Hardware Review

Product: PowerFlyer Z-IV

Price: 79.95

Available From: Power Computing

Potential Limitations of the A1200's IDE interface.

The A1200 / A4000's motherboard IDE interface allows you to connect a hard disk to your Amiga. Like most thing's on our Amiga, the IDE (an acronym for Integrated Drive Electronics) interface on your A1200 / A4000's motherboard is obsolete. The A1200's IDE connector was only really designed for connecting one 2.5" notebook hard disk. It is also unbuffered, thus, IDE drives are connected *directly* to the Amiga's CPU which is potentially dangerous: magnetic interference from PSU's or whirling drives can interfere with IDE cables, and there's a risk of your Amiga's CPU being damaged. Companies such as Eyetech state the risks of not using a buffered interface to protect the Amiga's CPU. These claims do apply, but they are often exaggerated. In fact, many Amiga users still have 3.5 drives connected to the A1200's IDE controller using 44w - 40w way stack cable and have never had any such problems. Of course, there always a risk...

In order to fix this problem, and to expand the number of IDE devices that the Amiga 1200 / 4000 could have connected to the 'standard' internal motherboard IDE connector, third party manufacture's released numerous buffered interface cards for the A1200 and A4000 Amiga models which connected to the A1200's / A40000 'old' IDE interface which replaced the 'unbuffered' circuitry that Commodore left out, and with some hacky software (IDEFix) it was possible to enable a secondary IDE channel giving you a maximum of 4 IDE / atapi devices connected to the Amiga. When adding localized 32 bit fast-ram via a suitable turbo card, it was possible to push hard disk reading / writing transfer rates up to a feeble 3.5 megabytes/sec: as the A1200's IDE connector is so old, it is only capable of driving modern hard drives in PIO (Programmable Input / Output) mode 0. You can buy a modern hard drive capable of running in the latter PIO modes, but the drive will *still* only run in PIO mode 0 at a useless 3.5 megabytes/sec when used on the A1200 / A4000's motherboard IDE controller.

Not only is the A1200 / A4000's IDE motherboard IDE connector obsolete, but also contained in the A1200's Kickstart 3.1 is the necessary IDE controller 'firmware' allowing the Amiga to communicate with IDE drives (V40 IDE_SCSI.device). As such, this firmware is limited: it can *only* support drives up to a maximum of 8 gigabytes, whereas another limitation was present with versions of FFS (Fast-File-System). FFS could only support drives up to a maximum of 4 gigabytes in size and partition sizes of 2 gigabytes. Their was no way Commodore were going to go through the rigmarole of redesigning the Kick 3.1, since it would of been an expensive proposition.

Prior to OS 3.5, programmers wanted the ability to use drives larger than 4 gigabytes on their Amiga's. Hence SFS (Smart File System) and AFS were born (AFS was latter relaunched as PFS (Professional File System). These file system's although allowing you to use big drives, were not compatible with hard disk recovery software such as Quarterback, Reorg and Disksalv et al. Using drives connected to the A1200's / A4000's IDE controller using the 'DirectSCSI' version of PFS the maximum sizes of drive you could use was 13 gigabytes, due to the aging firmware in Kick 3.1.

Then OS 3.5 came along with a new file-system (FFS 45.1), and NSD....

Heinz Wrobel's 'NSD' or 'New-Style Devices' patch fixes these potential problems when using AmigaOS 3.5 in combination with the V40 -> V43 update to the 'old' scsi_device V40 contained in the Kickstart 3.1 ROM when used with FFS 45.1. It applies 64 bit functionality to the 'old' v40 IDE_scsi.device. It's a bodge but it works, and allows hard drives connected to the A1200's motherboard IDE connector to be used of any size. For more information of what NSD does and how it works, please read my review of 'PFS 3'. 8-)

The Z-IV Power Flyer (The Review):

The PowerFlyer is fully 'NSD' (New Style Device) compliant with AmigaOS 3.5. There no need to use the V40 -> V43 update (included in OS 3.5) with the PowerFlyer since it uses it's 'own' IDE controller firmware contained in the PowerFlyer Z-IV's FastATA BOOT Rom (scsi.device version 1, revision 0). If your main boot drive is connected to the PowerFlyer the ROM update should therefore be disabled in OS 3.5 (this can be done by adding 'Setpatch SKIPROMUPDATES scsi.device to both Setpatch lines or alternatively, rename the AmigaOS ROM Update in DEVS: or delete it).

The Power Flyer Z-IV is a fully fledged 32 bit IDE controller for Amiga 1200 computers fitted with Apollo's Z4 busboard. Installation is straightforward. The Power Flyer Z-IV plugs into a 32 bit Z4 slot on Apollo's Z4 busboard. A flying lead connects to the LED signal line (pin 39) on the A1200's 'old' IDE interface connector. Whereas Z2 cards can sometimes be a tight fit, Z4 cards are very easy to fit. The installation of the PowerFlyer Z-IV takes a couple of minutes.

The Power Flyer Z-IV features two IDE channels (primary and secondary) allowing 4 IDE/ATAPI devices to be connected simultaneously, is fully buffered, thus, isolating drives from the Amiga's CPU. The board features a FastATA Boot ROM. This ROM chip is in a socketed IC socket on the PowerFlyer Z-IV so hence is upgradable. The FastATA BOOT rom contains the necessary controller firmware and has been programmed to the latest FastATA/EIDE standards. In addition to this, the PowerFlyer is able to utilize *full* 32 bit transfers due to the 32-bit bus of the new Z4 standard (albeit without Dynamic Memory Access).

If you wish to still use the Amiga 1200's 'old' IDE connector, you can. For instance, you can have a IDE hard disk and 3 other IDE / atapi devices connected to the PowerFlyer, as well as another hard disk connected to the A1200's motherboard IDE controller. In this instance, the PowerFlyer masquerades as '2nd.scsi.device' whereas the A1200's IDE connector becomes 'scsi.device'. If you choose to do this, just remember to edit any of your CD-ROM mountlists to '2nd.scsi.device'.

If your feeling greedy, you can have *two* PowerFlyer Z-IV's connected to both Z4 slots, providing you have a big enough tower casing to mount all those drives, and additional 'Y' power splitter cables to power all of them.

Once the PowerFlyer Z-IV has been connected to a 32 bit Zorro 4 slot on your Z4 busboard, thanks to the Amiga's in-built auto-config feature, the Amiga should automatically detect the card. You can confirm the card is working correctly by hold down both mouse buttons, and turning on your Amiga which will bring up the 'Early Boot Menu', click on 'Expansion Board Diagnostic' and the card should automatically be recognised. Providing the cards working fine, it's time to power down your machine, add your IDE / atapi drives and to install the 'FastATA Z-IV' control software. I would recomend adding one drive at a time, and testing at each stage to ensure everything's working correctly, since some IDE / atapi devices don't like running in unison on the same channel.

FastATA Z-IV software: The PowerFlyer's includes the FastATA control software. This comprises of a software based driver (Fastata.driver), and a program called 'FastATAPrefs'. The latter allows the user to select the preferred PIO mode for his / her IDE / atapi drives. It's also possible to set the preferred PIO mode of each IDE / atapi device, by hold down the left mouse button on boot-up which starts the 'FastATAPrefs' program. A spin down time may also be allocated for parking hard drives after a preset interval. Since hard disks are not designed to be spun down (it puts wear and tear on the drives platters) I don't recommend you bother with this park feature.

Partitioning: When preparing your new hard disk you must launch the 'FastATA.driver' first, then run the FastATAPrefs program, and to select the 'Split' or 'NoSplit options on how the drive is to be partitioned (see below):-

'Split' - Selecting 'Split' should be used if your running AmigaOS prior to OS 3.5. In OS 3.0 / 3.1, the Amiga's 'FastFileSystem' was limited to a 4 gigabyte limit and a partition size of 2 gigabytes. 'Split' fools the Amiga by treating a big drive as separate hard disks. Example: a 20 gigabyte drive gets split into 5 separate drives. These separate drives can then be partition into 2 gigabyte segments. This has one other advantage: it retains compatibility with recovery software such as Quarterback Tools, DiskSalv and Reorg as well. 'Split' is only available when the PowerFlyer Z-IV's 'Fastata.driver' is active. You can then fire up your hard disk preparation software and prep your drive.

'NoSplit' - Selecting 'NoSplit' allows you to partition your drive manually. This is only safe if your using OS 3.5 / OS 3.9 or are using an alternative third-party filesystem to break the 4 gigabyte barrier (Trackdisk64 or DIRECTSCSI version of PFS 3) and you know what your doing... You can then firing up your hard disk preparation software and prep your drive.

AlergroCDFS: AlergroCDFS is included with the FastATA software for the PowerFlyer Z-IV, and is an advanced CD-ROM filesystem. Forget Oliver Kastl's CacheCDFS (which is included with the IDEFix package as well as in OS 3.5). AlergroCDFS leaves it for dust. AlergroCDFS works at it's best on an 68040 or 68060, mainly because the code was optimized to run at it best on these CPU's. AlergroCDFS is capable of reading the following CD-ROM formats:-

  • First Amiga file system to support UDF (Video DVD format)
  • Compatable with ISO 9660 level 1, 2 and 3 as well as Rockridge (with Amiga extentions).
  • CDDA (CD-ROM Digital Audio)
  • UDF (Video CD)
  • Supports Amiga protection bits.
  • Supports Multisession
  • Supports CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW and DVD drives.
  • Supports direct audio grabbing from standard audio CD's.

It's possible to play VCD (Video CD's) using Frogger ! You can also read DVD disks as well, aLthough the PowerFlyer Z-IV is capable of reading Video DVD disks to actually watch them you'll need a DVD decoder card for your Amiga. No card exists on the Amiga... yet... although ElBox Computer are supposed to be working on one...

Comparing AlergoCDFS to CacheCDFS, AlergroCDFS flies like a rocket. To give you some idea of how fast Alergro is, I detail below Nick Veitch's tests that were published in Amiga Format. Nick's tests were carried out on a variety of different turbo cards, and in each test Nick tested CacheCDFS when compared to AlergroCDFS. AlergroCDFS was found between 2 to 3 times faster than CacheCDFS (see below):-

AllegroCDFS performance
AllegroCDFS is at present the fastest CD filesystem for Amiga computers.

Below please find the results from speed measurements for AllegroCDFS and the very popular filesystem of CacheCDFS.

For the test, a CD-ROM enclosed with the Amiga Format No. 12/99 was used. The test consisted in copying the contents of the -websites-\F1_GP folder from the CD-ROM to RAM: This folder includes over 1,100 files for the total size of 19,083,695 bytes. The test has been performed on computers fitted with the most popular turbo cards with 32MB RAM.

The results:
* Turbo board * AllegroCDFS * CacheCDFS *
* Blizzard 1260/50 * 16.8 sec. * 26.6 sec. *
* Apollo 1240/40 * 20.2 sec. * 29.2 sec. *
* Apollo 1240/33 * 23.0 sec. * 32.0 sec. *
* Blizzard 1240/40 * 23.0 sec. * 32.1 sec. *
* Blizzard 1230-IV * 24.7 sec. * 35.6 sec. *
* BlizzardPPC 68040/25 * 25.0 sec. * 38.0 sec. *
* Elbox 1230/40-II * 36.0 sec. * 50.0 sec. *

AllegroCDFS ver. 2.1 (24 Oct 99)
CacheCDFS ver. 42.19 (10 Jun 99) from AmigaOS 3.5
The test was made on computers
Amiga 1200 rev.2B with PowerFlyer Gold
CD-ROM x48 (SAMSUNG SC-148) switched to PIO-4.
The test was made with AF CD No.46 (Amiga Format Issue 130 December 1999)

The test program (script):

copy CD2:-websites-/start.html ram:.......... ;CD-ROM motor start
delete ram:start.html
date ................. ;start copying
copy CD2:-websites-/F1_GP ram:F1_GP all quiet
date ............... ;end copying
delete ram:F1_GP all quiet
To run the script write:
execute TESTAF1

Filesystem preferences:
Both filesystem had the some (optimal) configuration:
Buffer set on 64 lines (two sectors in one line).
For AllegroCDFS is the default, for CacheCDFS LC=2, Buffers=64.

Each measurement was taken 10 times.
Table results are average value from the 10 readings.

Test results explained:

In the measured with testing procedure, the folder entire contents (-websites-\F1_GP) was copied to RAM:

The measured time includes 3 elements:

  • 1. Filesystem operations: searching information on files, finding appropriate paths, sectors,...
  • 2. The time needed by scsi.device for transmitting the data from the filesystem to buffers in the turbo card FastRAM.
  • 3. The time, within which the ram-handler rewrites data from the buffer to the RAM: logical device.

How long each of these operation take?

  • Re 1. Depening on the processor's speed:
    from 3.3 sec. (B1260/50) to 14.0 sec. (E1230/40) for AllegroCDFS
    from 13.1 sec. (B1260/50) to 28.0 sec. (E1230/40) for CacheCDFS
  • Re 2. In all tests as above, the time exceeds ca. 9 sec.
    (with the standard A1200 IDE controller, it takes ca. 3 times more).
  • Re 3. Depending on the turbo card (or rather on the speed of processor and
    Fast memory controller in the card), the operation lasts from
    4.5 sec. (B1260/50) to 13.0 sec. (E1230/40).

AllegroCDFS filesystem is from 2 to 4 times faster than CacheCDFS. Achieving this major advantage over other filesystems was possible as this filesystem has been entirely written in assembler. Very efficient cache mechanisms have been employed in it. The AllegroCDFS code is optimised for 68040/060 processors, therefore the difference in speed for these processors is highest.

CD32 Emulator

There's an excellent CD32 emulator included with AlergroCDFS: it is *identical* to the CD32 emulator that HiSoft included with their SquirrelSCSI bundle. To boot a CD32 disk, you simply place a CD32 disc into your CD-ROM drive and reboot the computer whilst holding down the F10 key. I had the opportunity to test a number of CD32 discs, but you may find with some CD32 titles the extra buttons on the CD32 joypad are not recognized. This is because CD32's rely on a library known as 'lowlevel.library'. This library allows programmers to utilize the CD32 joypads extra buttons. It however, doesn't run work correctly on Amiga's fitted with high-end CPU's. Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix as well as Alfred Chicken although booted fine, the extra buttons on my CD32 joypad were not recognised :-(

Removable Media: The PowerFlyer is able to make use of removable media such as Iomega Zip drives. There's no need for an additional mountlist for reading zip disks on the Amiga. A mountlist is only required for reading MS-DOS formatted zips via CrossDOS.

It's also possible to create self booting zip disks as well :-D

Limitations: Although Z4 is well understood, and offers a localized 32 bit bus (as with Zorro 3). There's one thing lacking though: Z3 offers transparent DMA whereas Z4 does not. Hence the PowerFlyer-ZIV gobbles up valuable CPU time when running CPU intensive applications. This is clearly noticeable when running Fusion or PCx using 'hardfiles' to simulate 'virtual' PC/MAC hard disks. In fact, Fusion took 10 MINUTES! just to boot into MacOS 7.5! Adding additional buffers / throttling the PowerFLyer back to PIO mode 0 did not yield any noticeable difference either. :-(

The PowerFlyer is not totally to blame for this limitation, Z4 lacks DMA anyway, and IDE drives are comparably 'dumb' when compared to SCSI drives, simply because IDE / atapi require additional controller firmware built into the drive itself in order to operate.

The fastest drives may be run is in PIO mode 5 (UDMA 66). This mode is a real CPU killer: In order to use PIO mode 5 (UDMA 66), you'll need 80 way conductor UDMA 66 cable (which should be short as possible), an '060 turbo card and Executive installed.

Executive is designed as a task scheduler and is in many ways similar to the variant that is included in the Unix distribution. Since many background tasks spend most of their time hanging around in limbo until there next called for, Executive can be used for time-slicing multi-tasking programs so other processes get a good share of CPU time. It should be noted though that Executive is not to be configured willy nilly: if your unlucky enough it's possible to crash the Amiga completely. I wouldn't recommend fiddling with Executive unless you have a fundamental understanding of how the Amiga's multi-tasking system operates.

To be honest, PIO mode 5 isn't as yet ratified: it's too processor intensive to be of any use. Power tried fiddling with Maxtransfer settings, buffers, and with Executive but to no avail.

For live audio / video recording or running PCx or Fusion the Powerflyer is just two processor intensive when compared to Commodore IDE. I recommend you also have a separate drive connected to your A1200's 'old' motherboard IDE interface for these kind of tasks.

The Verdict: The PowerFlyer Z-IV is an excellent product. IDE / atapi drives can now be run in the latter PIO modes at the fast speed they were originally designed for. No more need for any 'hacky' IDE fix: the PowerFlyer's secondary channel doesn't need it. Just be aware the only drawback is the PowerFlyer is somewhat processor intensive when compared to Commodore IDE. Sure, you get the high speed, but it comes at a price. My recommendation: If you long for the enjoyment of transparent DMA, ditch IDE and go and buy yourself an Amiga 4000 and a Z3 Fastlane SCSI controller with a SCSI hard disk ;-D