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Hardware: Add-on
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Ian Cull
Chris Bourne

Even while MGT gear up for releasing the SAM Coupe (see News) they continue to support the Spectrum with new products. Two of the most interesting are the Fixer and the TwoFace. While the former has proved unexpectedly popular, the latter has proved over-ambitious and is unlikely to be continued in production.

The Fixer is a small circuit board and edge connector designed to allow owners of the +2A to use the MGT Plus D disk interface. Regular readers will know the + 2A is the black cased version of a +2 with a +3 circuit-board inside. Since the +3 has a redesigned edge connector many interfaces are incompatible with it. MGT have subsequently been surprised by the interest in this gadget, with people hoping it will solve problems with other interfaces as well. Apparently some high street stores are even talking about stocking it.

The Fixer comes in two basic versions, both costing £9.05. A standard version will connect the +2A to the Plus D, while another version allows the Opus Discovery disk drive to work with the +2A. Obviously the Fixer only solves interface problems, and games which crash due to +3 changes in the ROM chips will be unaffected by the Fixer.

To see how well the standard Fixer works I connected to my +3 and gave it a whirl. In 48 Basic it runs almost every interface I connected to it. The ZX interface One and microdrive combination worked perfectly (thought trying to select +3 Basic crashed the Spectrum immediately). The SwiftDisc II interface (reviewed next month) also worked fine in 48 Basic, but was also usable after the SPECTRUM command was entered from +3 Basic (ie 'quasi-48 Basic'), This gives the advantage that the extra memory is still accessible to machine code. Multiface 1 and 128 both run on the +3 via the Fixer- in 48 Basic or the quasi mode, with Multiface 3 running too! This meant that I was able to run Genie on my +3 at last - loading games using Multiface 3, set up to put the machine into 48 Basic after the load, then using Multiface 128 to run Genie 128.

Using what the Fixer is designed for, I had similar results. The Plus D interface worked fine in 48 Basic or quasi-48 Basic, but would not run under +3 Basic. The interface will, curiously, boot from +3 Basic (by typing RUN) but crashes when booting has finished.

Miles Gordon Technology tell me that the Plus D does work in 128 Basic on the +2A so the +3 disk system must be causing problems. I don't know how much Amstrad would charge for their add-on disk drive, assuming that they bring it to market, but my money would go on the MGT Plus D or Sixword Swiftdisc system (both much faster than the +3, and a lot more compatible with existing utility programs).

The MGT TwoFace is another add-on aimed mainly at Plus D users. It is reminiscent of the old Currah Micro-slot, in that it allows the Plus D (which has no expansion connector) to be used on the Spectrum along with other interfaces. It is more sophisticated however, in that a switch allows either device to be isolated, and there is also a built-in Kempston joystick interface.

When a Plus D is fitted to the TwoFace, it is mounted vertically, the combination extending some 6 inches above the desk (with the disk drive cable emerging from the top) - so anyone who has the Spectrum immediately in front of the TV may need to raise the screen so it can still be seen. A metal bracket (supplied with the TwoFace) allows the Plus D to be bolted rigidly to the TwoFace, so that there is no wobble.

The switch on the TwoFace allows the Plus D (in the top socket) to be active in the forward or centre position. The rear socket (at least, whatever is plugged into it) is active in the forward or rear position. The built-in Kempston joystick interface is always active (unless an internal wire link is cut, which does not void the guarantee).

Which interfaces work in the rear connector along with the Plus D interface is a problem to answer. Some devices won't work because they clash with the Plus D in such a way that even the disabling switch on the TwoFace cannot help. Others won't work because the Spectrum itself cannot drive both interfaces at one time (some Spectrums have an 'underpowered' edge connector and cannot drive more than one device at once).

Miles Gordon Technology suggest that the best method is to try the required combination of interfaces and TwoFace (there is a problem-solving flowchart with the TwoFace documentation). However, they advise that interfaces such as the ZX Interface One, Swiftdisc and Alphacom printer are unlikely to work. Interfaces like the Opus Discovery and Beta interface, and even a second Plus D, should work okay.

My own tests largely confirm MGT's advice. The Plus D and ZX interface One seem to be totally incompatible! The Six- word Swiftdisc II seems to run OK, provided that the Plus D is disabled using the switch. However, the Plus D is unable to operate usefully. My Alphacom printer and Plus D combination tended to work OK (most of the time) provided that the switch was correctly moved before each device was used - rather laborious, and it makes printing disk catalogues impossible! Trying the Rotronics Wafadrive and Plus D gave rather different results - the Plus D worked fine but the Wafadrive crashed as soon as it was initialised.

So, the TwoFace will mainly be of use to Opus Discovery or Beta interface owners wishing to upgrade to a Plus D system (it is a shame that it is not Interface One compatible to allow upgrades for those users), or for those Spectrum users simply needing the additional edge connector (for example, the non- Disciple Multiface 1 & Plus D work fine together via the TwoFace, provided that the switch is used to keep them separate). The other possible TwoFace purchaser is a Plus D owner needing a Kempston Joystick interface, since one is built in. At £29.95, the TwoFace would be an expensive joystick interface, but gives the option of adding other hardware to the Plus D at a later date. Remember that if the TwoFace does not work for you, MGT promise to refund the cost of the Plus D if it is returned undamaged.

Screenshot Text

'In 48 Basic the Fixer runs almost every interface I connected to it'

'The TwoFace has proved over-ambitious and is unlikely to be continued in production'

'The Plus D and ZX Interface One seem to be totally incompatible!'

The miraculous Fixer from MGT