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                     Review: CD32 ProModule from Elsat
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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About two and a half years ago, I conducted a lengthy review of the CD32's
first commercial expansion unit, the SX-1.  Produced by Paravision after
the company acquired MicroBotics, the SX-1 brought a number of features to
the CD32 that were just waiting to be exploited in its Amiga
architecture--a serial port, parallel port, IDE controller, external floppy
port, RGB out, PC keyboard port, and SIMM slot, to name the most important
features.  It made it to market, sold quite a few units, and allowed such
Amiga based devices as the MagicBox to be born.

The SX-1 was not without its problems, however.  It increased the CD32's
footprint by about 50%, an unwieldy L shaped monster.  The RGB port was
positioned in such a way that if you used a silver box VGA adapter, the
power cable was a tight fit into the CD32.  If you hooked up a hard drive,
you were pretty sure to have power problems if you had a SIMM or external
floppy as well, requiring you replace your CD32 power supply.  And worst of
all, the SX-1's physical connection to the CD32 was VERY precarious, so
that the slightest nudge could be enough to crash the machine and require
you jostle around with the SX-1 to get the connection solid again.

Of all the complaints filed against the SX-1, this last was the most
severe.  People wondered why the SX-1 wasn't built to sit UNDER the CD32,
which seemed to make a lot more sense.  Paravision, and then their
absorbing creditor, Hi-Tech Components, made vague promises of a future
030-based CD32 expansion which would fix all these problems.  But this has
never happened.  Somebody--Elsat of Poland, to be specific--did something
about it.

The CD32 ProModule is a black metal enclosure, with the footprint of the
CD32 and about half the height.  Some units come with a front-facing
built-in floppy drive (double density, much like the modified PC drives
used by AT in A1200s and A4000Ts).  On the back of the unit is the physical
connector for the unit, a power socket for an external power supply (if
necessary, Elsat only recommends it if you fully load the unit with
peripherals), the RGB port, and the external floppy port.  There is also a
memory-disable switch to kill the installed SIMM for picky games.

Along the left edge (underneath the CD32's joystick/AUX ports) are the
25-pin serial and parallel ports, as well as a 5-pin AT Keyboard port.

So far, so good.  If you remove the top of the ProModule's case, you're
treated to the underside of the Promodule's PCB, where there is the barest
minimum of user-servicable components--a SIMM slot, where you can install a
SIMM up to 8 megs (but a 1 meg SIMM is not allowed--odd, but true), the
floppy drive and connector, the IDE port and a standard 4-pin power plug,
and a few jumpers.  The IDE port, mounting space, and power all presume a
3.5 inch IDE drive, which sets the ProModule apart from its counterpart
SX-1 and SX32 expansion units which expect more expensive 2.5 inch drives.
The ProModule has the real estate for a 3.5 inch drive, so why not use it?
The last option is the FPU socket and crystal port.  This is the most
curious feature of the ProModule, although it is not inconceivable that
someone dabbling with rendering or image processing could make use of a
ProModule-equipped CD32 for some basic work.

Installation of your options is fairly easy, as the ProModule is held
together by a few small screws and the top lifts off without problems.
Getting the unit itself mated to the CD32 was actually more challenging
than I anticipated, but nowhere NEAR the headaches of the SX-1 or SX32 (the
former's problems are outlined above, and the latter requires you open the
CD32's case, a scary experience since it's not the most solidly built Amiga
on record and parts are scarce).  Once connected, it's far more stable than
the SX-1, but doesn't have the "solidly bolted in" aspect of the SX32.
It's worth noting here that if you're one of the lucky people who has a
Commodore FMV module, the ProModule provides a passthrough for the unit.
We don't have one so we were unable to test this particular feature.

The ProModule is as transparent or as visible as you make it.  The memory
disable switch is a nice feature, making it the only CD32 expansion with
one.  (The SX32 lacks a disable switch of any kind, and the "disable"
switch of the SX-1 disables just about everything BUT the memory, which was
a strange choice since the memory is the #1 cause of CD32 game
incompatibilities.)  The floppy drive performed adequately, and while Elsat
warns of some compatibility problems with trackloaders, Sensible Soccer
behaved itself.  My Dell HD floppy also spun up and functioned just find
off of the external port.

The AT keyboard performs adequately, but be ready for yet another variation
of keyboard layout.  The SX-1 mapped the Amiga keys to F11 and F12.  Elsat
instead maps the Amiga keys to the PC control keys (meaning they're roughly
in the "right place" and relegates Control to F11 and F12.  It's not a
terrible idea, but feels about as clumsy.  Fortunately, Elsat tells me they
have a 104-key support upgrade chip which presumably is shipping in their
newest models.

The documentation of the unit is sufficient, but poorly edited--some text
is lost between pages 1 and 2 of the manual, and text is lost between pages
3 and 4 as well.

Stacking the Promodule up against the competition:

It's pretty clear that the ProModule supercedes the SX-1.  It provides the
same functionality, but better, in a more stable fashion with extra
features.  

Compared to the original SX32, they are close to being in the same league--
ProModule Advantages: 3.5 inch IDE HD, built-in floppy, memory disable, FMV
passthrough
SX32 Advantages: Built-in VGA (15 pin) output, entire unit contained inside
the CD32 for transportability and aesthetic value.  Of course, you can put
a silver box on a ProModule, just as you can any regular Amiga 23 pin port,
but the SX32's built in adapter is a good idea.

It's not quite fair to compare the ProModule to the new SX32 Pro, which
boasts an 030/50 accelerator, since we have not yet actually reviewed the
SX32 Pro.  Clearly, that sets it a breed apart.

If you're a SX32 user, then, you may want to think twice about making the
switch to the ProModule.  However, if you're a disgruntled SX-1 user or
have not yet realized the full potential of your CD32, the ProModule is
worth some very serious consideration.

Elsat's current pricing: ProModule, with built-in double density floppy, is
$229.00 to the US, including international shipping.  Prices elsewhere in
the world may vary, contact your distributor or Elsat for details.

Elsat S.C.
Czerniakowska 28b
00-714 Warszawa
+48 22 6512506 voice
+48 22 6512507 fax
sales@elsat.com.pl
http://www.elsat.com.pl/english/