Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 6 / SEPTEMBER 1983

Product Reviews


Micro Mainframe
11325 Sunrise Gold Circle, Bldg. A
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 635-3997
$549.95 (basic unit)
$249.95 (second drive)

Reviewed by Larry Dziegielewski

The Micro Mainframe MF-1681 is a single/double density disk drive for the ATARI400/800/1200. The drive comes ready to run with good documentation, a utility diskette, and is 100% Atari software compatible. The MF-1681 is a single drive unit, but another half-height drive can be added to the same case. The controller in the MMF drive will handle up to eight disk drives.

Features found on the basic unit are:

  • single or double density operation o a printer port for Centronics parallel printers
  • a 4K printer spooler addition of a second drive for under $300.00
  • hard disk firmware included
  • any additional ANSI compatible 3", 5 1/44", or 8" disk drive may be used
  • a Z-80 processor with 16K RAM

The addition of a MMF Expansion Box turns the disk drive into a 64K Z-80 which can run CP/M, TRSDOS, MAXIDOS, and OASIS software. In its basic form, the Z-80 can perform limited functions directly from BASIC. For example, you can read, write, and print disk tracks. The Z-80 also handles ADR (Automatic Density Recognition). This feature allows swapping single and double density diskettes without the use of special software commands. A disk is included in the package which contains the following utilities:

  • SETDBL- format a double density disk
  • PRTTRK- print any track to screen or printer
  • PRTSEC - print any sector to screen or printer
  • ADUP - will backup any disk
  • DISASS - machine-language disassembler

The first thing that impressed me about the MF-1681 is its size. The unit measures a massive 16 1/2" L x 7 1/2" W x 5" H, about three inches longer than the ATARI 810. While this unit takes up more desk space, the real beauty is what you get inside. You can get two drives in the space normally occupied by one ATARI drive. The MF-1681 uses half-height drive mechanisms supplied by Tokyo Electronic Corporation (TEC). The TEC half-height mechanisms are smooth and quiet, unlike their Atari counterparts. They also seem to run a lot less than the 810's. An 810 will run for seven seconds after a read or write operation, the TEC's only run for 3 seconds. This feature is partly a function of the disk controller.

Support for any product should be of concern to the buyer. Micro Mainframe has been the largest manufacturer of peripherals for the TRS-80 line for over four years. MMF will handle all support and service for the MF-1681 at their factory. Although I have not yet needed setvice, the staff at MMF answered by questions promptly and in a professional manner.

My MMF drive has performed flawlessly for two months. At $549.95 for the base unit, and $300.00 for an addon drive, you could have a dual drive, double density system for under $850.00. This is a bargain compared to the PERCOM and ATARI drives. Serious programmers will appreciate the power and flexibility of the Z-80. Micro Mainframe has scored big with this new entry into the Atari field.


Random House School Division 400 Hahn Road
Westminster, MD 21157
(800) 638-6460 (orders)
$165.00, 48K-diskette

Reviewed by Clark Nobil

Will the new wave of educational software now reaching the market reverse the "rising tide of mediocrity" plaguing the nation's schools? Random House, the publishing giant conspicuously absent from computer bookshelves in recent years, thinks so. This past spring they released an impressive array of microcomputer courseware written especially for schools. Although numerous math-skills programs exist, verbal-skills programs have been slower in development and the few around haven't achieved much notice. Random House may change all that.

Developed for first through ninth graders, Fundamental Word Focus is a set of ten programs designed to provide student practice and testing in word analysis skills that stress alphabetical order, syllabication, vowels, prefixes and suffixes, compound words, and other word-recognition skills. Each program moves along in gamelike fashion with extensive use of color graphics and sound to keep action and student involvement at a high pace. Each program also follows a standard format which welcomes the user, offers an explanation of the rules, requests a level of play, and asks for the student's name. After the student has been tested, the score is computed, displayed, then stored for later review by the teacher. What's more, using a secret password, a teacher can access a special menu with a description of each program's objectives, prerequisites, grade levels, word lists, student test scores, and other utilities. Below is a capsule of each program:

  • "Alpha Order" (grades 1-6). Three words are displayed in alphabetical order; student must insert fourth word correctly.
  • "Square Off" (grades 2-6) hides words in ten-by-ten letter matrix. Student must identify target word within one minute.
  • "Double Take" (grades 4-6) presents compound words to be divided correctly by student. Fireworks reward success.
  • "Vowel Adventure (grades 1-5). Student identifies letters in words as vowels or consonants. Correct answer advances player one step through maze.
  • "Quick Look" (grades 1-6) shows a series of words, then asks if certain letter clusters were included in the series.
  • "Syllable Attack" (grades 4-8) gives the student the first syllable, then presents various endings. If a pair makes a "real" word, student is rewarded for "yes" response.
  • "Fixation" (grades 4-9). Student gives "yes" or "no" about words having suffix or prefix, but "no" response is correct too often.
  • "Word Mix" (grades 4-8) presents four possible word endings to complete a given beginning, within a 30-second limit.
  • "Word Smasher" (grades 4-6). A complete word is presented for the student to divide properly into syllables.
  • "Syllable Countdown" (grades 3-6) shows a series of words on screen. Student responds with a number of syllables - quick response gets higher score.

Fundamental Word Focus is not only "user-friendly", it is "teacher-friendly"; all the information necessary for a teacher (or parent) to administer the program to a student is contained in the Program itself. What's in the manual, in other words, is also on the screen. The program is so thoughtfully constructed that the manual is almost unnecessary.

What is likely to impress teachers and parents most about these programs, however, is the major commitment this large American publisher has made toward providing high-quality, comprehensive educational courseware for public schools. The latest catalog of educational courseware from Random House reveals the depth of their commitment to this market. In reading skill development, for instance, they offer as many as ten different program-courses. In mathematics, seven are offered. In ]anguage arts, six. What's more, Random House has also developed "classroom management" programs for teachers and school administrators to simplify keeping track of student grades, attendance records, etc. And, as though the current catalog of educational offerings weren't enough, Random House will also be introducing 30 more educational programs over the next 18 months.


by John E. McNamara
Digital Press
Educational Services
Digital Equipment Corporation
Bedford, MA 01730
330 pages

Electronic hobbyists and electrical engineer-designers will find this book useful. It is a highly detailed and technical guide to the design and maintenance of data-communications systems. If you're interested in learning how to build, buy, troubleshoot, or repair a system, or you just want to know more technical aspects of how your telephone or modem works, this manual is for you. The author is an electrical engineer from M.I.T. who has worked for Digital Equipment Corporation since 1968.


Krell Software Corporation
1320 Stonybrook Road
Stonybrook, NY 11790
(516) 751-5139
$299.95, 48K-diskettes (10)

Reviewed by Dave Mentley

The College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test traditionally has been a paper and pencil testing procedure, adapted for a multiple choice (or guess) format and scored by computing machinery to process the hundreds of thousands of high school students who go through the system. Now you can use your personal computer to prepare for the test. The Krell program is much more comprehensive and may actually help build your vocabulary, English grammar and math skills. The Krell Software package was designed with an unusual philosophy. Instead of training for test-taking techniques, the programs are designed to improve fundamental mastery of verbal and math skills. The package is not meant to be the equivalent of a high school education on disk, but rather, a very narrow but strong, concentration on SAT-type material. There are two disks included in the package covering six areas:

  1. Reading Comprehension
  2. Sentence completion
  3. Vocabulary (2 disks)
  4. Word relationships
  5. Math (3 disks)
  6. Test of standard written English (3 disks)
All materials except for a few line drawings and some sample reading passages are on the disks. The Vocabulary sections contain a very broad range of words, many of which will be seen in a real SAT. The Test of Standard Written English is very well prepared and explanations are provided for all answers after each choice. These English problems are very tricky, yet useful, even for computerists who are beyond high school. Almost anyone could learn better grammar from this course.

The math problems are actually formula-driven so that many problems of the same type (but with different answers) can be tried. Up to 1000 problems can be generated. Again, unique explanations of the answers are provided to each problem. It is clear that much careful thought by several competent educators went into this package. The software works very quickly with the ATARI computer. The publisher has a lot of faith in the efficiency of the program as evidenced by the money-back guarantee. You can get a refund if your score is not raised by at least 75 points after using this course.

Other software companies also offer programs that help develop academic skills. Program Design, Inc. markets a package called Preparing for the SAT. To develop and improve verbal abilities you would use The Vocabulary Builder and Analogies sections and to increase your numerical competency you would use The Number Series and Quantitative Comparisons sections. CBS Software and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, major communications/publishing companies, plan to market ATARI versions of their exam prep programs soon.

Do you really need a computer program to prepare for the SAT, or will a $10 paperback book suffice? This is a difficult question. On one hand, the Krell package will present the problems to you actively and interact with you when you answer. On the other hand, the test is pencil-and-paper based, and training from a book is more realistic. Ultimately, the question will be answered by your budget.

Monkey Math Screen Shot


150 N. Main St.
Fairport, NY 14450
(800) 828-6573
(716) 425-2833
$19.95, 16K-cassette $23.95, 24K-diskette

Reviewed by David Plotkin

Monkey Math, by Dennis Zander, has to be one of the most entrancing educational games ever written. The purpose of this colorful and carefully crafted program is to teach arithmetic. With its multiple skill levels and amusing sound and graphics, children (and adults) could spend hours learning and sharpening skills without even realizing it.

The premise of the game is simple. The player controls a huge gorilla (I've nicknamed him "Art") with a joystick plugged into Port One. The gorilla can move back and forth above a hopper. A conveyor belt containing numbers passes below the gorilla, and pressing the fire button on the joystick causes the gorilia's fist to slam down and knock a number into the hopper. Below the hopper is another conveyor belt containing an uncompleted arithmetic equation.

The object is to knock the correct number into the hopper to complete the equation. If you do, a team of monkeys rolls away the completed equation, and a new equation takes its place. Knocking the wrong number into the hopper causes the team of monkeys to remove the wrong answer and you get to try again. Each time you complete an equation correctly, your score increases. A clock on the wall behind "Art" shows that that game starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m. - quitting time, when the whistle blows.

The goal in Monkey Math is to complete as many equations correctly as possible in the limited time. While giving the wrong answer doesn't detract from your current score, it does waste time and hampers your efforts to get a high score. Fast reflexes are also rewarded. Once you've solved the equation in your head, it is advantageous to hit the correct number into the hopper the first time it appears on the conveyor belt, otherwise you'll have to wait till it comes around again.

Monkey Math offers several options such as counting, addition, subtraction, and division. The varying skill levels not only control the speed at which numbers pass by under "Art", but also the difficulty of the problems. To further increase difficulty, you are often given the answer, and you must supply one of the elements (i.e., the multiplicand or divisor) of the equation. While very young children can play the counting game, the full-speed division should be challenging to anyone.

Monkey Math is very well done and should prove to be an engaging and effective teaching tool. Such amusing and attractive touches as the gorilla gobbling bananas during his lunch break and the excellent use of color and sound should make this game popular with your family or school mates. I recommend you get a copy and see if Monkey Math can make a monkey out of you!


Atari Program Exchange (APX)
P.O. Box 3705
Santa Clara, CA 95055
(408) 727-5603
(800) 672-1850 (within California)
(800) 538-1862 (outside California)
$29.95, 16K-diskette

Reviewed by Karl Wiegers

Elementary Biology is a product of the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (marketed by APX) which has written a variety of educational programs for ATARI computers. This diskette contains three lessons, directed at students from ages nine to 14 (grades 2-9). The first lesson is an elementary tutorial on the circulatory system ("Circulation"), while the other two are roleplaying simulations of the ecology of a lake ("Odell Lake") and the surrounding land areas ("Odell Woods").

This program comes with a diskette and a 60-page "support booklet" This booklet provides some illustrations of sample screen displays, but its main purpose is to help a teacher use the programs effectively in conjunction with other classroom activities. There are worksheets for students to complete as they go through the lessons and quizzes, and suggestions for additional teaching, activities to complement the computer lessons.

"Circulation" uses tutorial, quiz, and animation to describe the functioning of a two-chambered heart in a fish. Low-resolution color graphics are used to depict parts of the fish. In an effective demonstration, the student watches a blue blood cell leave the heart ventricle, turn red as it picks up oxygen in the gills, turn blue as it passes through some other part of the fish, and finally return to the auricle of the heart. Simple questions interrupt this process in the quiz segment. No help is provided for the questions asked, but if any are answered incorrectly the student is advised to redo the tutorial part of the lesson. "Circulation" is an easy but effective lesson, and would nicely complement a discussion of the circulatory system.

"Odell Lake" teaches the student about food chain relationships in the lake by a process of simulation. The student plays the role of one of six kinds of fish in the lake. While playing this role, the student encounters other fish and animals and must decide what to do in each encounter: ignore it, eat it, chase it, or escape. From the outcome of each encounter, the student must deduce the prey/predator relationships of all the fish in the lake.

This lesson is fun, informative and it uses excellent graphics and animation to illustrate each action. The student actively participates in the learning process by role-playing and keeping experimental journals.

Role-playing is also a central feature of "Odell Woods", where the student can opt to be a mouse, rabbit, fox, or wolf. Again, he must decide what to do in a series of random encounters with other components of the ecosystem. The support booklet describes the model used for the simulation and gives the outcomes of each possible encounter. This exercise involves no visual displays, but again actively involves the student in the lesson. Thoughtful and positive feedback is given after each decision.

All three of these lessons are informative and entertaining. They exhibit fairly good applications of ATARI graphics, although sound effects would have been a nice added touch. Students of all ages would enjoy the "Odell Lake" and "Odell Woods" simulations, although "Circulation" is fairly rudimentary and does not really fit with the other lessons. I recommend Elementary Biology for classroom use with the target age group.


Broderbund Software
1938 Fourth St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 456-6424
$69.96, 48K-diskette

Reviewed by Steve Oliver II

The Bank Street Writer is an incredible value for the price. While it doesn't display 80 columns on the screen, it has many easy-to-use features. In fact, it was designed and developed by Intentional Educations, Inc., The Bank Street College of Education, and Franklin E. Smith, and underwent much testing by students. It was designed for, and succeeds in serving, the entire family. Its prompts, menus, structure, and excellent manual make it simple to learn. Even if you are a beginner with the ATARI you could easily use the Writer the first time you sat down to use it.

Upon loading, you have a choice of three programs to use: the Writer itself, the Tutorial (by inserting the other side of the disk), or the Utility program (by pressing [ESC] while the Writer loads). The Tutorial interactively teaches you the major features of the Writer. It consists of five short lessons. The Utility allows you to change certain parameters of the Writer: which disk drive for data storage, margins and headers on the printed documents, and listing of files and their passwords. I have not yet found it necessary to use the Utility. The Writer's default values seem to be just fine. The Writer is divided into three modes: Write, Edit, and Transfer. You start off in the Write mode, and to get to the Edit mode you press [ESC]. To return to Write, press [ESC] again. You get into Transfer through the Edit mode. At all times, prompts are displayed at the top of the screen to let you know your available choices. But if you should get lost or confused, you just press [ESC] to return to the Write mode.


The Write mode has few options: [ESC] to the Edit menu, use the [CTRL] keys to erase or enter text. The computer functions as a regular typewriter keyboard to allow you to type your letter, report or story, except for certain keys like inverse video, the control characters, [TAB], and [BREAK]. You simply type as usual, and when a word reaches the right edge of the screen it wraps around to the next line, eliminating the need for carriage returns.

To indent a paragraph, you press [CTRL]I. [CTRL]C centers a line of text on the printed document, and [CTRL]S tells you how much memory space you have left. To use the tutorial, you must have the BASIC cartridge installed. With the cartridge in, you have room for less than 1000 words, but without it you can fit in more than 2300 words.


The cursor controls available in this mode are: the arrows keys, [B], [E], [U], and [D]. These move the cursor in all four directions, to the beginning and end of the document, and up or down twelve lines. Your major editing features are: Erase, Unerase, Move/Moveback, Find/ Replace, and Transfer Menu. These allow you to erase (or unerase if you change your mind), move, and find or replace words. Insertions and deletions are easy, too. Simply enter Edit mode, position the cursor, return to Write and type. The new text pushes aside the old. All these features are easy to use and prompted.


This mode allows you to save or retrieve a file, initialize (format) a disk, delete or rename a file, print a document, quit, or clear a document from memory. The only option here that really needs elaboration is printing. You can print a draft or a final copy. Draft copies are printed exactly as they appear on the screen - 38 columns, but also doublespaced. This is very useful for proofreading. The Print-Final option allows you to choose the number of characters per line you want, spacing between lines, connect files, page numbering (top, bottom, or not at all), pausing between pages, headings and choosing certain parts of the file to print. It also lets you see where each page ends and starts, allowing you to change the page breakdown if you desire. It really prints out nice copy. I found very few shortcomings in the Writer. One of them, however, is the fact that it only displays eighteen 38-column lines on the screen. While it can print up to 126 characters per line on paper, it's nice to be able to see them all on the screen. But a Broderbund spokesperson told me that an 80-column display would have slowed down the program too much. As it is now, it sometimes has a slight delay problem when working with large amounts of text. This is not a word procesor for people who do a lot of writing, because it just isn't made for those tasks.

The Bank Street Writer was designed for use at home by the family, and for those whose writing needs are on a small scale. This is a really good first word processor - for someone new to the ATARI.

Matchboxes Screen Shot


Broderbund Software
1938 Fourth St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 456-6424
$29.95, 32K-diskette

Reviewed by David Duberman

Matchboxes is an ingenious computerized version of the classic game of Concentration - and more. One or two can play, but it's easy to imagine the whole family getting involved in any of the seven two-player variations.

When the game begins, you're presented with a rectangular grid of 36 blank numbered boxes. Concealed behind each box is a cleverly animated figure accompanied by a fragment of a familiar tune, for which there is one identical match somewhere in the grid. Players use joysticks and fire buttons to uncover two boxes at a time, trying to match the identical pairs. When one of you makes a successful match, the animated figures briefly vanish to reveal parts of a giant-sized word concealed behind the grid.

At this point, if you press the fire button, you may type in your guess as to the word's identity. Whether or not you choose to guess the word, you may then try to match another pair. The word may be chosen by a human or by the computer, and it may be frontwards, scrambled, or reversed, at your option. As more successful matches are made, more of the word is uncovered. If no one guesses the word before all matches are made, the winner is the person with the most matches. You may, if you choose, play a simpler form of the game that omits the concealed word. In this version, the object is to get the most matches.

You may also play any of these versions of the game against the computer. There are three levels of difficulty in the single-player mode. Of course, since the computer has a vastly superior memory to our puny organic cells, it tends to run away with the game. It actually does guess the word wrong the first few tries, but since it chose the word in the first place, it usually comes up with the correct answer in a short while. This game really requires more than one human player for full enjoyment, though playing alone with the computer can be fun.

Matchboxes represents a delightful departure by Broderbund from their norm of shoot-em-up arcade thrillers. There are three sets of animated characters, with a new set loaded from disk or cassette at the start of each new game, and all are quite well done. These include blasting rockets, bouncing kangaroos, a Pac-man scenario (accompanied by Comin' Through the Rye), and an assortment of colorful animated abstract designs. Tunes include Pop Goes the Weasel, Old MacDonald, and My Country 'Tis of Thee. The game is ideal for families with young children learning to read, but is fun for all ages to play.