one, thanks!

I'm not modding the HxC as it will be used on all my FDD capable machines, but I might buy another one for the Superbrain. It's a really wizard bit of kit.

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby richard_g » Sat Sep 27, 2014 6:31 pm

Still struggling for some proper time on this. When are you taking delivery of your 'Brain jon ?

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:42 am

Unknown. The current owner is refurbishing the case at the moment and I have told him there is no rush. It's going to be as new when I get it, apart from perhaps some yellowing on the keyboard. Hmm, retr0brite...

I wonder if it'll become the pooter of choice? Right now it's the Model 4, and I am trying to get the Cheapo IDE interface working (£16 + p&p, bargain). That'll give me hard disks under CP/M and LS-DOS. :D

Superbrain needs a hard drive, but I don't know how to do it. It might be possible to replicate the Cheapo IDE interface, at a different I/O address range. I can get all the source for the drivers. Hmm... And there is this lovey spot in the Superbrain's case to fit it.... S100 card adapter.. That's what I might have a go at, just for fun!

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Re: Alright.. who's got an Intertech Superbrain?

Postby jonb » Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:52 pm

Also... Just noticed on the schematic that it should support an additional two disk drives out of the box, so I will be able to make images using my HxC emulator, hopefully by splicing it into the internal drive cable and setting it as drives 2/3.

This machine looks like it will come with extra software and documentation, although at this time I don't know exactly what. With any luck I should have it in a fortnight.


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