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with Utility Program v3.0

November 14, 2002
Copyright 1997-2010 Pearl City Networks. All Rights Reserved. This article is not to be re-published without permission of the author.

Errata available at the bottom of this article...

The TrackSTAR PLUS, developed by Diamond Computer Systems, Inc., is an IBM compatible ISA card (MCA version was also available), enabling an IBM PS/2 or PC compatible to run software designed for the Apple IIe. Unlike software-based emulation solutions, this card is basically an Apple IIe shrunk into a single card.

The card itself is a full-size ISA card, and it'll fit in virtually any VGA/ISA compatible PC. However, the manual is quite specific about certain models of the IBM PS/2 family: Model 25, Model 25/286, Model 30, and Model 30/286. Currently, my set-up is an IBM PS/2 Model 30/286 Type 8530. And the TrackSTAR PLUS works great in this model.

Unlike the original Apple IIe, the TrackSTAR PLUS uses two 65C02 microprocessors. One CPU is used much like the real IIe, and the the other CPU is used to drive the video controller. Other features of the card include:

  • 128KB of RAM
  • 40/80 column text
  • LoRes, HiRes, and Double HiRes graphics support
  • Support for a maximum of three disk drive types, including a single Apple 5.25 Drive, DOS floppy drive, and a hard disk drive or file server (if connected to a LAN)
  • Hard drive support
  • Standard serial and parallel port support (unclear what the serial port emulates {SSC, etc.})
  • Apple IIc game port (9-pin)

TrackSTAR PLUS emulates the following IIe slots (1 to 7):

  1. Parallel port
  2. Serial port
  3. 80-column video
  4. Empty
  5. Thunderclock compatible Apple Clock Card (pulls the date/time from the PC)
  6. Primary disk controller card. Emulates the Apple Disk ][ dual drive controller
  7. ProDOS Hard Disk volume(s)

To summarize the installation process, you basically connect the TrackSTAR PLUS to the existing VGA interface card. Depending on the type of PC you have, you can connect the video either internally or externally. As a result, this will let you use a single VGA compatible display to run both the PC itself and the Apple IIe emulation. On my Model 30/286, you can see via the photos that the video is connected internally.

You can run TrackSTAR PLUS on any MS-DOS or PC-DOS versions 3.3 or later. I use PC-DOS 3.3 because I'm also running other legacy applications, including Microsoft Windows 1.04 and WordPerfect DOS 5.1.

TrackSTAR PLUS has a really cool feature called "TrackStore". TrackStore is a system that manages virtual disks you can create, and stores them as disk images (*.APP, or *.HD1 for ProDOS volumes). TrackStore disk images can be stored either on the A: drive or C: drive. In either case, the size of the disk image is limited to either 40 tracks (regular format) or 80 tracks (stored as half-tracks, which comes in handy for certain copy-protected disks. 80-track is available only for disk images and not the ProDOS volumes.)

Besides disk images, TrackSTAR PLUS also supports ProDOS volumes, in sizes of 352KB, 704KB, 1MB, 2MB, 5MB, and 10MB. And, all ProDOS disk management utilities will recognize the ProDOS volumes. You do not need to partition your PC's hard disk to handle ProDOS volumes because the volumes themselves are stored as PC/MS-DOS files.

TrackSTAR PLUS comes with an Apple DOS 3.3 utility called FILE TRANSFER. This utility supports file transfers between different disk formats, including:

  • ProDOS to PC/MS-DOS
  • PC/MS-DOS to ProDOS
  • Apple DOS 3.3 to PC/MS-DOS
  • PC/MS-DOS to Apple DOS 3.3

FILE TRANSFER is stored on a TrackStore .APP disk image, and you must boot from Apple DOS 3.3 in order to use it.

TrackSTAR PLUS also supports printing to either the LPT or COM port. The LPT port interfaces with the emulator's slot 1, and the COM port interfaces with slot 2. Besides printing to the COM port, you could possibly also use terminal software, such as ASCII Express Professional, to communicate using TrackSTAR PLUS. The manual does not indicate exactly what type of interface TrackSTAR PLUS actually emulates (super serial card, etc.)

The package also comes with a booklet listing a ton of applications that have been tested with TrackSTAR PLUS. And this list is HUGE! Among the applications listed, AppleWorks 1.0 through 3.0 are listed, as well as Broderbund's Print Shop, and many educational and not-so-educational software.

I hope this gives you a good feel for the TrackSTAR PLUS. If you like tinkering with old technology, and you have a legacy PC handy, I'd recommend picking up one of these cards if you come across one.

You can view a much larger version of the images below by clicking on the image itself.

View of the TrackSTAR PLUS card sitting inside an IBM PS/2 Model 30/286. The original video-out interface is pulled out, and the TrackSTAR PLUS' video-in takes its place. This way, all the PC's video is being passed into the TrackSTAR PLUS.
The ribbon cable you see is for the joystick port. The port requires an empty ISA slot so it can use its bracket spot. View of the card from the back of the 30/286. The top slot is the DB-9 joystick port, and the middle slot shows the disk and VGA video ports of the TrackSTAR PLUS. The VGA display connects into the TrackSTAR PLUS instead.
This photo shows the Apple 5.25 Drive, joystick, video, keyboard, and mouse connected to the 30/286. On my 30/286, I use DIRECT ACCESS 4.1 (commercial-ware) for my menu system. Beside the TrackSTAR PLUS, my 30/286 can also run other legacy apps, including Microsoft Windows 1.04.
This is the TrackSTAR PLUS Utility Program (TSUTILIT.EXE) main menu. You can configure the disk drives, printer, and serial interfaces. While the IIe emulation is running, you can hit F1-ESC to switch to a help menu, which offers several useful features, including things the IBM keyboard lacks, such as a reset button.
On this screen, you can configure whether to use the attached Apple 5.25 drive, or use a "Trackstore" disk image (*.APP) stored on the A: drive. Though I haven't tried these yet, the PC's COM and LPT ports can be used by the IIe emulator.
On this screen, you can select which LPT interface you want the TrackSTAR PLUS to use. Same thing with the COM port.
This is the screen you see when you run STAR.COM. I usually hit <SPACE> because I haven't run into any compatibility issues in this mode. From here, a reminder on which key combination to hit so you can bring up the help menu.
Here's TrackSTAR PLUS booting Zaxxon. This particular diskette is copy-protected, so this demonstrates even copy-protected software works like a charm, unlike the software-based emulators. Another shot of Zaxxon. The playing experience on TrackSTAR PLUS is EXACTLY the same as a real IIe, right down to the sounds out of the speaker.
A scan of the TrackSTAR PLUS ISA card.


11/15/2002 - I discovered something while looking at the TrackSTAR PLUS card just now. The 20-pin connector block, right behind the Apple 5.25 Drive port from the inside, can be used to connect an Apple Disk ][ drive. To connect it to the card properly, the red stripe on the ribbon cable of the Disk ][ must line up with pin #1 on the TrackSTAR PLUS. The only pain-in-the-ass thing about this is that you must somehow get the Disk ]['s ribbon connector inside of the PC in order to make the connection. It is this reason that I'd highly recommend using the Apple 5.25 Drive.

If you're very resourceful, you could probably make an adapter for the Disk ][ to connect to the Unidisk port. I'm sure it can be done because in the early 1990's, Applied Engineering made an adapter that did the opposite - connect an Apple 5.25 Drive to a Disk ][ controller. --The Mac Geek

Copyright © 1997-2010 Pearl City Networks. All Rights Reserved.