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%% The SX-1 CD32 expansion from Paravision by Jason Compton %%
%% firstname.lastname@example.org %%
After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting (but was really just 2
months), my review SX-1 finally arrived. Well, not before I got the hard
drive and memory, and not before I straightened out that it wasn't
intended for Amiga Game Zone, but hey, I've got it and it works.
How well does it work? First, let's open the packaging.
Nothing like simplicity. A white, thin-walled cardboard box about the
footprint of a piece of notebook paper and about 2 or 3 inches tall. On
the box is a black label identifying the product, the included options,
and displaying the Paravision/SX-1 logo. (incidentally, the logo is
fairly ugly, but that's not a big concern.)
Pull open the box, and what do you get? The SX-1, and (if you're lucky)
a 15-page manual. If you're NOT lucky, you get a 4-page manual. Feed it
to the dog and call Paravision asking for the 15-page one, since the
4-page is virtually useless.
The SX-1 itself is another rectangular box. It's made of metal, the same
strange dark grey color as the CD32, with a white Paravision/SX-1 logo on
it. That's all for decoration. One side has the CD32 U-shaped connector
(more on that later) and around the other three sides are the ports that
make the SX-1 useful.
Ah, yes, very, very important. Like I said, the 4 pager was horrible.
The new 15-page version is quite a bit better and tells you just about
everything you need to know. It's smallish, about the size of most game
manuals and the like, and not intensely durable since it's made completely
out of regular paper stapled together. But it's functional and tells you
what you need to know.
You paid for them, here they are, with my own comments about the way they
work. Listed in the order they appear on the box, they are:
Serial Connector: A 9-pin model, meaning that if you're a die-hard Amiga
user, this is new to you. It's not a problem, just get a cable or
adapters (available at a Radio Shackish store) and attach them. It works.
Located on the right side of the CD32.
Disable Switch: Interesting that they listed this second. This will
disable everything except the RGB port, the memory expansion, and the
clock. Personally I think this was a poor combination of things to leave
running, but more on that later. Located on the back, near the middle.
Parallel Connector: A standard Amiga parallel port. What more needs to
be said? Located on the back.
Video Connector: The RGB port. A great boon to CD32 users tired of the
inferior RF or composite outputs (not everyone has SVideo capabilities),
with 1084s and 1950s and 1960s and 1942s just dying to have CD32 games
pumped into them.
HOWEVER, those multisync monitors require the RGB/VGA adapter box. This
wouldn't be a problem if the RGB port wasn't located on the left side,
very close to where the CD32's power supply plugs in. It takes a bit of
bending to get the adapter box and power supply cable to exist together,
and I would have rather that it didn't. Aside from that, the video output
works just fine. It claims to work with FMV, but as I don't have an FMV
module I can't test it.
Floppy Connector: Standard Amiga variety, works. Configures the first
drive as DF0:. Located on the right side, pretty logical because you can
then set the drive on top of the SX-1 and CD32. (The back would have
worked just as well, but there's only so much room...)
IDE Interfaces: There is the 2.5 inch internal variety and a 3.5 inch
external connector. I have a 40 meg drive from Paravision sitting here,
but I haven't plugged it in because my power supply wouldn't accomodate
it and a floppy. (More on that later)
Hopefully, a new power supply from Micro R+D will arrive before I have to
send the hard drive back to Paravision. The 3.5 inch external IDE is
something I haven't encountered before. Paravision says they've
commissioned cables to be built. More on that as I learn about it. The
external connector is located on the back of the SX-1.
AT-101 keyboard interface: Lets you plug in standard IBM keyboards and
use them. Located on the right side. I haven't had a chance to test this
Audio Input: A 6-pin mini-DIN input to allow mixing audio over the CD32's
output. Haven't had a chance to test this either, but it's really only
good for Karaoke enthusiasts...although I'm sure the analogy could be
extended to presentations as well. Located on the right, and physically
a part of the U-connector (again, more on that later)
Internal SIMM slot: Lets you use a standard 32-bit SIMM, up to 8 megs
(4 if you have a FMV module). Works just fine, although I had some
problems getting the SIMM properly seated and discovered Kickstart 3.x's
"Defective Expansion" screen. The 4 meg SIMM from Paravision is now
sitting there, resting nicely and providing me with a speedup for some
games. (More on the effects of Fast RAM in the next issue)
MPEG Passthrough: A part of the U-Connector (which I'm ALMOST ready
to talk about!)
Real-time clock: Hey, it's nice to have. It works, using the standard
NOW, the U-Connector
Commodore's FMV module was designed to rest physically INSIDE the CD32,
on the right of it, under the vent grates. To that end, a U-connector is
used, so that the board still interfaces with the CD32 expansion slot.
The same concept is used in Paravision's U-connector, so that the SX-1
and the FMV module can share the same machine. (This is where the audio
in is located)
While I can't comment on its functionality with the FMV module, I can
comment on its implementation physically. It's bad. The connector is not
firmly attached to either the SX-1 or the CD32, and wobbles considerably
when you're trying to install the SX-1. In fact, every time I've needed
to plug it in, I've had to angle my CD32 upwards and match up the
connection that way. I've also pulled out the SX-1 and left the
U-connector behind (and I wasn't yanking on it, I slid it). It's not
more than a nuisance, but it makes handling the unit more difficult and
more time consuming.
Taking a Look at the SX-1: Externally
It looks like whoever designed the SX-1's case (either the product
designers or Robert Maynard, credited as "Package Design") tried very
hard to make the SX-1 look like a logical extension of the CD32. For
those of you unfamiliar with the CD32's design, it's just over a foot
wide on top. Midway through, the case is split for the CD drive's lid,
located on the left. The expansion connector is on the right, meaning
that the CDSX combination, as I've chosen to call it, looks like a
flipped-over L. The color matches nearly perfectly, marred a bit by the
fact that the CD32 is flat colored plastic while the SX-1 is metal and
has a satin sheen to it.
The SX-1 looks like it was supposed to fit just right in the space
extending back on the right side. It's just a bit too wide, though,
and some of the SX-1 hangs off of the right edge of the CD32, but it's
only a couple of millimeters. On the left, it hangs over the split enough
so that the CD32's lid rubs it slightly. Oops.
The Guts of the SX-1
Inside, the SX-1 is a fairly crowded place. Of major interest are the
2.5 inch IDE controller (located on the left, farther back than the RGB
port, which means they should have traded places) and the 5 jumpers
located a bit to the right of them. These are fairly important. In
order, here's what they do.
1. Determines the size of the SIMM in the SX-1. Should be on for a 2 or
8 meg SIMM, off for a 1 or 4. (Controls banks for the memory)
2. Determines the size (again) of the SIMM. Should be on for a 4 or 8
meg SIMM, off for a 1 or 2.
3. Memory control: Enable/disable. On disables, off enables.
(Paradoxical, isn't it?)
4. Power On Delay. Adds 10 seconds to the boot time to allow clunky hard
drives time to spin up. (It's worth noting that the SX-1 has a noticable
boot delay even when this option is NOT activated) On delays, off boots
5. Right Alt control. Apparently, Paravision feels that there are a lot
of AT keyboards without a right Alt button, so this option allows the
right Control button to be used as right Alt. (I've NEVER seen a keyboard
like that) On says you've already got 2, off says you need the right
For the interested, Paravision lists the pinouts of the parallel, floppy,
external IDE, serial, RGB, AT Keyboard, and audio ports in the manual.
Not just for the egomaniacs, it's a serious concern. The CD32 has a weak
power supply. This means that, according to Paravision, unless you get a
better supply, you should never combine the FMV module, floppy drive and
hard drive (in other words, pick one.) However, Micro R+D is building
power supplies to alleviate the problems.
I'm drawing this first part of the review to a close. However, here are
some fun facts to keep you interested until next time.
1. Casualties of Product Design: The two people I talked to in May
about the SX-1 both no longer work for Paravision. One was a
designer, the other was the president. Another designer of the SX-1
is also no longer employed by Paravision, meaning that Yan Sun is the
sole remaining SX-1 designer in Paravision's employ.
2. Joanne Dow, editor of Amiga Exchange and a frequenter of the Amiga
Usenet newsgroups, did contract work on the SX-1 software.
3. Despite Paravision's sometimes rabid response to being confused with
Microbotics (their ex-president called me up one morning, demanding
names of Amazing Computing authors because of the fact that Paravision
never informed AC of the ownership switch), Mike Pinson, a Paravision
employee, Product Specialist and overall good guy who represents
Paravision on the nets still has the Internet account (listed in the
manual) of "email@example.com". :)
4. Because I was shipped an SX-1 addressed to me but addressed to me
as a rep of Amiga Game Zone, I had to convince everyone I wrote for
Amiga Report, not Amiga Game Zone. About a week after it got cleared
up, I was asked by AGZ's editor to do game reviews, and I accepted.
Ironic, isn't it?
5. When the disable switch is set to disable the options, the Kick 3.x
preboot menu won't come up with both mouse buttons held down. Mike
Pinson was surprised but couldn't explain.
That's it for this week. Until next time, keep the CD32's warm.
Paravision, Inc. 1-214-644-0043/1-800-588-0043 voice
500 East Arapho, Suite 104 1-214-644-7913 fax
Richardson, Texas 75081
Micro R+D (for the power supplies)