Amstrad XTs: Questions and Answers
See also Cliff Lawson's pages on the XT PCs.
- Where can I get system discs?
- How can I read/write 5.25" discs on my modern PC?
- Can I boot a PC1512/PC1640 from a 3.5" drive A:?
- Adding Hard Disks
- Hardware compatibility
- Why don't the mouse buttons work?
- How do I get into the BIOS setup screen?
- Can I run Windows?
The Amstrad XTs are pretty good at IBM compatibility, so you should be able to use any version of MS-DOS up to 6.22, or any version of DR-DOS or PC-DOS. They can also run CP/M-86. MINIX 1.x should work on any model except the PPC, PC20 and PC200.
Cliff Lawson of Amstrad maintains an archive of boot discs for the PC1512, PC1640 and PPC512/640. These contain the custom versions of MS-DOS / DOS Plus that were written for these computers.
If you're using an XT with 5.25" drives like the PC1512 or PC1640, then see the next question for how to make 5.25" boot discs.
You have two options. The first is to bypass the problem by finding a 720k 3.5" A: drive for the Amstrad XT, and the second is to find a 5.25" drive for the PC. In practice, it's much easier to find 5.25" drives for the PC; they come up fairly frequently on eBay, or you could 'borrow' one from the Amstrad machine.
There are two main types of 5.25" drive for the PC - 360k and 1.2Mb (there are a few oddities, like 180k or 720k drives; if you want an easy life, avoid them). If you only want to read 5.25" discs, then you can use either a 1.2Mb drive or a 360k drive; if you want to write 5.25" discs which the Amstrad machine can read, you will need a 360k drive.
- If you have borrowed drive A: from the Amstrad PC, you need to change its jumpers before using it in a modern PC. On the Amstrad 40046 drive, this is quite easy; the jumpers are right next to where the cables plug in (usually on the underside of the circuit board), and all you have to do is move the block from "0" to "1" - change to . Other drives (such as the Mitsumi / Newtronics units I've seen on some PC1512s) are set in the same way, but the jumpers may not be so easy to reach.
- Some gimcrack modern PCs may not support two floppy drives. In this case, you will have to set up the 5.25" drive as A:. The jumpers should still be set the same way; you just plug it in at the end of the floppy cable rather than halfway along.
- Also, modern PCs may not include suitable connectors on the floppy cable for 5.25" drives. In this case, you'll need to replace the floppy cable.
- I have heard tell that Windows XP can have trouble formatting 5.25" discs. It may be necessary to boot an alternative operating system (from a floppy or a LiveCD) if formatting is required.
Despite what Cliff Lawson's page says, they can. The 720k boot floppies from a PPC512 or PC200 will boot a PC1512 from a 720k A: drive with no difficulty. Alternatively:
- Configure the 3.5" drive on another PC as a 360k 5.25" unit.
- Put a 720k floppy in, and format it to 360k, with the /S option.
- You now have a 360k 3.5" boot floppy. Don't forget to change your BIOS back afterwards.
See Hardware Compatibility for more information on using 3.5" drives in a PC1512/PC1640.
Cliff Lawson gives a couple of ideas - either use an XT-style hard drive, or (if you can find one) an 8-bit IDE controller and drive. There is a third possibility, which is to find an 8-bit SCSI controller and drive. See the hardware compatibility section for more details.
The PPC laptops would either need a specially-designed hard drive (such as the Stratum Sprint), a hard drive in a docking station, or a parallel port device like the Datawise Quickdrive. Note that you can't boot from parallel port drives.
This is such a big topic I'm giving it its own pages.
You're probably not using the KEYB.COM / KEYBUK.COM from the PC's own system discs. The buttons on an Amstrad mouse behave like keys, and if KEYB.COM wasn't written to handle them, they won't respond. Either use the KEYB.COM from the original discs (you may need to use SETVER to fool it into working) or use a serial mouse instead of the original one.
Note that the setup screen doesn't let you configure the hard drive (if there is one).
- Boot into DOS.
- Type NVR and press RETURN.
- If that didn't work, insert System Disc 3 in the floppy drive, type A:NVR and press RETURN.
PPC512, PPC640, PC20, PC200
There is no setup screen as such. The floppy drive and video adaptor are configured using a program on the system disc called DEVICE.COM. Type DEVICE to see the current settings, and DEVICE /? to see what can be changed.
Press CTRL, ALT and S at startup.
That depends what you mean by "Windows". The most recent version which will work is version 3.0, which was superseded in 1992. Do not expect to run anything more recent than that (such as, inter alia, Microsoft Office, web browsers, or just about any program written since 1992).
If you still want to run Windows, you have the choice of three versions (1, 2 or 3).
- Windows 1
Apart from the historical interest, there's really no point in running this. Practically no software exists for it; about the only thing that you would be able to do is play Reversi.
Having said that, if you've got a floppy-only PC1512 or PC1640, then it may be the only version of Windows that will run at all.
- Windows 2
This version was supplied with the PC2086. All my comments about software availability apply here too; the supplied applets may be a little better, but nothing to write home about. There are two reasons why you might want to run it: either your PC doesn't have a hard drive, or you want the display to be in colour and can't upgrade the processor to a V30 (see below).
- Windows 3
This is going to be the best in terms of software availability (still not good, but quite a bit of software was actually written for Windows 3.0, and some of it may even work on an XT).
On the 1640, 2086, 3086 and 5086, you will need to upgrade the processor from an 8086 to a V30 to get the colour video drivers to work. Otherwise you're stuck with 640x200 mono. Note that on the 3086 and 5086 the processor is soldered into position, so if you want to upgrade one of these machines it's not a task for an amateur.
Note also that there's no point in upgrading the PC1512 processor, because you'd still have to use the CGA driver afterwards.
John Elliott 30 August 2010