Description: Amiga Aktuell Ausgabe 9/97
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[url=https://www.amigafuture.de/app.php/kb/viewarticle?a=1926&sid=54a34165891e4bd20f4b3416bb3a2445]Artikeldatenbank - CyberSCSI Mk II[/url]
Hardwaretest: CyberSCSI Mk II
«CSAReview: CyberSCSI Mk II
By: Maarten D. de Jong
CyberSCSI Mk II
A DMA-capable FastSCSI-2 controller for all Cyberstorm Mk II CPU boards.
Name: phase 5 Digital Products
Address: In der Au 27
DM 199,-- (approximately US$ 120) in April 1997.
SPECIAL HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
any Cyberstorm Mk II CPU module (whether this includes the PowerPC-based modules is unknown)
at least one SCSI-device to use the controller
All required software is provided on-disk by phase 5.
MACHINE USED FOR TESTING
A4000 (upgraded with a Cyberstorm Mk II 040/40 ERC)
Kickstart 3.0, Workbench 3.0
2 MB ChipRAM, 26 MB FastRAM
Harddisks: Quantum LPS270A (270 MB, IDE), Maxtor 7060 AT (60 MB, IDE), Quantum Fireball TM2100I (2100 MB, SCSI-2)
CD-ROM: Toshiba XM-5701B (12x, SCSI-2)
Cybervision 64 (4 MB, CyberGfx v40.64)
GVP I/O Extender (driver software: v1.8)
The CyberSCSI Mk II (from hereon designated as the CyberSCSI- or SCSI-module) is an additional module for any Cyberstorm Mk II CPU card. The latter features a connector on which the SCSI-module is placed. It is simply impossible to connect the two in a wrong way (especially with a 68040-based Cyberstorm: the cooling fin on this CPU forms a large blockage). Of course, if you are not comfortable opening the computer by yourself, have your dealer or a qualified engineer do the job for you. However, no matter who's performing the installation, there are a few `ifs and buts' which complicate the procedure.
Amiga 3000(T) users are informed that their computer may not work reliably with Zorro III DMA-capable hardware in their system; this affects the CyberSCSI-module as well. However, I have been informed that this problem is solved by switching to the latest revisions of the Buster and Gayle (or was it Gary?) custom chips. Keep in mind that this is pure hear-say; so please check thouroughly with your dealer or someone with a good knowledge of the 3000-hardware.
Additionally, some soldering on the mainboard of all 3000-models is always required if you wish to install the SCSI-module: it requires a signal which is not provided by the CPU slot of said computers. Please note that this is NOT necessary if you install the module in a 4000.
Regardless of the type of Amiga, READ THE MANUAL FIRST. The firmware of your Cyberstorm MUST be updated BEFORE you install the SCSI-module. The manual explains how to do this quite elaborately, but also informs you that the updating procedure may cripple your CPU-module beyond repair. These kind of warnings give me the creeps. It really takes a mental push (read: a few gulps of whisky or vodka) to start the updating procedure after reading about the possible consequences. No programs are available to restore your Cyberstorm to its original state; instead, you are advised to contact the support department. And then what?? Good going, guys!
Two remarks here. By chance I spotted a question in the comp.sys.amiga.hardware newsgroup about unsuccesful updates; after a week there were still no responses. I therefore conclude (with the necessary precautions) that a failure is rare. The second remark concerns the manual: it says that a rainbow pattern should appear early in the bootprocess to signify the Cyberstorm's presence; this did not occur with my module (strange), despite the fact that the updating procedure completed successfully (*relieved sigh*).
The second problem you run into is the amount of space you have to position all cables. The SCSI-module itself is not equipped with termination resistors; they are placed on a separate PCB which houses the external SCSI-connector. The two are connected with a short (but very broad 50-wire) ribbon cable which passes squarely over the Amiga's internal IDE and floppy drive connectors. The effect of this new cable is that you have to reroute the ribbons of said connectors in a way which would have Houdini think for a while. And then you still have to connect the internal SCSI-cable (with connectors for 2 SCSI-devices and the controller)... In one word: messy. I strongly suggest you test everything before you close up the Amiga while you still have easy access to all hardware.
And just when you think you've got it all covered: updating the firmware, setting the termination resistors and miscellaneous jumpers, connecting all cables, and so on... you come to the conclusion that the (large) power cables of the devices in the upper front drive bay and lower rear drive bay meet head-on before everything is in place... This is without a doubt strongly dependent on the type of equipment you are using, but since a warned person counts for two...
Strangely enough, the informative manual makes no mention what to do with the connector for the activity LED. Since I intended to remove all IDE drives from my system, I simply used the system's LED. However, I have seen various documents on how to install a two-colour LED; check out the Aminet for a copy. Keep in mind this requires you to solder a small circuit, so have a experienced or qualified person do this for you in case you can't do this by yourself.
The above process is clearly described in the manual, but it will take you a lot longer to _do_ than to _read_ it. Keep your cool and you'll do fine.
Last but not least, I wish to point out that SCSI-devices in general are affected by the quality of your cables like no other equipment in your computer. A full explanantion goes beyond this review, but I recommend the SCSI-FAQ (ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet-by-group/ ... iphs.scsi/) for a full explanation. You may be interested to know that in a random sampling of cables which were supposed to adhere to the SCSI-2 standard, only half actually did.
If you are not familiar with the SCSI-jargon, I recommend you read the SCSI-FAQ of which I gave the address above.
This piece of hardware equips your Amiga with an autobooting, RDB-supporting SCSI-2 controller. With this hardware, you can connect up to 7 SCSI-devices to your Amiga. This includes hard drives, CD-ROMs, magneto-optical devices, scanners, tapestreamers, and so on. If it has a SCSI-interface, you can use it on the Amiga. (Of course you need some software as well, but there are no problems concerning the hardware.) Needless to say, this expands the capabilities of your computer considerably.
The most important thing you have to care about are the termination resistors. Without these, the backbone cable remains `open' at some end, leading to malfunctions. Since it is easy to forget to place or remove a resistor, phase 5 have equipped the SCSI-module with an automatic resistor. This clever circuit finds out on its own whether it is the last piece of equipment on the backbone and switches itself on if this is indeed the case. One exception exists, but this is clearly documented in the manual. You can of course also switch the resistor to manual or simply to off.
Since this resistor is located on a separate PCB and the controller insists on being at the end of a cable if you are just using internal SCSI-devices, it follows you always have to install this PCB -- and thus run into the already mentiond cable routing problem. (If the latter requirement was dropped, you could make a device-controller-device connection, and have the termination resistors reside on both devices, thus eliminating the need for the second PCB. Perhaps it is possible, but since the documentation does not mention it, I decided not to try.)
The main controller PCB has three extra jumpers which aid in setting up your system. You can extend the waiting period at startup (useful for old SCSI-devices which are slow starters), put the controller into `slow cable mode' (if you have very long cables), and have the controller automatically operate any device using FastSCSI-2 mode. Of course the device has to be able to handle this.
The external port is a SCSI-2 50-pins connector. In other words, if you are going to use equipment which uses the more common 25-pins or Centronics 50-pins connector, you will need an adaptor plug (which are not exactly cheap).
Finally, the hardware itself looks well made. However, the design is still something which makes me wonder if it could not have been done in a smarter way. All the equipment is now stuffed in a small amount of space, yet there is a huge amount of room left above the rest of the CPU-module, over the SIMM modules.
All software is delivered on one disk bearing the name `SCSI Tool Disk'. When you reach the point that you can start using the SCSI-devices, you will aready have used it: it also contains the updating program. It is quite interesting to see that the disk contains directories for all products by phase 5 which can be extended with a SCSI-module; this includes hardware such as the Fastlane and the Blizzard 1230 Mk IV. (The only difference as far as I could tell were the icons' tooltypes.)
After installing the software (which consists of a SCSI-bus control program, a HDToolbox-like program, the AmiCDFS 2.38 filing system, an audio-CD player, DynamiCache and lots of documentation) using the normal Installer, you are in business.
The SCSI-bus control program (UnitControl2) allows you to change various low-level options of the SCSI-devices and the controller. This includes parameters like reselection, bus time outs, and probing of LUNs during start-up. It is especially useful if you are optimizing the performance of your storage media. The on-disk manual is quite clear about all options and you should read it carefully. This is because some gadgets carry rather misleading names which might cause data loss if they are operated in the wrong way.
SCSIControl3 is phase 5's replacement for the HDToolbox program. It works in a similar way and gives you the same options, save for a few. For example, it lacks a verify option, which can present a problem if you end up with a `disk not validated'-error. For this reason and the fact that the graphical display of your partitions leads to a better overview, I still prefer Commodore's program. There is enough room for improvement, and I therefore hope that phase 5 will do so. In practice it gets the job of partitioning done without problems. However, I did find an annoying bug: in order to access the information about the partition itself (size, location, type of filing system, etc.), you have to double-click on the name of the partition. However, this will not work if the 'Del Partition' gadget is active. You have to deactivate this one first.
The AmiCDFS filing system allows you to access CD-ROMs. It can handle quite an amount of formats: ISO-9660, HFS, RockRidge, PhotoCD and CDDA are present and accounted for. Not only is it quite extensive, it is fast as well. AmiCDFS is a shareware program, and I was amazed to find out that phase 5 don't give us the full version. This makes phase 5 look a bit stingy to me; especially in conjunction with the disclaimer that programs may be withdrawn from the disk at any moment if the author of the program wishes it so.
Both AmiCDFS and the audio CD-player program (MCDPlayer 1.01) work as they should. However, since I have never used a CD-ROM in any computer until now, I have no experience with other programs. MCDPlayer is quite crude, and I'm sure better alternatives are easily found. (I happened to see a picture of a rather nice one in the April or May issue of Amiga Computing, but I forgot its name.)
The documentation is quite interesting for programmers, since it contains (amongst other things) a complete list of all SCSI-2 commands, the source to a low-level SCSI-bus program (not UnitControl2, unfortunately and some tips on how to get MS-DOS partitions on your mass data storage devices.
Real World Experience
Installing all hard- and software and copying my data from the old IDE drives to the Fireball proved not be the quick easy task I had envisaged it would be, but within two hours I could remove the IDE drives and start the first SCSI-only boot. With IDE drives attached, nothing out of the ordinary happened; without them no problems whatsoever occurred as well.
Well, _any_ problems is perhaps too grand a word. One small, but _very_ useful utility decided to call it quits: undel by Martin Mares. This undelete program insists on using the standard scsi.device to perform its magic. And the CyberSCSI-module is operated with the cybscsi.device, so... In general, if the program allows to choose your own .device and unit number, you can use it without problems. A small number of people may ask whether you can use the CyberSCSI-module with NetBSD. At the moment of writing (April 1997) the best answer I can give is `maybe'. A developmental module exists for this controller, but from what I read, it still works rather unreliably. In my opinion, you are better off switching to Linux/m68k (yes, Linux/m68k!), which _does_ support this controller.
It is a trifle pointless to present DiskSpeed data here, since they are highly dependent on the hardware employed. However, I can say that a fragmented hard disk is a sure speed killer . However, that's no problem ReOrg can't handle. I am a little concerned with the amount of CPU-time the DMA-controller demands, though. Or better put (since DMA takes no CPU-time at all) the time required by the programs before the DMA-controller can be put to work. Unfortunately, this is mostly OS-stuff and therefore cannot be changed easily. On the other hand, at least the module at least leaves some time free in comparison to the 4000's internal IDE interface!
Even under heavy multitasking loads with lots of different programs fighting for control of the hard disk and the CD-ROM, the module performs without a glitch. No compatibility problems could be established (admittedly, my list of tested devices is small). All in all, I am very pleased with the module.
The 42-page bilingual (German and English) A6-booklet provides detailed information about your new toy. The installation procedure is clearly described and includes a few small photographs. SCSI in general, termination resistors, jumper settings and common errors are devoted a few pages each. Sometimes I read a section in German, because in my opinion that still describes everything best, but I am convinced you will have little trouble with the English text, despite numerous spelling errors. As a special extra, a pin layouts of the SCSI-2 and Centronics 50-pins connectors are given.
Speed, reliability, the manual and good software.
DISLIKES AND SUGGESTIONS
Difficult installation (possibility of damaging the Cyberstorm, strange location of the controller PCB, two-PCB design, cable rerouting problem) and the shareware edition of the AmiCDFS filing system.
I know that in order to keep the price of the Cyberstorm down, phase 5 have decided to provide the SCSI-controller as a separately available option. There is nothing wrong with such a design, but more thought should have gone to the problem of installation. I sincerely hope a Mk III will take care of this.
A registered version (or at least a discount) for the AmiCDFS filing system should be included as a standard.
The SCSIControl3 program (partitioning) can do with a more user-friendly user interface and a verify option. A selector for #?scsi.devices and a RDB-backup option could make interesting additions.
COMPARISON TO OTHER SIMILAR PRODUCTS
Since I don't have extensive experience with SCSI-2 controllers, and tests in magazines were done with different setups (notably different hard disks), I cannot present an objective opinion. Sorry!
Various typos in the manual, plus one small bug in the partitioning program.
Phase 5 is not exactly fast when it comes to handling email. I suggest you phone or fax the company if you want a quick(-ish?) answer.
phase 5 have devoted quite a lot of text to the issue of warranty. I will summarize the text in this document, but please refer to the original in case this becomes a necessity. I accept no responsibility when this summary and the original text differ!
You get a 6 month guarantee, during which phase 5 will replace or repair your module free of cost if the card was broken due to material or production faults. Excluded are faults caused by `outside interference': improper usage, unauthorized repair or modifications and addition of new hardware and software. This includes SCSI-devices, but upgrades of the _system_ hard- and software as well! AmiCDFS and the supplied other programs form no exception.
phase 5 takes no warranty what so ever about the applicability of the CyberSCSI Mk II; the company also does not hold itself responsible in case of data loss, even when it has been warned about the possibility in advance.
In case of problems you are instructed to turn to your dealer for assistance first. phase 5 will only accept returns when they have been assigned a so-called RMA-number; this number is given to you when the support department sees justifiable cause for you to return the module to phase 5.
The moment you've all been waiting for. The Note. I Have Decided (c'mon, allow a guy his moment of glory for once on 4.5 out of 5. The installation is a bitch, and not without risk to other hardware, but once everything is in place, the module performs as any piece of hardware should: reliably and speedy. The manual is clear and packed with useful information. A very good addition to any Cyberstorm Mk II.
This review copyright 1997 by Maarten D. de Jong.
Permission to distribute this text in any form is granted, as long as no modifications are made. The moderator of the comp.sys.amiga.reviews newsgroup is exempted from this requirement, but I trust him not to abuse this fact . If you distribute the text, I'd appreciate it if you dropped me a line informing me about the where and how.
Reactions, comments and questions are welcome at my email address