A few months ago I got it into my head to finally attach an external CD-ROM drive to one of my Amiga 3000s. I’ve used a SyQuest drive and an Iomega Zip 100 with Amiga computers and frankly I love those old school mass storage options. But the allure of a quiet CD-ROM drive for file storage, backups, mod file playback and even just listening to music CDs - of which I have stacks begging for use - was beyond compelling. It became a siren song.
So, I started looking around for a SCSI CD-ROM player. I like to keep things period correct most of the time, with a few exceptions depending on the system. After a lot of looking and research I landed on the beautiful AppleCD 300e Plus.
There are a ton of external SCSI CD-ROM drive options out there; this just happens to be the one I chose. For example, I have a friend with a gorgeous external SCSI drive made by Sun Microsystems, and others who use ATAPI drives with different connectors. But those are stories for another day.
The AppleCD drive I found looks virtually brand new and unused. I got it for $80 - and that included free shipping. It is built like a tank with a painted metal case that nearly matches my 3000’s case and front fascia. The AppleCD is just slightly lighter in hue.
My unit was manufactured in December of 1994. The 300e Plus was the last 2X speed external CD-ROM drive Apple produced before moving on to 4X.
To use the drive I needed to acquire the following hardware:
- I needed a data cable: 3ft DB25 male to Centronics (Cn) 50-pin male SCSI Cable
- I also needed what’s called a SCSI Terminator: I went with a really nice Granite Digital gold SCSI 50-Pin external active Terminator. It’s a really nice build, was around $20 and that included free shipping as well.
- And I needed a typical 18 AWG power cord.
AppleCD 300e Plus
The Apple CD-300e Plus is a dual mode, 2X speed SCSI CD-ROM drive that supports playing of audio CDs, reading of CD-ROMs and data disks, is multi-session compatible, and conforms to several other standards. As a bonus it can read digital data from audio CDs and even certain types of Kodak and other various photo CDs. And that’s true even with an Amiga.
These drives were originally sold as an entire multimedia kit with the express intention of being used on “Rival’s PC’s” which included speakers, software and cabling. If only Commodore had been so bold…
They retailed for $500 in 1993 and 1994, which is the equivalent of about $905 US in 2020 dollars. It might be hard for many to remember, but back then this would have been considered a “cheaper” option and a very reasonable price. The previous model, the Apple CD 300, retailed for $599 in 1992, which was also considered very fair at the time.
Some machines, like the Amiga 4000, will need a SCSI host adapter to use this drive. The Amiga 3000 and all of its older siblings are fully SCSI capable out of the box so from a hardware perspective this was a plug-and-play situation using it’s external SCSI port.
The front panel includes an eject button, LED light (with two LED colors - green for power, and amber for activity), a headphone jack with volume control dial, and a motorized CD tray that can eject or engage with the tap of a button. Even the soft nudge of one’s finger on the open tray will close it automatically. No flimsy disk caddies for this drive, no sir! The original AppleCD 300 drive was in fact a caddy-load model, harkening back to the earliest consumer CD ROM days. I’m looking at you, CDTV. To be fair, the CDTV came out in 1991 and caddy-loaders were typical then so you have to give it a pass.
Of course, like most tray-loading computer CD and DVD drives, there’s also a tiny little hole on the front face to force-eject a disk that doesn’t want to come out. The way to do this is with a straightened paperclip; press it firmly into the tiny little hole when the power is off and the drive door mechanism should open and will pop out its CD tray. It also has a nice little trap door to protect against dust.
On the back of the drive there are two RCA audio jacks for connecting to an amp or amplified speakers, two 50-pin SCSI ports and a manual SCSI ID selector.
The drive has an average access time of 295 milliseconds in double-speed mode, in which it can also transfer 342 KB of data per second.
The Amiga Machine in Use with this CD-ROM Drive
...is an Amiga 3000 030/16Mhz model
It is running AmigaOS 3.1
I’m using the Built-in external SCSI port
It has MagicWB installed and
is running a zz9000 RTG graphics card made in 2020 (with the fatal flaw repaired and verified fixed)
@1024x768 via HDMI
a brand new Beetronics 15” 4:3 LCD monitor with a metal frame and stand, with 1024x768 native resolution. The screen is so sharp, it’s jaw dropping.
It also has 256MB BigRAM
8MB on-board RAM
512MB SCSI2SD hdd
As is often the case with Amigas, the software support is both awe inspiring and a bit Wild West. It’s awe inspiring because so many people took It upon themselves to simply create Public Domain freeware and shareware software for the benefit of the entire Amiga community. But it’s also Wild West because there’s no simple path to take on how to easily get from A to Z with a lot of this stuff. It typically requires a lot of research and experimentation. And that can generate rivaling emotions of joy and frustration, depending on the project.
Back in the day pre-internet I imagine it could have been really challenging, especially if you weren’t a member of a local user group, to get some of this stuff up and running. Thankfully we now have decades of Aminet.net software and Readme files at our fingertips.
The first step software-wise was to get CD file system support installed, which is not there by default and is partly why Amiga fell behind PC & Mac and ultimately died. There’s a legitimate reason Lucas Arts didn’t port an enhanced version of Fate of Atlantis to Amiga on CD-ROM, and that fact haunts me to this day, but that’s a topic for another time.
I went with AmiCDROM version 1.5
That’s right - you can read certain Macintosh data disks. It can even read Kodak PhotoCDs. Remember those?AmiCDROM is a CDROM disk filing system for the Commodore Amiga. It supports the ISO-9660 standard, the Rock Ridge Interchange Protocol and the Macintosh HFS format.
Well how cool is that?The CDROM drive is mounted as a DOS device (e.g. CD0:). You can access files and directories on a CDROM disk by the usual syntax, e.g. type “cd0:foo/readme.txt
Once that’s installed, it’s time to wade through the jungle of music players.
Players Tested So Far
HippoPlayer (of course)
There are tons more out there, but this is where I started.
First, DOpus 4.1 - the epic file management system for Amiga by GP Software. While I’m running OS 3.1, I still prefer the older version of 4.1 over version 5. And DOpus actually works with MODs, albeit one track at a time…I think? You can use the default Play button to start listening to a music file off the CD, and hit it again to stop it. It’s totally blind, but it works. There are probably pluggins out there to enhance this experience and give you visual feedback but this is how it works right out of the box and frankly it’s pretty cool.
Next up is EaglePlayer which had an update as recently as July 12, 2020! This player could and probably should have it’s own separate review it is so deep and vast. It’s almost too much to deal with for me as there are so many options to choose from it’s a bit overwhelming at first. But once it is set up, you can pretty much stop fiddling and just enjoy it. I like to use the skeuomorphic Player called EMPY with it as it just looks so kick ass and takes me back to UI music player designs from the late 90s big time. It supports more than 150 music formats including most common sample formats. And it currently supports up to 64 custom programs, e.g. amplifiers, user-interfaces, analyzers, scopes, external de-packers, list views, managers, etc. It really is unbelievable. It also supports RTG graphics cards, which is an unexpected bonus for some. It can even access and de-crunch most archive file formats and treat archived files like a directory!
Next up, HippoPlayer, our legendary old friend that works on any Amiga all the way back to OS 1.3. There’s no reason not to put this program on every Amiga with a hard drive let alone a CD player.
And finally, there’s GroovyPlayer (which was made specifically for playing music CDs - and it’s F’ing AWESOME. If you just want to listen to music CDs, this beautiful and simple player is the best option IMO. It’s just perfect. It can play any music CD without having to read pages of README DOCs - it’s so simple, that’s half the charm. But it also has the potential to go quite deep.
The program comes with over 800 pre-written data files for album titles and track info, but frankly it probably won’t know most of your own music collection. No worries because you can type your own CD and track lists and save that data for the next time you insert your music CD. It’s the absolute BOMB for the OCD of us out there that really need to get rid of “UNKNOWN CD” on the GUI while you listen to music and do your other work. I’ve already started making a few of those CD data files myself…
I’ve been having a total blast playing MODs off of CD-ROM.
But I also just love playing music CDs with GroovyPlayer while using the Amiga with other tasks. Popping in the headphones to the CD drive while checking up on my favorite BBSes feels so… modern and posh!
I do notice a tiny bit of audio static when I adjust the volume using the drive’s front control dial. I will likely need to hit it with some electronics cleaner and see if I can eliminate that noise.
One Minor Quibble
If you decide to use amplified speakers with the RCA jacks on the back of the AppleCD to listen to music, it’s a total bitch to reach around and hit the power button as the jacks and cables are in the way unless you sneak around from the side, which is not how my computer is currently set up. I would need the CD drive to be to the right of my A3000, and my desk space does not allow for that.
Data Bliss Like a Boss
I’ve started downloading Fred Fish ISO images from the Internet Archive like Gold Fish and have been burning them to CDs. This is going to sound incredibly old-school, but I’ve been doing this on a ThinkPad T60 running Windows XP using some excellent if ancient freeware called ImgBurn. It works perfectly and has some smile inducing sound effects. In any case, the process works well.
It’s so cool to have 250 Fred Fish disks with over 5,500 individual programs on a single CD-ROM to browse! And I much prefer reading through the vast treasure trove of software on my Amiga’s monitor than some cold Google search result on a modern Mac or PC. I mean, I still do that sometimes but it doesn’t tickle the nostalgia bones the same way, you know what I mean? It feels right.
Ah… it’s like it’s 1993 again. That was a really good year.
The hardest part of all of this was the software journey. It helps to realize that some players are better suited (or specific to) MOD music, while others are actually superior for audio CDs. There are even others that will take audio CDs and pass them through Paula which creates their own unique sound and experience.
But if you want to listen to a music CD, GroovyPlayer is hard to beat in my opinion. And for everything else? Well, that’s up to you! And the journey is often half the fun. I hope this video/article helps some of you out there avoid any frustration in your own vintage computing journeys with CD drives and Amigas.
And let me know what your favorite players are as I’m always looking to keep that knowledge flowing and adding to the experience.
AppleCD 300ePlus Techical Specs:
Playback medium: 120mm and 80mm optical disc
Mode 1: 656 MB
Mode 2: 748 MB
Data surfaces: 1
Data per block:
Mode 1: 2048 bytes
Mode 2: 2336 bytes
Blocks per disc: 336,150
Playing time: 74 minutes and 42 seconds
Frequency response: not specified (20 to 20,000 Hz)
Rotational speed (approx):
-- Normal speed (1X): 230 to 530 rpm
-- Double speed (2X): 460 to 1060 rpm
Latency (average): varies over radius
-- Normal speed (1X): 55 to 130 ms
-- Double speed (2X): 27.5 to 65 ms
Average access time (typical):
-- Normal speed (1X): 410 ms
-- Double speed (2X): <290 ms
Data streaming rate, normal speed (1X):
-- Mode 1: 150 KB/sec
-- Mode 2: 171 KB/sec
Data streaming rate, double speed (2X):
-- Mode 1: 300 KB/sec
-- Mode 2: 342 KB/sec
* "(2X)" is the symbol for increased performance -double the spin speed
-- Normal speed (1X): 75 blocks/sec
-- Double speed (2X): 150 blocks/sec
SCSI bus transfer burst rate (typical)
-- Asynch: 2.5 MB/sec
-- Synch: 2.1 MB/sec
CD-ROM Modes 1 and 2
CD-ROM XA Mode 2, Forms 1 and 2
CD+I Mode 2, Forms 1 and 2
Photo CD Single and multisession
CDDA (CD digital audio data via SCSI bus Interface)
One headphone jack with volume control (front panel)
Two SCSI 50-pin connectors (rear panel)
Two RCA audio output jacks
Output Power 0.14 mW
Beam divergence 53.5+-1.5 degrees
Power requirements: 100 to 240 V AC, 50/60 Hz, 0.28-0.17 Amp
Temperature: 41F to 104F (5C to 40C)
Relative humidity: 5% to 90% noncondensing
Storage temperature ( 6 mo.): -22F to 122F (-30C to 50C)
Transient temperature (72 hrs.): -40F to 149F (-40C to 65C)
Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing