A LOOk AT SyNChROMESh
GARy MATTESON (AkA "ThE WAGON MASTER") AC STAff REViEWER
Atari In The Wild West
My connections with the Atari began in 1982 when "2001", "An Electronic Odyssey of Games, Gadgets & Gizmos" opened their doors here in Norfolk, Nebraska. Dick and Debbie Day, the then proprietors of said store recently brought to my attention how, out of all the people who visited their new store during the grand opening, I was first to buy an Atari computer-a 400 with a 32k Axlon expansion board that yielded a whopping 48K of memory, plus a 410 cassette drive. Like many of my fellow Atarians at the time, my billfold was not overloaded with greenbacks. Obviously not a pleasing situation, but ultimately it worked to my advantage because I was forced to become a careful buyer.
Those were the days before any of us heard slogans like "Power Without the Price": they definitely were days of getting better educated and in more ways than I could have imagined. Few references were available then, although the manuals that accompanied this first generation of Classic Ataris were considerably more user-friendly and helpful than the manuals with the ST of later years. So, like many others bedazzled by the possibilities of the little 8-bit wonder, I read everything I could get in my "shaking with excitement hands." Pre-ANTIC days, pre-Compute! days, pre-everything days: still have your copies of Santa Cruz Educational Software? Remember the "Tricky Tutorials" on tape? Hey-I've got mine! But tape has its limitations, and out here in the hot Nebraska sun I thirsted for a disk drive.
Corraling The Indus
The day arrived when I could no longer put off buying my first disk drive. Initially I considered an Atari, but with over (gasp!) one year of experience and an equal amount of time browsing articles and ads, I purchased an Indus GT. Perhaps a year later another GT joined the first one in my "komputer korner", as I referred to it then. With the arrival of this second drive there came a surprise: a new version of OSS's DOSXL: rev. 2.3512, and something else called "Synchromesh".
Indus Systems of Chatsworth, CA had sent me a product I had never heard of, but I soon realized and then appreciated its value: SPEED! Basically, Synchromesh and DOS-XL (in the manufacturers own words) are "...two completely independent software packages which require each other in order to function to their fullest extent." What the two accomplished together was "to increase the transfer of data" between my Atari computer and the Indus GT "at speeds, multiple times faster than ordinary disk drive data transfers."
You begin by install this file called INITSYNC.COM onto your boot disk. Upon bootup, that file would initialize designated programs on any disk with the file SYNCBOOT.SYS; the effect was similar to what would happen to cattle if I cracked a whip over their heads and hollered "Git along little doggies!", only faster. Once Synchromesh has loaded, everything after that loads lighting quick. Recall for a moment the beep sounds you normally hear when a program or data is loading. With Synchromesh, the "beeps" are transformed into sounds ... well, a little like a telegrapher's key at work.
Synchromesh is "density smart", and you can turn it "on" or "off". Other features: no difference in disk formatting, booting or copying procedures; those with a RAM Charger experience an even greater increase in performance. Synchromesh is useable with the entire Atari line, the 400/800/XL/XE, but you must have an Indus GT drive. No other brand of disk drive will work with Synchromesh. Gosh, imagine that, its only disadvantage. DOS-XL will work on other brands of drives, but without the hi-speed capability offered by Synchromesh on the Indus GT.
Another Indus product that I missed out on: a printed circuit board that piggy-backed onto the one inside the GT drive, allowing the Atari to use CP/M. Switching between CP/M and DOS was supposed to be accomplished from the keyboard. If there are still some Indus users out there, I'd be delighted if anyone who used this product could write to AC about their experience. How well did it function? Did it provide access to useful programs, meeting a need not covered by standard Atari programs? Is it still available? Write to me c% **AC**, we'll see if there are still a few diehard Indus GT users out there.
Happy Trails to you...
Editor's Note. Indus Systems famous for its "Turn Your Atari Into A Ferrari "ads in ANTIC and Analog, probably chose the Synchromesh name to fit its racy marketing image. By 1987 the company had burned itself out in competition with the Atari 1050. Synchromesh is basically a sector skewing scheme similar to the many upgrades available for 1050 drives (ICD's U/S Doubler, CSS's Super Archiver, Happy 1050, etc.). Similar speed performance could be obtained at a much lower price by purchasing a 1050 and the desired upgrade separately.
The interesting thing about Synchromesh is that the speed enhancement was accomplished via software, while corresponding upgrades to the 1050 were primarily hardware. Unfortunately, the Indus software upgrade required perfect communications between the computer and drive, while the 1050 hardware upgrades are more robust. According to AC's Technical Consultant, Bob Puff, any minor glitch on the SIO could cause the Indus drive to lock up when using Syncromesh. There were also vague reports of compatahility problems between Syncromesh and DOS's from other manufacturers.
In those early days of Atari's catapult to 8-bit success, there were a dozen ways to solve every problem and no one knew which way would be best. Manufacturers sprang into the market with products reflecting their particular philosophy. The fact that there's a lively market for used 1050's today, and that hardware upgrades for the 1050 are still readily available, suggests the hardware approach to speed enhancement was the final winner over the software method represented by Indus. Nevertheless the sleek and sporty Indus still has its coterie of followers, and you'll see the occasional GT turning up at swap meets. -BP