The Messenger was an interface for the ZX Spectrum that allowed a PLUS-D/Multiface-type snapshot to be taken and then transferred via the MIDI/Network port to the Sam (with an additional card for NMI debounce)
Version 1 was a bare PCB on the Spectrum side but version 1.1 was redesigned and fitted in a Kempston joystick interface box with a logo covering the redundant 9-way DSUB hole.
The board appears to be designed on the same lines as the PlusD interface in that it has a ROM image held on an 8Kbyte 27C64AD EPROM, HY6264 8Kbyte CMOS SRAM, decoding logic and a GAL to run the unit.
There is also and Optocoupler to isolate the incoming MIDI/NET connection.
There is an NMI button for the Spectrum side to freeze the Spectrum, page out the Spectrum ROM and page in the Messenger as well as an activity LED (only on V1.0, the provision is made on V1.1 but not soldered on) and cable to run to the Coupé MIDI port nearest the edge of the case.
There is also a jumper to support the Spectrum +2A/B/+3 Edge connector type.
‘The Messenger’ was Samco’s ultimate answer to spectrum compatibility. It consisted of an interface which plugged into the edge connector on the back of the spectrum and from this a cable ran to the SAM’s network port. There was also a very small card which plugged into the SAM’s EuroConnector and had a single button on it which generated an NMI. The third part was a disk that had the Messenger program itself on it.
Basically operation worked like this:
When you first bought the messenger you transferred the Spectrum’s ROM down the network cable and stored it on the Messenger disk.
From then on, to get a new game onto the SAM you loaded the Messenger disk into the SAM and loaded the game that you wanted into the Spectrum from tape in the usual way.
Once the game was loaded into the Spectrum you pressed the button on the back of the Messenger interface (which is plugged into the Spectrum remember), and this ‘froze’ the machine at that point.
You then had a number of options that you could select from a menu on the SAM:
Selecting “Receive Program” transferred whatever was running on the Spectrum down the network cable onto the SAM and you could then run it on the SAM and/or save it to disk.
If you had a Spectrum program running on the SAM then the NMI card allowed you to exit it and return to the Messenger menu.
In future, whenever you wanted to play the same game all you needed to do was load in the Messenger software and then load the game from a SAM disk, very much faster than waiting for a tape!
Further features of the Messenger:
Program transfer worked both ways - you could download a program from the SAM onto the Spectrum where it would run quite happily. This was useful as there are some Spectrum games where you simply have to save to tape occasionally.
As well as transferring complete programs you could also send and receive screenshots from the Spectrum in SCREEN$ format.
As I implied above the Messenger allowed you to download the Spectrum’s ROM to the SAM.
Finally, if you simply loaded the Messenger disk and selected the ‘Run Program’ option without first loading a game then you got the familiar ‘(c) 1982 Sinclair Research’ and had all the fun features of Sinclair BASIC to play with.
Early versions of the Messenger interfaces were supplied by MGT/SAMCo without cases around the circuit boards. The model I bought had a case of the Spectrum side (a bog standard Kempston joystick interface box with a hole cut in the back for the interrupt button and an MGT type sticker over the hole where the joystick usual went. (it looked professional!)). The NMI card which went into the back of the SAM had no box, but it didn’t need one as it was a piece of PCB mounting a spring loaded switch.
Overall there must have been 95%+ Spectrum compatibility, and even those games that did not run perfectly were usually playable. The NMI card allowed you to interrupt play and snapshot to disk at will so you could save moments of glory or start the game from level 5 each time if you liked.
The Messenger was easily far and away the best method of getting Spectrum compatibility for the SAM.
Attached are the instruction sheets that came the Messenger v1.1.
The Messenger is Bruce Gordon’s first Spectrum interface for over 2 years, but it seems that the old man hasn’t lost his touch on producing a fine piece of valuable hardware for any SAM-Spectrum owner.
The Messenger is a black box which hugs onto the Spectrum’s edge connector, and has a cable linking to the Coupe’s MIDI ports. From here, you can load up Spectrum stuff on your Spectrum, then once the game is loaded, “port” the code across to the SAM. A button on the Messenger itself freezes the action of the Spectrum - a lot like a Multiface, and with this, you can do the business and save it to disk.
Because you are loading stuff on the Spectrum itself, there is a very, very high compatibility rate of 99%. The other 1%, I think, is for a crap tape header, or something. There’s no buggering around with tape volume at all, and it’s all extremely friendly to use. In short, a worthwhile and essential purchase for any Spectrum-SAM owner!