Software Publishers, Inc.
2500 E. Randol Mill Rd., Suite 125
Arlington, TX 76011
$349.00, 16K -- for single and double density
$599.00, 64K for CP/M.
Chuck Skinner 16K version
Mike Dunn -- 64K version
Most of you have seen advertisements for the ATR8000, produced by Software Publishers. I saw them, and was pretty curious about the whole affair. After all, those ads promise CP/M, 64K, double-density disks, and a lot more.
I went to the company's plant in Richardson, Texas, and after asking a lot of questions, I bought one of their miracle boxes. Now that I've used it for a couple of weeks, here's what I can tell you about it.
The ATR8000 is a complete 16K, Z80-based computer. It has no video output or keyboard of its own. It requires a terminal of some sort to operate. In this application, an ATARI is used as the terminal.
The operating system of the standard 16K unit causes it to act as an interface for the ATARI. You can use it to operate any standard disk drive (5'/4" or 8"), a parallel printer, and a serial device (a serial printer, modem, or whatever).
When updated to 64K, the system becomes capable of operating as a separate computer. CP/M-2.2 is included as an operating system and the ATARI serves as a terminal. When in this configuration, the system can always revert back to ATARI mode with the ATR8000 acting as an interface.
OS/A+ (Optimized Systems Software, Inc.) is available from Software Publishers in a version that works with the ATR8000. When operating with OS/A+, the system will support double-density disks. Atari DOS patched for double-density will also work, and of course, CP/M also supports double-density.
I purchased a Tandon TM-100-1 drive from CompuAdd in Austin, Texas, together with an enclosure and power supply. The ATR8000 owner's manual, which is very complete, told me everything I needed to know to connect the drive into the system, and voila!, it works. I have only the 16K system, but I won't hesitate to order the 64K upgrade as soon as I can afford it.
There are a couple of warnings to the prospective buyer. First, if you're thinking about buying an ATR8000 instead of an Atari 850 Interface, be aware that communications software designed for the 850 and a modem won't work. This is because the ATR8000's RS-232 port can't be accessed by the "R:" I/O command like the 850's can. Software Publishers say they are working on a solution, but at present, you either get the 64K version and use CP/M communications software (included), or use an 850 along with the ATR8000. SP promises to have an ATARI communication program available soon.
Second, if you currently have Ataril 810 drives, they will have limited use. They will work fine with the ATR if you're using Atari DOS, and they will run single-density with OS/A+, but they will not operate at all if you're running CP/M.
One other device that SP showed me is a co-processor board they call the Co-Power-88. This allows adding an 8088 processor and additional memory to any Z80-based system, including the ATR8000. Think about it for a moment....a tri-processor, 16-bit, 256K, CP/M-86 ATARI hmmm. . . .
I also bought one of the first ATR8000 interfaces, but mine is the full-blown 64K model with CP/M. The first units did have some bugs, ones that are typical of a brand new product. Software Publishers have been extraordinarily helpful to new owners and havel fixed the bugs by coming out with new ROM shipped free to them. It now will read all Atari disks, even protected ones, and the software for modems that have just been released. The basic version that Chuck wrote about now is only $350, and is easily expanded to a full 64K and CP/M for $250. For $600, you get the disk drive interface, the RS-232 interface, CP/M, a 64K printer buffer, and several utilities to make it all work.
When you boot in an Atari disk, the drive automatically reads it. To use CP/ M you either boot in an Atari Terminal program that turns your ATARI into an 80-column terminal with 2 40-column windows that scroll, or connect any 80-column terminal such as an ADM. 3A. You can use either 51/4" or 8" drives, and software that comes with the ATR8000 allows you to run Osborne, KayPro II, Xerox 620 and other 5 1/4 " formats as well as standard single density 8" disks. I have successfully run Osborne and KayPro disks that were not machine-dependent. The terminal program for the ATARI works, but the dual 40-column format is not very satisfactory -- a regular 80-column terminal would be much better.
CP/M is much more versatile than the ATARI, but also much more difficult to use. Most people who buy CP/M computers either get it from a system house and have the programs configured to their needs, or are programmers. I cannot imagine how a beginner, as I was when I first bought my ATARI, could get their new Osborne or KayPro to run! The ATR8000 with CP/M is a good buy for someone who wants to use the excellent software available for CP/M as well as have an ATARI for games and use the same disk drives, printers and other peripherals. The basic unit for only $350 is an even better buy if you have no need for CP/M.
For a really deluxe setup, SP has just released an add-on kit that allows you to run 8086 based programs with MS-DOS or CPM-86 as well. This comes with from 64K to 256K of memory, that in the CP/M, mode can be used as a memory disk drive. It will run off-the-shelf IBM-PC software that does not use the special features of the PC, such as graphics. A review of the Co-Power 86, as it is called, will be in a future issue, as well as a new 80-column board from Austin Franklin that looks like it would be ideal for the ATR8000. This new board allows RGB output, so that a RGB monitor can be used for both color games and 80 columns, and has a terminal mode that emulates the DEC 101A, so separate a terminal is not needed.
APPRENTICE ROBOT ARM KIT
P.O. Box 13568
Tucson, A7, 85732
$295.00 - full kit
For a long time I have wanted to build a robot capable of manipulating objects or moving itself around, but I never had sufficient mechanical know-how or resources. As a professional software developer for several years, I have confidence that once I understand a software problem I can write the program required to solve it. Mechanical gadgets, however, are another story.
Recently I saw an ad for a robot arm kit at a reasonable price complete with an interface to my ATARI 800. I called Myotis Systems in Tucson late on a Friday afternoon with my order, and the following Tuesday my kit was delivered. When I opened it I was a bit intimidated. There were ten plastic bags containing what seemed like thousands of small pieces: tubes, cables, motors, gears, nuts, bolts, rods, and many unnameable tiny plastic and metal parts, not to mention diskettes, manuals, and amusing bumper stickers. (I had also ordered a copy of Valforth at the same time).
Armed with the Myotis assembly manual and a few small hand tools, I started to work. I found the manual to be very well written. The task of describing fairly complex assemblies to readers who probably aren't even familiar with the names of the parts is formidable, but was carried out with precision.
The total assembly task took me about 40 hours -- spread out over about three weeks. A person skilled in this sort of assembly could probably do the job in a third of the time, but I was in no particular hurry. After all, I bought the kit for the pleasure of putting it together. Workmanship is really the key to successful assembly of this kit. Many of the operations involve adjusting and fitting, and sloppiness here will result in a sloppy product.
The instructions with the kit recommend that you have screwdrivers, long-nose pliers, wire cutters, hand drill, sanding block, knife, soldering iron, and file. I also found nut drivers, locking pliers, wire strippers, a small Allen wrench, socket wrenches, and cyanoacrylate glue extremely useful. A small bench vise proved handy, and I even found a use for some K-Y jelly (to help slip some rubber tubing over the hand's grippers). Twice during assembly, I needed to call Myotis for help: once I had misread the instructions and ruined a small part; the other time I simply couldn't find one of the parts I was supposed to have. The person I talked to on the phone was courteous and helpful and mailed the parts to me immediately free of charge.
It was a pleasure to construct something as nicely engineered as the Apprentice. The main structural components, for example are fabricated out of aluminum tubing originally intended for hunting arrows. The motive power is supplied by "servos". These are small plastic boxes, each containing a hobby-type motor, a gear train, and a small potentiometer (pot), a short driveshaft protrudes from the servo. The pot supplies feedback to the computer as to the actual position of the drive shaft. In two cases (shoulder and elbow), the drive shafts have small arms mounted on them which actuate pushrods connected to various parts of the frame. The same type of servo is used to control the hand's opening and closing via a cable, and the rotation of the base via a friction drive arrangement. This gives a total of four degrees of freedom. The wrist is controlled by a linkage which keeps the hand always facing downward, as if to pick up an object. Two additional kinds of motion would be desirable: wrist flexion / extension and wrist rotation. The former could be arranged fairly easily by buying some more parts from Myotis; the rotation looks like it might be quite a bit more difficult to arrange.
This brings up one of the more remarkable features of the Apprentice, and that is its ability to be modified and extended. The parts of the Apprentice are not constrained to fit together in only one way. The system is flexible enough to allow much reengineering by the user. It would be possible to take the Apprentice completely apart and build something quite different from the parts. Lesser degrees of customization are also possible, but even these require some experimentation. For example, I noticed that shoulder movement which lowered the hand was much quicker than shoulder movement which raised the hand. To remedy this, and to allow heavier objects to be picked up, I added a counterweight behind the shoulder. This had the desired effect, but it also increased the moment of inertia of the system about the vertical axis; this just means that it's harder to start and stop turning. Sometimes this caused oscillations, as the rotation servo keeps correcting and overshooting its window. As a consequence, the arm would develop a temporary tremor. The solution: either reduce the counterweight or modify the control software. To me, the real value of the robot arm is to experiment in this way.
A word about the software: Myotis supplies a diskette containing a simple robot control language called ROBIX. This language allows you to remember a sequence of arm positions and then cause the arm to cycle through those positions. You can, under control of such a program or directly from the keyboard, make the Apprentice pick up objects weighing a few ounces and move them around within a radius of about a foot. The accuracy is more than sufficient to pick up small objects repeatedly from the same spot. ROBIX was implemented as a Forth program supplied in object form. I found this language quite inadequate, though, for the type of software customization I wanted to perform. However, listings of the machine-language drivers are available, and the people at Myotis say that a more advanced robot control language, embedded in Forth, will be available soon.
If you are looking for a robot to fetch your slippers or wash your dog, hang on to your money for the next twenty or thirty years. If, on the other hand, you want a peripheral for your ATARI which will provide many hours of enjoyable tinkering and may teach you something about dynamic systems and feedback control, by all means consider the Apprentice. One dollar and a stamped self-addressed envelope to Myotis will get you a brochure.
P.O. Box 3435
Longwood, FL 32750
$39.95, 48K -- diskette
Reviewed by Chris Chabris
This is the first in the series of Scott Adams' graphic adventure games and its plot is the same as the original all- text adventure of the same name. You wander about an enchanted world, encountering strange beings, objects, and situations, seeking various treasures. You win by recovering all of the 13 treasures and depositing them in a special location which you must discover during play.
In Adventureland, as in most graphic adventures, you accomplish your goal by looking at the graphic representation of your surroundings, reading the descriptions given, and typing one or two-word commands, such as GO NORTH, GET LAMP or HELP. This program boasts a vocabulary of over 120 words, and will tell you if it doesn't understand your input. The vocabulary's limitations are annoying when you are trying to say something and must struggle to express it in two words that the program understands. Of course, the vocabulary includes all the words necessary to complete the adventure.
The picturus and overall graphic display system of this program are excellent. Each location in the world has its own picture, which is drawn in the Antic "E" mode (Graphics 7+) and occupies the top half of the screen. The bottom half of the screen is reserved for text input and computer responses. To see the text descriptions of the area, which includes a helpful list of possible exits from the current location, you need only press [RETURN]. This causes the picture to vanish and be replaced by another half-screen of text, producing a Graphics 0 screen. Pressing [RETURN] again returns the picture. In addition, a script character display is available at the press of a key. This font is very readable and enhances the flavor of the adventure.
The pictures themselves are very good, with multiple colors and textures in great detail. I have only two minor complaints about them. First, some of the colors are annoying when they flicker, which is probably a result of the successful attempt to put so many of the them on the screen at once. Second, the entire screen flickers in different colors when a new picture loads.
On the positive side, these pictures load very quickly for ATARI disk drives. All objects are drawn on the screen and erased when removed from the particular location. Many of them have their own close-up views, which are done extremely well. My favorite graphics feature is the INVENTORY command, which draws a picture of the adventurer dumping things out of a sack and then draws the objects you're carrying one by one.
Additional features include a printer option that allows you to produce a hard copy of the adventure as you go along, and a speech synthesizer capability. Unfortunately, the only synthesizer supported is the Votrax Type 'n Talk, which I do not own. I imagine that this feature, which can be toggled on and off with one keystroke and speaks the answers to your commands, is very helpful.
At the beginning of the session, a "margin adjustment" screen is provided, allowing you to alter the margins with cursors until the text fits in your display screen. I found this feature very helpful, as the picture on my TV screen is not perfectly centered.
The program's text displays are its only real weaknesses. The spelling is not good and the grammar used is terrible, and this has occasionally interfered with my understanding of the computer's descriptions and responses. However, the quality of the pictures, despite the slight flicker, and of the script character set, more than compensate for this small problem.
Documentation is provided in a small 12-page booklet that contains the instructions for both the Apple and ATARI versions of the game. It is quite complete, including boot-up directions, which are extensive for the ATARI version if a printer and the Votrax speech synthesizer are used; several one-letter commands; and a short "Playing Hints" section. I was pleased to also find information on making maps of adventures.
My recommendation to you depends on whether or not you have already played this adventure in its original incarnation. If you have, see the program demonstrated at a computer store and decide whether the excellent graphics enhance the program enough to warrant paying $40.00 for this new version. If you haven't played Adventureland yet and enjoy adventuring, by all means buy this program!
THE PHAROAH'S CURSE
5521 Central Avenue, Suite 200
Richmond, CA 94804
Reviewed by Roy D. Wolford
The Pharoah's Curse is an action adventure game that will keep you entertained for hours on end. It combines the puzzle elements of adventuring with joystick control over your player. You search for treasures and avoid dangers in the colorful crypts beneath the golden pyramid of the Saharah.
The object of the game is to descend into the pyramid, collect all the treasures, one hidden in each of the 16 lavishly decorated chambers, then to reemerge on the surface where you will be rewarded with a secret code which allows you to play at the next level of difficulty.
There are four levels of difficulty (0-3). In each successive level, the action is faster and the tomb's guardians are quicker and more aggressive.
Action begins on Level Zero outside the pyramid. The intrepid archeologist (you) must enter through the top of the pyramid and descend into the first chamber. Movement techniques are not clearly explained in the instructions. The character moves left or right by pushing the joystick in the direction you want to move. To climb, push the joystick forward. To jump left, push the joystick diagonally forward and left. To jump right, push the stick diagonally up and to the right. For longer lumps, hold the firebutton down and push the joystick diagonally in the direction you want to jump. All downward motion is free-fall and no harm will occur to you as a result. Bullets can be fired in the horizontal direction by pressing the firebutton and pointing the joystick in the direction you wish to fire. Your gun is an effective weapon that will momentarily stun (dematerialize) your pursuers, to give you time to get a treasure or escape to another chamber.
Once inside the pyramid your task is to collect the treasures stored in each chamber. There are 16 chambers each containing one prize which you collect by touching it. Every time you collect a treasure you are rewarded with an extra life. Each chamber is protected by hidden floor traps which you must avoid. Being struck by one of the "things" that lurk beneath the ground will result in death. If you are not swift in securing the treasure, the dreaded Pharaoh and his servant The Mummy will materialize and seek to destroy you.
The Winged Avenger is an evil fowl you usually want to avoid because it likes to snatch you up in its talons and carry you off to another area of the tomb.
All the treasures are located in areas difficult to access. You must use your cunning to reach these areas by running and leaping around obstacles, jumping over pits, and climbing magic ropes. In same of the chambers you will find keys. Pick these to gain access to chambers hidden behind secret doors. All of the chambers have multiple entry and exit points. Some are sealed off by doors. From time to time a crown or arrow will appear. Touching the crown will endow you with another life. Being hit by the arrow results in death.
Points are awarded for shooting the Pharaoh, Mummy and Winged Avenger. Points are also obtained for entering the pyramid, and collecting each treasure and key.
The game ends when you collect all the treasures and emerge from the pyramid, or when you lose all your lives. The game has several additional features that enhance the play. There are special sound effects for each character, action and event that takes place during the game. Some of these sounds alert you to impending dangers. The game also has a pause feature. By hitting the space bar the action is temporarily suspended; hitting it again causes the game to resume. The game also has a legend in the upper left corner that displays the number of treasures that have not been collected and the number of lives you have remaining.
Pharaoh's Curse will appeal to all computerists and gamesters who like challenging games with lots of color, sound and action. It's another winner from Synapse.
MAPPING THE ATARI
P.O. Box 5406
Greensboro, NC 27403
Reviewed by Robert Kawaranti
This book will appeal primarily to the little "hacker" in the heart of those ATARI users who view their beloved microcomputer as more than a tool or a game playing toy. It provides a comprehensive listing and description of memory locations for the ATARI 800 and 400. While not intended as a total replacement for such volumes as the Operating System User's Manual, Hardware Manual, Operating Systems Listing, Disk Utilities Listing, and De Re ATARI- from Atari, the average user will find information much more accessible in Mapping the ATARI because of its logical organization and excellent indexes. The fact that the book is primarily written in plain English makes the information easier to absorb than in the Atari publications.
The text begins with a preface by the author which is an excellent orientation to the use of the memory map. An added bonus is the short introduction by Bill Wilkinson which provides the reader with a mini-tutorial on memory access using several of the languages available for ATARI computers.
The memory map is laid out sequentially from location 1 to Iocation 65528 with a description of the function or lack of function of each location. The decimal and hexadecimal representation for each location is provided as well as the labels for locations, registers, subroutines, and vectors in the ATARI. The thoroughness of the coverage of labels is indicated by the four page plus (double column) index of labels and their locations. A detailed subject index is also provided which allows the user to identify the memory locations that are relevant to the question at hand. Relatively detailed descriptions including short example application programs are provided for a number of the more interesting locations. The discussion attached to location 756, Character Base Register, is one example of the encyclopedic nature of Mapping the ATARI. A cogent discussion of the role of this location and altered character sets is presented. The process of creating altered character sets is explained concisely and the appropriate precautions to take to avoid problems such as overlapping Player/Missile graphics are outlined. As with other locations, references to the appropriate manuals, magazines articles, and appropriate utility programs are provided.
The discussion of the functions and memory locations used by the C/GTIA, POKEY, ANTIC, and PIA provides one of the best overviews I have found to date of the chips that make the ATARI special. The extensive cross referencing to relevant memory locations is obviously very useful to programmers. The BASIC ROM memory locations are only sketchily discussed, but most users will probably have little need to be accessing these locations.
Although the book will be most useful to serious programmers who need to access various memory locations, it will also appeal to ATARI users like myself who are curious about the inner workings of their machine. The beginner may be slightly intimidated initially by the nomenclature, but Mapping the ATARI is very clearly written and is by far the most convenient source for most of the material covered. While it is not really intended for casual reading, I have spent a number of hours leafing through the book and reading sections as they caught my fancy. A definite must for the bookshelf of the serious ATARI user.
830 N. Riverside Dr., Suite 201
Renton, WA 98055
Reviewed by Harvey Bernstein
Adventure game fans of my acquaintance seem to disagree about graphic adventures. Some feel that high resolution graphics enhance the overall experience, while others prefer the more "pure" form of the all-text adventure, claiming that graphics can never match the adventurer's imagination. While for the most part text adventures feature tougher "puzzle-solving elements", very few things can substitute for ATARI graphics. Unfortunately, most so-called "high-res" adventures, with multi-colored screens in GRAPHICS 7 look like they were drawn by a five-year-old. I am pleased to report that Warlock's Revenge is an exception.
Warlock's Revenge features over 100 screens in GRAPHICS 8! If the limited color availability sounds like a handicap, fear not. Excellent use is made of both perspective and artifacting, which creates, in some cases, some very nice effects.
So, you ask, how is the game! That, as they say, is the rub. Warlock's Revenge presents the by now cliche challenge of leading a party of adventurers (elf, thief, gladiator, etc.) on a quest after treasure hidden by Oldorf, an evil (what else!) warlock. The game is played with two disks and the action covers four locations.
Each member of your party has certain abilities, but has to be leading the expedition in order to be used. For example, the Wizard must be in the lead in order to cast a spell. The only problem is that each of the seven characters can be used a total of five times, and is then retired. The challenge, then, is to use your characters in the most effective manner. It is most frustrating to come across a lock that needs picking after the Thief is no longer available. The commands are entered in the standard one or two word format, such as OPEN DOOR, and directions are abbreviated, also standard in games of this kind.
The puzzles and dangers in Warlock's Revenge are not very difficult, and, in fact, there is no real chance of getting killed, unlike more complex adventures. For this reason, I would hesitate to recommend Warlock's Revenge to the more experienced adventurer. However, for the young, the novice, or the just plain timid of heart, Warlock's Revenge is a fine introduction to the exciting world of adventure games.
HAPPY 810 ENHANCEMENT
P.O. Box 32331
San Jose, CA 95152
Reviewed by David Duberman
The difference between all normal ATARI 810 Disk Drive and one equipped with Happy is like the contrast between mass transit and the automobile. A car costs you more initially, but improves the quality of your life. Similarly, if you use your disk drive a lot, installing Happy will markedly enhance your programming life.
The Input/Output port on the ATARI conducts data serially--one bit at a time. This is why programs load more slowly on an ATARI than on an Apple or a CP/M micro (but faster than Commodore). Those others use parallel data transfer, something that is very difficult and costly to implement on the ATARI in its current incarnations. Until Atari changes this design, Happy offers the only product on the market that significantly improves the speed of data transfer for the ATARI at a reasonable cost.
The Happy 810 ECT requires a modicum of technical proficiency to install. It comes in the form of a circuit board that is plugged into the side board in your 810. No soldering is necessary, but you must remove and plug in a few Integrated Circuit chips. If you do not care to undertake the process, consult an electronics service center.
Happy's secret lies in a track-sized buffer. Normally with the 810 when you command your computer to load a file, it signals the disk drive, which first determines where on the disk the file lies. The drive then reads the first sector, a unit of disk storage containing 125 or 128 bytes of data. Sectors are organized into 40 concentric tracks of 18 sectors each. The contents of the sector are stored in the drive's internal sector-sized buffer, or memory. The drive then sends the contents of the buffer to the computer, and proceeds to determine, search and read the next sector. The disk is spinning, so it takes some time to find each succeeding sector--only a fraction of a second, but this time adds up. Atari's fast-formatting scheme can help under some circumstances, but has various problems, as are carefully detailed in Happy's extensive literature.
When a read operation is requested for any sector from a drive equipped with the 810 ECT, the entire track containing that sector is read into a buffer within the disk drive, usually with just 1.05 revolutions of the disk. In most cases, contiguous sectors will be requested, and since the next 17 are already in the drive's memory, no added search time is necessary. Thus, loading speed can double or triple.
Faster loading results in decreased running time of your disk drive, and therefore, reduced wear. The most significant reduction of running time occurs with disk-intensive applications such as databases and adventure games. You may notice with such programs that an un-Happy drive often spins for a long time, even though the beeps from your speaker signify that readings are few and far between. This is because the program must process your data as it reads it, instead of being able to read it all at once. With 810 ECT installed, you will still hear the infrequent beeps, but the drive will stop spinning most of the time, because most of the necessary data is already in the drive's buffer. Forth users, as well, can achieve a reduction of disk running time of up to 80%.
By itself, Happy cannot improve the speed of writing sectors to the disk. However, this capability can be harnessed with special software.
If you have an older 810 drive, you can benefit even more from 810 ECT. The recent improvements of fast formatting and clock/data separatiqn circuitry have been included.
Two last items. The 810 ECT reduces by approximately 1/3 the time required to initialize a disk using the DOS initialize command. Also, Happy further caters to impatient computerists by reducing the time delay for the drive to stop spinning after I/O from six records to four.
Richardson, TX 75080
Reviewed by David Duberman
Omnimon by David Young is a machine-language monitor that should have come with the ATARI. In fact, every microcomputer should have this sort of hardware-based monitor installed. Most, however, do not. Now, for a relatively low cost, you can equip your ATART 400/800 with sophisticated programming tool.
Whether you're an experienced programmer or a wondering beginner, Omnimon can, if wisely used, help you to fully understand the working of your computer. A monitor is, as its name suggests, a program which provides a means of examining memory. Additional capabilities may include alteration and disassembly of memory, examination and alteration of the CPU registers, and disk capabilities. Omnimon does all these and much more.
If you have an assembler, you probably already have a software-based, machine-language monitor. This is entered by the command "DEBUG" from the Atari Assembler Editor cartridge and by "MON" from Synassembler. These monitors are very useful within their limits, but their operation is intimately linked to that of the assembler, so they can't be used to trace most software.
Omnimon's primary feature is is resident in the ATARI's hardware and can be accessed at any time, from any program, by pressing [SYSTEM RESET] simultaneously with either [OPTION] or [SELECT]. In addition, you may reenter the program at the point from which you exited, or any other point. Omnimon takes the form of an IC chip which is addressed at hexidecimal $C000 to $CFFF a 4K range which is not used by the ATARI 400/800 Operating System. The chip is available in two forms: it comes with Newell Industries' Ramrod OS board, which has a socket to accommodate it, or it can be installed on your ATARI 400/ 800 OS board with a minimum of difficulty. If purchased sans Ramrod, Omnimon comes with a piggyback board which provides it with a socket. In addition, a wire from the piggyback board must be connected to a pin on the floating-point ROM chip. No soldering is necessary.
Omninion's capabilities are far too extensive to be covered meaningfully in this limited space. First and foremost is a 'HELP' command which prints a list of commands and necessary parameters. You can search, display, and alter memory in hex or in ATASCII. You can execute memory (effectively a trace operation), and iump (JSR) to a subroutine. You can disassemble memory, perform disk I/O without the presence of DOS, send output to the printer, and a good deal more, as well.
Omnimon can bypass DOS and access disk functions at any time. Consider this example. You turn on the computer, not bothering with the disk drive because you don't think you'll need it. It turns out you do want to save your work, but you can't boot DOS without losing the program. With Omnimon, it's no problem. All you have to do is enter Omnimon, find and manually record the BASIC variable and program pointers (128 to 145; $80 to $91), and tell Omnimon to write the variable table and program memory to disk. If you don't have a disk ready (it's best to use a blank one with Omnimon--no DOS), the instructions tell you how to use the OS to format one. Then you boot DOS, enter Omnimon, reset the BASIC pointers to their original offsets (the values will differ), and load the program memory to the proper location. Reenter BASIC, and you can LIST, RUN, and SAVE your program in the normal way.
As friendly as Omnimon is, and it is friendly, its use assumes your familiarity with the many reference works on the ATARI. The more knowledge you possess concerning this highly complex computer's workings, the better equipped you will be to use Omnimon to harness the best and make it perform new wonders.
David Young, Omnimon's designer, has advised me of an advanced version of Omnimon which has hex conversion, verify, HAPPY-drive upload and download. Also, you can modify your OS board to allow a [SYSTEM RESET] even when the machine locks up. The advanced Omnimon can take advantage of this modification to allow you to perform a warmstart (thus retaining memory) when the keyboard is frozen. He will gladly send this and any other revisions to any Omnimon owner for $10 to cover the cost of the EPROM and mailing.
EPSON FX-80 PRINTER
Epson America, Inc.
3415 Kashiwa St.
Torrance, CA 90505
Reviewed by Arthur Leyenberger
I recently bought an Epsbn FX-80 printer to use with my Atari 800. The FX-80 is a dot-matrix printer which operates at 160 characters per second, has both pin-feed and friction drives and is compatible with all software for the FX-80 F/T with Graftrax +.
In addition to the increase in speed (double that of previous printers), the FX-80 offers either a 2K print buffer or 2K RAM for a user-generated character set and a dipswitch compartment accessible from the right top rear. These switches allow you to choose parallel, serial or RS-232 interfaces, and several kinds of electronic beeps signal error conditions. An internal 12K ROM yields seven different graphic modes which can be used to address certain pixels or with certain programs in particular modes. The maximum resolution of pixels per line is 640, designed to match the high- resolution monitor of Epson's QX-lO computer. It also features proportional spacing and elite (12 point) type.
The Epson FX-80 is the newest and most advanced of the Epson line. I am very pleased with this printer and feel it is definitely the printer of choice for the serious ATARI user. Not only has Epson produced a great piece of hardware, it has provided equally good documentation. The manual that accompanies this printer is excellent. Information is presented clearly and concisely, and examples are used where appropriate.
I do have a few criticisms, however, of the printer. For example, the FX-80 does not come with adjustable tractors. This means that if you want to make labels or generate narrower forms you need to buy an adjustable tractor feed attachment. This type of attachment is now available through Epson for an additional $40.
Another shortcoming lies in the sequence of information in the manual. While all the information you need is included in the instruction manual, it is presented in escape sequence order. So rather than looking under "E" for expanded print or "C" for compressed print, you have to look under "W" for [ESC] "W" to find the expanded print mode or "C" for [ESC] "C" for the compressed print mode.
Also, in the index of functions and codes, only the letters are given, not the decimal ASCII values. If you are using a word processor and want to give the ASCII codes to turn on the expanded mode you would have to: 1) check the index to determine which escape code to use (in this case, "W"), and 2) check an ASCII table to determine the decimal value for "W". It would have been a lot simpler if the decimal ASCII codes were listed along-side the character codes in the manual.
This printer is by far the most sophisticated and, in spite of its flaws, the best yet produced by Epson America.
B KEY 400
Inhome Software, Inc.
2485 Dunwin Drive, Unit 1
Mississauga, Ontario L5I 1T1
Reviewed by Richard DeVore
Those who own the ATARI 400 Home Computer often wish it had a better, more tactile keyboard. The B KEY 400 keyboard from Inhome replaces the membrane keyboard inexpensively, and is easy to install.
People unaccustomed to electronic tinkering are understandably wary of modifying anything as complex as a computer. Fortunately, the instructions with the B KEY 400 are clear and straight forward. Only a Phillips screwdriver is needed, though long-nosed pliers and an extra pair of hands are useful. Be aware that any modification of the ATARI voids the 90-day warranty, so you should exercise the computer thoroughly before doing this, or wait until the warranty expires.
Only four screws old the computer case together, and the keyboard connector unplugs easily. Removing the membrane keyboard and replacing it with the B KEY 400 went exactly as specified in the instructions. You will probably want someone to hold the keyboard while you insert the connector. The new connector has rounded prongs rather than the flat ones that you find on the membrane connector. It also lacks the plastic stiffener, so insertion is harder than it first appears. I used long-nosed pliers to hold the connector straight while applying the needed pressure. Then I fitted the case back together, replaced the four screws, and got ready to install the keys.
Again, the instructions were clear. The only problem I had was with the space bar. This has a pivot wire that plugs into the keyboard switch. The wire stretches across the conductors on the circuit board. This caused a short on my unit so that when the computer was turned on, the space function was in full repeat. To solve this problem, I put a small piece of tape over the conductars and bent the pivot wire slightly upward in the middle. While this problem is not serious, it might confuse a layman, and I think Inhome should correct it.
The B KEY 400 keys are larger than the membrane keys, so the "function" keys have been crowded into the bottom of the keyboard. This is awkward at first, but the improvement is still, worth it. I find the new keyboards makes typing much easier and more enjoyable, a viewpoint shared by another 400 owner who tried it.
Adding a keyboard is an option many ATARI 400 owners are considering, especially if they paid over $300. I think this keyboard, combined with one of the several available 48K memory boards, makes the 400 a very functional substitute for the higher-priced ATARI computers.