Who would have thought that something as simple as installing a ROMX in Apple ][ would turn into a 2-day trip down the rabbit hole of Apple ][ 16K Language cards? I was first introduced to the Apple ][ “16K expansion card” as I called it back in 1986 when I purchased my secondhand Apple][ EuroPlus with 48kB* of memory for university assignments. I quickly discovered that I needed 64kB and the SHIFT key mod to really allow me to do anything I needed it to do.My needs this time where a lot simpler. I have a “new” Apple][+ now. “New” being a ReactiveMicro reproduction Apple ][+ Rev. 7 RFI motherboard**. I have a few original Apple][s but they can be a bit flaky so I figured a new one might handle the rigors of numerous chip and card swaps I was planning. My plan was to test all my old interface cards and play with anything new the Apple ][ retro community was coming up with. Dean Claxton and Jeff Mazur had just released the ROMX and it was something I certainly wanted to play with. I didn’t have any knowledge on Apple ROMs. I knew the basics (pardon the pun) in regard to Integer BASIC and AppleSoft BASIC ROMs but knew nothing about AutoSTART ROMs, F8, F0, E8, E0, D8, D0. My only experience was my original Apple][ EuroPlus with Apple 16kB language card which basically had AppleSoft and booted a drive in Slot 6 so I really never needed to know about these ROMs.
It wasn’t until I read the installation instructions for the ROMX that I figured out I had better get a better understanding of these ROMs. I dug out a copy of Understanding the Apple II by Jim Sather from my book collection and started reading. It was a wealth of knowledge even if most of it was over my head. How does understanding these ROMs have anything to do with 16kB Language cards? As it turns out, a lot. At the very end of the ROMX installation instructions there is a whole section dedicated to Apple Language Card compatibility and modification. This card was originally released with the Apple Pascal Language system hence the “Language Card” name. The card added 16kB of memory to the Apple ][ to allow for Pascal to run. It also added the F8 AutoSTART ROM which allowed the Apple ][ to boot directly from a floppy disc rather than having to do a CTRL-RESET and PR#6. Apple eventually added the F8 ROM as standard to the motherboard so the F8 ROM was no longer needed on the card. However Apple did continue to ship the card with the F8 ROM as did many of the clone makers. Microsoft in 1980, followed by the clone makers, released 16kB memory cards that didn’t contain the F8 ROM.
So how is this all relevant to installing a ROMX and why does the Apple Language card need modifying? Basically the Apple ][ will load the F8 ROM from the card if it detects it and this will override any other F8 ROM on the motherboard. The whole point of the ROMX is to replace all other ROMs including F8. The hardware modifications suggested in the ROMX manual disables the F8 ROM on the card and stops it from being detected. I didn’t want to do a hardware modification, this was what really pushed me down the rabbit hole. I needed to find a 16kB Language card that worked and didn’t have an F8 ROM or any other ROM on it. It does raise the question, when does a Language card become just a 16kB memory expansion card just like I had called it back in 1986? I would suggest the removal of the ROM makes it a memory expansion card.
It was time to dig into my box of Apple ][ interface cards and try and find one that met the criteria. I actually found several, and also uncovered what appears to be the sins/hacks/repairs by owners past. Deeper down the rabbit hole I went.
I found three Apple Language cards (two A version, one B version), one Microsoft card, two no name clones and one clone with a toggle switch on the back.
In Part II of “The Apple ][ Language Card Rabbit Hole” I will take a bit more of a deep dive into each card and what I found.
*Yes it was 48kB and yes I got scammed into buying the “additional” 16kB card even though every EuroPlus shipped with one.
**I have paired the ReactiveMicro motherboard with a ReactiveMicro Universal Enclosure PSU with options voltage meters, and an old clone case and keyboard.