ACT Apricot XI

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ACT Apricot XI

Postby SpidersWeb on Sat Jan 10, 2015 1:02 pm

Another fruit computer.

Grabbed off trademe quite cheaply, with the description of a "burning smell" which I figured was the line suppression capacitor. Naturally the first thing to do after an appliance has smoked, is to get back on that horse / power point. I was greeted by the whir of a hard drive and a beep from the system unit. Turning up the brightness I noticed I had screen output.


The hard drive wouldn't stay spun up. I now beleive this was a PSU issue as it came right about 10 minutes later which I suspect was the capacitors reforming as the hard drive was in perfect shape physically. Once the hard drive was running reliably it started to attempt to boot from it - giving Error 99 (which also displays on the keyboard readout). So obviously a low level format was needed.

Did the floppy work? I inserted disks but nothing happened. The drive is the original Sony - the big 3.5" from the early 80's - so it did not have an automatic closing flap, which had meant it was now full of dust. I removed it (no photos sadly) and cleaned all the dust out, reinstalled, but no disk action. UNTIL I inserted a cleaning disk - then the drive light came up and I got Error 08. It took me a while to work it out - but if the HD hole on the disk is present, the drive will not start (what came first - high density or the disk sensor?).

So I grabbed some real DD disks, and used the library available here:

Viola, it boots! MS DOS 2.11! But none of the keys worked :( except "1" which worked for about 10 presses. Time to open up the keyboard, and sure enough, it was an old Key Tronic setup with the foam pads - all of the foam and the conductive material had corroded and turned to dust. I was however able to type with my fingers on the pads to confirm it actually worked.


To replace the pads the best idea I found on the interwebs was weather striping - available at mitre 10 for something like $8, with mylar turned upside down (conductive side towards the foam) stuck on the back, then use a punch to make the correct sizes. The striping is also adhesive, so sticks in place. However it was 8PM and mitre 10 was closed, so I found an old broken Wang terminal keyboard and sacrificed it for its pads. This is working but I need to finish (done all the letters, numbers, enter etc).

Anyway, able to type, I went back to the hard drive. It was visible but had data errors (pretty consistent with needing a LLF). It had a GAMES folder with POKER etc but nothing was usable. So the first program I ran was the Winchester Test Program TES002 which showed me the currently marked bad sectors (thankfully still readable) of which there was only two. Then I started up TEST004 which performed the factory low level format for me.


Next question was "what about FDISK??" as this wasn't present with their MS DOS 2.11 disks, and the later versions with FDISK were for the Apricot XEN and would not boot on my XI. Turns out the Apricot doesn't do this partitioning business, and comes with it's own version of FORMAT.

On the Apricot, the hard drive is A: and the floppy is B:, so the command was: FORMAT A: /SB: (format A, copy system files from B)

With that sorted, it's a happy camper, just a few more keys to fix:


A few bits about the system:

- HDD controller is based off a WDC chipset - but is a custom Apricot card - it has a second data connector for another hard drive, but you'd be hard pressed to run a second one with the PSU/space limits.
- motherboard has 3 expansion slots (16 bit I beleive) but no ISA, or memory sockets to upgrade
- uses an 8086 CPU, not 8088
- not IBM compatible, but there is an EMIBM program which might help
- MicroScreen (LCD on keyboard) is easily programmable via MS DOS with batch files (pretty neat)
- 9V battery in the keyboard is the battery backup for the RTC - which is Y2K compliant
- keyboard clips to underside of machine, which also has a handle, and is easier to lug around than a Toshiba portable.
- screen takes it's power from the display socket
- 800x400 graphics (eat that IBM)
- with a 512KB expansion card, I can have 768KB base memory
- I was lucky to get a 720KB double sided drive, but many shipped with 360KB single sided 3.5"
- mine has the anti-glare screen mask already removed, if you find one with a screen mask - DO NOT CLEAN IT with detergent, or you will be dismantling the entire monitor frame to remove the mask.

Just thought I'd post up, maybe some little tidbits will help someone else in the future.
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Re: ACT Apricot XI

Postby tezza on Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:25 am

Lovely machine. Thanks for putting up the pics Jono.
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