Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 12 / DECEMBER 1984 / PAGE 205

Apple cart; using a parallel printer with the IIc, an RGB interface, a speed-up card, and the problem with modems. Owen W. Linzmayer.

We are still recovering from our 10th anniversary party issue; lots of glasses to wash, ashtrays to empty, confetti to sweep up, etc. But, the column must go on! Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring our hangovers, we rush full steam ahead with this month's column. So belt back a few aspirin, open your eyes, and pay attention, we have plenty for you to read.

While I was writing my review of the Apple IIc (October 1984), third-party manufacturers were announcing IIc-specific products that seemed promising at the time. Many of these have yet to be released, but here I take a look at several that have managed to reach our Morris Plains offices. Stepping up on the soapbox, I discuss a hardware problem (and solution) concerning the IIc. Joining me for this installment of Apple Cart is the father of Creative Computing, David Ahl. Hamlet Serial to Parallel Printer Interface

For many, the Apple IIc signifies a retreat into the past. Most hardware lovers lament the demise of the expansion slots. Others contend that it was a mistake for Apple to offer a serial printer interface, now that parallel printers are all but the de facto standard. "Serial is fine for communications," antagonists claim, "but slow and outdated for printer interfaces." Eager to capitalize on such sentiments, several hardware manufacturers have put serial to parallel interfaces on their drawing boards. At the time this issue went to press, only one company had actually released a finished product: the Hamlet, from Belkin Components.

Prior to receiving the Hamlet, I had thought about what I would expect of a serial to parallel adapter. The unit should be small and simple. It should make the computer think that it is operating a standard serial printer without requiring any software patches or commands. It should connect to any parallel printer with no problems. The Hamlet has all of these characteristics.

The Hamlet comes with a short users' guide and an AC to DC adapter. The interface itself is a 4.25" x 3.5" x 1" metal box with a cable dangling from either side. To attach the Hamlet to the IIc, you simply plug the serial cable into the 5-pin DIN serial port 1 of the IIc. With the hardwired Centronics cable connected to your parallel printer, you must determine whether you need to use the voltage adapter. If your printer supplies +5 volts on pin #18, as is standard, then the adapter is not needed. However, some printers do not provide this voltage and require the AC adapter for operation of the interface.

Little more can be said of the Hamlet interface other than it works with every parallel printer we have in the office. As far as the IIc is concerned, it thinks it is operating with an Apple Imagewriter printer in the text mode. Currently, the Hamlet is not designed to accommodate graphics, but Belkin Components is working on an advanced interface that will not only convert serial signals to parallel, but also allow the printer to mimic an Imagewriter.

There are other serial to parallel interfaces available from other sources offering advanced options such as print buffers and real-time clocks, but these features may be superfluous depending upon your particular needs. Priced at $98.50, the Hamlet opens up a world of printer alternatives to the recommended Apple Scribe (see "Print About Printers," this issue). Slow Serial On IIc

Shortly after certified Apple developers received prototype IIc's for use in designing software and hardware, a small problem with the serial interface surfaced. Modem manufacturer Hayes explains that "serial ports on the original version of the Apple IIc operate 3% slower than specified. This significantly exceeds the operating range set forth in the Electronic Industries Association standard RS-404. As a result, 300 baud modems connected to these ports also operate slower, and the probability that transmission errors will occur is increased."

A call to Apple headquarters in Cupertino quickly confirmed that there is indeed something rotten in the IIc. According to Apple, the EIA standard allows for plus or minus 2% variance from the standard interface speed. The IIc, they say, operates 2.9% slower than specified. However, they contend that most systems can be configured to operate correctly and that your local Apple dealer will attempt to do just that, free of charge. If unsuccessful, the dealer will file a request for a free board swap, at which time Apple can authorize him to replace the IIc motherboard with a modified board. Apple IIc computers manufactured after December of 1984 will have a revised motherboard.

Sources at Apple tell me that the problem lies with a certain crystal in the serial interface and that they entertained the idea of asking dealers to perform hardware modifications on IIc boards, but decided to go the replacement route because it is more convenient.

The question arises, "what will Apple do with all of those bothersome boards?" Executives predict that only 4% of the installed base of Apple IIc's will be swapped. My own experience has me betting that that number is far too low. True, my Signalman Mark XII modem operates wonderfully at 300 baud, but the variance problem is magnified so much at 1200 baud that I can not even log on to CompuServe at the high speed.

Apple probably arrived at this low return rate by estimating that only a few people will ever use modems, and of these, a large percent will purchase Apple modems, which operate fine even under these adverse conditions. Furthermore, of those who buy third-party modems, most will choose 300 baud units that can be successfully configured to work. I still can't help but wonder if Apple will be inundated with defective IIc motherboards.

Apple should be commended for arranging this board swap program. Anything else would have been an insult to its customeres. AS you may know, IBM announced that all PCjr owners can bring in their sales receipts and get free full-stroke keyboards to replace the much-maligned Chiclet keyboards of old. I never though I'd say it, but it warms my heart to see Apple follow Big Blue's example. Good move Apple. RGB for IIe and IIc

Both the IIe and IIc are capable of producing 80-column text displays that are perfectly legible on monochrome monitors, yet are reduced to incomprehensible smears of glowing phosphor on color monitors. There are two ways to enjoy hi-res color displays and 80-columns of text. One solution is to purchase a monochrome monitor for text and a second color monitor for graphics. The alternative to this is to buy an RGB adapter and an RGB monitor.

Simply defined, the initials RGB refer to the red, green, and blue electron guns of a color monitor. RGB technology controls each gun separately, instead of encoding them into one composite signal as do conventional NTSC color monitors. RGB monitors are inherently of higher resolution than composite monitors and provide sharply defined characters and crisp pixel graphics displays. The biggest drawback to RGB monitors is that they are expensive--a typical unit costs upwards of $450, compared to $325 for color monitors, and $150 for monochrome displays. To use an RGB monitor with your IIe or IIc, you must first purchase a video interface board, two of which are reviewed below.

From Sakata comes the XP-7 80-column/RGB card for the Apple IIe. This card not only gives you the capability to display 80 columns of text but also offers new video modes and allows you to interface the IIe to an NTSC (composite) or RGB monitor or both.

The Sakata card plugs into the auxiliary slot of the Apple IIe, thus disabling whatever is in slot 3. The RGB signals are available on the female DB-15 connector that is attached to the board via a 6" ribbon cable. After plugging in the board, all you do is select the default text color by setting the two DIP switches on the card itself.

While in the text mode, Sakata's card simulates different color monochrome monitors. You can select amber (red), green, blue, or white text. Regardless of the mode you are in, inverse characters will always be done in white to accentuate the highlighted text.

The Sakata RGB interface card improves the video quality of the Apple IIe by removing the extraneous colors that occur during color transition in lo-res and in mixed mode text. The card not only displays normal graphics, but offers several new modes: 80-column text 16-color lo-res with option of mixing 40-column text 16-color lo-res with option of mixing 80-column text 6-color hi-res with option of mixing 40-column text 6-color hi-res with option of mixing 80-column text

These additional modes may be engaged by the use of simple software commands. The much talked about double hi-res graphics of the IIe can be displayed using the RGB interface if you first set the correct software hooks. The manufacturers of the Sakata card state that Apple has adopted their method of RGB interfacing as the official standard. In fact, Apple should have already introduced its own RGB monitor by the time you read this.

Apple IIc owners can also join in the RGB festivities thanks to the Apple IIc RGB interface from Video-7, the OEM of the Sakata card. The Video-7 interface box for the IIc offers every feature of the Sakata board, contains a few more graphics modes, and is better documented to boot. The interface is a small white box about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It attaches to the IIc via the video expansion port on the back of the computer, and the monitor cable connects directly to the box. The DB-15 connector of the RGB interface is 100% compatible with Apple III RGB output. If you are using an IBM-compatible RGB monitor, you need a special adapter, called the Grappler, also available from Video-7. Worth mentioning are the demonstration/diagnostic disks that accompany each RGB interface. These contain hi-res graphics slide shows, as well as sample uses for the new video modes.

If you are reeady to give up using your television set as a display, or sick and tired of monochrome graphics, then consider getting an RGB monitor and adapter. Both units reviewed here are of the highest quality and are now the accepted standard for Apple RGB output.

Before handing off the column to Dave, let me wish you all the very best holiday season, and here's hoping you find that perfect peripheral stuffed in your stocking. It's all yours, Dave. M-c-T SpeeDemon

The M-c-T SpeeDemon is a card for the Apple II, II+, and IIe that substantially speeds up the operation of the computer. It achieves its speed improvement by actually putting a 6502 mpu on the card and running it at a higher clock rate than the standard Apple mpu. SpeeDemon can be installed in any slot except 0 and is said to be compatible with any other peripherals or software.

Since speed is the name of the game, we first tried SpeeDemon with the standard Creative Computing benchmark. On a standard Apple, the benchmark program takes 1:53 or 113 seconds; with SpeeDemon, it takes 35.5 seconds, 3.2 times as fast. The manufacturer of SpeeDemon claims an Apple will run up to 3 1/2 times faster wiht it; we think this claim is valid. For graphic evidence of the difference in speed, you need only run Brian's Theme, that marvelous, but agonizingly slow, graphics demo on the Apple System Master disk; you'll be ethralled by the difference.

The SpeeDemon automatically slows down for a disk access, after which it speeds up again. If you want it to slow down for I/O accesses in slots 4 and 5, a simple jumper on the board may be removed.

Naturally, there will be times when you wish to disengage the SpeeDemon--playing games or doing music synthesis, for example. To turn it off, you must press the ESC key within two seconds after turning on the Apple. You can also turn it off with a software POKE instruction. Once it has been turned off, only turning the computer off and then back on will re-activate the SpeeDemon card.

We found that the timing of pressing the ESC key was very critical; it must be after the computer is turned on but before the disk starts to spin, otherwise you are in speedup mode. In case you are wondering--no you can't play games with SpeeDemon; things move too fast, and the joystick (or paddle) is not polled for long enough to accept a response.

The SpeeDemon card has a built in self-test that can be engaged upon system start-up. It takes about two minutes to run and produces some rather boring mosaic patterns while it is doing so. Unfortunately, the instruction card gives no interpretation of the test message. Ours said, PASS 01, PASS 02, TEST PPPPF, and locked up. Does that mean it passed four tests and failed the fifth? It seemed to work okay, so we ignored these results.

Our recommendation: if you do much number crunching, sorting, data processing, or graphics work, SpeeDemon is probably an excellent investment (price $295), particularly if you frequently find yourself "waiting for the computer." On the other hand, if your applications are I/O bound (disk, printer, modem), or if you are running mostly games, educational packages, or music synthesis, SpeeDemon won't do you a great deal of good.