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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Microbotics Starboard2 and StarDrive (part 1)

by intric8 Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:55 am

Probably my favorite Amiga 1000 3rd-party expansion device made back when the computer was fresh and new was the Microbotics Starboard2.
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The Starboard2 was - and is - simply an amazing piece of 3rd-party hardware, originally released in 1986. The device offered a whopping (yes, whopping) 2MB of auto-configuring “zero wait state” RAM. Plug and play - it just worked perfectly. There were actually 512KB and 1MB versions, too, but come on now. In addition, it came housed in a very substantial and solid metal housing, painted to closely match the Amiga’s case. And best of all it sported smooth rounded corners, a near-match to the Amiga’s case as well as the Amiga 1010 external FDD. Just gorgeous and well designed.

Think about it. The Amiga 1000 shipped with a paltry 256KB. Sure, that seemed like a decent amount when stacked next to a much less expensive C128, but in reality it didn't get you very far. Consumers were practically forced to buy the front RAM expansion to get their machines up to .5 MB of chip (and were encouraged to do so at dealerships).

But slapping the Starboard2 to the side expansion suddenly rocketed the machine to a glutinous 2.5 MB total. That is a seriously stout amount for the time - and even for today for most jobs.

Now check this out: the Microbotics Starboard2 was also expandable. Not only could you stack a second board onto the first one - giving you a mind-blowing 4MB total RAM - It had 2 internal add-on options to further extend your Amiga 1000’s capabilities. Note: you could only use one or the other in a given Starboard2, not both simultaneously.

Option 1, boringly and bafflingly named the Multifunction Module, gave you a 68881 @ 14Mhz and a battery backed up clock. It also had this interesting if novel “StickyDisk” feature which provided a re-bootable RAM disk. It should have been named the StarWarp or something, right?!

Option 2, with the bad-assed name of the StarDrive, gave you a SCSI controller chip along with an external SCSI port. It also came with a battery backed up clock, too, powered via a AAA battery. (No soldered-in battery, woo-hoo!)
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I mention all of this because I just acquired an incredible Starboard2 specimen expanded with a StarDrive. I’ve had a Starboard2 in the past but sold it after acquiring one of MKL’s 8MB 68000 RAM boards. It became redundant. But I could see instantly that this Starboard2 was unique; something I’d never seen in person before or even online except in the Big Book of Amiga Hardware.

The stock Starboard2 simply slaps onto the side of you A1000 and auto configures on boot-up. It’s instant and awesome. I assumed the same with this expanded version.

I was wrong.

After loading KS 1.3, I inserted WB 1.3 and right where the RAM gets assigned in the startup-sequence (right before the clock gets loaded) my machine would hang. Every. Single. Time. No matter what I tried. Worth noting I did not have a hard drive hooked up yet.

Then I started to wonder: Did the StarDrive require a special installation disk to use it? There is literally nothing online about a any type of disk or accompanying software.

So I contacted the only other person on the planet that I know who not only has a StarDrive, but he uses it regularly: Blake Patterson. His Amiga 1000 is fairly legendary on Flickr. He sports the Starboard2/StarDrive + a gorgeous MicroNet hard drive (I believe I’ve seen him daisy-chain two of them before).

So I pinged him. He had - and sent me ADFs of - the original Starboard2 disk, and the StarDrive installation disk! He went a step further and shot me his highly customized WB 1.3 disk, which I’ll talk about later. Note: His WB disk was created via the StarDrive software, and sharing it in no way whatso-F-ing-ever breaks any kind of licensing by sharing them. They can only be used by owners of StarDrives which appear to be extremely rare to say the least.

The Starboard2 Setup is really a memory testing disk. The StarDrive Setup, however, is absolutely essential in getting the expansion to work. At all. And it completely replaces your original Workbench disk. So if you don't have the StarDrive disk, you aren't going to boot when you are first getting started. Kind of crazy, really, but that's how it works. It provides options to setup an attached SCSI hard drive, or exit to a trimmed down version of WB 1.2.
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It also has a very long, very thorough on-disk manual, where you learn Microbotics - like GVP and others - created their own scsi device driver, which is integral to the entire process working correctly.
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Blake’s StarDrive WB 1.3 disk, which he heavily customized on his own, is amazing and works like this:
You put in your KS disk. Then you put in the custom WB. It sends assigns over to the attached hard drive and finishes loading WB on the HDD. As such, once loaded you can pop out your WB floppy and use the machine like a HDD equipped Amiga (because it is!). You still have to boot with floppies, but you get all of the benefits of a HDD attached to an Amiga 1000. Simply awesome. The old-school way, like it’s 1986, and you’re the king.

But here’s where it gets a little weird for me.

I couldn’t load up a stock WB 1.3 floppy with my StarDrive attached. I had not hooked up a HDD yet. It appears that in order for the machine to boot, I have to have a HDD attached, mounted, formatted and partitioned for the machine to behave properly. After I do that, I have to use the StarDrive software to create a custom WB boot disk. And, the hardware and software is so old it will create a disk in 1.2. Somehow Blake modified his to 1.3.

I’ll have to see if I can figure out how he did that at some stage. I have a feeling if I can move the custom scsi device drivers over to a WB 1.3 disk, I should be in business. This is how the Phoenix setup wound up working.

My plan is to hook up a SCSI2SD board for my HDD for this setup. I’m currently waiting for an adapter so I can attach the drive to the StarDrive port. So I’m in a bit of a holding pattern. But very excited (and hopeful) I can get it working.

Blake Patterson’s machine is the goal for my stock 1000. Check this amazing photo out (and do check out Blake’s awesome photography on Flickr).
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The ultimate goal. PHOTO CREDIT: Blake Patterson.


In the meantime, here is some really difficult to obtain software:
Microbotics Starboard2 Setup (ADF)
Microbotics StarDrive Setup (ADF)

I will be submitting those files to BBoAH, too.

To be continued…
User avatar
EzdineG
Springfield, MO

Re: Microbotics Starboard2 and StarDrive (part 1)

by EzdineG Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:20 pm

Nice write up. I wonder what this was worth at release?
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: Microbotics Starboard2 and StarDrive (part 1)

by intric8 Fri Apr 27, 2018 9:34 pm

Thanks! I appreciate it.

I wonder what this was worth at release?
That's a really good question. It was worth a lot.

According to advertising, the price(s) may surprise you.

If you were to buy the Starboard2 in 1987, it had several variations. Keep in mind these are 1987 dollars. So you can approximately double them for 2018 values.

The Starboard2, with 2MB of RAM installed, was $879. You could have bought it without any RAM for $395 (if you had to budget yourself, and get it piecemeal).

Reality check: In 1987, an Amiga 500 cost $699. So the Starboard2, with 2MB installed, cost more than an Amiga 500. Incredible.

In addition, if you had the MultiFunction Module added, it was only an additional $99. If you bought the Starboard2 + 2MB RAM + MultiFunction Module you got it for a discounted total of $959.

They even sold at the time what they called the MAS-Drive20, 20 MB HDD for $1495. Think about that. A 20MB hard drive, over 4x the cost of a stock A500. This stuff was not cheap by any stretch of the imagination

By today's standards, these were Apple prices.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: Microbotics Starboard2 and StarDrive (part 1)

by intric8 Sat Apr 28, 2018 6:07 am

Great reminder here of how expensive RAM was back then.

Blake Patterson via BYTECellar:
This got me to thinking about the 32K memory expansion board I talked my parents into getting me for my TI-99/4A‘s Peripheral Expansion Box [more info at MainByte here]. I got it in 1983 and I recall it cost $299. For 32K. (Kilobytes, not megabytes.) My current main computer, a Power Mac dual G5 2.5GHz, has 2.5GB of RAM. That’s 80,000 times more memory than the memory expansion board I had for my TI. That 2.5 GB cost me maybe $400. I did the math and discovered that if the G5’s 2.5GB of RAM were purchased in 1983, the cost would have been $23,920,000.
User avatar
apsteinmetz

Re: Microbotics Starboard2 and StarDrive (part 1)

by apsteinmetz Wed May 23, 2018 3:14 pm

One nice thing about the Starboard2 was that it could be put into the 2000 with a Microbotics Zorro adapter board. You plugged the Starboard2 into it and hooked up one clip lead and that was it! It is still in my working 2000. Sadly, I don't know where the case went when I upgraded and I regret it because I'd like to get the 1000 back in fighting trim. I wish now that I had left it on the 1000 but, as you say, memory was very expensive then and I was a very young (read, "poor") kid.

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