A1200 Hardware Frequently Asked Questions

Version 2.1 - Copyright © 1997 by Warren Block

Distribution

This document is freeware. It has been copyrighted to assure its availability to everyone. Fred Fish and the Aminet are explicitly allowed to include this document in CD-ROM or floppy compilations; others should ask first. Please do not modify this file without permission.
 

Disclaimer

The information contained herein is a crock. It's full of dangerous errors, omissions, and outright lies, and is not guaranteed to do anything other than take up disk space. Not for internal use. Keep out of reach of demo coders.
 

Introduction

After putting together a much fancier document for the A4000 (the Amiga 4000 Hardware Guide), it was suggested that something similar was needed for the A1200. Additionally, I kept seeing the same questions asked over and over in comp.sys.amiga.hardware, and it seemed like a FAQ might help both those asking and answering the questions. Maybe it'll just change all the answers to say "Read the FAQ, you moron." Nah. Amiga people are more polite than that. They'd say "PLEASE read the FAQ, you moron."

Introductory Questions

Q. I have a problem with my A1200. Can I email or call you for help?
A. I'd rather you ask any questions that aren't answered here in a public forum in one of the comp.sys.amiga.* newsgroups. That way, you can draw on more experience than just my own (which is admittedly somewhat limited with the A1200), and the answers can benefit others with similar problems.

Q. Hey! You left out many details on some of these topics.
A. That was intentional; some of these answers have been simplified, both to keep this document relatively short, and to avoid confusing the issues. Please remember that this is an introductory document, and not a technical reference guide, and is intended merely to answer the most common questions. So there. Nyah.

Q. Hey, FAQ boy, you screwed up, and some of this information is wrong, or you just didn't include something that was completely obvious! Can I send you email with the correct information?
A. Yes, please do. Email me at wblock@rapidnet.com.

Thank you for your interest, and good luck with your A1200!


Power Supply

Q. Is the stock A1200 power supply adequate for an accelerator, extra RAM, and bigger hard disks?

A. Probably not. The stock supply is only rated at 23 watts. While you may be able to get the computer to boot with expansion hardware, it may not operate reliably.
 

Q. I want to build a "super power supply" for my A1200. What are the pinouts of the power supply connector?

A. Look on the power supply itself, where the pinouts are usually (but not always) specified. If they aren't there, check the hard/hack or hard/misc directories of Aminet.
 

Q. Can I use an Amiga 500 or Amiga 600 power supply with my A1200?

A. Yes. The connectors and voltages match perfectly.
 

Q. What about the higher watt rating of the A500 supply? Won't all that extra power melt and/or blow up my A1200?

A. No. The watt rating of a power supply only describes the absolute maximum amount of power it can supply. The A1200 will only draw as much of this as it needs to operate.
 


Floppy Drives

Q. Can I use an IBM high density drive on an A1200?

A. Not easily, simply, or reliably.  There are some hacks that allow this, but, as of this writing, they all still have problems, and can be considered experimental. If you're determined to try, there are several plans in the hard/hack section on Aminet. An easier solution is to purchase one of the commercially-available high-density drives from an Amiga dealer.
 

Q. Can I read and write Amiga diskettes on a PC clone?

A. No. The floppy controller hardware on most clones is incapable of reading or writing the Amiga disk format. To transfer files on disk between a PC clone and an A1200, use 3.5-inch double-density floppies formatted in the 720K MS-DOS format. The A1200 can read and write these using CrossDOS (included with AmigaDOS 3.0).
 

Q. Can I use high-density floppies with the A1200's normal disk drive?

A. Not reliably! The high-density disks need a stronger magnetic field from the disk heads to reliably write to them. A high-density drive does this automatically, but the A1200's double-density drive can't. Writing high-density disks with a double-density drive will result in erratic operation of those disks. They may work fine for hours, days, or weeks, only to fail when you need them most. Use double-density disks with Amiga double-density (880K) drives, like the one built into the A1200, or get an external or internal high-density Amiga drive.
 


Hard Drives

Q. Why doesn't my A1200 boot off the hard drive when I first turn it on?

A. Many hard drives don't spin up fast enough to be ready when the A1200 is ready to boot. If you can reset the A1200 after it comes up with the purple "insert floppy" screen and it will then boot from the hard drive, this is the case. The easiest solution is to just live with it and reset the machine when you first turn it on. If this really bothers you, you could replace the drive with one that spins up faster. Alternatively, AmigaOS 3.1 (if your A1200 doesn't already have it) has a longer IDE drive delay.
 

Q. When I first power-up my A1200, the hard drive works fine, but after a reset the hard drive is no longer recognized. What's wrong?

A. This is a problem with the way the drive handles the IDE reset signal. The easy fix is to cut pin 1 on the IDE cable (usually the one with the stripe), peel back the wires a little, and tape them off, disconnecting the reset signal. This problem is commonly reported on Conner hard drives (although I don't feel it's a significant flaw).
 

Q. How hard is it to install a hard drive inside my A1200?

A. It's not hard. You need a few things: a 2.5-inch IDE hard drive (commonly used for notebook computers), a short section of special 44-pin ribbon cable to fit the drive (this cable is spaced more tightly than normal ribbon), and, preferably, the Commodore Install disk. First, you install the drive, then use the Install disk to partition it and place the system software on it. That's it. The toughest part is obtaining the Install disk and the special cable.
 

Q. Should I low-level format the hard drive?

A. No. On both IDE and SCSI drives, an initial low-level format has been performed at the factory. You should never need to low-level format them again. After partitioning, you *do* need to "high-level" format a hard drive with the AmigaDOS Format command; when used with hard drives, you can specify the QUICK keyword with the Format command to speed up this high-level formatting immensely.
(Example: Format drive dh2: name "Sample" quick noicons.)
 

Q. Can I use a 3.5-inch hard drive inside my A1200?

A. Yes, but be warned. Physically, it can be made to fit; but problems can arise from the extra power consumption of the 3.5-inch drives, coupled with the anemic stock power supply of the A1200. Obtaining a cable to adapt the 44-pin high-density IDE cable to the 40-pin normal-density IDE connector can be difficult, and finding jumper documentation for 2.5-inch drives is often impossible. Electronically, though, they are compatible. See the hard/hack directory of Aminet for projects.
 

Q. Can I use an "EIDE" or "Fast ATA" hard drive with the A1200?

A. Yes. These drives are merely refined IDE drives.
 

Q. Will large-capacity (500M and up) drives work with the A1200?

A. Yes. The 500M capacity "limitation" originates from the PC clones, and is only a problem with them. For the Amiga, you can safely go up to a 4G (~4000M) hard drive.
 

Q. What is MaxTransfer?

A. MaxTransfer is a value (set in HDToolBox) that limits how much data can be transferred to or from the hard drive at one time.
 

Q. Why is MaxTransfer needed? Shouldn't the drive move as much data at one time as possible?

A. Yes, it should, but some hard drives have arbitrary limits on how much data they can move at one time. On the Amiga, if you have problems transferring files of 128K or larger to or from the hard drive, this is a likely cause of the problem.
 

Q. I have have no idea what the MaxTransfer value should be for my drive. What value should I use?

A. For unknown drives, the maximum "safe" value is 0x0001FE00. Other (older) drives may require 0x0000FFFF or even 0x0000FE00. The sure test is to copy files larger than the MaxTransfer value to and from the drive, checking for corruption afterwards. Pictures work well for this, as corruption is easy to detect.
 

Q. Will this low MaxTransfer value slow down disk transfers?

A. Very little or not at all. Most disk transfers are smaller than 128K, and so this setting will not affect them. But don't take my word for it; use DiskSpeed and test it yourself.
 

Q. What is Mask?

A. Mask is a value (set in HDToolBox) that determines what area of memory can be used to buffer data transfers to or from the hard drive. Unless you have a good reason to change it, leave it at the default setting in HDToolBox.
 

Q. What 2.5-inch IDE hard drives are known to work with the A1200?

A. Most do, although you may have to adjust the MaxTransfer value (see above). I personally dislike the Seagate drives included with many A1200s (which seem to be of low quality), but they work fine for many people. My own Toshiba worked fine, although, like many drives, it had the slow spin-up problem.


CD-ROM Drives

Q. What SCSI CD-ROM drives work with the A1200?

A. First you need a SCSI interface, like the SCSI interface built into certain accelerators, or a PCMCIA SCSI card like the Squirrel. Some SCSI controllers have been reported to have trouble with certain drives, but in general, the Toshiba, Sony, and NEC drives have been reported to work well with the Amiga. Personally, I can verify that the NEC 3Xe works fine with the Dataflyer SCSI+ interface.
 

Q. Can an EIDE CD-ROM drive be used with the built-in IDE of the A1200?

A. Yes, provided the drive is a true EIDE drive. Most non-SCSI CD-ROM drives are not IDE, but a "sort-of" IDE. Newer drives are EIDE, and these can be made to work on the A1200. It requires an ATAPI driver (a demo version of one is available on Aminet) and the 44-to-40-pin adapter cable. My opinion: SCSI gives you much more for your money, because you can use the SCSI bus for other things in addition to CD-ROM drives. Some accelerator boards have SCSI ports, offering an all-in-one solution.
 

Q. What software do I need to access a CD-ROM drive?

A. Frank Munkert's excellent AmiCDROM filesystem, or the one that comes with AmigaDOS 3.1. AmiCDROM works extremely well on both ISO 9660 and HFS (Macintosh) CD-ROM discs, and it's free. Look for it on Aminet: disk/cdrom/AmiCDROM-1.15.lha.

Q. I need more information on CD-ROM disks, drives, and interfaces, especially as they relate to the Amiga. Where can I look?

A. There is an excellent overview of the subject by Joachim E. Deußen on Aminet. Look at the file docs/help/CDROM20.lha.


Processors

Q. What is the 68EC020 processor that comes inside the A1200?

A. It is an inexpensive version of the 68020, in a Plastic Leaded Chip Carrier (PLCC) package. The only electronic difference between this processor and the 68020 is that the EC version only brings out signals for 24-bit addressing. Internally, it is fully 32-bit.
 

Q. What's the difference between the 68EC030 and 68030 processors that come with accelerator boards?

A. The two are physically the same, with the difference being that a 68030 has a functional Memory Management Unit built into it, which the EC ("Embedded Controller") version lacks. The MMU is useful for programmers (for debugging purposes), allows running Unix systems like NetBSD, and also can be used to remap Kickstart code, allowing the system to run faster (in some cases--this depends on the individual system, accelerator board, and memory).
 

Q. Are there any 68040 or 68060 accelerators for the A1200?

A. Yes, there are several. A 68060 is desirable, since it'll generate much less heat inside the A1200 case. Other features to look for are SCSI interfaces and more than one SIMM socket.
 

Q. Can I replace the 68EC020 that comes with the A1200 with a full 68020?

A. Not directly, no. The 68EC020 is soldered onto the A1200 motherboard, and even if it weren't, the 68020 differs physically from it. The best way to perform this upgrade is with one of the many inexpensive accelerator boards.
 

Q. Can I replace a 68EC030 with a 68030 with an MMU?

A. Yes, as long as they're physically the same. Some 68030s are Pin Grid Array (PGA) packages, and some are Plastic Leaded Chip Carrier (PLCC). With the PGA type, you can carefully and gently pry the old chip out of the socket and then replace it with the new one. Some PLCC chips may be soldered down, some may be in sockets. If it's in a socket, yes, you can replace it, but you should get the proper removal tool to avoid breaking the socket.


Memory

Q. What do I need to expand the memory of my A1200?

A. You'll need either a RAM board or an accelerator board, either of which will fit into the trap-door expansion port on the bottom of the A1200, and will have sockets for memory expansion. Some expansion boards made by GVP use custom SIMM modules, which are hard to find and much more expensive than standard 72-pin SIMMs.
 

Q. My accelerator or RAM board has one or more 72-pin sockets for memory SIMMs. Can I use 72-pin SIMMs meant for PC clones?

A. Yes. Read on for more details.
 

Q. Some 72-pin SIMMs are 36-bit and some are 32-bit. Is this related to "parity," and which do I need to use with the A1200?

A. PC clones use extra "parity" bits for double-checking memory. On the A1200, these extra bits will simply be ignored, causing no problems. The extra four bits on the 36-bit wide SIMMs are these parity bits. Most current systems don't use parity, so 32-bit SIMMs are adequate. Summing up: 36- or 32-bit wide SIMMs--which is just another way of saying "with or without parity bits"--will work for accelerators or RAM expansion boards with 72-pin SIMM sockets.
 

Q. I've seen SIMMs with speed ratings of 60, 70, and 80 ns. What does this mean, and which do I need?

A. These numbers rate the speed at which the SIMM can be reliably operated. A 60 ns SIMM is the fastest currently available at reasonable prices. To keep a processor running at its fastest rate, the memory needs to be able to keep up with it; the speed of your processor determines the minimum memory speed needed. For an A1200 with just a RAM expansion board, 80 ns SIMMs are fast enough. With an accelerator, it depends on how fast the processor is going, so you'll need to check the manual. (Note: many boards let you use slower SIMMs with them by enabling a "wait state," which forces the processor to slow down to the SIMM's speed, and allows you to use cheaper, slower SIMMs. For instance, an accelator may say that it requires 70 ns SIMMs to run at "zero wait states," but will operate with an 80 ns SIMM (slower) if you set a jumper to enable a wait state.)
 

Q. If I get faster SIMMs than I need, will it make the computer run faster?

A. No. The processor determines how fast the memory needs to be, and will not run any faster even if the memory is capable of it. For instance, if your accelerator needs a 70 ns SIMM, and you use a 60 ns SIMM, it will not run any faster than it would with a 70 ns SIMM. (It may be a good idea to buy faster RAM than you need, though, since you could then use it with a faster processor in the future.)


Monitors

Q. I have a VGA or SVGA monitor from a PC clone. Can I use it with the A1200?

A. Maybe. The "double" video modes of the A1200's AGA chipset provide video frequencies of 23 kHz and up, and will work with many VGA monitors. However, true PC clone-type VGA operates at a frequency of 31.5 kHz, and some monitors won't operate at frequencies much lower than that. The "VGAOnly" monitor driver may be used to raise the A1200 output frequencies, making them high enough to be recognized by some monitors. You should certainly try any VGA monitor before you buy it, though, just to be sure. (Note: many games and some system software operate only at 15.75 kHz. For instance, the configuration screen you get by holding down the mouse buttons during a reset only displays at 15.75 kHz, and will not be visible with a VGA-type monitor. However, there is some software that addresses this; look at the Aminet file gfx/aga/AAStarter12.lha.)
 

Q. What specifications does a multisync monitor need to work with the A1200?

A. Ideally, you need it to have a sync range from 15 kHz to 31.5 kHz or higher. Digital presets are very helpful because they allow you to set screen size and centering for all the different screen modes.
 

Q. Where can I get an adapter to go from the A1200's DB23 video port to the goofy high-density HDD15 standard VGA connector that looks like a DB9?

A. The adaptor that comes with an A4000 can be used, or see Connecting VGA Monitors from the A4000 Hardware Guide. Alternatively, you could have Redmond Cable build one for you (call them at 206-882-2009).
 

Q. Can I use a CGA monitor with an A1200?

A. Yes, but it won't work particularly well. CGA is digital RGB, so it can only generate 16 predefined colors. If it's the only monitor you have, you can probably live with it, but I would personally recommend even a composite video monitor instead (the old 1702 would work well for this).
 

Q. What Commodore monitor should I buy for use with the A1200?

A. My opinion: Don't buy any Commodore monitor. There are several monitors like the Microvitec 1438 and 1440 that are marketed specifically use with the Amiga (these are also resold under the Amiga Technologies label), and there are general-purpose VGA-type monitors that also work well. In most cases, these monitors are less expensive, better made, and more reliable than those that were sold by Commodore (which were OEMed from monitor manufacturers anyway). If you're looking for something inexpensive that will work with all the frequencies and output modes of the A1200, see if you can locate a used Mitsubishi DiamonScan (AUM 1381A) or NEC 3D. These monitors are quite cheap now, and will handle all the RGB output of the A1200 (the Mitsubishi also has a composite video input). If you're buying something new, I strongly advise a monitor with digital presets, which makes screen adjustments much easier and eliminates the need to fiddle with knobs every time you change screen modes (the Microvitec 1440 mentioned above is reported to have digital presets).


Other Questions

Q. I don't like to shut off the A1200 to connect and disconnect joysticks, modems, video and sound samplers, and printers. Can I damage the A1200 by changing these connections with the power on?

A. Yes. Remember that the A1200 design uses chips that are almost all surface-mount, soldered directly to the circuit board. This makes it very reliable, but when you expose it to dangerous behavior (changing connections with power applied), you risk damaging chips that are very difficult to replace and extremely difficult to obtain. Before you switch cables, make sure that power is off to the entire system, including the peripheral you are connecting or disconnecting.
 

Q. Is there a way to get a battery-backed clock into the A1200 without buying an expensive expansion board?

A. Yes. There is a header on the A1200 motherboard specifically for adding one of these inexpensive clock boards, which usually cost less than $30 US. However, a RAM expansion board with a clock like the DKB 1202 is usually only about double that, and gives you the ability to add 32-bit expansion memory later, which will approximately double the operating speed of the A1200.
 

Q. Can I modify the A1200 to have a remote keyboard?

A. Yes, if you're really motivated. There is a file on doing this in the hard/hack section of Aminet. It is non-trivial.
 

Q. Can I remount my A1200 in a PC tower case?

A. Yes, although it'll be a lot of work, and no warranties. See the hard/hack section of Aminet.
 

Q. Can the A1200 be upgraded to AmigaOS 3.1?

A. Yes. The operating system ROMs are socketed, and several places are now selling versions of 3.1 that are specifically made for the A1200. In fact, the new A1200s being sold by Amiga Technologies come with 3.1.
 

Q. Is there an adapter box that lets me use Zorro boards on the A1200?

A. There are supposed to be several, although details are scarce, mainly because these hings are quite expensive and therefore rare. Don't count on being able to use any given card with them; the A1200 was not designed for this type of expansion and bus noise and other problems are bound to make using some boards problematic.
 

Q. Can I use a Video Toaster with the A1200?

A. Normally, no. Some expansion boxes claim to add a video slot, although whether this will work with the Toaster is unclear at best. There are video digitizers and genlocks available specifically for the A1200, though.
 

Q. Is there a Mac emulator for the A1200?

A. There are two at present: ShapeShifter and Fusion. ShapeShifter is a shareware package that can be downloaded from the misc/emu directory of Aminet, while Fusion is a commercial software package.

Either emulator will require a legal Mac ROM, although which versions they support or require may vary with the release version. You'll also need the Macintosh operating system. Version 7.5 can be purchased from Macintosh dealers, or you can download an earlier release from Apple's web site.
 

Q. Is there an internal jumper on the A1200 to set it to default to PAL or NTSC video?

A. No, but if you're really motivated, you can rig this up. My thanks to Tetsuo Oda and Byron Montgomerie, who provided the information that connecting pin 41 of the Alice custom chip to ground causes the A1200 to default to NTSC, while pulling this pin high (disconnecting it from the motherboard and connecting it to +5V through a 4.7k resistor) will make the default power-up state PAL. I would point out that making a modification like this on a surface-mount chip is difficult at best, and you may end up needing an expensive motherboard replacement, or, at worst, a dead A1200 that needs an expensive replacement motherboard available. In most cases, using the boot menu (obtained by pressing both mouse buttons on power-up or reset) to switch to PAL is sufficient. However, with some games, the hardware patch will be necessary to insure proper timing (changing to PAL via the boot menu might make a 50 Hz game run at 60 Hz timing, or vice versa).


Conclusion

Will Paula meet the blitter of her dreams? Will Akiko ever get together with Fat Agnus? And what is the mysterious PCMCIA Corporation planning in their corporate headquarters at 68030 DMA Drive? Tune in next week...