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MicroReviews for June 1995 Micropendium
by Charles Good

PFM+ by Cecure Electronics

In a MICROpendium article from November 1989 about the Myarc Geneve it says, "Concerning an EPROM based version of DOS, (Myarc's owner Lou) Phillips said that few users are interested in it. Such a system wouldn't have the memory to support hard disk drives nor could it be updated easily." My, how times have changed. Everything about Lou's statement is now incorrect.

One of the new computer technologies, programmable flash memory, is described by Tony Lewis in the May 1990 issue of MICROpendium. To reprogram a flash eprom you don't need any special hardware and you don't have to remove the flash eprom from its circuit board. Recently Cecure Electronics has given Geneve owners access to this technology in the form of a reprogrammable on board flash eprom containing the Geneve's operating system. Called PFM, this product is described by Cal Zanella in the June 1994 issue of MICROpendium. PFM consists of a 128K flash eprom chip that replaces the boot eprom that came with the Geneve. My PFM flash eprom came preloaded with the latest non SCSI version of MDOS SYSTEM/SYS and this will load automatically after about 15 seconds from a cold boot and almost immediately from a warm boot. If you temporarily don't want to use the operating system in the PFM chip you can, with a keypress, load an alternate operating system from any device. If you want to put an upgraded operating system in the PFM chip that is also very easy to do.

There is one significant limitation to PFM. It is only 128K. This is too small to hold the SCSI version of MDOS, which takes up 136K. Cecure is hoping to have a data compression system that will allow such large SYSTEM/SYS files to be loaded into PFM, but as of this writing you can't load SCSI compatible MDOS into PFM. If you already have PFM you have to hit the space bar as the Geneve powers up, and then select the menu Floppy or horizon Ramdisk as the source of the SCSI version of MDOS. If you plan to use the SCSI card you may not want to purchase PFM. However, you may want PFM anyway so that you can have the benefits of PFM+. My, how things have changed. The last versions of MDOS officially mailed out by Myarc took only 90K and would fit on a SSSD disk.

Now Cecure has taken flash memory technology one step further. Cecure now offers to install a reprogrammable flash simulated disk drive right on the Geneve board where you can keep your most important software. For those early Geneve owners who had to get used to booting from floppy or figuring out how to configure a Horizon ramdisk or hard drive to boot the operating system, the new Cecure flashdisk system is almost like magic. "Look carefully. There's nothing up my sleeve, no ramdisk or hard drive controller or memory expansion card in the Pbox and no floppy in the drives. Now watch the magic as I turn on the Pbox and the Geneve loads MDOS. I now type "DIR DSK8." and you can see that I have immediate access to all these neat files on drive DSK8, 509 sectors of files."

This PFM+ flashdisk is a second 128K flash memory chip Cecure installs on the Geneve board. It can be reprogrammed thousands of times to suit your needs. It requires no battery, no Pbox card slot, no CRU address, and has no DSR. It does however require that you already have PFM, the flash chip containing MDOS. The flashdisk is piggyback soldered on top of the PFM chip so you now have a layer of two chips in the socket once occupied by the Geneve's original eprom. Dealer installation of PFM an PFM+ is required. There is as yet no do it yourself kit.

The flashdisk is normally used as a ROM disk. Right now I have the latest 80 column Funnelweb disk review and editor with its 128K text buffer on my flashdisk. I am using the Funnelweb word processor to write this article. Any time I want I can exit the word processor and go to Funnelweb's disk review to examine the contents of my flashdisk. Using disk review I can examine sectors, get a flashdisk directory (drive is DSK8, volume name is FLASH-DISK) and view or run files directly from this directory in exactly the same manner I would deal with files on a floppy or hard drive. The flashdisk responds in the expected way to any disk management software. But don't throw away your Horizon ramdisk yet because the flashdisk has some limitations. What I cannot do in the normal way is write to the flashdisk. When I want to save this article, I will have to save it to a floppy (or a Horizon or a hard drive). I can't go to the word processor's command line, press SF (save file), specify DSK8, and save this text to my flashdisk. Using normal disk managment software I also can't delete or upload files to the flashdisk, sweep or reformat flashdisk, or change its sectors with a sector editor.

When you reprogram a flash memory chip you have to reprogram the whole thing all at once. You can't write to just part of the memory on a flash memory chip. To program the PFM+ flashdisk you create a 128K ramdisk in the Geneve's memory and temporarily place on this ramdisk all the files you want to upload to the flashdisk. You then use special software provided by Cecure to convert all the files you put on the ramdisk into one great big file which is saved to any mass storage device. You then reboot the Geneve and quickly hit the space bar. At this point you are presented with a menu that is part of Cecure's Geneve boot BIOS v3. This menu gives you the opportunity to load a new operating system (MDOS) into PFM, temporarily boot an alternate MDOS without changing that resident in PFM, or reprogram the flashdisk. Press L to (L)oad the flashdisk and select from the next menu the kind of mass storage where you are keeping your great big file. If you have several of these great big files on line you can select, with a single keypress, any one of 11 such big files to load the flashdisk. Finally press Y to confirm that you really do want to reprogram the flashdisk. That's all there is to it.

If you really wanted to do it, you could run games on the Geneve with only the software on the PFM+ and have the Geneve be the one and only card in the Pbox. No disk controller, no hard drive controller, nothing. For serious computing there are enough sectors on the PMF+ flashdisk to contain GPL, the extended basic module files, the editor assembler module file, EXEC, and HyperCopy, with a little room left over for some Autoexec files. Thus using only on board flashdisk files you can load and run from disk any 99/4A or Geneve specific software and you can do some really fast disk copying.

There is one other little thing. Everytime MDOS starts device T has to be remaped as a drive number in order to access the flashdisk files. I like DSK8. This can be done in several ways. The most sophisticated way is to use Cecure's CYA software to permanently alter MDOS so that device T always automatically maps as your choice of drive numbers. You can also type REMAP 8T from the A> prompt, or you can put this statement in an autoexec file. Following this with ASSIGN F=DSK8: makes it even easier to access files on the flashdisk.

PFM costs $75 installed. If you already have PFM then PFM+ costs $60. The cost for PFM and PFM+ installed at the same time is $125. These prices include the latest MDOS and software needed to reprogram the flashdisk.

BOARD GAMES by Jimmy Dowell

This disk contains 5 games and is designed to be run from DSK1. You get an introductory menu from which you can load any of the games, and you can also from this menu print the instructions to any game to the screen or to a printer. When a game ends, or when you press the designated key to prematurely abort a game, you are returned to the introductory menu. These are not arcade fast action games. In fact, none of them use a joystick. They are instead strategy games resembling Barry Traver's "Coney Games" disk released a few years ago. Some of the games use computer generated dice rolling to produce random numbers used in game play.

Technically the games are interesting. Screen displays are excellent and colorful. Most games are accompanied by assembly language music which continues to play even if you go into command mode to examine the games' coding. The only way to stop the music is to OLD another program. Speaking of command mode, there are no ON BREAK NEXTs in these games. This means that you can at any time back out of the game with FCTN/3 and enter command mode. Some programmers consider XB software made unbreakable with ON BREAK NEXT to be an example of a professional sophisticated programming technique. I think ON BREAK NEXT is a big nuisance. I like to go into existing programs and alter them a bit, adding my printer's NLQ font coding for example. This hard to do with an ON BREAK NEXT in the program.

Game titles include Can't Quit, Nothing But Trouble, Peg Jump, Fox Hunt, Peg Jump, and Backgammon. My favorite is the one player game Peg Jump which I actually played on a plastic game board with holes in it in my youth. The object is to jump pegs, removing the jumped peg, in such a way as to leave only one peg on the board in the center hole. Years ago, all by myself, I figured out one of the several possible perfect solutions.

Fox Hunt is somewhat like Peg Jump. In this one or two player game the single fox moves by jumping over the hounds, removing the jumped over hound. Then the hound player can move one of his pieces. The object is to get the fox cornered so it can't make a legal move before too many of the hounds are eliminated.

Can't Quit is hard to describe. Each turn starts with a roll of four dice, from which the player picks one of several possible pairs of dice numbers. You place markers on the board, based on these numbers and then roll again. When you can't make a legal move your turn ends.

Backgammon is, well, Backgammon. In Nothing But Trouble from one to four players move all their several men around the board from start to home based on the roll of dice. Sometimes men get sent back to start and have to begin again.

Board Games comes on a SSSD disk and is fairware. The author doesn't specify a donation. I think maybe $5 would be appropriate. You can obtain Board Games by sending a fairware donation a disk and a paid return mailer directly to the author, or you can send me $1 to pay for the disk and postage and my vacation fund and I will send it to you.

Cecure Electronics (send them your Geneve for installation of PFM+), P.O. Box 132, Muskego WI 53150. Credit card orders phone 800-959-9640. Voice information 414-679-4343. Fax 414-679-3736.

Jimmy Dowell (Board Games author), 2310 Adams Ln. #68, Henderson KY 42420, phone 502-827-5812

Charles Good, P.O. Box 647, Venedocia OH 45894.
Phone 419-667-3131.
Internet email [email protected]

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