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%% Amiga in Business by Andre Perusse %%
%% firstname.lastname@example.org %%
This is a story of my experiences with Emplant and A-Max IV. I hesitate to
call this a review as this text is not formatted in a reviewing-type
manner. It may give you a little bit of information of how each board
performs in a business environment, however.
Both boards were used in the following machine:
Amiga 3000UX (no Unix installed, however)
Quantum 210 & 170MB Hard Drives
10MB Ram (has since been upgraded to 14MB)
High Density Floppy Drive
A2232 Multi-Serial Card
A2065 Ethernet Card (used in a Novell Environment)
Retina Card w/2MB (A-Max IV only)
IC Super Buster Revision K.
As an employee of an Amiga dealer, I sometimes have the opportunity to
play with some neat hardware and software. Two of the more interesting
pieces of hardware have to be A-Max IV and Emplant. Both of these
ingenious devices allow your Amiga to emulate a colour Macintosh while at
the same time allowing you to run native Amiga programs. These boards are
the perfect solution for people whose main computer is an Amiga, but need
to run Macintosh programs from time to time.
The dealer I work for is also a Macintosh dealer. I have therefore
had the (perhaps unique) opportunity to test both boards extensively in an
AppleTalk (the built-in Macintosh networking protocol) environment. I use
the Macintosh board everyday for extended periods of time while at the same
time running a BBS on the Amiga! I believe that this should be a good
indication of how well each board multitasks.
EMPLANT Deluxe (used version 3.19 of the Emplant software)
The first board that I used was the Emplant from Utilities Unlimited.
(This is not exactly true. The first board I really used was A-Max II+,
but that is another story :) At first, I had a lot of trouble getting an
Emplant Deluxe board. We ordered it through a Canadian distributor. It
took quite a while to arrive, which is somewhat understandable considering
UU's production facilities and the demand for the product. While waiting
for the board, I e-mailed Jim Drew (CEO and Chief Engineer of UU) and asked
him if he knew when I might get my board. He replied in one day, but
informed me that providing ETA's of boards was not his job. Oh well, I
suppose that's understandable, but who's job is it? As it turned out, I
received the board a few days later anyway.
I was eager to try the board out, so I rapidly installed it in my
Amiga 3000. Being somewhat cautious with installing hardware, I read the
manual from cover to cover and the README file before trying anything.
Well, I kind of had to because I had to find out how to grab a Mac II ROM
image file from a real Mac. Oddly, there was no mention of how to do this.
Through experimentation, I found that the ROMINFO file on the Emplant disk
was actually a Macintosh program for saving the Rom image from a Mac II.
Due to the Macintosh nature of my dealership, I was able to save a Rom
Image file on a PC disk and then used CrossDos to transfer it to the Amiga.
Setting up the preferences in the Emplant startup screen was quite an
involved procedure. The Emplant has many settings including memory,
serial and parallel, hard drive, etc. The memory preferences require you
to set a specific size of memory aside entirely for the Mac emulation.
Having only 10MB (only!) and running a BBS at the same often caused a tight
situation. I often had to set the Mac memory down to 2.5MB, which is small
for a Mac these days. For a hard drive, I had already made an A-Max
partition for use with A-Max II+. Emplant recognized it without any
problem and I was up and running with System 7.1 in no time.
At this point I'd just like to note that Emplant also has a SCSI
interface built into the card. This interface is available to both the
Macintosh emulation and the Amiga.
"Tah-dah!" (this is a rough interpretation of the sound a Mac II makes
when it boots up). This alone impressed me as my A-Max II+ never did that.
"Wow!" I thought, "This really works!" I proceded to try out a few
programs that I use daily. They worked without a hitch. I then tried
logging into a co-workers machine to do some file sharing. It worked, too.
Everything seemed to be going great until about five minutes after I had
started, the machine crashed. "Typical," I thought. If I didn't
file-share, the board seemed fairly stable. As soon as I file-shared,
kaboom! Major bummer. Appletalk printing was fine, but file-sharing was
out of the question. I eventually found out that one of the Macintosh
Extensions (or INITs) was causing the problem. However, the extension was
Apple's Networking Extension and I though it was weird that it should cause
the Emplant to crash. That was Emplant v3.19 and I'm sure that bug has
been worked out by now.
I'm sure you've all read that the Emplant supports colour and stereo
sound. It does, and fairly well. It lets you select two, four, or
sixteen colours on an ECS machine. I found that 16 colours was far too
slow to be usable, but I found the 4 colour mode to be a vast improvement
over my two colour A-Max II+. Slower, but still better.
Emplant also allows for the changing of some settings while the
emulation program is running. Namely, you can change what machine (Amiga
or Emplant) has control over the floppy drives. Kind of handy. Also, if
the emulation program happens to crash, you can reset it from the Emplant
startup screen. Also rather handy.
The BBS software that I use on the same Amiga is DLG Professional. As
DLG sysops will probably know, DLG is not the most stable piece of software
for the Amiga. It doesn't crash a lot, but it is picky about the software
you multitask with it. Emplant and DLG seemed to get along great for the
most part. Both peacefully co-existed without causing any major problems.
The only problem I could find was that when Emplant was running, users on
the BBS would get an awful lot of missing characters in their text.
Changing the Emplant's task priority didn't seem to help any. Well,
running a Mac emulator and a BBS at the same time is a little much to
expect, I suppose.
I used the emulator for about a month and a half and it mostly worked
fine. There were a few too many crashes for it to be useable in a business
environment (my database was continually corrupted by Emplant crashes). On
the plus side, Jim Drew regularly releases updates to the software and is
readily available via internet e-mail. On the down side, the board is not
a mature product. The new versions of the software are a little too
frequent for my liking. A new version comes out - a new feature is added,
a bug is squashed, and a new bug is introduced. The newest version of the
software doesn't require an MMU, however. I no longer have the Emplant, so
in regards to the emplant updates, I'm only speaking from second-hand
information read from internet newsgroups.
Being a registered owner of an A-Max II+ board, I received an upgrade
notice in the mail. Readysoft was releasing a new upgrade to A-Max. A-Max
IV promised to be a multitasking, colour Mac emulator for the Amiga. It
also was going to support the A2065 ethernet card that I used. Great! The
upgrade cost from A-Max II+ was only $150.00 CDN, so I took the plunge.
Getting the A-Max IV upgrade took some time, also. It was supposed to
have shipped in the middle of December, but only shipped in the middle of
January. I assumed that ReadySoft was busy working out bugs, so I wasn't
too upset. I was also able to talk to their technical support people on
almost every phone call I made. No holding, no excuses, I was always able
to speak to someone. They didn't know I was calling from a dealer, so this
wasn't the reason for their promptness.
I finally received A-Max IV in the mail. It consisted of a new
manual, a new disk, and an iddy-bitty little IC chip that I had to replace
on the A-Max II+ board. With my usual enthusiasm, I went right to work
installing the upgrade. After reading the entire manual, I double clicked
on the A-Max startup icon. Immediate software failure. "Typical," I
thought. I spent all afternoon trying to find out what piece of software I
had on my machine that was causing this most offending GURU. I didn't find
it that afternoon. I took the board home that night and put it in my 3000
Tower. I double-clicked the icon. It worked!! Wow! I changed some
settings in the A-Max IV software and rebooted. I tried the startup
program again. "Board not found," it said. "Typical," I mumbled.
In a later conversation with Readysoft, I found out that the A-Max card
does not work properly in German-made 3000 Towers. The reason for this is
not known, and a bug fix doesn't appear to be in the immediate future.
This wasn't a major problem as the board was going to be used in a desktop,
anyway. Providing I could get it to work.
The next morning I went into work determined to get the bloody thing
to work. I eventually found out the the A-Max board didn't like the A2065
ethernet card. With the card in the machine - software failure. With the
2065 out of the machine, the A-Max was happy. "Rats," I said. A call to
Readysoft revealed that they knew there was a problem and a bug fix would
be ready in a couple of weeks. Okay, I could live without my ethernet card
for a couple of weeks.
Like Emplant, A-Max IV has mny preference settings. There are
differences, of course. One of the difference that I really like is the
fact that you set a certain amount of System Memory (for the OS) and a
certain amount of INIT memory (for System extensions). After that, A-Max
will allocate memory the itself as required. For example, if you run a
program on A-Max, it will take up a certain amount of memory. When you
quit the program, that memory is returned to the Amiga! Now with 14MB of
RAM, this isn't as important as it was with 10MB, but things still get
tight every now and then. Another difference between Emplant and A-Max is
their port emulation. Both boards come with two Mac serial ports. While
the Emplant's ports are usable by the Amiga side, A-Max's are not. On the
other hand, A-Max can redirect Macintosh serial I/O to the Amiga's serial
and printer ports while Emplant cannot (or at least not in 3.19).
I set everything else up and started up A-Max. A blank grey screen,
but lots of hard drive activity. Something was happening, but I couldn't
see it. Remember, I was using a Retina at this point. I unplugged the
monitor from the Retina and put in into the Amiga's video port. Aha!
There was a Mac screen there. I set the Retina to the main monitor using
the Macintosh Monitors Control Panel. I rebooted the Mac and it used the
Retina this time. A-Max IV, you see, has the ability to use several
monitors, just like a real Mac. Neat.
A-Max deals with floppies a little differently than Emplant. While
both boards will read and write Macintosh 1.4MB floppies, neither will read
or write 800K Mac floppies. A-Max has a program that transfers the data
off of an 800K disk to a virtual file on your hard drive, however. From
there, the Mac emulation thinks that it's dealing with a Mac disk. Also,
the floppy drive is intelligently shared between the Amiga and the Mac. If
an Amiga program is the currently selected screen, then a disk inserted at
that point would be read by the Amiga side. If the Mac emulation is the
current screen, then a disk inserted would be read by the Macintosh.
When I had the A-Max IV working in the Tower, I had it set in 16
colour mode. On ECS machines, you can only set A-Max IV to use 2 or 16
colours. 16 colour mode was slow. Too slow. 2 colour mode was boring.
But using the Retina and 256 colours was awsome! Not blazingly fast, but
pretty snappy! All of my software worked, including file-sharing! In
fact, the A-Max IV board was remarkably stable. I get the odd crash now
and then (mostly while printing with Print Monitor - Apple's backround
printing program), but I have gone entire days without a crash from A-Max.
I never got that kind of performance out of the Emplant. In addition, the
BBS experiences no side effects with the Mac running.
Recently, I talked to Readysoft about the A2065 problem. They now
have a bug fix and it's due to arrive in the next few days. I can't wait
to use the Mac with my Amiga Ethernet Card!
As you can probably tell, I prefer A-Max IV. I'd really like to take
Emplant for another test drive, though. Version 3.8 of the software is
supposed to be really stable and I'd like to see it. Unfortunately, we
sold our Emplant board and we probably won't be bringing another one in.
It should be noted that Emplant is not only a Macintosh emulator,
however. Supposedly, Emplant will emulate pretty near anything, but as of
this writing, it only does Mac.
I have learned something very important from all of this: Although
the Macintosh is a more popular computer than Amiga, it comes no where near
the performance of Workbench 2.1. Long live Amiga!!