ATARI 8 bit BOOT CD/DVD page


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Ever booted your Atari 8 bit computer from a Compact Disk?

I did!

Let's start at the beginning. As you might know, I was one of the first Atari 8 bit users that hooked up a ZIPdrive to his BlackBox. For some silly reason, the ZIPdrive started clicking a lot after some years. This usually means the drive is having trouble reading the ZIPdisk. But all of a sudden, the clicking stopped. To my o so big surprise. Then on the 11th of July of 2004, I decided to use my CD Data Reader utility (since then renamed to CD/DVD Data Reader) to check out the ZIPdisk. Everything worked OK, but I had to change the SCSI ID that was to be accessed and also the sector size. You know, ISO 9660 CD's and DVD's use 2048 byte sector, everything else (except for some really old stuff) uses 512 byte sectors. I was able to look at all the stuff that's on the ZIPdisk. You can see the 512 byte sectors, with the Atari sector link bytes and "bytes used in this sector" byte in the middle and at the end of each 512 byte sector.

That's when the light bulb went on.

To the Atari 8 bit computer, the ZIPdrive looks just like a Harddrive.

If you could switch not my CD/DVD Data Reader from 2048 bytes per sector to 512 bytes per sector, but do the same thing for the CD ROM drive, and use a CD ROM (disk) that has been burned to look like a ZIPdrive/harddrive, it should be possible to read data from that CD via the BlackBox. With NO extra software and NO extra hardware or hardware modifications. Better yet, if you could put the configuration and partition data on that CD, just like on a normal harddrive, you could even boot from that CD.

The next day (a sunday) a computerclub I sometimes visite, which has PC and Commodore users, had it's usual monthly meeting. And I knew these C128 users had been using CD's since years. They convinced me, it could be done.

So now I had the idea. But how do I put it into reality? How do I get the files from the Atari 8 bit onto a CD-image that I can burn onto a CD-R or CD-RW?

That's when I thought, why not use ATR's. They already contain everything a disk/partition needs. All we have to do is strip the first 16 bytes.

Hmm, now who could I ask to write the right software for me, who knows his ATR's like the inside of his PC.......?

Matthias Reichl!

So I contacted him, he was interested from the get go.

Then I had to decode the configuration and partition data. Since I live for this kind of thing, that wasn't to hard, although it did take some time. You can find the result of this decoding in this file. Matthias reminded me, that the addresses to most of what I found can be found in the BlackBox manual. Once decoding everything was finished, Matthias could start working on his software. What this software does, is turn ATR-files into a CD image.

If you find another harddrive interface that can handle 16 bit data (and 512 byte sectors), and if somebody is willing and able to decode it's configuration and partition data, it would be possible to change the software in such a manner, that images can be created to support this interface. Unless I am mistaken, IDE CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives can NOT be switched to "512 bytes per sector" mode.

What do you need to use an Atari 8 bit Boot CD?

What do you need to create an Atari 8 bit Boot CD?

Each ATR will be turned into one partition. This however does not mean that you are limited to 96 ATR's or partitions. AtariCD will create as many partitionlists as needed, with a maximum of 65535 partitionlists per disk.

So how do we use AtariCD?

First we need a list of all the ATR's that are supposed to go on the disk. The easiest way to create such a list, is to go to the DOS prompt (on your PC - Start - Programs - near the bottom of the list). From there you enter:

DIR /B /D /L /N /O:G /S > textfile.txt

textfile.txt is the name of the text file the filenames are stored in. You can choose whatever name you like.
> means store in textfile.txt
replace > with >> to append to an existing text file
/S means use not only the files in this directory, but also the files in the subdirectories in this directory.

With newer versions of Windows (sorry, don't know of Linux has a DOS prompt), you can enter HELP DIR to get a list of all the options that are available for the DIR command.

You can load this list into Notepad (or any simular program) to edit it. If you want AtariCD to start a new partitionlist anywhere in this list, add in a line that only has -- (minus sign, twice) in it, for each new partitionlist you want to start.

After the list is ready, you can start AtariCD from that same DOS prompt.

Type ataricd on it's own to see a list of all the options. Or just type:

ataricd [-v] [-l {see below}] [-L {see below}] [name of ATR-file list] [name of CD/DVD image that will be created] [> log.txt]

Since a CD or DVD can hold a lot of partitions and therefore lots of partitionlists (up to 65535 partitionlists of up to 96 partitions each), a list of all the files and their locations in the partitionlists, and the locations of the partitionlists can be created by using either -l or -L followed by the filename that is to be used for this list. I strongly recommend you use this option.
The difference between -l and -L ist that the first includes all the directories and subdirectories (e.g. "C:\Directory\subdir1\test.atr"), where the latter will only show the file name (in this case "test.atr").

Just to illustrate this:

I created a Compact Disk that contains all the ABBUC magazines (78, most double sided), all the ABBUC special magazins that are not copy protected (34, all double sided, except for the last one which is four sided), all the ABBUC PD disks that can be turned into ATRs (over 650 "disks", going from single to eightteen sided) plus 142 ATR's (some, by accident, got in twice, so there should have been less) AMC disks/disksides. Most of these are single or enhanced density, so you'll need twice as much space on a disk, be it CD, DVD or harddisk. The CD has 330 MB on it. Using 17 partition lists. It took 29 sheets of paper to print all of that out.

-v means "show just about everything you do"
Some CD/DVD burner software requires that the name of the image file ends with ".iso", so it might be wise to use this extender.
"log.txt" is the name of the file in which the log data (what happened during the creation of the image) is stored.

Required commands are:

ataricd atrlist.txt image.iso

A small hint:

If the file and/or directory names you are using in the DOS prompt contain spaces, you have to put them in quotation marks ("C:\directory name\file name").

BTW the first Atari 8 bit boot CD was created, by me, on the 27th of september 2004.

What good is an Atari 8 bit boot CD or DVD?

It's like having a huge removable harddisk. That can be copied as easily and as fast as any other CD or DVD. No longer does a game require one to swap disks forever. Huge amounts of data (graphics, sound, levels, etc.) can be loaded at harddrive speed, but still be carried around like it was on a floppy. You could have lots of drivers on one disk. Or have more then one versions (in English, German, Spanish, etc. or versions for the XEP80 and normal ANTIC/GTIA output, etc.) of your software coexist on one disk. And best of all, these drives have, atleast compared to what we are used to in the Atari 8 bit scene, huge buffers. So after a while the disk stops spinning and data is loaded from the buffer.

Additional information about the Atari 8 bit boot CD/DVD

The first 256 bytes of (512 byte) sector 1 contains the copyright information.
The second half of that same sector looks like this:

Bytes 0 and 1: Number of partition lists on this disk (low byte, high byte. 65535 is the maximum.)
Bytes 2, 3 and 4: Low, middle and high bytes of the (512 byte) sector at which the list of partition lists begins.

The list of partition lists can be from 1 to 386 (512 byte) sectors in size. It uses consecutive sectors. Each sector contains a maximum of 170 entries, each in low/middle/high byte format. The first three bytes belong to the first partition list, byte 3, 4 and 5 belong to the second partition list, etc. The last two bytes of each 512 byte sector are unused. Each partition list starts with an empty sector.


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of Nederlands of Heljes/Dörps.
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Go to my ...

Home page
MyDOS page - All kinds of stuff about and for MyDOS.
BlackBox page - with information on FlashROM upgrade.
ASPI page - ASPI is to your SCSI or IDE interface what a printer driver is to your printer.
Special stuff page - these are mainly utilities and text files.
Wishlist page - my personal Dream Street.
Atari 8 bit meetings page - some information about the Atari 8 bit meetings I visite.
Docs page - Files describing peripheral hardware.
Site map - What's on my site and where can you find it.