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

Inside Atari

Atari 835 Modem & Telelink II

by Joseph Decuir

Until recently, the line of official Atari products for computer telecommunications was limited to the acousticallycoupled, model 830 Modem and the TeleLink I software program in ROM cartridge form. These required the expensive 850 Interface Module, and had other limitations.

Atari, Inc. has now introduced a new pair of communication products: the ATARI 835 Direct-Connect Modem, and the TeleLink II cartridge. Each offers substantial improvements over its predecessor, and in combination they offer Atari customers easy access to remote computer services, such as timesharing or electronic banking.

The pair are built to work together, bypassing the 850 Interface, and neither is fully useful when teamed with non-Atari gear. In fact, at present the 835 only works with TeleLink II and is not sold without it.

How to Use Them

To appreciate these products, imagine how you might use them. Some installation effort is required, but once installed, repeated use is unusually easy. The 835 Modem is housed in a standard, tan Atari case that will stack unobtrusively with the rest of your equipment, and TeleLink II is in the familiar ROM cartridge.

The new modem attaches to the serial bus connectors, just as do the 810 Disk Drive or the 850 Interface. It can be connected and left in series with these until needed, but it should be the only modem in the group. This modem, like all other Atari components, needs and comes with an external AC power adaptor. It has two standard telephone-jack inputs—one for the telephone line, and one to daisychain out to your telephone. Once installed, you can still use your telephone for voice calls, but now data calls are hands-off: no more manual dialing and no more wrestling to put the receiver into the acoustic "muffs" on the modem.

You also must "set up" the TeleLink II software. (The remarkable fact is that you can!) On first use, TeleLink II will display a message: "STORED INFORMATION HAS BEEN LOST-PLEASE ENTER NEW STORED TNFORMATTON . Don't panic. The instructions tell you how to store the names, phone numbers, and sign-on codes of your two favorite computer services. Once set up, you only need one keystroke to dial these services and log-on. The numbers will stay there until you change them, even when you remove the cartridge from the computer. This advanced feature apparently uses the new "EEPROM" technology (Electrically-Eraseable, Programmable, Read Only Memory).

So, with your 835 nestled neatly in your stack of other ATARI equipment, let's say you decide it's time to find out what's happening, arid after that to manipulate your money. You pop Telelink II into the cartridge slot and turn the computer ON. The first display is the familiar ATARI logo. You press [RETURN] to get the main menu, and see several items. Select [1] to dial your first pre-programmed number (let's pretend it's the Dow Jones News/ Retrieval Service). You hear the Modem pulse while it dials the number, and you hear the ringback through the TV speaker. When the computer answers, you hear the carrier tone briefly and "On Line" lights up on the Modem. TeleLink II then logs-on, using your preprogrammed sequence that can contain imbedded pauses, carriage returns, and control characters.

After reading the news, you log-off Dow Jones. TeleLink II will drop you back to the menu. Pressing the [2] key gets you logged-on to the next computer service (suppose it's your bank). Then you can pay bills and transfer funds, as long as your bank thinks you have the money.

List of Featuers

As a designer of modem systems for computers, I was at first disappointed by the absence in the 835 of features dear to my heart. However, I do acknowledge that those features have more to do with automatic, data communications applications, such as computer-to-computer electronic mail. These new Atari products are aimed at home users who want to use their computer as an information utility.

The Atari 835 Direct-Connect Modem features:

1) direct connection to the telephone line, through a standard modular jack,

2) daisy-chain connection to a telephone, also through a modular jack,

3) 300 baud (30 characters per second) data communication using the Bell 103 standard protocol,

4) automatic pulse dialing under computer control,

5) audio from the phone line is fed to the TV speaker,

6) simple Atari serial-bus interfacing.

The main features of the TeleLink II cartridge are:

1) compatibility with the 835 Direct-Connect Modem, with the 830 Acoustic Modem (or any other Bell103-standard modem) connected to an 850 Interface Module, or with a Bell212A compatible 1200baud modem connected to an 850,

2) non-volatile storage of the names, phone numbers, and log-on sequences of remote computer services,

3) automatic dialing and automatic log-on using the above stored information.

Features Atari Left Out

You might wonder, with all these features, what else you might want. The following is my wish list, with speculation about why they are not included.

To communicate automatically between computers, for example electronic mail, at least one of the two communicating devices needs -to answer the phone as well as place calls.

To do this the modem needs a ring-in detector, to sense an incoming call. The 835 does not have one (unless I missed a circuit somewhere—our unit did not have documentation). To use this feature, the computer must be left running continuously, waiting for the phone to ring. This ties up your phone line, but someday I expect this will be a common practice.

The cheap, new, long-distancetelephone companies like MCI and SPRINT require a touch-tone telephone to dial ID codes and telephone numbers. The pulse dialer in the 835 can't generate tones, so this makes Bulletin Board calls more costly. However, these same long-distance services have poorer quality, which could lead to intolerable error rates in data communications. Also, the majority of the big commercial data-base services have local access n~mbers, avoiding direct long distance charges altogether. Finally, a tone dialer chip costs money; it might have added $25 to the retail price of the 835.

I sometimes use a modem to transfer files from my computer to somebody else's computer and vice versa. This is called uploading and downloading. I use the Chameleon program, sold by APX. For this purpose, the missing ingredient in TeleLink II is "hooks" for file-transfer capability. However, if you have files to transfer, you probably have a disk drive to hold them, and therefore can use disk-based software to transfer them. The salient feature of TeleLink II is its on-cartridge writeable storage, which makes it possible to use without a disk drive. This problem will be solved if and when a version of Chameleon can use the features of the 835.


Now it is time for the bottom line: should you buy one? My answer depends on the price, which is $275 for the combination of the ATARI 835 and the TeleLink II cartridge. A price of $150 or less for the 835 would be a good deal, and I would recommend it without hesitation. An examination of its parts indicate that it could be sold profitably for that price. At over $275, I would buy a Hayes Smartmodem (with auto-answer and auto-dial) instead, and use it with the 850 Interface I already have.

The TeleLink II cartridge itself, with the on-cart storage, is particularly useful for someone without a disk drive. It would be worthwhile at $50, but it will never be able to transfer to disk, if a drive is later obtained. It seems to me that this pair will be of most value to the owner who doesn't have an Interface or disk drive, and who just wants to check-in periodically with a couple of frequently-called services.

Joseph Decuir is Chief Engineer at Standard Technologies Corp., where he designs voice and data telecommunication systems. He is an Atari alumnus who shares the patent on the ANTIC chip and the ATARI 800 computer system. He was also one of the desig*ers of the ATARI 2600 video game computer.