Quadscreen; hi-res and 80 columns for the IBM PC. (evaluation) Steve Arrants.
Hi-Res and 80 Columns For The IBM PC
Most computers offer a text resolution of 80 by 24 characters. That is generally satisfactory for most word processing applications. When you use a spreadsheet, however, the constant scrolling around the screen can be a bit confusing. Remembering the information in cell A12 and then scrolling to cell BB125 requires more memory capacity than most people have. Quadscreen is a product designed to help alleviate this problem. Quadscreen enlarges the screen of the IBM PC and gives it the ability to generate a 160 by 64 display--large enough for most spreadsheets.
With many word processing programs, what you see is not exactly what you get. Italics are surrounded by control codes, as are underlining and super- and subscripts. Scientific and mathematical formulae are rendered all but unreadable on-screen by the complicated printing codes needed to generate them. Here again, Quadscreen may be a solution. Because of the flexibility of bitmapped displays, you can control and display information in the exact form you would like it printed. Bit-mapping is also useful in graphics applications. With Quadscreen you can display a graphics screen of 968 by 512 pixels.
The Quadscreen Package
The Quadscreen package contains the Quadscreen monitor, a high-resolution black-and-white screen that measures 17 (diagonal), designed to eliminate screen flicker. Resolution is 968 horizontal dots by 512 vertical lines. Up to 10,240 characters can be placed on the screen at any one time.
The Quadscreen video card contains 128K of dual-ported RAM which holds 1024 dot rows, of which any consecutive 512 can be on screen at one time.
Two disks of software are provided. One contains the Quadscreen boot program and utilities. The second contains source code for COM/EXE files. Both disks are unprotected.
As with any peripheral card installation on the IBM PC, everything must be disconnected, disassembled, and pulled apart. Once the system unit is open, the Quadscreen card can be installed in any available slot.
The most difficult--and confusing-- part of installation is the setting of dip switches on the system board. The IBM manual can be confusing as to which set of switches is which. We suggest making a diagram of the settings before you change them.
With the switches set and the PC reassembled, you have only to connect the video card to the monitor.
Installing the software is much simpler. You just boot DOS 2.0, insert the Quadscreen Source Code disk, and run QSINIT. Instructions for patching the Quadscreen drivers into BasicA and DOS appear on the screen.
The standard driver allows for four display modes and four options (see Table 1).
When running Quadscreen, you specify the number of characters per line and the type of scrolling and select full or split screen. The software then selects which character font is best suited to your selections.
The FONTEDIT utility is helpful in the creation and editing of new fonts which can then be applied to the driver software. You edit a character on a screen grid with the function keys and the numeric keypad.
FONTEDIT is as easy to use as other character generators, but adding joystick or mouse control would have made it much easier. A library of pre-defined characters would be welcome.
BasicA was, of course, written for a standard IBM PC display. Quadram includes BasicQ, which takes the special characteristics of Quadscreen into account. It is compatible with BasicA in that any program designed to run under BasicA will run under BasicQ, but not vice versa. Table 2 points out the differences between the two Basics.
Looks Nice, But What Can It Do?
The success of any product should be determined not by what it can do, but how easy it is to achieve the desired results. With that in mind, our reaction to Quadscreen is mixed.
The large display area is striking. Having a large VisiCalc spreadsheet on the screen may be important to you. We think that scrolling on a standard display is an acceptable trade-off.
Not all software will work with Quadscreen. Because the screen drivers reside in system memory and not at a video address, some software may overwrite the drivers and send your PC into a coma. We tested Quadscreen with the new Electric Pencil word processor and could not get them to run concurrently. A call to Quadram was helpful: we had a beta-test version of Electric Pencil and Quadram was in the process of writing patches to the software drivers.
Quadram was also helpful when we called with a question in the documentation. In both cases, the answers were helpful and to the point. This is typical of Quadram's support. Unlike some peripheral manufacturers, Quadram doesn't leave users to turn in the wind.
"There is no such thing as a free lunch,' goes the saying. That is true for Quadscreen as well. It is capable of a great deal. But at a suggested price of $1995, we would expect a more versatile and easier to use product. In reality, to take advantage of its capabilities, you must invest quite a bit of time. You can't use a daisy wheel printer with custom designed character sets. And chances are even your dot matrix printer won't understand these characters unless they are accompanied by control codes.
If, however, you plan to use Quadscreen only for large spreadsheet display or complicated graphics, it may be worth the investment.
Products: Quadscreen (computer apparatus)