ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

for bbc micro/electron hardware, peripherals & programming issues (NOT emulators!)
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Greybeard
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ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Sat May 09, 2009 10:28 pm

I have been playing with a Peartree MR-4300 32K RAM/ROM Board in a BBC Micro, and was having great fun ... until, that is, I managed to corrupt the 5.25" Utilities Disk that comes with it!

Now I just can't read the darned disk at all, and all I get is the unwelcome message:-

Disk fault 08 at 00/00

Of course (like an idjit), I did not make a back-up of the disk before I started playing. A dumb mistake, and another lesson relearned. Mea maxima culpa!

But the really bad news is without the programs on that disk, the RAM side of things on the board are just useless, as the SRAM Utilities get loaded up into half of the RAM from the disk, and only then can *SRAM be issued to call the menu and continue having fun. Darn it!

So, does anyone know where a copy of that disk may be found?
Last edited by Greybeard on Sun May 10, 2009 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by MartinB » Sat May 09, 2009 11:33 pm

Peartree info seems to be quite thin on the ground but generally, Sideways Ram on the Beeb has (is forced to have) a pretty common generic design in that it just follows the Sideways Rom protocol but adds a write capability.

Therefore, have you tried using 'someone else's' sideways ram utilities such as the SRAM commands in Acorn's 1770 DFS's - e.g. the last and best v2.26? If those work, it's likely that other third-party utilities will work too and in which case I'm sure we can find a decent set to match the Peartree stuff.

Martin :)

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 8:26 am

Thanks for your quick and helpful response, Martin.

I was hoping there might be some sort of "generic" solution (I'm into "generic")! The really galling thing is that MR-4300 board (and the disk) appeared to be hitherto unused. But for the life of me, I can't imagine why Peartree didn't put their utilities in a ROM rather than onto disk (but maybe they did, for all I know)!

You mention "the Sideways ROM protocol" as if I might have a clue what that is! Well, as you can probably tell I'm still way down on the Nursery Slopes (of the Learning Curve?) on this stuff. Is there any concise précis of documentation you can refer me to in order that I can at least ask sensible questions?

It seems that every man and his dog (Aries, Solidisk, Watford, Vine et al ... including, of course, Peartree ... and apologies if I've missed out anyone's particular favourite) had a go at producing ROM (and sometimes ROM/RAM) boards back in the Golden Era of which we speak, and I have a fair few examples in my pile. Naturally, the ones I have are in all manner of (dis)repair, and some have documentation, whilst others don't. I also have various booklets, but some without the boards they relate to. I imagine you get the picture!

As an aside, the Aries documentation appears to be streets ahead of the rest (but, unfortunately, I don't have an Aries board ... yet)! Am I right in presuming that Aries was the pioneer in the area of ROM/RAM expansion?

What I might do (unless, of course, you want to have a go) is open up a new thread entitled "ROM/RAM Expansion for the BBC Micro" (...h'mmm, that sounds like a book title) as I will undoubtedly need to discuss other issues with you (and the other gurus). :)

PS: I've just had a quick root through my pile of books (er, library) and pulled out Bruce Smith's handily titled "The BBC Micro ROM Book" ("Sideways ROMs and RAMs"), so I guess I need to spend an hour or two with that one. After all "learning by doing" (or should that be, "the hard way") has more or less been the story of my "technical education" (notice here that I'm discounting my so-called formal technical education, at which I learned very little of real value, in my opinion)!

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by retroclinic » Sun May 10, 2009 9:10 am

[quote="Greybeard"]the Sideways ROM protocol[\quote]

Hi.

There are 3 ways (that I know of, maybe more!) of writing to a sideways ROM used originally in the Beeb.

1) Direct Access - any write between &8000 and &BFFF goes to the RAM chip. This was used in things like the ATPL Sidewise board, and other similar ones like the Watford.

2) Paged Access - This is where the RAM must be Paged in using the ROM paging register before it can be written to. This is the method used in the BBC Master, and the B+128, as well as any "homebrew" SWR mod you might cook up, such as the one on my website http://www.retroclinic.com/acorn/swr/swr.htm

3) "Watford's Own" Access - The ROM/RAM board from Watford has up to 9 SWR banks, and has a unique method of selecting which bankis active for write by writing to the address range &FE30-&FE3E. Any write to that range will enable the appropriate RAM to be written to. I'm not aware of any other manufacturer that used this method.

I have to be honest, in that I'm not familiar with the board you have, it may use 1 of those 3 methods, or may have it's own unique way of doing it. I would go with Martins suggestion of trying the Acorn DFS 2.26, and use the SRAM commands to try and load stuff in at first attempt.

Mark.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 9:23 am

Mornin' Mark

Thanks for that (more for me to try and digest)!

But, while you're on the forum ... I have (another) nice looking ROM/RAM board here. It is marked up ESP001/2 on one side and (c)M.R.KING 1986 on t'other.

Naturally, I have no documentation ... but it looks like it plugs in to the OS ROM slot (IC51). What's more, it has three of the famous "flying leads" (with the customary hooks still attached, which is nice). These are marked W, L, and C. Any wise words about where these might usefully be hooked up? :)

One further "clue" (perhaps) is that the flying leads are all the same length (just about 25 cm overall) and are coloured as follows:-

W : yellow
L : red
C: black
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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by retroclinic » Sun May 10, 2009 9:26 am

Hi.

Again that's not one I've got any info on, they are probably fitted to the paging decoder (LS163) and the on board ROM wnables, but without the manual or having the board infront of me, it's a guess at what goes where.

Mark.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 9:36 am

Cheers Mark

So many boards. So little time! :)

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by MartinB » Sun May 10, 2009 9:44 am

If you can put 1770 DFS 2.26 in the Beeb with the Peartree, the attached application note (ignore the title) details the Acorn SRAM commands for you to try. You will need to know the ID of the socket it's plugged into - ask if you're not sure :)

Another good way of at least establishing if the Peartree is a 'standard' board is to use the Exmon (II ideally) rom and, using the '!n' command to select the Peartree socket, see if you can simply edit bytes at $8000 to $BFFF. If you can, you should then try writing to a different socket which you know contains a rom (and hence can't be written to) but then return to the Peartree socket and if the latter has changed in response to the writes elsewhere then it's a basic 'capture all writes to rom space' type like the ATPL Sidewise ram. (Cripes, that was a long sentence... :lol:)

Martin
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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 9:56 am

That's good information, Martin. Thanks for that. More bedtime reading, then (with my cocoa, of course)!

Don't worry about long sentences. As we know, they are sometimes difficult to avoid in technical discourse!

Grammar (and more especially, spelling) is my major "hang-up", though, I'm afraid. Regrettably, I see so much stuff on the various forums that is badly written. But (when I mention it) I'm generally told that "it doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't get in the way" (of what the guy is trying to say). Unfortunately, to my mind at least, it does get in the way! Many of us "old school" types are like that, of course. :wink:

I guess you are already aware of this one.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by guddler » Sun May 10, 2009 10:32 am

Is the ATPL method of capturing all writes to the ROM space a problem for general use? Or was it a pretty common method? And by general use I guess I'm going to mean games since anything else I do is going to be of my own doing!

Only asking since the second beeb I've got cam with a Sidewise board that was assumed dead, however I'd not assume that seeing as it was something else causing the problem, so after putting new pin headers on it, I may refit it.

MartinW.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by MartinB » Sun May 10, 2009 10:34 am

@Greybeard : Yes, I've seen that thanks and sorry, very remiss of us :oops: - we should have pointed you to the various Beeb resources on the net but having said that I suppose self-discovery can be very satisfying can't it :lol:
Greybeard wrote:Many of us "old school" types are like that, of course.
Yep, I have to confess to also being one of those (sad?) types who goes back to edit posts (even old ones) when I spot my gaffs :wink:

Martin

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 10:43 am

Yes, tracking stuff (information) down by yourself can be rewarding, but I reckon it's nice when we can "share the wealth" (ie, of knowledge) for others to see on the forum, too. In fact, I would say that is what these tech. forums are really all about!

Just imagine what it would be (used to be) like if we didn't have the internet? All this good old kit would have to be binned, would it not? But now there is great hope that "dead" stuff can indeed be resurrected (as Martin from Somerset has just mentioned). That's what it's all about!

Not sad, though, Martin (from Lancashire). That's just being thorough (or, perhaps, conscientious). Surely that's what being a technician, or an engineer, is all about.

To my mind the really sad thing is how little youngsters seem to bother (about anything, really). When people say to me things like "does it really matter"? I usually respond with something along the lines of:- "Well, what do you care about"? :(
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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by MartinB » Sun May 10, 2009 10:50 am

@Guddler : The ATPL ram 'always write' system isn't a problem as such but there are two issues I have encountered...

1. Trying to run rom images from the ATPL ram can be troublesome because it often gets corrupted by other software which, through deliberate or sloppy programming, issues writes to the $8000-$BFFF area. The ATPL of course then responds to these writes and falsely modifies it's own ram contents.

2. When an ATPL board is fitted with it's 'Write Enable' link set to write, the Beeb's write cycle timing envelope, when accessing $8000-$BFFF, is shortened by a handful of nanoseconds and this can then cause other co-resident SRAM modules to function incorrectly.

The answer to both of these issues is to fit a write protect switch to the ATPL as detailed in the manual.

Martin

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 10:54 am

As I had feared (well, hoped really), this thread has become "ROM/RAM Expansion for the BBC Micro".

Good stuff!

Perhaps I should have used that title right from the start. Maybe Admin can sort that out? :)

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by guddler » Sun May 10, 2009 11:06 am

hehe, isn't that the way with forums though? :)

@Martin: Thanks, I'll look into that if I refit the board. To be honest, I'd glazed over a bit by the time I got to the jumpers part of the manual as at the time I was just looking for alterations that may have been done during installation that may have needed to be undone to get the beeb working without the board.

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Re: Peartree Utilities Disk

Post by Samwise » Sun May 10, 2009 11:23 am

Greybeard wrote:As I had feared (well, hoped really), this thread has become "ROM/RAM Expansion for the BBC Micro".

Good stuff!

Perhaps I should have used that title right from the start. Maybe Admin can sort that out? :)
Quit being lazy - just edit your first post and change it yerself! :)

Sam.

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 11:28 am

Thanks for pointing that out, Sam (the deed has been done)!

Actually, I didn't realise that was possible. It certainly hasn't been the case on other tech forums that I have been known to haunt!

For instance (on other forums) there is usually a time limit set on posts being edited (two hours, typically). This is actually a sensible approach, as (otherwise) threads can end up losing (er), the thread of the discourse, as it were.

But you're right. It looks like on this forum I can return to any of my earlier missives and edit merrily away. I'm not sure this is a good thing. Maybe we need to take a vote! :)
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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by MartinB » Sun May 10, 2009 11:34 am

And now Sam just needs to 'nudge' it into Hardware where it belongs.... :wink:

Martin

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 11:36 am

Indeed! :)

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Samwise » Sun May 10, 2009 11:40 am

*grumble* ... like I don't have enough to be doing ... *mutter* ... this board would be much easier to manage if there weren't any blasted users ... *trails off*

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by MartinB » Sun May 10, 2009 12:02 pm

We, the mere mortal users, humbly acknowledge that you normally rest on the 7th day and are truly grateful for your intervention... [-o<

Martin :wink:

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Sun May 10, 2009 12:14 pm

... and so say all of us!

For what it's worth, I too have yet to commence my real work for the day (and yes, I am aware that it's Sunday), having spent most of the morning (... not only enjoying the responses on this thread, of course, but also ...) fielding questions from various corners of the world on another forum (and the one on which I believe I can claim a certain degree of notoriety).

That, and eBay, of course!

A labour of love, Sam, surely (and thanks, by the way). :)

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Samwise » Sun May 10, 2009 12:46 pm

No worries. One of the other mods would have been along shortly, if I hadn't got to it first ...

Sam.

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Wouter Scholten » Sun May 10, 2009 10:28 pm

{retroclinic}
1) Direct Access - any write between &8000 and &BFFF goes to the RAM chip. This was used in things like the ATPL Sidewise board, and other similar ones like the Watford.

2) Paged Access - This is where the RAM must be Paged in using the ROM paging register before it can be written to. This is the method used in the BBC Master, and the B+128, as well as any "homebrew" SWR mod you might cook up, such as the one on my website http://www.retroclinic.com/acorn/swr/swr.htm

3) "Watford's Own" Access - The ROM/RAM board from Watford has up to 9 SWR banks, and has a unique method of selecting which bankis active for write by writing to the address range &FE30-&FE3E. Any write to that range will enable the appropriate RAM to be written to. I'm not aware of any other manufacturer that used this method.
There are a few more types at least as I documented on my website for many years (about 6 and a half years actually ;-) ). Esp. solidisk user port abusing boards and the solidisk 4MHz boards use different methods. See the SWR determination program:

http://wouter.bbcmicro.net/bbc/bbc-software.html

I don't think I ever got round to testing that Watford FF3x board that I had so if someone can provide feedback...

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Mon May 11, 2009 12:07 am

Thanks Wouter. Your site is a real Treasure Trove! And I can't help but wonder how you find the time to maintain it all. Another labour of love, indeed!

Surely the ROM Paging System is the main feature which makes the BBC Micro such an interesting machine. Do (did) microcomputers from any of the other manufacturers adopt this genius solution (to lack of memory)?

Your SWRTYPE program is very interesting, and I hope to find time myself to delve into this stuff in greater detail.

Would you say that you have all the (many and) various SWR boards yourself? Or at least a typical example from each of the erstwhile "major players"?

If not, perhaps I might suggest an appeal for board donations right here on this forum! :)

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Wouter Scholten » Mon May 11, 2009 8:13 pm

Would you say that you have all the (many and) various SWR boards yourself? Or at least a typical example from each of the erstwhile "major players"?
Not any more. I realised a few years a go that I didn't want to have loads of stuff that wasn't going to be used, so I sold various bits again. Also, regularly people asked me for ROM board or Solidisk 128K board (the 1987 version) and as I didn't use them, I was quickly convinced to swap/sell...

The ATPL sidewise I did try, but I'm not sure if I jotted down where it's an alway-write-selected or almost-always-write-selected board.

Another board I've not seen is the Solidisk 256K (pre 4MHz) board. This could perhaps be a user port-abusing board with full address decoding.

Anything else? I'm not sure what happens with the Watford 32K board that can also act as shadow RAM. I used to have this but I don't think I examined it closely as this shadow stuff didn't interest me in the least (it can also be used as SWR).

As to general considerations w.r.t. ROM switching. The alternative that is used in various places is copying ROM to RAM (e.g. C64). My view on the BBC micro ROM is that it is too sophisticated for an 8 bit machine, i.e. you cannot fully use its potential in almost all cases. It also means there's not much left in the memory map.

Perhaps making the OS also swappable would have worked, and putting sideway ROMs higher, partially overlapping the OS, swapping the OS in automatically when going via certain access points for example.
If not, perhaps I might suggest an appeal for board donations right here on this forum!
Or someone can examine SWRTYPE and modify it if needed. Running SWRTYPE first would be useful.

Also, making a list of which boards are of which type?

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Mon May 11, 2009 8:32 pm

Interesting Wouter. Thank you.

To my my mind the BBC Computer Literacy Project was a great Tour de Force by our beloved public broadcaster. But what has happened since?

Perhaps it's all my own fault, as I stopped paying my Licence Fee many years ago when I decided to give up watching television. Who has the time for all that ****?

But the thought occurs, if there was to be a "second coming" as it were, and a new mass (Public Sector, educational ... whatever) machine needed to be developed today, what would it be like?

Something like the infamous Hundred Dollar Computer,* do you think? Or could we do better? :)

* Note: many other links are available!

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by SarahWalker » Mon May 11, 2009 9:44 pm

Wouter Scholten wrote:Perhaps making the OS also swappable would have worked, and putting sideway ROMs higher, partially overlapping the OS, swapping the OS in automatically when going via certain access points for example.
That's pretty much what the Amstrad CPC does - though with that being a Z80 machine, the OS and sideways ROMs are at opposite ends of the memory map. However, in normal operation (eg BASIC or AMSDOS), the OS ROM is mapped out and it's accessed entirely through vectors and code at about $B600-BFFF.

This gives 48k of RAM at $0000-$BFFF. The remaining 16k is mapped under the sideways ROMs and is used for video, writing 'under' the ROM. Quite an efficient scheme I thought!

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Wouter Scholten » Tue May 12, 2009 1:09 am

TomWalker wrote:
Wouter Scholten wrote:Perhaps making the OS also swappable would have worked, and putting sideway ROMs higher, partially overlapping the OS, swapping the OS in automatically when going via certain access points for example.
That's pretty much what the Amstrad CPC does - though with that being a Z80 machine, the OS and sideways ROMs are at opposite ends of the memory map. However, in normal operation (eg BASIC or AMSDOS), the OS ROM is mapped out and it's accessed entirely through vectors and code at about $B600-BFFF.
Interesting that the CPC used a similar method to my suggestion... I've never seen one and only really became somehwat aware of it a few years ago when reading through old magazines. The specs seemed pretty good regarding price (esp. the setup with colour monitor). What would have happened if this machine had been introduced in 1983?
{Greybeard}
But the thought occurs, if there was to be a "second coming" as it were, and a new mass (Public Sector, educational ... whatever) machine needed to be developed today, what would it be like?

Something like the infamous Hundred Dollar Computer,* do you think? Or could we do better? :)
We're getting offtopic a fair bit, but as it's the thread you started, I'll bite:

- I strongly disagree with too-cheap equipment, and therefore even say 300 dollar laptops are too cheap.

The reason is that this gives a throwaway culture, or rather, it promotes it (as we already have a strong throw away culture). If a laptop is 100$ and it's defective, you would just throw it away and buy a new one. Not a problem if the resources used to make one are small and materials are easily recovered, but that's not the case. If they can be made that cheaply, something is not taken into account in the economic model (e.g. waste disposal, also oil will run out sometime which means plastics won't be available as cheaply as they are now).

I've experienced this with e.g. a water heater (for tea). It was defective and I didn't even want to look for the receipt as it was too much trouble. "Just buy a new one".

To give an example, I used a pentium pro 200 from 1997 (best money could bey) to 2005 (too slow for some software, e.g. firefox, thunderbird were all getting sluggish, netscape 3 was running perfectly but no proper CSS etc.). With any current PC you should be able to get many years of use out of it, so why should it be extremely cheap?

- Programming languages are a nightmare. C++ is a poor and too complex OO language, Eiffel is pretty good but it uses C underneath which means you can't even check for overflow (I just couldn't believe that when I first noticed that in the mid 90s). I keep comping back to "You need to use Ada". Also interfacing other languages than C/C++ to the standard libraries is a pain (or was when I considered them). There's another problem, complexity, you need to read loads of books to get to know a programming language, libraries etc. You just can't read one "manual" and be considered computer literate. I've been reconsidering what languages I will use in the future, and perhaps Ruby (I've done Python, no longer interested), or Haskell. Or Ada after all and make interfaces to the C libs where needed.

Or for my own use (or more perhaps) make a new one. I'm thinking about this for an interpreted language similar to Ruby but with my own ideas. Would be an enormous amount of work though. And I want to make my own shell (wsh :) ) for unix/FreeBSD to replace all the shells that are too complex and/or annoying, esp. shell programming, so these two project might combine. Perhaps the shell would just have a simple programming language (much nicer than sh/bash).

Even more off topic and yet getting more back on topic:
At the moment I'm working on finishing my 6502 assembler, just to get away from all the nightmares of other assemblers (xa, as6502, acme) that all were either too limited , or I had the problem that my programs triggered bugs that I couldn't work round/fix (too much work to understand the source as it's usually badly commented etc., it's easier to write my own program...) or the program isn't maintained at the moment etc.. My program will have HTML output too (same as my disassembler, see http://www.xs4all.nl/~swhs/bbc/x_DNFS.html) with references so you can follow the code by clicking on labels (label = reference to other part in the HTML) in your webbrowser.

I'm still using C to program the assembler/disassembler for various considerations, just a small number of those considerations are shown above.

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Re: ROM/RAM Expansion Boards for the BBC Micro

Post by Greybeard » Tue May 12, 2009 8:58 am

I imagine that you're in many way "Preaching to the Converted" on this forum, Wouter (but there again, I could be wrong). Speaking for myself, I have a marked aversion to buying anything new, and enjoy being entrenched (as far as possible) in an age bygone. Glancing around me I see a 100 MHz "Pentium 1" class machine (cheaply purchased in 1996), happily running MS-DOS (and similar). A couple of generic PC's. One running Windows 2000 (which I like ... as it's very stable), the other some other flavour of Windows. Plus the piles of 1980's micro's, and all the attendant bits and pieces that we all know and love. And, of course, the modern-ish laptop that I'm writing this on (I haven't yet heard of a Beeb connected to the internet ... so there's another topic, right there). Plus various old laptops etc. from various eras of DOS and Windows. What a wonderful recycling tool eBay is!

Meanwhile, for some reason I couldn't resist:-

When I find myself in times of trouble,
K&R they come to me.
Speaking words of wisdom;
Code in C.

Code in C, code in C.
Code in C, code in C.
Java's not the answer,
Code in C.


(... there's yet another topic:- do we have a C available for the BBC Micro?)

Your argument about the "throwaway culture" etc. is a good one. But myself, and the other hand (and, of course, playing the Devil's Advocate as I like to do), I prefer on balance to support the idea of the Hundred Dollar Laptop.

You see, it is intended to bring empowerment to young people (mainly) in parts of the world where such involvement would otherwise be denied. I feel the same about equipment in the "health sector", by the way (where I have traditionally been involved), and continue to fight the practice of gouging* that goes on just because a piece of junk has the label medical plastered all across it (together with "the next life this equipment saves could be yours" ... or some such emotional hogwash).

So, let me suggest a compromise. Let those who can afford the latest equipment carry on enjoying it, as long as they get it sent "out there" when the time for recycling comes!

And yes ... perhaps we need to open up a new thread to carry this further! :)

* Price gouging is a pejorative term for a seller pricing much higher than is considered reasonable or fair, often well above the market price when no alternative is available (as is sometimes the case with medical equipment, especially as we are now increasingly restricted to a gang of "Big Three" global manufacturers, not to mention the inflated price mark-ups by the traditional, and so-called, "local agents" [aka "middle men"]).

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