Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 6 / OCTOBER 1988

FA-ST Hard Disk

ICD's smooth 20mb for 8-bit or ST


Add a hard disk to your computer for the first time and you will experience a whole new world of turbo computing you never thought possible-- especially on your 8-bit Atari. ICD's Multi I/O board (reviewed in April 1987 Antic) connects to an external hard disk drive and controller. I finally decided it was time to improve my 8-bit producttivity and ordered ICD's 20-megabyte FA-ST hard disk ($699).

For 8-bit owner, ICD uses the latest version of SpartaDOS 3.2d to preformat the hard disk into two 10Mb partitions. You can also request a different partition set-up if you order your FA-ST direct from ICD. If you don't already own SpartaDOS, you may want to buy the SyartaDOS Construction Kit to get all the utilities and complete documentation. Other disk operating systems will work, but SpartaDOS seems to be the only logical choice because it doesn't limit your access to the hard drive or Multi I/O in any way.

The ST version of the FA-ST hard disk should be fairly easy to find in stores carrying ICD products. But if you want the 8-bit Atari version, you'll probably need to order it directly from ICD. And if you don't own a Multi I/O yet, it might be tough to find the 1Mb version. Until high RAM chip prices come back down, ICD is only producing the 256K Multi I/O ($239.95) and selling it direct. (You might also want to look into Supra's 20Mb hard disk for 8-bit Atari. Like the FA-ST, the SupraDrive also retails at $699--but it does not require the Multi I/O.)

A generously long interface cable - $25 if bought separately--comes with the hard disk. ICD also sells hard disk kits for hackers to build. A complete FA-ST hard drive comes with a one-year parts and labor warranty. The kits have a 120-day warranty.

When my FA-ST drive arrived, I connected it right away. I powered up the Multi I/O, then the hard disk. It whirred to life, unparked the heads and was ready in seconds. Next I powered up my trusty 800XL and the system was fully turbo-charged. I immediately went to DOS and found a directory of a few files, SpartaDOS version 3.2d and over 40,000 free double density sectors!

Switching to the other partition--just another disk drive as far as the computer is concerned--I found another copy of SpartaDOS and another 40,000 free sectors. Using the Multi I/O's drive remapping capability I can easily boot from either partition, from any Multi I/O RAMdisk with SpartaDOS, or either of my floppy drives.

The first step was to configure my Multi I/O and then save that setup to the hard drive. Now whenever the hard drive is booted, the configurations of the Multi I/O RAMdisks, floppy and hard drive maps are automatically loaded from the hard drive. Next I copied to the main directory all my favorite SpartaDOS utilities from the SpartaDOS Construction Set, FlashBack and Toolkit disks. From there I began creating subdirectories. For example, My CODE subdirectory contains more subdirectories called BASIC, MAC65, ACTION and RATWARE.

SpartaDOS is limited to 128 files per directory regardless of disk space. A subdirectory name counts as one filename. If you load up the main directory of your FAST hard drive with 128 files, it will appear "full" to your system, even if you have 9Mb of disk space left.

However this is easily circumvented with subdirectories. You will have to learn to manage subdirectories with the SpartaDOS commands ?DIR, CREDIR, DELDIR, CWD and TREE. The WHEREIS.TOM utility in the SpartaDOS Toolkit is a must for hard disk users. It is also important to have a logical organization to your subdirectories, as well as frequent backups.

The SpartaDOS X Cartridge (SDX) should be out by the time you read this--it may allow as many as 1,000 files per directory! So if you don't care much for subdirectories, SDX could be the answer. ICD assured me that switching over from SpartaDOS 3.2cl to SDX will not require reformatting the hard disk or floppies. The FA-ST hard drive comes in a heavy metal case, closely matching the color of the XE/ST product line. It has the FA-ST ICD logo on the front in a pattern similar to the function keys of the ST. Its width just matches that of the ST monitors, and there are some heavy-duty screws in the bottom front of the FA-ST unit that can be adjusted to tilt the hard drive and monitor sitting on top for a more comfortable viewing angle. The FA-ST also has a small, quiet fan to keep it cool.

The FA-ST chassis has the room and power to support dual hard drives, so you can expand it later on. The FA-ST is sold in single configurations as 20Mb, 30Mb and 50Mb units, or dual 40Mb, 60Mb and 100Mb. For ST owners, ICD has provided a built-in clock with battery backup. But the 8-bit Atari needs ICD's R-Time 8 cartrige for automated time-stamping.

Average access time (common measurement of hard drive performance) is 60 milliseconds for the 20Mb and 30Mb units. The average access time for 50Mb drives is 35 milliseconds, pretty quick by today's standands.

For ST owners, the FA-ST provides both DMA and SCSI ports. The FA-ST can be daisy-chained with other hard drives such as the Atari SH204 or Supra, along with the Atari laser printer, which also connects to the DMA bus. The SCSI port is used for the 8-bit Atari Multi I/O Board connection, but ST owners can also use it to daisy-chain hard drive expansion to other SCSI-standard hard drive interfaces.

Documentation begins with 8-bi Atari notes indicating proper connections and the current configuration. If you want to change to different hard disk partitions, the included format utility is described. You can park the heads for safety with the PARK_AD utility. This isn't necessary every time you turn off the drive, but it should always be done before moving the unit. The 50 megabyte FA-ST drives automatically park and lock the heads. The documentation provides an excellent introduction to hard drive use in general. A copy of the manual for the Adaptec hard drive controller used in the FA-ST is also provided. But you really don't need much documentation with a hard disk. Once it is hooked up and bootable, you just use it.

The FA-ST hard disks for the 8-bit Atari and the ST are virtually identical. There's one jumper inside the unit that must be changed to convert between the two systems. The formats are not the same, however, so you cannot share the hard disk between the 8-bit and ST. But if you decide to move to the ST from the 8-bit Atari, you can certainly take the FA-ST hard disk along.

If you want to move up to some serious computing power on your 8- bit Atari, the FAST hard drive is a complete package that's ideal for a bulletin board system. My own FAST has proven to be a great performer that really helps me organize all my projects.

FA-ST (20Mb hard disk)
ICD Inc.
1220 Rock Street
Rockford, Il 61101-1437
(815) 968-2228
For ST, or 800XL/130XE with Multi I/O