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                      REVIEW: SQUIRREL SCSI INTERFACE
   Edmund Vermeulen                             edmundv@grafix.xs4all.nl
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PRODUCT NAME

 Squirrel SCSI Interface

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

 The Squirrel is a SCSI host adapter for the A600 and A1200 that uses the
PCMCIA (credit card) slot.

AUTHOR/COMPANY INFORMATION

 HiSoft
 The Old School
 Greenfield
 Bedford
 MK45 5 BR
 UK

 Tel: +44 (0)1525 718181
 Fax: +44 (0)1525 713716

LIST PRICE

 69 UK Pounds, my friend paid 249 Dutch guilders.

SPECIAL HARDWARE REQUIREMENTS

 An A600 or A1200.

MACHINE USED FOR TESTING

 A1200 with MTEC 68030/28 MHz board with 4 MB Fast RAM, internal 545 MB
Seagate 3,5" HD, Goliath power supply.

 SCSI devices tested with the Squirrel: Quantum LPS 52 and Quantum
Lightning 540 hard disks, Archive DAT tape streamer, NEC CDR-25 CD-ROM
reader.

INSTALLATION

 The Squirrel needs to be inserted in the PCMCIA slot on the right of the
computer.  This should be easy but it wasn't on the one I tried because
part of the glued on lid stuck out just a little bit, preventing it from
sliding in properly.  When pressing the lid while inserting, the Squirrel
could be inserted quite easily.  The manual warns about not using too much
force because of the delicateness of the pins on the PCMCIA port.  The
Squirrel may be inserted and removed from the computer even when it is
switched on.  PCMCIA was designed for this and it can be very handy if you
need to use other PCMCIA peripherals, such as a modem, without having to
switch the computer off.  The squirrelscsi.device is automatically
dismounted when the Squirrel is removed.

 Next, the software has to be installed.  This is done using the standard
Commodore installer and is very easy.  The squirrelscsi.device is installed
and the User-Startup is modified to include a SCSIMounter command for each
SCSI address since the Squirrel is not automounting.  The user can also
choose to install the CD32 emulator or make a boot disk for the Squirrel or
for the CD32 emulator.

REVIEW

 When Commodore (RIP) first introduced the PCMCIA port on the A600 they
told us that this industry standard interface would mean the possibility to
add all kinds of devices from memory expansion to modems and network
adapters.  It has been slow to arrive, but now more and more peripherals
for the Amiga use the credit card slot.  At first, only memory cards could
be used, but now there is an external IDE controller (Overdrive), CD-ROM
adapters (Overdrive and Tandem) and modems can now also be used (using Erik
Quackenbush's pcmcom.device).

 The Squirrel is the first PCMCIA SCSI adapter designed specifically for
the Amiga.  It can't be used on a notebook PC because of physical
limitations (it's thicker than PCMCIA 2.0 specifications allow) and also
there is currently no software driver available for PCs.

 The Squirrel is a small black plastic box about the size of a credit card
but much thicker (about one centimetre).  It has an (ugly) yellow sticker
on top.  The cable is fixed to the casing and has a standard 50 pin
centronics style connector on the end.  It's about 40 cm long, which is
quite short.

 The Squirrel device driver is fully compatible with Commodore's standards
for SCSI host adapters.  It uses RDB (Ridged Disk Block) and you can use
HDToolBox to partition hard disks.

 The Squirrel comes with three disks of software.  The first one contains
the software needed to operate the interface (the device driver, HDToolBox,
SCSIMounter, Installer and the CD32 emulator).  The other two disks contain
useful stuff from the Aminet in LhA archived form.  The software version
included was 1.06.

 All SCSI devices that I had available (Quantum LPS 52 and Quantum
Lightning 540 hard disks, Archive DAT tape streamer, NEC CDR-25 CD-ROM
reader) worked fine with the Squirrel.  The hard disks obtained the same
speed as on an A3000, the DAT tape streamer was tested with AmiBack and the
TapeWorm filesystem, the CD-ROM reader was tested with Commodore's
CDFileSystem that is part of Workbench 3.1.

 I also tried to format a hard disk partition with Professional Filing
System by Michiel Pelt, but SCSIMounter doesn't seem to work with PFS
partitions.  I didn't succeed in making a mount file for it, which should
be possible.

 I wasn't able to test the CD32 emulator software that is part of the
Squirrel package because of the lack of CD32 titles on my part.

PERFORMANCE

 I've tested the Squirrel using DiskSpeed 4.1 with a Quantum Lightning 540S
which is normally used in my A3000.  These are the results.

  MKSoft DiskSpeed 4.1  Copyright ) 1989-91 MKSoft Development
  ------------------------------------------------------------
  CPU: 68030  OS Version: 39.106  Normal Video DMA
  Device:  QD1:    Buffers: 30
  Comments: Squirrel + Quantum 540, FFS Intl

  CPU Speed Rating: 1556

  Testing directory manipulation speed.
  File Create:           29 files/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%
  File Open:            124 files/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%
  Directory Scan:       352 files/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%
  File Delete:          219 files/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%

  Seek/Read:             93 seeks/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%

  Testing with a 262144 byte, MEMF_FAST, LONG-aligned buffer.
  Create file:       938540 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%
  Write to file:    1079994 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%
  Read from file:   1223768 bytes/sec  |  CPU Available: 0%

  Average CPU Available: 0%  |  CPU Availability index: 0

 The results are roughly the same as on my A3000, in some cases even
slightly faster.  As you can see the Squirrel achieved about 1,2 MB/sec
when reading from a file.  According to HiSoft the Squirrel can
theoretically obtain 3 MB/sec data transfers on an accelerated A1200.

 The big difference with the A3000 is that the Squirrel leaves 0% CPU
available, effectively blocking multitasking during SCSI transfers, while
the A3000 leaves 46% free on average (77% during reads).

DOCUMENTATION

 The documentation is very good.  It looks very professional and explains
all the technical details you might want to know.  I do miss a
troubleshooting chapter with simple 'what to do if...' questions and
answers.

LIKES

 Good value for money.  It works as expected.  Good performance, nice
documentation and good support.

DISLIKES AND SUGGESTIONS

 The casing could be better, especially the lid that stuck out preventing
the Squirrel from being inserted.  The cable is a little bit on the short
side.  It doesn't have automounting or autobooting capabilities, so you
must have an internal hard disk or use a boot disk.  The driver leaves 0%
CPU available during SCSI transfers, which is not a nice thing on a
multitasking computer.  I hope HiSoft can fix this in a future update of
the driver software.

COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS

 There are other SCSI host adapters for the PCMCIA port, but they can only
be used on PCs since there aren't any Amiga drivers available for them
(yet?).  The cheapest one I've seen for the PC was almost twice as
expensive as the Squirrel, so PC owners: eat your heart out!

 Another possibility would be to use a SCSI adapter that connects to the
trapdoor expansion slot of the A1200.  I've personally only seen the GVP in
action which is also a fine product.

BUGS

 None that I have encountered.

VENDOR SUPPORT

 The Squirrel SCSI Interface comes with 30 days free technical support,
which is available by telephone, letter or fax.  I've also seen employees
of HiSoft present on the Internet and the update to version 1.05 of the
software (1.06 is the current version) was placed on the Aminet.

 At extra cost it's also possible to get extended support called Silver and
Gold Support which give you lifetime support, access to a support
conference on CIX and to their own BBS and free software updates.  These
extended support schemes seem a bit expensive to me.

CONCLUSIONS

 I can recommend the Squirrel to anyone who wants to add a CD-ROM or other
SCSI devices to his/her A1200.  If only HiSoft could manage to change the
driver so that it doesn't totally block multitasking during SCSI transfers,
then things would be even better.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

 This review is freely distributable.  It was written by Edmund Vermeulen
(edmundv@grafix.xs4all.nl).  The Squirrel Interface used for this review
belongs to Alex van der Voort.