Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 2 / MAY 1983

Atari Clinic

by Steve Switzer

For most of us, Atari equipment is mystifying. We don't know what goes on inside, and usually we don't careŃ as long as it works. When it doesn't, we panic. It's a good practice to retrace the hookup of all plugs and switches when you have a malfunction, and reconfirm all software procedures. If that doesn't help, then you may have a hardware problem.

This month we introduce Atar Clinic, a column to assist you on the hardware side. It will be written by Steve Switzer. Steve is the owner / operator of Computer Support, an authorized ATARI service and repair facility, and of the Electronic Fantasy shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was one of the first retail dealers in the nation to carry ATARI computers and software. Send your problems and questions to Atari Clinic, c/o ANTIC, and we will forward them to him. Steve regrets he cannot answer replies personally, except through this column.

Q. My ATARI computer system experiences intermittent lock-up. There is no response from the keyboard, and control of the computer is gone.

A. If the problem only occurs in BASIC, then it is caused by a bug in the BASIC cartridge. The problem can only be fixed by powering the computer off and then on again. The problem with this is that you will lose any program that was in memory. It is a good idea to save the program you are ..writing after every half-hour or so. That way you won't lose everything.

If the problem occurs in a variety of operating situations, then the computer should be checked for dirty contacts on the Operating System board and all memory boards. If the problem persists, then you have component failure and it's time to take the computer in for service.

Q. I purchased my ATARI 800 with 32K. I added another 16K and have many problems. When working with the BASIC cart for about an hour, my 800 starts to transpose characters in the program, and randomly places various characters throughout the program. I called the ATARI service dealers. None had heard of this problem or knew what to do; however, they were willing to take the machine in and try to fix it. I am hesitant to hand over my 800 for trial-and-error experimentation.

Dave Fifelski, Ohio

A. When you're working with computers which have a great number of chips inside, the only way to find the problem is to open the machine, get it to fail, and then swap out the chips until you find the bad one. In your case I would guess that replacing the ANTIC chip will solve your problems.

Q. How do I clean the head on my ATARI 810? Also, how often should I lo it?

A. The head on your disk drive is a very sensitive piece of equipment and should be treated with great care. First of all, you should not use a cleaning disk; it can possibly ruin your head. The proper way to clean your head is with cleaning sticks (Radio Shack Cat. #44-1093A). Do not use Q-Tips because they have glue on them, and it's possible that afilm would be left on the head. Do not take the top off your drive; work through the open door. Take a cleaning stick, dip it in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol (do not saturate, just moisten lightly), and rub the cleaning stick across the head. Do not re-use the cleaning stick; throw it away. Let the head dry completely I (about two or three minutes) before using drive.

Under normal usage the head should only have to be cleaned every four to six months, or every 200 hours.

Q. My ATARI 810 makes a lot of noise. Should I oil the carriage assembly that the head rides on?

A. No, no a thousand times no! On all drives made until Nou 1982, the drive mechanism was supplied by M.P.I. They were loud and sounded like a Mack truck shifting gears. This is a I normal sound. By oiling you are risking that some oil will get on the head. That will be the end of your head. To have your head replaced will cost you I anywhere from $150-$250. At a cost like that, I don't think it's worth the risk. Also, if you just have to get into l your drive, don't pry the drive case apart with a screwdriver. I know this sounds crazy, but I've seen people do it many times. If you want to get in it, take the round tabs off the top of the I drive and use a Phillips screwdriver to loosen the screws.