Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Spectre GCR - I ain't afraid of no ghost

This is actually the piece of hardware I had started playing with when it was suggested by a peer that I might considering documenting some sort of related project for the RetroChallenge.  I replied with something like "yeah, maybe" and went on with my experimentation...

I have heard lots of good things about this device, and it seems very cool indeed.  You plug it into the expansion port on the side of any ST/TT computer, run the provided software to configure and manage your Mac emulation, and start it up (well, more or less).  Compared to the Mac hardware available when the GCR was developed, this would actually give you a much faster Mac system than you could go out and buy.  Its use even promoted the listing of the Atari ST in various literature of the period as a "Mac clone".

So, the first step was to get the thing plugged into my TT and verify that it at least starts up.  I plugged the device into the expansion port, attached a floppy drive cable between the device and floppy port on the TT, and copied the latest revision of the software onto my hard drive.  Following instructions in the manual, I was able to boot the device up to the point of the familiar grey screen with a picture of a disk and question mark to indicate that it is now up to me to figure out how to actually get some software installed.  That is turning out to be no small task...

According to the documentation, the Spectre can read both native Mac (GCR) and Spectre formatted floppy disks and, of course, boot from them.  Also, user reports show that the top operating system that was really supported is Mac OS 6.0.8, which is just fine with me.  So, I grabbed the DiskCopy images for the Mac OS 6.0.8 install floppies, created physical floppies on one of my own Macs, and gave them a whirl.  The install floppy, while it could verifiably boot my actual Mac, was unable to boot the emulated Mac.  I tried another OS revision, different floppy disk density, and the addition of an external floppy drive in my effort to get the boot disk recognized as a system disk, all with no luck.

All may not be lost, though, because the Spectre has a very important feature - its hard drive emulation is actually not emulation.  Spectre uses the same phyical SCSI disk partitions as a real Mac, and that's what I intended to eventually install onto using the install floppy I made.  Since that does not seem likely, the option seems to be to actually install the OS on a hard drive in a real Mac and then transfer the drive to the TT.  Assuming this is a viable approach, which it appears to be, there may still be some caveats to overcome.  For one thing, Spectre only supports hard drives on SCSI controllers that are attached to the Atari's ACSI port.  That means I need to get my ICD host adapter back out and try to find a drive lying around that works with it, which is hopefully easier to do on a TT that it is with earlier ST machines.  Also, of course, this drive will have to work in the actual Mac.

As of now, I have located an Apple OEM 500 MB SCSI drive that I will try to use for this transplant operation.  We'll see how it goes...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I did the Spectre GCR.

    The floppies are probably upset because they're the "old" floppies (800K or the Macintosh variable speed drives). You'd need to find a 300RPM IBM-style old drive that still works.

    The TT version wasn't as stable as I would have liked. It's because the "strobe" pulse to the cartridge port had different timing than on the ST, which led to glitching. The best we could do was guess, which isn't so hot.

    SCSI drives ought to work. Be careful on the termination!

    I'm sorry to be so late on this. I only spotted this when showing Google -> Spectre GCR.

    Take care,

    David Small


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