Oct 052013
 

Almost certainly the biggest player in the Epson QX-10-specific software world was Rising Star Industries, the creators of Valdocs and its various successors. Valdocs is an integrated software suite that (as I understand it) was generally packaged with Epson QX-10 machines. RSI pretty much tied its future to the QX-10 (and to the QX-16) with Valdocs, and when the QX-10 lost favor with the public, RSI went down with it. But in its heyday, they produced a newsletter called The Rising Star, with some articles on the background of the company, tips and tricks in Valdocs, new versions, etc.

I have gotten ahold of four of these. I don’t know if there are others out there anymore, but here are the ones I have:

Rs v1n4 1984 fall Rs v2n2
Rs v2n4 Rs v3n1
Nov 212012
 

Some more Epson doc scans, I think this finishes the sets that I have. The Epson QX-10 reference manual is here, and then various manuals pertaining to the Epson PX-8 and peripherals.

Qx10 operations manual Microsoft basic for qx 10
Px8 about your documentation Px8 read before unpacking Px8 command summary
Portable wordstar reference manual Portable wordstar training guide
Portable calc portable scheduler P 80x users manual Px8 warning
Px8 multi unit fcc card Px8 congrats bantam

Laudably, Epson still has at least one relevant manual on its support site. I didn’t find anything on the PX-8, but a slightly newer version of the operations manual can be found here:

It’s starting to get a little bit hard to track everything down, so I intend to shortly try to gather related documents together in a compilation page (e.g., for the QX-10 and for the PX-8), but for now, just looking through posts with the paperwork tag is the only way to find scans I’ve posted.

Nov 102012
 

A few more scans from the QX-10 library, these are scans of the Peachtree software suite manuals.

Also, the Epson CP/M-80 manual, MTERM manual, and the Valdocs User’s Guide.

Peach spelling spine
Peach mailing spine
Peach spreadsheet spine
Peachtree peachcalc ref card thumb
Epson cpm front Using mterm cover Valdocs cover
Jun 262012
 

Lots to catch up on here, but here’s one thing that I got fairly recently that I’m pretty pleased about. For some reason the Epson QX-10 seems to have faded into obscurity quite a bit more dramatically than some of the other machines of its time. As I’d mentioned before here a couple of times, I had an Epson QX-10 (not strictly speaking mine, but borrowed from work) in the mid ’80s. Ostensibly, I had it so I could work on dBase II programming at home. But, really what I used it for was modem communication. Most notably, I’d written a BBS system for it, which I still plan to try to resurrect.

I was happy to be able to get my hands on a pretty complete QX-10 system some time ago, but it had no cards in it at all. In particular, it didn’t have a modem card, and though I had searched for it for a while, I had pretty much resolved myself to never being able to put that system I had before back together.

However, my luck changed not too long ago. Someone was selling a couple of old QX-10 items on eBay. Fortunately for me, even though these things are super-rare, nobody really wants them either. It didn’t cost me much. And now I have, once again, a Comrex ComMunicator CR-103.

CR103 manual cover

IMG 2714

Of course, at this point, I still don’t have the QX-10 really working entirely, insofar as I only have one working disk drive. But we’re getting there.

Along with the CR-103, I also got an acoustic modem (an Epson CX-20) and a QX-10 RS232 serial card, which could in principle provide me with a second modem to use, although I don’t know if I can find a phone that will fit in the cradle anymore.

epson cx-20

I suspect that this will really just be decorative, but it is a nice looking modem.

The RS232 card was even in its original box, pretty much untouched.

epson-rs232-box

epson-rs232-label

epson-rs232-wrapped

epson-rs232-closeup

The RS232 card also opens the possibility that I might be able to connect with other devices in the outside world, too, I’ll have to think about this more to see if I can do something creative with it.

Though, of course, there is also the possibility that one or more of these things simply don’t work. However I am optimistic, they all look to be in great shape, and as far as I understand it, the previous owner hadn’t even really used them.

The manual that came with the RS232 card is extremely technical, and I have scanned that as well.

Manual scans:

Mar 222012
 

Here are some scans I just did of a couple of reviews from Microcomputing magazine in 1983 on the Epson QX-10.

Microcomputing 1983apr Microcomputing 1983may

The quintessential computer? Epson’s QX-10 hits the high-end micro market.” Jim Hansen, Microcomputing, April 1983.

Vive la difference! Valdocs: While the Epson QX-10 offers impressive features, it’s the software—particularly the Valdocs operating system—that puts it a step ahead of its competitors.” Jim Hansen, Microcomputing, May 1983.

I have scanned (but not processed) the entire April 1983 issue, and I’ll probably do the same with the May 1983 issue. Maybe I’ll also fix one page on the scan above that got too close to the edge. I don’t have the following issue (which should contained the third installment of the QX-10 review), but I do have a miscellaneous later issue. Scanning these is a bit tedious, so it’ll be slow going, but I intend to scan most of the documents I have at some point.

Mar 072012
 

I popped open the QX-10 again today and swapped the A and B drives. When I had them out, I observed that the B drive (the then Right drive, second picture) has a chip that the A drive (the then Left drive, first picture) lacked.

Epson drivea

Epson driveb

“Hmm,” I thought, “maybe that’s why the A drive wasn’t working. Maybe somewhere along the line it lost a chip it needs, maybe I’ll need to find a replacement chip.” I reversed the drives (and the DIP switch settings, which was probably the most important thing), reassembled, et voilà:

Epson bbooted

Cool. Except the (now) Right drive (still labeled “A” but now logically “B”) wasn’t working at all. Well, except that its activity light was coming on at a very, very low level and just staying lightly lit.

I was distracted from thinking about that further by the thought that I should right now back up the boot disk onto the new floppy media I had (though this was not going to be possible regardless, all of the copy functionality I had available on the boot disk requires both drives to be working). But, once I popped out the boot disk, I couldn’t convince the left drive to accept any further disks, even the one I had just popped out. The problem, I correctly guessed, is that spring return mechanism mentioned in the previous post about the drives wasn’t returning. The pad didn’t want to slide back, it needs to be lubricated. If it doesn’t slide back, then it remains in a kind of unready state where the physical disk capture mechanisms won’t go.

Epson drivespring

So, I took it all back out and decided that at least until I get that lubricated, I need the drives out in the open so that I can pop the pad back with my finger. So, now the QX-10 has its drives sitting on top, though it all still works as well as it did with them inside.

Epson drivesout

Until just a little while ago, I was thinking that what was wrong with the (now) Right drive is that it was missing that chip. This is the chip:

Beckman8993R150 chip

However, when I looked it up, the Peacon Vintage Blog wiki told me that it is: “a 150-ohm resistor network in a 14-pin package. It can be used to terminate the floppy disk drive bus.”

Ah-ha.

So, this is why only the (then) Right drive and not the (then) Left drive had one, and also might be the very reason why the (now) Right drive isn’t doing anything. The chip is a terminator. It’s telling the drive bus that the Left drive is the end of the line, and there shouldn’t be any more drives expected (even though the [now] Right drive is connected after it). So, now I still don’t know if the (now) Right drive works or not, since I disabled it by accident.

Not sure what I’ll do next. I might try to transfer the terminator chip to the (now) Right drive, or I might swap them back and see if I can do anything to get the (now) Right drive to work, since I have now seen that the rest of the machine basically works.

Mar 032012
 

I started piling some of my imaged disks onto a big ProDOS volume for use with Virtual ][, using Glen Bredon's DOS.MASTER, since nearly everything I'd ever done was in DOS 3.3. In the process, I came across an old text file I'd written called "Writing Drivers". Click the link if you want to see the whole thing, but it had an interesting bit of history in it concerning the Epson QX-10. I don't know when I wrote this, but it would have been around 1985 probably, apparently it was five months after I bought my Novation Apple-Cat ][. But, here's some of my QX-10 cred—something that I feel a bit compelled to provide, since I (unintentionally, honest!) scooped this QX-10 from @retroearl of the Retro Computing Roundtable. The first RCR podcast to air after I bought it (but which was recorded before) contains a bunch of heartbreaking discussion of how much he wanted it and how cool it was. (Sorry! Sorry!)

But, anyway:

When I started out, i had an Epson
QX-10.  They are business machines that
run CP/M and are not quite IBM
compatibles.  Since then, Epson has
come out with more in the QX series,
and the 10 is pretty much obsolete.

Anyway, it had a Comrex ComMunicator
modem, and one example program in
Microsoft BASIC.  I took the challenge,
and developed my first "driver," if
you can call it that, in Microsoft
BASIC on the Epson.  I continued, and
developed an entire board.  Shortly
after, however, I had to return the 
QX-10 to work, since I was borrowing it
from them, and they needed it back.

Because of that, i got more interested
in modems in general, and borrowed an
old acoustic modem (compatible with
the "Networker") from the school.  In
high hopes of buying an Apple-Cat, I
developed BBS software, and a machine
language driver for the networker.

Finally, about five months ago as of
the time of this writing, I got my 
Apple-Cat and converted my driver to
work with the Cat.
Mar 022012
 

After setting up the Epson QX-10 and finding that, although it happily displayed “INSERT DISKETTE” on its monitor, it didn’t recognize any of the diskettes I inserted in response, I decided to pull it open quickly and take a look to see if anything presented itself as an obvious problem. The QX-10 came open pretty easily, just a few screws holding in the case, and a grounding wire of some kind to disconnect before I could flop it open.

Qx10 open

Inside, everything looked pretty clean, I didn’t see any obviously troubled capacitors or battery leaks (though I haven’t inspected it thoroughly really—if you see something in this picture that worries you, alert me!). One thing I did notice, though, is that cable from the drives to the motherboard appeared to be disconnected.

Qx10 drive cable disconnected

That seemed promising as a possible cause for the inability of the computer to respond to my disk insertions. But, I continued anyway to take the drives out of the case to have a look at them, since one thing that I noticed was that they were acting a bit “spongy”—this was clearly a system that hasn’t really been used in a long time. Also, the eject button on the B drive was bent (this can sort of be seen in the previous picture of the QX-10 assembled on my desk—there is more white showing because the eject button is angled down when it should have been straight), so I thought I’d take a look at that to see what could be done about it.

The drive mechanism is kind of interesting, once I saw how it worked, and it also helped remind me of how the disk insertions were supposed to go. What you do is insert the disk most of the way, and then at the end the disk itself pushes up against a little pad attached to the pretty visible spring. This causes a plastic bit to retract until a groove aligns with another spring-loaded capture mechanism that grabs the disk and closes a very small door around the front edge of the disk. The final step is to push in the eject button, which clicks into the closed position and presumably engages the head. Pressing the eject button a second time will pop everything back out into its original positions, pushing the disk out a little bit and making it available to retrieve again. The “sponginess” was in the motion of the pad attached to the spring, which was sluggish but after working it a little bit it became appropriately responsive. After considering the bent eject button on the B drive for a bit, I decided that it was just that the metal connector had been bent a little bit and I carefully just twisted it back up with a pliers. Fortunately, I managed to get it mostly straight again without breaking the plastic, which I was a bit worried about.

Qx10 drive out

Having basically inspected the situation, I then put everything back together and took care to attach the drive cable to the motherboard. I can’t be sure that it was originally disengaged because it is on a kind of quick-release mechanism, and so it could have popped out as I opened the case. Though, still, if it had been attached properly, that shouldn’t have been enough to pop it out.

Once I put everything back together, put in a boot disk, and turned it all back on again, though, I was still just faced with the “INSERT DISKETTE” message. No real progress seems to have been made.

Unfortunately, the QX-10 must boot from the left drive, there is no provision made for booting from the right drive if the left drive is broken or empty. So, probably the next thing I’m going to try is to swap the left and right drives and see if I can at least get the thing to boot. There is probably a limit to what I’m able to troubleshoot and fix with these drives, but if I can at least show that the problem is somewhere in the left drive, that will be progress. If it continues not to boot even after I swap the drives, I guess I may have to start looking to the connection wire or the motherboard itself. As a possible last resort, I could maybe get a new motherboard, there are a couple available on ebay as I write this, although I’m still a little ways away from being sure that would help anything.

Mar 012012
 

Today in my office, an actual Epson QX-10 arrived.

Qx10 first run

I’d put an ad here to help explain what the QX-10 is, but no ad can do it justice.

Epson qx 10 ad

Though, as it happens, all I can get the machine to do at the moment is tell me “INSERT DISKETTE”. I have some diskettes that I inserted, but it didn’t recognize them, so I will probably need to open up the machine and take a look at what’s going on inside there, but I’m optimistic that I can get it to read diskettes someday (at which point I will immediately duplicate all of them onto new diskettes, just in case).