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Lt Kernal Host Adapters and Enclosure

Standard external Hard Drive enclosure and both types of LTK Host Adapters

Brief History:

The Lt. Kernal is a 1980's SCSI Hard Drive system that was originally designed by Fiscal Information and marketed by Xetec as a mass storage enhancement for the Commodore 64 and 128 computers. At the time, Commodore's 9060 and 9090 hard drives (both of which were unreliable boat anchors that ran off the IEEE-488 bus) weighed 25 pounds, took 60 seconds to spin-up and only provided 5 to 7.5 megabytes of storage! Clearly something better was needed! The LTK was the pioneering hard drive system that met this need.

The Lt. Kernal had no competitors when it came on the market in late 1984. The others got into the picture when it became clear that there was a market for high capacity mass storage, especially with BBS SYSOP's (many of whom were making do with CBM SFD-1001 and 8250 floppy units attached to various IEEE-488 interface cartridges). With the LTK on the market, it also helped kill Commodore's 'HD10' drive from being developed, but also ensured that the 1581 development survived. Later, the Lt. Kernal was followed by the familiar and less capable CMD, IDE64 and other hard drive systems that are sold today.

So, who bought the Lt. Kernal? The Lt. Kernal was marketed to small businesses and, of course, all of the BBS SysOps! The systems are compact, have a clean design and provided a whopping 20 to 40 Meg stock storage capacity! That seemed like a thousand 1541 disks at the time. The Lt. Kernal system could also be 'multiplexed' with other Commodore computers to one hard drive (see the Host Adapter MUXer section). Also, some BBS programs of that time were written around the LTK's design which meant application compatibility and a turnkey BBS. The downside was the Price! The 1987 release of the newest model cost $899 for the C64 version and $949 for the C128. It certainly was not like buying a hard drive today! It was more like buying a car which is probably why all Ex-SysOps hold on to their LTKs today. Actually, the SysOps got discounts and could buy the system for the amazing price of only $599; what a deal!

The Lt. Kernal first appeared as an idea in 1983 and a prototype was developed in 1984. Lloyd Sponenburgh and Roy Southwick, who developed the Lt. Kernal, provided a hard drive system with a level of technical sophistication that did not exist at that point. Fiscal Information designed a Host Adapter and DOS software system for the Commodore which originally used an MFM, 10 megabyte, hard drive and an OMTI Controller card. The OMTI controllers then in use were SASI to ST-506 interface devices (pre-SCSI) and like all intelligent drive controllers, didn't care about which magnetic encoding scheme was built into the drive. As you may recall, ST-506 was the hard drive interface used in the first IBM PC's. The LTK's original OMTI controller (i.e., 5300) not only could control two ST-506 drives, it could run a QIC-02 tape drive. In fact, it was possible to program the controller to do direct disk to tape (and back) copies, without a single byte having to be passed through the Commodore host computer.

While Fiscal always retained the DOS and Host Adapter Firmware rights, manufacturing was turned over to Xetec in 1987, which is when cost reduction began in earnest. Just prior to transferring manufacturing to Xetec, Fiscal added Shadow RAM. Shadow RAM was the first extra feature to be installed, as the original LK DOS ran in Commodore RAM under the kernal ROM, leading to incompatibilities with some of the sloppily designed BBS packages that were then in use (both C-Net and Image, a C-Net derivative, immediately come to mind -- arguably the two worst cases of spaghetti code ever written by anyone). However, Xetec soon made hardware design changes. They adding ICQUB, I/O port selection and C128 native mode compatibility. As things progressed, a less-capable OMTI 3100 controller was used as another cost-reduction move. The final system (which most people know as a Lt. Kernal) used a newer Host Adapter (Rev B then Rev. C) and did away with the OMTI Controller cards by using embedded controller SCSI drives.

Estimates in the late 1980's placed the LTK market share at around 22-25 percent of the total 8 bit CBM hard drive market prior to the availability of CMD's less-capable product. No question price was a factor once CMD came on the scene. However, as in almost everything else, you only got what you paid for. The lower price for the CMD drive was partially the result of having an inferior interface design and partly the result of not having the extensive command line capabilities built into the LK DOS. Plus you have to remember the Lt. Kernal was the only subsystem that could be multiplexed (i.e., multiple Commodore computers connected to one hard drive).

Finally, Fiscal Information ceased to exist in 1997 (bought out by Reynolds and Reynolds) and Xetec closed their doors shortly thereafter. While Ron Fick purchased Xetecs' remaining LTK stock and privately supported the Lt. Kernal, his untimely death in 1999 also signaled the end of readily available LTK support.

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