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== Review: Network CD and CD32 SerNet Cable              By: Aaron Smith ==
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NAMES OF PRODUCTS

Network CD
CD32 Sernet cable (null-serial cable)

BRIEF DESCRIPTIONS

Network CD is a pre-setup CD with several programs including full
Workbench, Parnet, Sernet, Ncomm, Term, Twin Express, and several PD
collections.
           
The CD32 serial cable connects to the AUX port on the left side of
the CD32 and provides a passthough to the keyboard. It also provides a
complete serial port.


AUTHOR/COMPANY INFORMATION

Name:Weird Science

I purchased both products from:

Northwest Public Domain
PO Box 1617
Auburn, WA 98071-1617
USA


LIST PRICE

$29.95 (US) for the cable and $19.95 (US) for the CD.  I paid a
little less than dealer cost.


SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS

HARDWARE

A CD32 is required.

Mouse and/or keyboard recommended, although you can use the
CD32 joystick to control the mouse.

Another Amiga to complete the link.

SOFTWARE

None.


COPY PROTECTION

None.


MACHINES USED FOR TESTING

Amiga 3000/25, 4 MB Fast RAM, 2 MB Chip RAM
2 internal 880K floppies
2 gig Hewlett Packard HD
ViewSonic SVGA monitor
Comports 8 port high speed serial cards (for sale BTW)
AmigaDOS 3.1

CD32 w/2MB chip only
AmigaDOS 3.1
Workbench 3.1 (Kick 40.60 WB 39.29 old WB version??)

GE S-VHS TV/Monitor.


INSTALLATION

Installation is rather simple.  Plug one end of the cable (DB-25) into your
Amiga, Plug the round cable end into the CD32's AUX port and your keyboard
(A4000 style) into the passthough connector.


CABLE REVIEW

I must say I am impressed, not really with the cable but with the CD32's
built in serial port.  It doesn't offer RTS/CTS handshaking, yet it can and
did lock at 57600 bps with my A3000 comports serial port and sustain
3900-4200cps with minimum errors.  The cable is of good enough quality for
what it does.  The DB25 end has a few parts in it including a small chip to
convert signals to the correct levels of standard serial ports.

The small AUX end went in the CD32 a little hard, although this may just be
my particular machine.  The keyboard passthough worked flawlessly and of
course allowed serial transfers while active.

Overall, I believe the cable is worth the $30 that NorthWest PD sells it
for.  With this cable, the Networking CD, a modem, and another NullModem
cable (to reverse it back to standard pins), your CD32 could be a nice
little terminal for calling out to a BBS as well.  Seeing as the CD32
handled the 4200 CPS all right, I am guessing it could handle one of my
28.8K modems without to much trouble.

In conclusion, for the price of $30, this is a good deal for someone who
would like to download a few small AGA Euro demos from another Amiga to
watch on their TVs (note to AGA demo makers: make these things run on NTSC
CD32s), or perhaps use their CD32 to view some nice HAM-8s.  This is a good
solution to for doing so.


NETWORK CD REVIEW

The Network CD is simple to use overall.  Once you put it into the CD32 and
turn the power reset, it gives you a message, "LOADING this may take
awhile." I believe this message is here for the CDTV owners, as it takes
approximately 1 minute 40 seconds for it to load every little program
including Arq, several commodities, the boot picture and a very annoying
backdrop.  The Network CD boots under AmigaDOS 1.3, 2.0, or 3.1 for any
machine.

When you open the main CD icon, you get the standard Workbench drawers
(Prefs, Tools, Utilities, Devs, etc.) and all the setup programs.  You also
get a Shell, the wonderful trashcan (sic), and few other tidbits.  The
pre-setup programs include Terminus, Parnet, Sernet, a PhotoCD converter,
and a few others.  It also includes Fred Fish disks 800-975, Amos PD disks
478-603, Tbags disks 1-74, and approximately 500 images for viewing.

On to the programs...  About the only program I really used was Terminus. 
This is what I used for file transfers from my A3000 to the CD32.  I used
Terminus because that is what I am used to.  Read my dislikes later about
its setup.  I tried to run sernet with the included disk for the host
machine with no luck.  I'm not saying that it doesn't work -- I am sure it
does -- but I tried only once and didn't want to mess with it after that.

The only networking I have done has been with Envoy using slip.device and
plip.device.  I would have much rather seen them use an Envoy setup and
these drivers.  It would have allowed for a much cleaner and more reliable
connection with full disk icons and full network compatibility.  Using old
junker programs like Parnet and sernet just don't cut it any more. 
Actually it never did for me; Parnet has never been a viable choice in my
opinion for networking.  Sernet seems to be another hack that just doesn't
cut it.  This is only my judgement and whoever decides to use whichever is
no concern of mine.  :)


DOCUMENTATION

All the documentation is in README files on the CD.  Most every individual
program had its own README that brings up a text reader.  The ones written
by the makers of the CD were for the most part clear and helped where
needed.  The rest were mostly the documents that came with the programs
(i.e., Terminus, ViewTek, etc.).  Everything overall was complete and not
to hard to understand.


LIKES

The setup was simple, and I transferred a file just fine on my first try
with no reconfiguration whatsoever.  I liked that they used such programs
as Arq.  I hope future CD32 utility CD's use more of such programs.


DISLIKES AND SUGGESTIONS

Well, here we go....  I like to complain.  The first thing I noticed is it
seems they set up Workbench with nothing but the ugly, "blah" defaults that
no one likes.  The background is setup with a group of tiled NETWORK CD
pics that helps to steal the precious 2MB of Chip RAM that is very much
needed to run about any program you want to pull over the network.  The
only place to put programs pulled over the net is into the RAM: drive.
This means that the bigger the program, the less RAM that program has to
use.  This can be cured with the use of Virtual mounted drives (which
Sernet and Parnet allow); take note of my Envoy usage example.

The overscan is set so low (640x200) that is is hard to fit any windows on
the Workbench screen without cluttering things up a bit.  The colors are
all set a little blah, and the icons look to be simple 4-8 colors.

Something that really got to me was the configuration of the programs
included on the CD.  Terminus is set to open on the Public WB screen with
WB palette colors, and it isn't even the new version of Terminus!  They are
using Terminus 2.0 (latest is 2.0d I believe).  On the other hand, Ncomm is
setup the exact way I have my Terminus setup (color and preference wise). 
I suggest they put a little more work into setup of the programs on their
next version.  Although speaking with a salesmen on the phone at Northwest
PD, "Lock and Load 2" should be something very nice.

Another dislike is the fact that they are using a seriously old version of
Workbench 3.1.  The Palette preferences programs and several others
including Multiview are old and are missing several important features.

I am perhaps looking for too much out of this CD.  It is sold as a
networking CD, and I just would like a few things changed for user friendly
purposes.  There were a few little bugs in it, like the "slideshows" area.
They all default to pal, which may be fine for some people, but I find it
hard to watch a slide show while my TV rolls.  :)

I want a CD that is specially made for an AmigaDOS 3.1 AGA CD32.  This CD
is set up for any machine and it causes minor problems at times.  Hopefully
"Lock and Load 2" will do this.


COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS

As for the CD32 cable, I can't compare it with much of anything else.  I
did own a SX-1 but sold it after being extremely disappointed with its
ugliness and performance.  This cable gives me at least the ability to run
AGA demos and utilities that I want to for $30.  The SX-1 stuck out of my
CD32 and made it look a little lame in my eyes.  I hope someone makes
another expansion box that perhaps fits under the CD32 and gives some
seriously faster serial and parallel ports.  If the CD32 had a mere floppy
port, I would be very happy.  :)


BUGS

There are a few minor bugs, but nothing of concern.  They used a separate
Workbench backdrop setting program instead of the standard WBPattern
program.  This can cause conflicts with some programs including WBPattern
and Font preferences, and the backdrop program itself can crash the machine
if you try to take away the picture.


VENDOR SUPPORT

Well I called Northwest PD and had a cool chat with someone (whose name I
forget) about a few CD32 topics and the CD he is working on: the "Lock And
Load 2".  We also talked about the jerk companies making CD32 games using
only 880K on the 650MB CD.  :) Overall, it's a friendly place and it did a
fine job with my order.  I never have dealt with "Weird Science" the actual
company that made the cable and the CD.  Don't think I would need to.


WARRANTY

Nothing mentioned, but from the nice way I was treated by NorthWest PD, I
am sure if anything was wrong with the cable or CD they would allow a free
trade for a good one.  At least I think so.  :)


CONCLUSIONS

Both of these are good products, I give the cable a nice "A" and the CD a
"B".  These are good solutions to a slow method of getting files to your
CD32 until something other than the SX-1 becomes available for a decent
price.

A quick ending note: Monday, I ordered 3 CD32s from DarkSoft computers.  
They were the ones going for $220 on the Internet.  I believe these are C=
liquidated.  I will be ordering another 2 CD32 Sernet cables and using the
CD32s as null modem computers and AGA toys.  I will be hooking them up to
1084s Monitors Via the SVHS port with a homemade cable.  These cheap
wonderful little machines will make for a lot of fun when I throw another
BBS party.  These will allow several users to jump online my BBS locally
for cheap...  yet another cool use of the CD32.  :)