Comms Corner 11 - originally published in the July 1996 issue of PCW Plus.

This month, we're going to take a long overdue look at a rather different aspect of communications, one that doesn't even entail the use of a modem, yet is extremely important to ever increasing numbers of PCWers: connecting the PCW to a - brace yourself - PC for the purpose of transferring files. I'll assume that one-way traffic to the PC is the order of the day, but the principles discussed in the article apply equally to sending data in the opposite direction, should that be what's required. Likewise, the procedures are the same whether you're connecting to a Mac, an Amiga or any other machine; even another PCW!

The information contained in this article is the result of my own recent need to transfer lots of files. I'm happy to say that things aren't nearly as complicated as one might expect. However, although straightforward in principle, setting the steps down on paper inevitably makes things seem much more complicated than they really are, so pay close attention (I'll be asking questions later).

Of course, it goes without saying that owners of a PCW with 3½ inch drives can save themselves the hassle of a direct link by using special disc reading software, such as the shareware program 22DISK for the PC and the public domain MSODBALL for the PCW.

For those for whom life isn't quite so simple, the first thing you need to do is place the two machines in close proximity. Short cables make for error free transfer and are cheaper, too. If this isn't possible, for example because the two machines are at different locations, then you've got a problem and will need to look at the alternatives. These boil down to taking the mountain to Mohammed (i.e. uprooting the PCW or borrowing the PC for an evening), dialling into your firm's network for a simple terminal session (as if you were calling a BBS), or e-mailing the files. If none of these solutions are feasible, you really do have a problem and will need to have your files transferred by a professional disc service (or a fellow PCWer, perhaps at a meeting of your local user group).

At the PCW end, you'll need your serial interface and cable, but the modem can be put to one side for this exercise. Another requirement is a null modem. This small adaptor should not be confused with the externally identical gender-changer, since a gender-changer doesn't swap the transmit and receive pins and is thus useless for our purposes. Your local computer shop can supply you with a null modem for a few quid, but check first to see if your modem package included one. The SCA modem packages used by so many, for example, do.

So, plug the serial cable into the null modem, switch on the PCW, load CP/M and start up QTERM (or whatever your favourite comms software happens to be). That's the PCW more or less sorted out. Easy, isn't it?

Now for the PC. You'll need a standard serial cable, once again available from any computer accessory supplier. Plug one end of this into the null modem and the other end into the PC. Unfortunately, this is where the complicated world of the PC begins to rear its ugly head. Make sure you note which serial port you plug the cable into, since the modern PC has four, named COM1, COM2, etc. With a bit of luck (well, common sense, actually), the ports will have been labelled by the computer manufacturer and it will simply be a matter of jotting down the relevant name. If not, and your PC has a program that reports system configuration information, you can use this to find out which ports are already occupied by the mouse, etc., which should narrow the field down. Otherwise, you have little choice but to fiddle with the PC software, trying a transfer to each port in turn, until you discover which one actually has the cable connected to it.

For the sake of argument, I'll assume that COM1 has your mouse attached to it (this is usually the case) and COM2 now links to the PCW. Boot the PC and fire up your comms software. Windows has this built-in, but users of other platforms may need to get hold of a simple PD package. In the configuration section of your software, you should select the relevant communications port, which in our case is COM2. Precisely how you do this depends on the software you're using, but as an example, here are the steps for HyperTerminal, the comms package that comes with Windows 95.

Open the HyperTerminal folder by clicking the sequence Start/Programs/Accessories/HyperTerminal. A window containing a number of icons will open. Double-click on Hypertrm and the program will start up and offer you the opportunity to define a new connection. Call it PCW, select an icon to represent it (none of those offered are suitable!) and click on OK. A new window opens, requesting largely irrelevant information for the purpose of a direct connection. Click on the down arrow of the Connect Using box and select Direct to COM2 (or whatever port is relevant in your case) from the list of options.

Once again, a new window will open, this time for you to fill in the line connection details. Under Bits per second, select the highest speed that your PCW serial interface (not your modem) is capable of. If you have an Amstrad CPS8256 (compatible) interface, this is 9,600 bps. If you have a Fax Link interface, you can comfortably enter 38,400 bps here (unless the PC's a few years old, in which case you might find that the PCW is actually capable of higher speeds than its big brother!). Now select 8 data bits, 1 stop bit and no parity.

Make sure the PCW settings mirror those of the PC. You can check this in QTERM with [PASTE] I (but the baud rate and line connection settings only appear after having been set manually). If you need to change the line connection settings or just want to be on the safe side, type [PASTE] B 9600 8N1. If you only need to alter the speed, you can omit the 8N1 part. Lastly, select No flow control, click on OK and that's HyperTerminal configured and ready to go.

Next month, the second instalment of our DIY PC/PCW communion.

© 1997. Page last updated 31st December 1997