BlackBox page

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This might come as a surprise to you, but you will find information about the BlackBox on this page. I hope to add more in the future.

OK, so what does a BlackBox look like?

picture of BlackBox taken by Nir Dary

The BlackBox can be plugged into the back of your 600XL (if upgraded to 64kB), 800XL, 65XE (European version only), 800XE or 130XE. It provides you with the following:

  1. An RS232 (modem) interface, with a maximum speed of 19200 bps. There has been talk of an upgrade to increase the baud rate. But the guy who came up with it has no time to develop it. But he did at one time say this about it. Bob Puff thinks it could be done and even wrote the drivers for the higher speeds. Unfortunately, I can not find the accompanying text by Bob anymore.
  2. A printer interface.
  3. A SCSI interface.

The pin out to the power supply:

Usually, the BlackBox comes with a power supply. But if you want to or need to use a diffenent power supply, you'll need the pinouts of the power connector on the BlackBoxes board. The power connector can either have a 4 or 7 pins.

What about parity?

For most modern hard drives, you will also need to somehow add 'parity' to the SCSI port.
This can be done in two ways. Either order the 'parity PAL' from CSS - US$ 15.00 - or get yourself a 74LS280 from your local electronics store for a lot less. With the 'parity PAL' you have the advantage of being able to solder most of the pins you need directly to the 74LS640. The pins of the 74LS280 and the 74LS640 unfortunately don't line up as nicely. Here's a
link to the schematics for the 74LS280 upgrade. It's on Fox-1's site, which has more nice pin-out stuff.

Disadvantages to the BlackBox:

The BlackBox Enhancer:

Nowadays, the BlackBox includes the BB Enhancer, which was previously sold separately. The FloppyBoard (see below) also includes the BB Enhancer. The BB Enhancer enhances the quality of the screen dump and adds the TaskMaster, a very nice sector editor that speaks both MyDOS and Sparta. It also has a formatter that speaks both MyDOS and SpartaDOS.

Printer spooler:

Also available separately is a printer spooler (64kB). Which is just a different word for printer buffer. But Bob Puff explained how to add a printer spooler to your BlackBox in Volume 3, issue 2 of Atari Classics.


One last thing you can add to a BlackBox is a FloppyBoard. Which looks like this:

picture of FloppyBoard taken by Bob Puff/CSS

The FloppyBoard enables you to add up to 4 standard (read: as used in PC's) floppy disk drive mechanisms to your Atari. These can be 5.25" as well as 3.5" mechs. Up to 1.44 meg per drive.

The FloppyBoard includes a version of the Super Archiver. This means, you can do more with a floppy drive controlled by and connected to the FloppyBoard, then you can with a normal Atari 8 bit floppy drive. But what this means exactly, I do not know. Sorry! If you know more, please let me know.

With the help of BBXFER19.COM you can read from, write to and format PC disks. As some of you might have noticed, BBXFER version 1.9 loaded really slow. I ran it through Streamliner by James Hague published in Analog Computing, the Juli/August issue from 1987. It reduced the loading time to 1/3rd (in words: one third) of what it was before.

March 12th 2006: I have just informed that CSS has enough parts to build more FloppyBoards. So if you want one (or more) please contact CSS via their site.

February 20th 2005: Warning!

Recent use of BBFXER 1.9 by me has resulted in the same errors as pre-1.9 versions of BBXFER have been know for. It might therefore be possible that streamlining BBXFER caused the problem in the first place. What happens is that if you transfer a file from the Atari to a PC disk, the file will get truncated if it reaches a certain length, which differs for each version of BBXFER. This truncation however ONLY occurs if a file with that name does not already exist on that same disk. Transferring the same file to the same PC disk again, will result in a proper transfer without truncation.

August 22nd 2005: non-streamlined BBXFER 1.9 can be downloaded by clicking here!

Apart from loading very slowly, BBXFER 1.9 has a couple of other short comings:

Creating your own add-ons:

Bob once told me it would be possible to add more cards to the BlackBox the way the FloppyBoard is. This of course means you'd have to develop both the hard- and the software. And that's probably not all one could do. Look at the BBDOKU.TXT file and check out the addresses the BlackBox uses. I guess a VIA needs as many addresses as a PIA does. Heck, maybe somebody could come up with a memory upgrade. That way, one of the biggest advantages the MIO has over the Blackbox (next to the nice case and the use of 'normal' cables and connectors) - it's RAMdisk feature - would be gone. Or maybe somebody could come up with a video upgrade.

The pictures above are made by Nir Dary and Bob Puff respectively. I have permission from both guys to use these pictures.

My BB/FB improvements:

I've made a few improvements to my BlackBox/FloppyBoard combo:

Here are some pictures I took before I made the improvements I mention above. If you have a clue how I can get those (scanned from photo's) as good as those of Nir and Bob, please tell me.

Here's a picture of my BlackBox/FloppyBoard combo, after the improvements.

picture of FloppyBoard

You can clearly see the Nylon screws. You'll have to look a bit harder to see the extra precision socket I inserted between the BlackBox and the FloppyBoard. If you compare the before and after photo's, you'll see that I replaced the two rows of long pins that were soldered to the FloppyBoard with a stack of sockets. The pins I removed where not all on one level. If you know how I can reduce the glare on these pictures please tell me.

For 'the other connector' I mentioned above, I used the pins you see below. I couldn't get strait pins that were long enough, so I bought these and carefully bent them till they were strait.

pins from the front pins from one side pins from another side

Fixing Phi2, the proper way:

As many of you know and might even have experienced, some XE's and even some XL's seem to have weak CPU's. The majority of these weak CPU's seem to have been manufactured in Mexico. Hence the name "Mexico CPU". What seems to happen is that whenever the Phi2 clock signal (which is used as a clock signal throughout the computer) is used to much, the Phi2 signal is moved back in time just enough to cause timing problems.

What can be done against this?

Well, you can tie Phi0 and Phi2 together. But that's a rather crude way which doesn't, in my eyes, guarantee that there will never be timing problems again.

Or you could use Bob Puff's
"stabilizer mod". Which does improve the situation in some cases, but not all. Even if we do take into account that I found some errors in Bob's text.

Isn't there a real solution?

Yes, there is. And it comes from the good people at ATARI themselves.

For the XL and XE, Atari used a custom version of the 6502, namely the 6502C. Before that, they used a standard 6502, which needed extra circuitry to create Phi1 and Phi2 (and to handle the /HALT signal).

And this is what we are going to use on our quest to create a NEW Phi2 signal. For this, you need a 74LS04 or 74LS14 (inverter) and a 74LS74.

Connect the Phi0 signal coming from the computer to pin 1 of the 74LS74 and to an input of the inverter.
Connect pins 2 and 3 to pin 14 (5V DC).
Connect pin 4 to the output of the inverter where the inverted Phi0 signal comes out.
Pin 5 now is your new Phi2.
Pin 6 now is your new Phi1.
Disconnect pin 39 of the CPU from the motherboard in such a manor that if things go wrong, you can recreate the old situation.
Connect the wire coming from pin 5 of the 74LS74 to a point on the motherboard that had the Phi2 signal.
Since Phi1 is only used for the color clock, you might not have to replace it.

I left out the obvious stuff. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please ask somebody who does to do the upgrade for you! If you screw this up, to bad. Any damage that might occur as a result of any of the upgrades found on this site are the result of YOUR actions, not those of the owner/holder/designer/webmaster or even the provider of this site.

I should note, that I've used this upgrade on my 800XE with my 1MB SIMM upgrade. Up till now, only the extra circuitry is running on the new Phi2 signal, not the "old" stuff. This has resulted in the reduction, but of course not the elimination of the errors occurring. As soon as I get all of the computer to run on the new Phi2 signal, the last of these errors will be killed too.

Thanks to Guus Assmann, who suggested this upgrade. He developed an upgrade years ago, where you could put a standard 6502 into an XL or XE.

FlashROM upgrade for BlackBox

Matthias Belitz has come up with a way to replace the BlackBox ROM with a FLASH ROM. Yes, you're not imagining things, I said Flash ROM.

schematic for FlashROM upgrade for BlackBox

And here is the description of how to do it.

Textfile describing FlashROM upgrade

You'll need BBFL11.COM to read out the BlackBox ROM and to flash the FlashROM. Make sure you can read the files BBFL11.COM saves WITHOUT the help of the BlackBox. The BlackBox will be inoperable until the FlashROM is flashed. Here's the latest version - 2.16 - of the BlackBox ROM - with permission of Bob Puff - in the format BBFL11.COM uses. (Read: it's ready to be flashed into the FlashROM.)

If you want to extract the ROM code from your BlackBox for use in an EPROM, try Freddy Offenga's BBDUMP10.COM. For now, it will only dump 16kB BB ROMs. That means standard BlackBoxes. Blackboxes with the BlackBox Enhancer have 32kB ROMs, BlackBoxes that came with a FloppyBoard or with a ROM version that starts with a '2' all have 64kB ROMs. Bob Puff/CSS has been shipping all BlackBoxes with 2.xx ROMs for a couple of years now.

The latest version (2.16) of the BlackBox ROM will follow soon. This version can be used in BlackBoxes with and without FloppyBoard and does include the BB Enhancer, which includes the TaskMaster (16MB max. sector editor that understands all DOS formats).

Here is an older version of the BB ROM: version 1.34 (16kB)
This is an version of the BB ROM that Guus Assmann sent me: version 1.41 (16kB).
Here's a version that AtariGeezer posted on AtariAge: version 1.44 (16kB).

And here's the "new/latest" version in a format you can use for instance in an emulator: version 2.16 (64kB)

Bernhard Pahl sent me these two pictures of his BlackBox that now has the FlashROM upgrade. He decided to not piggy-back the chips, but to put them all on a piece of board.

Bernhard Pahl's BB after the upgrade picture 1 Bernhard Pahl's BB after the upgrade picture 2

Bernhard Pahl also sent me his layout and his schematic for the FlashROM upgrade, which might clear up some things. Remember that Bernhard decided not to piggyback two 74LS139 together but to use an extra piece of board for those two chips.

The addresses used and how to jump into the menu.

And for those who want to know which addresses the BlackBox uses (if Matthias forgot one or two, please let me know so I can add them to the file) and how, we have BBDOKU.TXT. Or how to get to the BlackBox's menu via software (load the ENTMENU.ASM file into a text viewer and read the remarks to find out what to do).

Part of the printer routine, disassembled.

Erhard Puetz once delved into the printer routines in the BB ROM, here is part of the code he disassembled to write this article.

The BlackBox configuration and partition list(s).

As I said on my ASPI page, I was able to read sector zero of my hard drive. In this text you will find everything you've ever wanted to know about the configuration and partition data but were afraid to ask.

Please also check my ASPI page for addition BlackBox information.

Try English email link oder Deutsch
of Nederlands of Heljes/Dörps.
Please use "Feedback from my Blackbox Page" as the subject.

Go to my ...

Home page
MyDOS page - All kinds of stuff about and for MyDOS.
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 boot CD/DVD page - create your own Atari 8 bit boot CD or DVD.
Atari 8 bit meetings page - some information about the Atari 8 bit meetings I visit.
Docs page - Files describing peripheral hardware.
Site map - What's on my site and where can you find it.
Cookie statement - My cookie statement.