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MatchBook Drive CF Springboard Review (MD-001)
for the Handspring Visor
By Robert Zach
If you follow the Handspring Visor scene then you just have to be aware of all the hub-bub lately over a CompactFlash Module for the Springboard Slot. The idea of limitless expansion on cheap CF cards has been the Holy Grail of the Visor world.
And now it's here...
But, how about a quick history lesson first. Some time ago, the "community" learned that the Springboard port was pin equivalent to PCMCIA but not electrically equivalent. Then an enterprising soul in Japan posted some information on how to build your own CF adapter with a cheap PCMCIA to CF adapter and a few wiring and logic modifications. The only problem was software to drive the card wasn't ready.
Then, along came Kopsis Engineering with their own do-it-yourself approach. Kopsis realized that by limiting the CF to memory only (no IO devices) the adapter was very simple to construct. Kopsis then set out to create the software. A lot of discussion and beta testing ensued in the eGroups.com FlashAdapter and MatchBookDrive forums. After quite a bit of development effort Kopsis Engineering Inc. had a commercially viable software solution. And, by this time MatchBook Products was poised to announce the first commercially available adapter.
And that's where Palminfocenter.com steps in to bring you this review......
But wait! There's more to this saga! I have actually sat on this review for a few weeks because competition has stepped into the mix. What's that you say "competition". That's right, now there is a second commercially available CF Adapter from InnoPocket. I won't go into a comparison, my goal is to review the MatchBook drive here. If InnoPocket sends a CF Adapter we'll review it ;-)
So why hold up the review then...well the announcement caused a whirlwind of activity around these little Handspring enhancers. They both use the same software, but the competition packaged it. Then, a "quality" war, the plastics were in question. And finally, of course, a price war.
Well I think the dust has settled, and YOU the consumer have won the war with new packaging, software agreements, and lower prices!. This review will focus on reviewing the current MD-001 adapter (pictured) and what is coming from MatchBook Products.
Here we go! Whew!
The MD-001 is constructed from a Springboard slug made of clear plastic. It actually separates in two halves that snap together. Inside is the actual "adapter".
I found that the plastic was rather fragile, even though it is claimed to be virtually indestructible. As you can see in this picture, mine actually cracked. This happened because there was no CF card in the slot to provide rigidity, leaving an open hole on the back of my Visor that can easily be squashed.
The other contributing factor to the failure is the very short guides for the CF card as seen below. These guides are standard fare for any CF accepting device; they're part of the connector. But, in this case they are so short that a few issues arise. The first problem is that there is not a smooth delivery of the CF card into the adapter. Secondly, the hole in the card appears to be cut out with a Dremel tool making for a loose fit. If the guides were longer, say all the way to the opening, and the opening was specifically molded, there would be a tighter fit, side supports to keep the opening from squashing, and a better (more solid/quality) feel for the product.
One other nitpick I have with the MD-001 is that the CF card does not sit flush in the adapter. Notice the second photo above and you'll see that the CF Card actually protrudes 1/8" from the adapter when fully seated. This doesn't effect operation but adds to the "home brew" feeling.
So great, we have an adapter, but now we need software. Enter Kopsis Engineering. Once you spend the $30 on the adapter, you have to spend another $10 for the software from Kopsis.
The biggest issue for some may now be the price, but this means that the MatchBook Drive is not a true SpringBoard module. It would be great is MatchBook could figure out how to write some sort of app that preps the CF Card with some sort of "loader" section that would automagically install/remove the software from the Visor upon insertion/removal if the adapter.
The software itself is fairly straight forward. Kopsis provides the following files:
The software itself works great, but it too could use some freshening up. First of all, I'd like to see the format and card info applications condensed into the FA (FlashAdapter) File Mover software itself. Having them as separate apps just seems to clutter my Visor.
The one small "glitch" I found with the software installed and a CF card installed is in the Palm OS "info". As you can see here the "internal" memory pull-down (usually used for a Handspring FLASH SpringBoard) is now available. It would be nice if the driver software could somehow disable this when the card is plugged in, or better yet, make it actually report the space available on the CF Card. This may just become possible if the software gets ported to PalmOS 3.5.x and takes advantage of the VFS APIs provided by Palm. I imagine that since many Visors run OS 3.1, this was the least common denominator way to get the software out the door.
Speaking of VFS, that brings me to a wish list for this software. As a TRGpro user, I am accustomed to AutoCF. This TRG utility enables the user to install a CF card and have the applications installed on it be directly executable from CF. In function it works much like the Handspring Flash Springboard WITHOUT having to move the apps to RAM before executing. After all, what is the point of all this space if you can't use it to seamlessly expand internal RAM. Rumor has it Kopsis is looking into this, I'd love to know where they are! hint, hint ;)
With all this said, my conclusion.....this is a great product and engineering marvel considering the all the technical hurdles that had to be jumped to make CF available on the Visor. As for the "whirlwind of activity" and my potentially disparaging remarks about the MD-001....
The MD-100 and MD-200 have been announced. See MatchBook Products website for details, but basically this is one hell of a Palm Community supporting company. They have answered all my concerns about the MD-001 with the MD-100. They have also done the following:
Hopefully MatchBook Products will replace my cracked MD-001 with a 100 or 200. Then I can provide a more detailed review of the updated products for you all.
However, this was an endeavor that grew out of a hobby project, and frankly I did not conceive early on how big it would become, so I am thrilled with where we are currently.
I will forward a sample of the MD-100 when it is available. The MD-200 has been delayed due to the need to raise additional capital for production.
I look forward to receiving the MD-100 for review with the fixed plastics and the MD-100 taking care of the other nit picks in my review. This new version should make the MatchBookDrive a very nice, inexpensive solution to Handspring CF.
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