The terrarium ][+

Having gotten into the spirit of this vintage computing project, I have been trolling ebay a bit, looking at what’s out there. I have clearly gone a little bit beyond the simple goal of just transferring my floppies to emulator-readable disk images, now I kind of want the hardware itself and to get it running again.

I found an Apple ][+ listed on ebay that looked interesting. As is often the case with these listings, I find, the seller got the thing at an estate sale and doesn’t really know what it is. So far, I have not had a bad experience on ebay, but I’m sure that day will come if I keep this up. Which I shouldn’t do. But here was the primary picture from the ebay auction:

Terriiplus overview

In fact, the auction we’re talking about showed up on the New Zealand Vintage Computer Forums discussed in a post called “…aaand here come the fraudsters”, in which the hypothesis was put forward that this was posted by somebody who was trying to pass this off as a (valuable) Apple ][ when it is in fact an Apple ][+. It was interesting to see the history of the auction, though, since I came in on it relatively late, after the second re-listing. Here is the reason why I won’t have an Apple ][ (not plus) anytime soon, and why somebody might want to try to pass off their Apple ][+ as an Apple ][:

ebay-a2s1

Yes, I bid $2.50 for it, but I think I was the first bidder. I would have gone higher. I would not, however, have gotten to $1305.

The terrarium ][+ was originally listed as an Apple ][ and it is missing its cover (having been replaced with a clear plastic one), which removes the most obvious mark of being an Apple ][+. It didn’t go for $1000, the starting price when it was first listed, so it was re-listed for $499, and still didn’t go. That’s where I came in, and I don’t remember what the starting bid was on it, but I wound up paying $350 for it. I did, however, do this after having read the NZVC post about it, and I was a little bit nervous about how it would turn out. I’ll say something about what led me to go for it anyway, though.

For a while here, the pictures will be the ones that were included in the auction. They showed a couple of things. First, it is clearly an Apple ][+ (not an Apple ][) and it starts up.

Terriiplus boot

Terriiplus a2s1016

But what was particularly interesting is that it was just loaded with cards. The auction showed a couple of shots. Of course, nothing was given in the description, so I had to do a bit of detective work for those I did not immediately recognize.

Terriiplus cards

Some of these are obvious, and there is also a fairly standard way of configuring these computers that can help. There are eight slots for cards (numbered from 0 to 7), and the disk drive controller is pretty much always in slot 6. That one is clearly visible. There are two Microsoft cards, one in slot 4 and one in slot 7. The one in slot 4 was relatively easily identifiable as a Microsoft SoftCard, which is a Z80 processor on a card designed to allow the Apple ][ to run CP/M software. I never had one of these, but I did have a CP/M machine (an Epson QX-10) for a couple of years that I’d borrowed from work, and in fact had written a BBS program on it. Seeing the Softcard made me think it would be nice to have one, since I might actually be able to run that BBS again, if I can get it off the disks it is stored on. Interestingly, I find that quite a few of the Apples on ebay have these Z80 coprocessor cards, although they were not really on my radar back when I was using these machines. The other Microsoft card in slot 7 is a 16K memory expansion card. From the part number of the Apple ][+ (shown above, A2S1016), it is clear that this was initially a 16K machine. I don’t know much about this 16K card. Traditionally, such cards go in slot 0, but here slot 0 is occupied by a Saturn 32K RAM card. So, we’re up now to 64K, though I don’t really know the ins and outs of how they are connected and used yet (and, come to think of it, I actually didn’t check, but I think all of the RAM slots have subsequently been filled in, so it is probably has 48K already on the motherboard). Slot 1 contains a printer card, as is clear both from the fact that it is in slot 1, the printer card’s traditional home, and from the Centronics printer connector that trails out the back of the machine. In slot 3 is a Videx Vision-80 80-column card (which is required in order to use CP/M). The card in slot 5 was a mystery, but I’ll come back to that. And there is something in slot 2 which is presumably a modem card (again, I’ll come back to that).

The side of the computer had something unfamiliar to me, but I determined that it is a game port extender, that allows you to plug in joysticks and paddles to the exterior of the machine in a safer way, rather than opening up the machine and plugging them into the motherboard and risking breaking the fragile pins they connect with.

Terriiplus drives gameport

And then there is some weird thing connected under the keyboard that ends in an RJ11 phone connecter off the back of the computer. I still don’t know what this is.

Terriiplus keyboard attachment

Terriiplus rj11

Lastly, there was a shift key mod (which allows software that is sensitive to it to sense when the Shift key is down by sending it to the almost-never-used third button input of a game controller).

Terriiplus skm

After looking all of this over, I came to the conclusion that this was a machine that was assembled by somebody who both knew what s/he was doing and cared about it. This machine was somebody’s baby. And it also finally made sense of the clear plastic cover replacement as well: many of those cards, as you can see in the picture above, have little red LEDs on top that indicate what state the card is in. Which banks of memory are active, whether the CP/M card is running, and so forth. By replacing the opaque Apple ][+ cover with a clear plastic cover, the operator was able to see what lights were on. More to the point: the cover was replaced for a very good reason, and not just to obscure the fact that this is an Apple ][+ rather than an Apple ][.

So, I went for it. And it came. The mystery of what the card in slot 5 was was revealed: it was a Replay card (here’s an ad and a review in Hardcore Computist issue 1). Which is quite cool. This is a card that has as its primary purpose the ability to freeze the machine so you can save the contents of memory out to a disk. The point of this is to circumvent copy protection on games that load themselves entirely into memory at one time, since, even if you can’t copy the disk, you can still dump the memory.

Iiplus replay

The card in slot 2 is indeed a modem, a Hayes MicroModem II. If you follow that link, you’ll see an image of the MicroModem II installed, connected to a box called a Microcoupler. It turns out that the Microcoupler is required, but was not part of the auction. Fortunately, somebody was selling a Microcoupler by itself on ebay, so I should have a complete setup soon.

Microcoupler auction

I’m looking forward to playing with all of these things, but I have not plugged it all in and powered it up yet. The primary reason for this is that the motherboard is no longer properly anchored to the case. Either on its way to me, or, probably more likely, on its way from the original estate sale, the little plastic holders that hold the motherboard in place gave out. In the image below, the plastic hexagon was supposed to be holding the board in place through the hole between 4 and 5. There are other similar hexagons that gave out on either side as well. I’m hoping that there wasn’t any real damage during shipping as a result, but I do want to reseat everything properly before I risk plugging it in.

Terriiplus loose motherboard

So, that’s where we are so far. I’ll report further here about my adventures in trying to get the boards and software running, no doubt.

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