Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Troubles with your machine? Just want to speak about the latest improvements? This is the place!

Moderators: Mug UK, Zorro 2, Greenious, spiny, Moderator Team

Post Reply
mikro
Hardware Guru
Hardware Guru
Posts: 2745
Joined: Sat Sep 10, 2005 11:11 am
Location: Kosice, Slovakia
Contact:

Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by mikro »

As a follow-up to my last comment I'll share my experience with ATonce usage with hard disks and even better, hard disk emulators like UltraSatan or now-impossible-to-find-for-a-reasonable-price SCM PCD-50B.

Despite rather bizarre set of MS-DOS limitations changing every version there are additional limits posed by the hardware and software itself.

Without further ado, this is what I have found after numerous trials and errors:
  • You can use HD Driver, no need to stick with ACSI (thank god!)
  • However to ATonce recognise the partition you have to place it within the first 1 GiB (note the "i", 1024-based units) of the device (interestingly, it doesn't have to be contained within the gigabyte but I recommend to do so).
  • For some mysterious reason, ATonce reliably identifies only <=128 MiBytes partitions. 256 MiB leads to about 107 MiB visible, 192 MiB to about 54 MiB (!) visible.
  • For partitions >32 MiB you must check the "C" flag in the Harddisk dialog otherwise MS-DOS complains about wrongly configured drive. That means the drive wont be accessible from TOS (will look as empty) nor EmuTOS (what is a shame but I'll try to investigate why).
  • Unfortunately, you can't use DOS FAT16-formatted partitions (which are nicely accessible with EmuTOS for instance) as ATonce insits on translating AHDI-partitioned disk to DOS-partitioned internally (I was hoping to use DOS FAT16 with unchecked "C" to be able to access the drive from both worlds).
  • The only way how to share data is to create a 32 MiB partition, then you can leave the "C" unchecked.
  • And the best one: you can't format the partition from MS-DOS unless you have a true, hard, spinning disk. No kidding. I don't know whos fault it is (MS-DOS or ATonce) but obviously the MS-DOS formatter issues a command which is not properly supported on neither of the hard disk emulators so the formatting process ends with an error. As soon as you format the partition and transfer it to the card (thanks HD Driver!), you're good to go.
So. After some thinking I have come up with the following (TOS 2.06):
  • Create C: as 511.9 MiB to get as much free space for Atari boot partition as possible
  • Create D: as 127.9 MiB to get as much free space for MS-DOS boot partition as possible
  • Create E: as 31.9 MiB to use as an exchange place between Atari and MS-DOS
  • Other partitions at your discretion (please note that if you wanted more than two MS-DOS partitions, you'd have to use the HDT.SYS from ATonce installation disk but I'm fine with these two).
Then you fire up INSTALL.PRG, set DOS C: as 1/0 (TOS D:) + shaded "C" (exclusive for MS-DOS), DOS D: as 2/0 (TOS E:) + normal "C" (compatible with TOS) and voila. You can share data using the 32 MiB drive and have fun:

PXL_20211218_230433704.jpg
PXL_20211218_231658837.jpg

... and of course, it ain't Windows, if it doesn't play Solitaire ;-)

PXL_20211218_231747436.jpg

To ease your pain, here's a clean 128 MiB MS-DOS formatted AHDI partition you can write using HD Driver to a 128 MiB partition on your SD/CF card: http://mikro.atari.org/private/DOS128.IMG.zip
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
mikro
Hardware Guru
Hardware Guru
Posts: 2745
Joined: Sat Sep 10, 2005 11:11 am
Location: Kosice, Slovakia
Contact:

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by mikro »

I guess it's time to update my little "ATonce blog". :) It has been nearly a month since I have started seriously digging into all the issues above and before I forget everything, let me share my findings / tools with you. Maybe one day it will be helpful for someone.

Don't ask me why I have invested so much time into this, I hate MS-DOS, I had never ever worked in it, my first contact with real PC work was Windows 2000 at university so I'd missed the whole DOS era. I have no clue what extended and expanded RAM means, that AUTOEXEC.BAT/CONFIG.SYS duo makes me puke but... you know, it was an interesting challenge. ;)

So, without further ado, let's summarise the most interesting findings:
  • One can use partitions >127 MiB! ATonce driver 5.25 is required for this feature (i.e. certainly not the default 5.22 I had been using). You can find it here.
  • It's very dangerous to have the Blitter enabled (in ATonce graphics settings) -- it leads to various graphics glitches, often to a point of no return.
  • It's equally dangerous to have the cache enabled -- more than once it lead to strange lock-ups, inability to boot etc.
  • The most compatible mono resolution actually seems to be the Olivetti one; both EGAmono and VGAmono have various visual glitches (see below)
  • It is possible to access the MS-DOS partitions from TOS! Well, from EmuTOS. I have made a small patch for EmuTOS to be able to mount DOS C: and DOS D: directly (i.e. TOS D: and TOS E:), for anyone interested there's also a build available. Open source wins once again!
  • There are serious issues with MS-DOS when partitioning and formatting the drives, see below. TL;DR: don't use "fdisk" and "format" from MS-DOS!
  • It's not possible to directly use Linux's "cfdisk" and "mkdosfs" tools because they don't install any OS, so one has to supply custom MBR / VBR code to actually make it boot on ATonce. Also, "cfdisk" uses an incompatible partition alignment so it had to be patched.
  • It's pretty helpful to "disable" TOS partitions which are about to be used in ATonce -- there are two ways to do this, you can either wipe the whole partition (overwrite with zeroes) or just the first sector (ATonce stores MS-DOS drive, not partition, exactly one 512-byte sector after partition start). Why? well, there's no protection in both ways so you can either accidentally overwrite your DOS data from TOS or totally confuse HD Driver and/or TOS when filling the partition with DOS data (as HD Driver/TOS would interpret DOS data as FAT16 records; I made HD Driver even crash on boot due to this). Unfortunately, HD Driver automatically initialises filesystem when partitioning so this manual step is required.
Ok, so what's wrong with MS-DOS? The first (pretty annoying) issue is that when using a SD/CF card, both "fdisk" and "format" have quite a struggle to detect / partition / format the disk. There's only one workaround, prepare your disk either on real hard disk or use DOSBox for that task. The second and much more destructive issue is you will notice that after extensive i/o operations your partitions will slowly get corrupted to the point where the whole FAT is trashed, on both sides (TOS and DOS...) The exact cause is unknown to me, it nearly looks like "fdisk" is buggy and wrongly interprets data supplied by ATonce. I was pretty desperate to find this out, I created a whole bunch of analytical tools to nail this down.

I'll give you the outcome: use fdisk and format from FreeDOS. Yes, that's it. That cures the formatting issue *and* the corruption issue at once. FreeDOS "fdisk" correctly detects drive limits and doesn't write one sector behind. "format" needs only one little workaround, you have to run it twice :). Given the fact that MS-DOS "format" refuses to work (at all) with similar symptoms I'd say this is some kind of oddity with ATonce, maybe it caches something on the second run or something.

With all this knowledge one can do quite some interesting things. Firstly, my room for exchanging data has drastically increased -- not only I can directly mount DOS partitions in Linux (as I know the disk structure yet) and EmuTOS but also the partitions can be much, much bigger. What I have been using is a really small TOS C: (16 MiB) for boot purposes and then 511 MiB for DOS C: and 496 MiB for DOS D: (don't forget the 1 GiB limit!)

This way one can install a complete Windows 3.11 + MS Office 4.3:
word.jpg
Of course, this raises a question how far one can go, right? What about...
win95.jpg
Before you ask for a video, spoiler alert: this really is the limit. I have suffered a lot to get as far as booting Windows 95 but it always ended up here:
win95_crash.jpg
There were numerous issues, for instance:
  • MS-DOS 7.1 refused to write MBR onto the partition (had to install a hacked MS-DOS 7.1 separately and run setup.exe from there because setup.exe doesn't accept any lesser version)
  • setup.exe refuses to work on anything else than EGAmono and VGAmono but it doesn't show any error message -- the screen simply turned black
  • I wasn't sure whether Windows 95 can detect a change of hardware (DOSBox-X vs. ATonce) so I had to install it manually (about 7 hours!)
  • In the end it really doesn't work... the only clue in BOOTLOG.TXT was "LoadFailed = EBIOS" and that can have many reasons... I tried booting into MS-DOS (that worked) and safe mode (that didn't), disabling drivers, going step-by-step but to no avail. :(
  • Windows 95 can't natively work in monochrome by default but there's a workaround available.
This is how terribly EGA/VGA is emulated (doesn't apply only to Windows 95, Win 3.x suffers from the same problem -- however Win 3.x does recognise Olivetti = nice picture):
win95_vga.jpg
Theoretically, all Windows 95 requirements have been met (4 MB RAM, 386 CPU, EGA/VGA resolution) but ... something didn't add up. My biggest suspicion is that ATonce BIOS, they had been testing it with stuff from early 90s; in the Windows 95 era there were vastly different BIOS features available. Perhaps I could nail it down but realistically I have to ask myself how much / how long I'm really willing to invest my time into this. It's not going to be really usable (Windows 3.11 + Office 4.3 were really on the edge of usability) but I agree, it would make a great YoutTube video. ;)

Interestingly, installing FreeDOS (as far as hard disk is concerned) is also a big no: setup immediately crashes (missing full VGA emulation?) and refuses to boot from prepared image with a really weird error message (can't find the 0x55AA boot signature despite the fact it's there).

OK, I should really cut it. As a goodbye, what about...
gem3.jpg
PC GEM 3.x running on a real Atari! :)
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
Badwolf
Captain Atari
Captain Atari
Posts: 300
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:09 pm

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by Badwolf »

Great work, Miro.

I prefer the older GEM versions, myself. With overlapping windows.

Image

Shall we start the Atari PC Gem club? :D

BW
Falcdate Use the internet to work around dead Falcon NVRAM battery
Smalliermouse ST-optimised USB mouse adapter based on SmallyMouse2
DFB External 030 and AltRAM for the Falcon (under development)
User avatar
Cyprian
10 GOTO 10
10 GOTO 10
Posts: 2557
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2002 11:23 am
Location: Warsaw, Poland

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by Cyprian »

@Badwolf two menu bars? Are they both active ?
Mega ST 1 / 7800 / Portfolio / Lynx II / Jaguar / TT030 / Mega STe / 800 XL / 1040 STe / Falcon030 / 65 XE / 520 STm / SM124 / SC1435
DDD HDD / AT Speed C16 / TF536 / SDrive / PAK68/3 / Lynx Multi Card / LDW Super 2000 / XCA12 / SkunkBoard / CosmosEx / SatanDisk / UltraSatan / USB Floppy Drive Emulator / Eiffel / SIO2PC / Crazy Dots / PAM Net
Hatari / Steem SSE / Aranym / Saint
http://260ste.atari.org
User avatar
viking272
Atari Super Hero
Atari Super Hero
Posts: 617
Joined: Mon Oct 13, 2008 12:50 pm
Location: west of London, UK

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by viking272 »

Nice info Mikro. Love the PC GEM on a real Atari!!

Here is some info on editing the INF files for a minimal Win95 install, which helps some installation failures:
https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=37637
Also this spec list for Win95 suggests you need a 386DX (and not an SX). Ah the 1st version of Win95 was 386sx compatible.
https://kb.iu.edu/d/aezf

Also some nice benchmark tests for old 286/386s! (Bizarrely the 286 seems quicker than a 386sx in some tests)
https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=46350
mikro
Hardware Guru
Hardware Guru
Posts: 2745
Joined: Sat Sep 10, 2005 11:11 am
Location: Kosice, Slovakia
Contact:

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by mikro »

Thanks for the links. Actually it's not the setup which is failing, that one is able to finish by itself (well, at least until the point when it is supposed to reboot, I don't know why it fails *there*). I verified it by installing in DOSBox (where the setup also successfully reboots) and booting it on Atari, the end result is the same, unfortunately.

I have done some research about 386SX; I have seen people claiming that they had installed Win95 on such CPU + it actually makes sense, too -- from software point of view, there's nothing different about 386SX vs 386DX.
albert90
Atariator
Atariator
Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2022 2:21 pm

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by albert90 »

I have a Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk that has served me well for many years. I am sure you will agree that it is one of the best hard disk drives available today. But, recently, I have noticed some strange things happening on this drive.

I can't seem to find any obvious problem with it. It works as expected and gives me good performance on my system. However, the last few days I have noticed that my computer is not responding to the commands from Windows Explorer very well anymore. The speed with which it responds to these commands seems to be declining and sometimes even fails completely when trying to open files or folders in Explorer. This is not acceptable for a drive like this! It has been working fine for over a year now!
Badwolf
Captain Atari
Captain Atari
Posts: 300
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2017 12:09 pm

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by Badwolf »

Cyprian wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:53 pm @Badwolf two menu bars? Are they both active ?
Hi Cyprian. :-)

So as not to hijack Mikro's thread: https://www.atari-forum.com/viewtopic.p ... 77#p420377

BW
Falcdate Use the internet to work around dead Falcon NVRAM battery
Smalliermouse ST-optimised USB mouse adapter based on SmallyMouse2
DFB External 030 and AltRAM for the Falcon (under development)
User avatar
viking272
Atari Super Hero
Atari Super Hero
Posts: 617
Joined: Mon Oct 13, 2008 12:50 pm
Location: west of London, UK

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by viking272 »

Mikro, can you attach a disk of the dosbox Win95 installation? I guess the drives aren't compatible but I saw a site with dosbox win95 images - just wondering if ATonce can pick up the data from one of those and see if it boots?
mikro
Hardware Guru
Hardware Guru
Posts: 2745
Joined: Sat Sep 10, 2005 11:11 am
Location: Kosice, Slovakia
Contact:

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by mikro »

Yeah, I already did that: https://www.atari-forum.com/viewtopic.p ... 28#p428428

However I'm not against trying other images, there's always a chance that even my DOSBox-X installation is somehow less ATonce friendly than others (however Win95 did boot in DOSBox-X, of course; interestingly, Win95 is not supported in plain DOSBox).
Dal
Administrator
Administrator
Posts: 4215
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2011 12:31 am
Location: Cheltenham, UK
Contact:

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by Dal »

IMG_5567.jpeg
OK - this thread has inspired me to dig out my AT-Once 386 with unopened MegaST adaptor and give this a go in my MST4.
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
STE: Desktopper case, IDE interface, UltraSatan (8GB + 512Mb) + HXC floppy emulator. Plus some STE's/STFM's
ijor
Hardware Guru
Hardware Guru
Posts: 4243
Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 7:52 pm
Contact:

Re: Vortex ATonce 386SX hard disk experience

Post by ijor »

mikro wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:25 pm Don't ask me why I have invested so much time into this, I hate MS-DOS, I had never ever worked in it, my first contact with real PC work was Windows 2000 at university so I'd missed the whole DOS era. I have no clue what extended and expanded RAM means, that AUTOEXEC.BAT/CONFIG.SYS duo makes me puke but... you know, it was an interesting challenge. ;)
You missed all the fun! I think I still have an Everex expanded memory card that I paid ... well, don't remember, but surely it wasn't power without the price! :)
Thanks for the links. Actually it's not the setup which is failing, that one is able to finish by itself (well, at least until the point when it is supposed to reboot, I don't know why it fails *there*). I verified it by installing in DOSBox (where the setup also successfully reboots) and booting it on Atari, the end result is the same, unfortunately.

I have done some research about 386SX; I have seen people claiming that they had installed Win95 on such CPU + it actually makes sense, too -- from software point of view, there's nothing different about 386SX vs 386DX.
If I would need to guess, I'd say it is probably something more related to the BIOS than to the processor. Which kind of BIOS the Vortex has? It has some kind of licensed API or something developed by Vortex? Just out of curiosity, can you post a screenshot of the Bios Setup screen (or there isn't anything like that at all?)
Fx Cast: Atari St cycle accurate fpga core
Post Reply

Return to “Hardware”