The Michigan ATARI COMPUTER Exposition
BY DAREK MIHOCKA
By the time you read this, the Michigan Atari Computer Exposition will be several months in the past. But since there were quite a few exhibitors at the show, some of you may be interested in knowing what you missed.
The show was held during the weekend of May 6th and 7th in Romulus. Michigan (about 20 minutes west of Detroit). This location put it within easy reach of most of the Create Lakes states, and this was evident by the large user-group showing from Michigan. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario. Almost a dozen user groups had displays set up. The show itself was presented by the Detroit-based Michigan Atari Computer Enthusiasts (MACE).
In addition to the users' groups, about 25 vendors had almost 5,000 square feet of floor space and there were continuous seminars being given on a variety of topics for both the 8-bit and ST computers. During the 15 hours of the show, almost 2,000 people attended.
Being on the heels of the World of Atari Show in Anaheim, not all of the major Atari developers were present. Most notably, there was no sign of Avant-Garde's PC Ditto II, nor of the Spectre GCR by Gadgets by Small. And there was no sign of the Transportable or Portfolio machines either.
That is not to say there weren't new hardware products. One that caught my interest was the VIDI-ST real-time frame grabber from Scotland. Compared with the other video digitizers I've seen, this one is the best—and inexpensive too. It is capable of digitizing three or lour images per second in 16 grey levels, and the digitized images are not blurred, even if the objects are moving. The show price was $I 1995 (regular price $19995). Although no units were actually on sale there. They are available from Computer Games Plus in California.
For the 8-bit Atari, Chuck Steinman of DataQue was demonstrating the Turbo-816 upgrade. This board replaces the XI. or XE's 6502 chip with the enhanced 65816, a 16-bit chip, giving the computer access to a full 16 megabytes of linear memory and about a 10% increase in execution speed. The board includes a new operating system written for the 16-bit (hip, which Chuck claims is compatible with over 90% of 8-bit software. The board was selling for $110 at the show, while the regular price is about $130.
DataQue is also working on other products to support this board, including memory upgrades, an 80-column card, a 6 10×200 graphics card and a 65816 developer's kit. At the lime of the show, an Atari 800 version of the Turbo-816 was almost ready. Contrary to some earlier rumors, the board does not drastically increase the speed of the machine. According to Chuck, this is due to speed limitations of some of the chips on the 8-bit motherboard, and a speed increase would require that about 20 chips be replaced.
Datafree Industries was showing off its accelerator board for the ST. The board increases the clock speed of the ST to 16 megahertz, thus potentially doubling the speed of the 68000 chip. In reality, the speed increases are in the neighborhood of about 30% due to the fact that the speed of the ST's memory is not affected. I determined this using the Quick Index software, although I found that the speed increase is not that noticeable by looking at the monitor.
ICD was showing the FA-ST Tape backup system and, of course, their FA-ST disk drives. Tom Harker was on hand to give a seminar on the topic of hard-disk drives, which included his disassembling a FA-ST disk drive and passing it around the audience. Hopefully, he got all the pieces back!
There were plenty of software developers at the show too. Wayne Buck-holdt of SofTrek gave a seminar on different techniques to improve the performance of the ST. At the SofTrek booth, he was demonstrating the latest version of Turbo ST, as well as a soon-to-be-released product called Turbo Graphics, which speeds up all of the ST's graphics functions even more. I conveniently happened to have a copy of my spirograph generator around and tried it with Turbo Graphics. Sure enough, it was quite a bit faster. Wayne says that Turbo Graphics will be offered as a $20 upgrade to Turbo ST oweners.
The Gribnif people had plenty of business at their booth. They were selling the latest version of their NeoDesk 2.0 Program, which replaces the normal SI desktop with one that is more powerful and easier to use. The show price was $35, much less than the $50 list.
CodeHead software was pushing their products, which now seem to include CodeHead sweatshirts. Their new product, HotWire, offers one-touch program execution while coexisting with the normal ST desktop. Charles Johnson (one of the CodeHeads) held a seminar with George Morrison of Alpha Systems, and they discussed such topics as copy protection, piracy and viruses.
Representatives of WordPerfect Corp. were on hand at their booth promoting WordPerfect, and George Mella held a one-hour seminar to demonstrate the features of the product. He announced that the price of the famous word processor is being reduced to $250 (from $329) due to declining sales in the ST market. He wouldn't give a clear answer as to whether WordPerfect will continue to release updates to their ST version, although they will continue to support their current customers.
MichTron had a rather small booth (considering the number of products they have), and George Miller presented a seminar on Fleet Street Publisher.
Nice & Software had a booth showing off its Cricit inventory-control and cash-register software, which comes with an optional bar-code reader. With a GEM-based user interface, the system is an attractive alternative to using a standard cash register.
Atari Corp. was represented, although none of the Sunnyvale people were there. Mike Groh gave an interesting seminar describing the different types of MIDI software available for the ST.
There were many other software vendors selling discounted 8-bit and ST software. They included Joppa Computers, Mars Merchandising, Cal Com and Riteway. Spectre 128 cartridges, with ROMs, were selling for about $250. My favorite bargain of the show was the $15 Atari 1020 color plotter. Remember those? Considering that there is nothing at even ten times the price that lets your W-bit or ST print text and graphics in color. I just couldn't pass up a bargain.
And finally, some shareware products made their debut at this show. Yours truly demonstrated the latest version of ST Xformer (the 8-bit emulator).
Altogether, it was an entertaining show. It certainly allowed a lot of people here in the Northeast to see some new products and meet their developers without having to fly down to Anaheim.
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Gadgets by Small
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Darek Mihocka is a computer-engineering student at the University of Waterloo. His latest ST project is the imporved ST Xformer, and he is currently working on image-processing and character-recognition software. His DELPHI user name is Darekm.