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The Rotronics Wafadrive

The Rotronics Wafadrive was released as a direct competitor to Sinclair’s Microdrive, offering large storage and fast access, something to replace the painfully slow cassette medium. As with the Microdrive, it never really managed that task, and the Rotronics system never reached the sales numbers the Sinclair units did.

It is a large device that connects directly to the spectrum via the edge connector and offers a direct pass-through for other peripherals. Also included in the unit, as well as the dual drives, is a centronics printer port and an RS232 serial port.

The dual 128k drives used the same continuous tape loop system like the Microdrive, but used lower quality tape. This inevitably led to higher return rates. The wafas came in four flavours, 16k, 32k,64k and 128k, with speed differences between them. The 128k wafas were slower due to the seek times on a tape loop system. The drives also worked at two speeds, the faster one used for seeking and the slower one for loading.

Compared to Microdrives the loading speeds were slower, a 32k game took around 40 seconds compared to 12 on the Sinclair unit. These speeds must be taken with a pinch of salt however, as the speeds vary a lot depending on the wafa, and if there is any other data on the tape.

Commercially, there was very little software released for it, Sherlock, Mugsy, Heatrow, Nightflight 2, Starbike and the Seibad trilogy, Bear bovver, Loopy Landry, World cup, and the Artist are the only ones that come to mind.

Supplied with the unit was a word processor called Spectral Writer and a utility wafa containing transfer, formatting and header reader tools.

Initiating the on-board ROM caused the Spectrum memory to be paged out and the Wafadrives OS paged in, offering new commands to format, verify, catalogue save and load. The disadvantage of this was that it took up 2k of RAM, meaning any large 48K games would not work if they used all of the available memory.

Loading and saving your own games was easy enough, but transferring commercial software proved very difficult, almost always involved writing your own BASIC loaders. Having tried many games, including early 16K ones like Frenzy and Galaxians, after 3 hours I still hadn’t managed to get a game onto a wafa. Doing this with protected software would be impossible, even using a multiface device would involve modifying the loaders to take into account the new syntax.

Finally, after another hour I managed to get Bug Byte’s Birds and the Bees transferred across. This 25K game, normally takes about 2minutes and 25 seconds to load from tape but using a 32K wafa the game loads in 1 minute dead.

Demand for the unit was not high and the price soon began to drop from its opening price of £129 to just £14.99. At that price it should have been a huge success, but because of a lack of support from games companies, the unit went the same way as the Microdrive.