Mac and PC On The ST
A Closer Look at Spectre 128
by David Plotkin
START Contributing Editor
In our continuing coverage and PC emulators on the ST, this month we'll take a detailed look at Spectre 128 from Gadgets by Small. This remarkable product is a must-have for any ST owner who is serious about running modern Mac software (Editor's Note: Spectre 128 can use 128K Mac ROMs. For further information, refer to last month's column.)
|The slender Spectre cartridge shell
is the same as the one used in
Deskcart. You can leave it plug-
ged in all the time, since it is ac-
tive only when you run the Spectre
The first thing you'll notice about Spectre is that it is small (which has nothing to do with name of its author. . .). In fact, the slender cartridge shell is the same as the one used in Deskcart. You can leave it plugged in all the time, since it is active only when you run the Spectre software.
Upon running the software you'll become aware of the other important difference: all of the programs and utilities are built-in. You no longer need to run separate programs to configure, format disks, etc. Instead, a series of dropdown menus enables you to perform almost every task necessary. Some of the menu choices set up the configuration of Spectre; these choices can be saved in a file.
The Memory menu title screen lets you set the amount of memory that you want to use with Spectre. The software will default to the largest amount available in your machine. Memory amounts which are not available will be ghosted and you will be unable to select them. This illustrates another nice feature of Spectre: it's smart and can generally figure out which values can be used. Normally, you'd want to use all available memory, but an exception would be if you wanted to use the Atari SLM804 Laser Printer. You must reserve one megabyte of memory for the printer, just as in ST mode. You can also enable a disk cache, so that the most commonly accessed portions of the current disk will be stored in memory, speeding up disk access. You can route printer output to either the serial or parallel port. Spectre's Hard Disk menu lets you enable a partition for Spectre access, boot from that partition and format it properly.
Interestingly, you can connect a standard Apple Mac hard drive to the ST through the SCSI port on an ST-compatible hard drive. You can also disable any SCSI device so that it won't be polled by Spectre--this can save time and provide flexibility.
When formatting a hard drive, Spectre figures out how many partitions are available. You can format your hard drives as either HFS (Hierarchical Filing System) or MFS (Multi-Finder System) and, as I said last month, Spectre now lets you boot directly from an HFS drive. Thus, hard drive setup is simplified considerably.
The Floppy Disk menu lets you format or duplicate floppy disks in two formats: Spectre (currently the same as Magic format) and Mac, which only works if you have the Translator One from Data Pacific. The "Duplicate Floppy" option lets you select the source and destination disks, their format and whether they are single- or double-sided. There's no utility to move ST files to Mac format disks and back, however; such a utility did come with the Magic Sac, but I could never get it to transfer ST files to the Mac successfully.
When you are ready to run Spectre's Mac emulator, just choose that option from the File menu or press Return. Soon you'll see a message telling you to insert the Spectre startup disk, which must contain the Mac System and Finder, usually located in a "System Folder." Unlike Magic Sac, however, you can use the current release of System and Finder, rather than being limited to System 5.4 and Finder 3.2. The latest version of System and Finder as of this writing are both 6.0. (Apple has finally assigned identical version numbers to them.)
In general, Spectre works quite well as a Mac emulator. Although this is its first release (version 1.5 as of this writing), it does not seem to have the sorts of problems that the early Magic Sac had. Obviously Dave Small learned a lot in the interim, and it shows. This first release of Spectre even supports color, although not very well. This is not Spectre's fault, however; the color screen just doesn't have the resolution to do the job properly. Sound is still not supported, and I suspect it may never be. Dave reports that it is possible to emulate the Mac's sound chip but that it ties up so much of the 68000's processing time that everything else (graphics, mouse, disk, etc.) pretty much comes to a halt. Still, with Dave Small it's never safe to say "never." We'll just have to wait and see.
Very few pieces of software which ran with Magic Sac do not run with Spectre- these are mostly the same ones (such as MacWrite 2.2) that had to be revised when the new ROMs came out. In every case, newer versions that do run with Spectre are available.
Spectre's manual is remarkable, not only telling you how to use the product, but also giving some insight into the author as well. It includes periodic "breaks" to relate some humorous or horrifying anecdote. These breaks seem to occur just about when you might be getting a little bogged down or after a particularly technical section. Actually, none of the manual is terribly technical and all of it is very well-written and well-organized. The instructions are exceptionally precise and repeat warnings many times to make sure you pay attention. And because Dave Small understands how anxious you are to try out your new cartridge, there is a quick-start section so you can try it out right away. It is better, however, to read the rest of the manual at some point!
Overall, Spectre 128 is a good product because it works. Mac software runs well on the ST and as a result, you can use some extraordinary software not yet available in ST format, such as Hypercard--Spectre owners are already getting good use out of Hypercard on their STs.
Even Apple uses Spectre 128--it has unique program-monitoring capabilities that Apple uses to debug their own software. Not bad for a "Gadget!"
Contributing Editor David Plotkin is a chemical engineer for Chevron U.S.A.
Magic Sac, $149.95; Translator One, $299.95. Data Pacific, Inc. 609 West Speer Blvd. Denver, CO 80203, (303) 733-8158.
Spectre 128, $179.95. Gadgets by Small, Inc., 40 West Littleton Blvd., #210-211, Littleton, CO 80120, (303) 791-6098.