"Making Of" Story continued...
It was now the year 2004. Time flies when you're soldering and drinking MGD. I'd done several other projects since starting the XE Laptop, started writing a book... Heck I even made progress on "Port Washington" during that time! So for the Atari, I felt kind of guilty for "letting it rot", so to speak. I decided I take another crack at it...
Compact Flash IDE Adapter - Summer 2004
I can't remember quite where but I came across a Compact Flash-to-IDE adapter. It was only like $6 so I bought one. Later on I'd learn a Compact Flash is pretty much pin-compatible with an IDE device which explains why the adapter was so simple (and cheap) Still it gives you the connectors between the two which is important I guess. I'm not THAT good at soldering!
My thoughts were that even a small (say 16 meg) CompactFlash would be WAY more than you could probably ever fill with Atari stuff. (and I was right) Plus I figured the power draw would be a lot lower (a laptop IDE drive is about 500mA @ 5 volts) So I wired up the Compact Flash to my Frankenstein-esque Atari to see what would happen...
Low and behold it sort of worked! I still had to use my BASIC cartridge but I could "see" the drive (CompactFlash) and even format it and such. It was kind of buggy though, and the formats didn't always stick. The power consumption of the Compact Flash was only about 50mA, ten times less than a hard drive. I was sold, except for the bugginess and the still-missing BASIC...
New, even more custom OS - Fall 2004
BASIC was still missing. It should be built into the OS! (even the new OS from Mr. Atari) I got to thinking, the original XEGS had built-in Missile Command if you held down OPTION while starting the system with the keyboard removed (or something, I can't remember) So the XEGS OS was probably a little different than Atari's before it - but the OS from Mr. Atari was intended for an Atari 800 XL (older model)
I contacted Mr. Atari and told him of the dilemma. What we ended up doing was I sent the original XEGS OS to him so he could look at it and make his new OS work with it. This took some time as he's located in Europe, but I guess I can say this was an international project then! Turns out the XEGS had a 32k ROM (versus 16k normally) so the memory location of BASIC within it was different. Mr. Atari burnt me a new, larger OS, sent it back, and it worked in my XEGS - BASIC was back! Thanks Mr. Atari! You rule!
But the Compact Flash drive was still not working quite right. At the time my book was top priority and on a tight schedule so once again the Atari 800 XE Laptop fell at the wayside...
Wow, I'm a Moron! - Fall 2005
It was October 19th - my birthday. I decided as a present to myself I'd finally get that darn Atari 800 XEGS to work. Earlier that year while rearranging my stuff it had been consigned to the "closet of lost dreams" in a container where my other (very few mind you) failed projects go for eternal rest. (so yeah, I set it right next to the gutted Dreamcast) I couldn't stand the fact it was doomed to that fate so I pulled it out and began wiring a new laptop drive onto it, thinking the Compact Flash idea was just not working for some reason.
As I wired up the new hard drive I realized something - I had a few connections on the Flash adapter WRONG! It wasn't too much, basically a ground wire or two connected to the wrong spot, but I figured it would be enough to "crap things up" If you're into tinkering at all you'd probably agree that finding a mistake you've made is actually a really good thing because it rules out every other [undiscoverable] possibility.
I re-wired the Compact Flash, double checked all 16 or so wires (again it's quite simple, I'm a moron for missing that mistake for over a year) and WHAM! It worked! The drive booted fine, worked every time, found the right head cylinder sector info, everything! I was ready to go!