ICD Boosts 8-bit
800XL gets more muscle than an STWhat does ICD stand for? "I Can't Decide," says company president Tom Harker. A better guess would be Innovative Computer Design, but that name belongs to another Illinois company The right answer is that ICD doesn't stand for anything- except state-of-the-art support for Atari 8-bit computers.
Right now at Antic we are running an Atari 800XL that actually has more memory than a 1040ST-and costs less too! This high-powered setup is turbocharged with the latest generation of ICD enhancements. It uses their brand new 1Mb Multi I/O Board plus the 256K RAMBO XL memory upgrade. Its operating system is ICD's speedy SpartaDOS (version 3.2) and it displays a real-time clock/calendar with ICD's piggybacking R-Time 8 Cartridge. Also plugged into this super XL is a 15Mb Lurie BTL Hard Disk system (reviewed in detail in a nearby story)The heart of this Super 800XL is ICD's Multi I/O Board-the most impressive add-on product for the 8-bit line we've seen in years. The Multi I/O plugs into the parallel bus at the back of your Atari 800XL or 130XE (the 130XE requires a $19.95 adapter) and gives your computer the following five features.
1. Parallel printer interface.
2. Serial interface for modem or printer. (Both the parallel and serial interfaces use cables compatible with the Atari 850.)
3. One megabyte of memory ($349.95), or 256K memory ($199.95).
Built-in ROM software lets you partition this memory into mul
tiple RAMdisks in the sizes of your choice. The Multi I/O has its own power supply and can retain information even when the computer is shut off. It consumes less than two watts, so the electric bill won't break you. Only a power failure will wipe out your RAMdisk.
4. You can reserve any RAMdisk as a Printer Spooler that works with either of the interface ports.
5. The Hard Disk interface can support eight SASI and SCSI controllers at once, using standard 5- 1/4 inch and/or 3- 1/2 inch hard drives. Since ICD's SpartaDOS can access 65,536 sectors (16 megabytes per drive), you can now have up to 128Mb of storage. If you need more, buy a DEC VAX computer.
Holding down [SELECT] while booting puts you into the Multi I/O's built-in program, from which you can set up your drives and give them any designation. For instance, you can configure drive 2 as drive 1. You can even boot your system from a RAMdisk believe it or not.
MORE ADD-ON POWER
Promised soon for the Multi I/O Board is ICD's 80-column Adapter ($99.95) which will support both monochrome and composite color monitors. The adapter plugs inside the case of the Multi I/O board. Also coming is an ICD word processor that will support the 80-column Adapter.
RAMBO XL ($39.95), a 256K memory upgrade for the Atari 800XL and l200XL, was reviewed in the July 1986 Antic. Rambo sets up a 130XE-compatible 192K RAMdisk that runs current 130XE software such as AtariWriter Plus on your XL. The l30XE version of PaperClip (Batteries Included) supports RAMBO's full 256K, loading the entire spell checker into memory for rapid-fire operation.
ICD's handy new R-Time 8 Cartridge ($69.95) is an automatic realtime clock/calendar that plugs into your cartridge port. It can accept another cartridge into its built-in slot, and its battery should last three to five years. The R-Time 8 uses no cartridge memory and is decoded in memory locations $D5B8-$D5BF. R-Time 8 also supports BASIC, Pascal, AMODEM 7.2R and 1030/850 Express. While the R-Time 8 will work with any Disk Operating System for the Atari, it is most effective with SpartaDOS.
SpartaDOS stamps the current time and date on all files as you save them, keeping track of your latest versions. A simple command displays the time and date at the top of your screen. A software real-time clock is written into SpartaDOS, but it's less accurate than the R-Time 8 and must be reset every time you turn on your computer.
SpartaDOS, version 3.2, ICD's newest disk operating system matches the best features of DOS/XL from OSS, Inc., but also adds hard disk access and other useful capabilities. Versions 3.2, 2.3 and 1.1 are all included in the SpartaDOS Construction Set ($39.95), along with a full collection of supporting utilities.
On an Atari 800XL with 256K upgrade, a simple SpartaDOS command actually installs and initializes a 192K RAMdisk from the additional memory. Virtually every available memory upgrade is supported, including the Axlon RAMdisk for the Atari 800.
The SpartaDOS Construction Set is extremely versatile and powerful. It will read and write to DOS 2.0 and 2.5 disks with no problem. The software comes with a comprehensive 161-page manual and 36-page supplement.
In the command processor mode, familiar to DOS/XL users, type in the appropriate command at the prompt, such as COPY D1:FILE D2:FILE. If you prefer a more familiar menu environment, such as that found in DOS 2.0, just type MENU. In SpartaDOS menus, instead of using wildcards, you can cursor through the filenames and "tag" the ones to copy or delete. This makes multi-file copying a one-step operation.
If you accidentally boot with BASIC on your XL or XE, just type BASIC OFF instead of rebooting. BASIC ON reverses the process.
Another especially nice feature of this DOS is its ability to process a batch file at start-up. An example of this would be to initialize the time and date line, set up your extended memory as a RAMdisk and disable BASIC. You can execute a batch file on disk at any time just by typing in a hyphen and then the file name.
SpartaDOS is memory resident, meaning that you don't need a DUP.SYS file. Switching between BASIC, MAC/65 and DOS won't erase the program in memory unless you use one of the commands, such as COPY. ASCII files can be printed to the screen from disk easily with the TYPE command.
The only minor quirk we have found in SpartaDOS 3.2 is that while working in machine language with the OSS MAC/65 assembler, you'll get a mysterious error message if you attempt a disk-to-disk assembly of a large program. To fix this, write a short program that INCLUDEs all the necessary files and assemble with this program in RAM.
SpartaDOS is ICD's longest-established product. It supports true double density storage and extra-fast disk I/O in conjunction with the U.S. Doubler ($39.95), a hardware upgrade for the Atari 1050 disk drive. Because SpartaDOS works with different disk formats simultaneously, it is ideal for transferring 5 1/4 inch floppy files to 3 1/2 inch disks (whenever Atari brings out 3 1/2 inch drives for the 8-bit computers.
The Multi I/O Board was actually designed in response to many requests on ICD's warranty cards for the P:R: Connection ($89.95). This inexpensive replacement for the no-longer-made Atari 850 Interface Module was a major breakthrough for 8-bit Atari users in 1986, again making it easy to connect Ataris to standard printers and modems.
The compact 4 x 6 inch P:R: Connection (reviewed in Antic, October 1986) provides one Centronics parallel port and two serial ports. It uses the same cables ($14.95 from ICD) as the Atari 850. Drawing power from your computer, it doesn't require its own outlet. There's a built-in R-handler with complete documentation for the RS-232 driver source listing.
The Printer Connection ($59.95), due in January 1987, is the baby brother of the P :R: Connection, containing a single parallel interface. It prints PrintShop graphics.
Tom Harker started ICD in his basement in Rockford, Illinois, with Mike Gustafson, who then lived in Minneapolis. The company was incorporated in 1984, with Harker as president and Gustafson as vice president in charge of development.
ICD's first products were the U.S. Doubler and SpartaDOS. "At first, SpartaDOS was almost impossible to market by itself, which is why we packaged it with the U.S. Doubler," says Harker. "People love hardware- it lasts longer than software-and the products are as enthusiastically received today as they were when we first started selling them."
Harker explains, "SpartaDOS is a lot like MS-DOS and somewhat like CP/M, so users of those systems should be at home with SpartaDOS. Atari DOS users may have a hard time with SpartaDOS at first, but they love it afterwards. It's much more powerful and user-friendly than Atari DOS."
ICD's basic goal more or less echos Atari's-to produce
innovative, high-quality products at low cost. "We look
for weaknesses in computer systems and try to fix them," says Harker. "We make Atari computers stronger."
Harker considers his company close to Atari, having visited them at Sunnyvale several times. "We've exhibited our products in Atari booths at trade shows and they've supplied us with any information and schematics we need about their computers."
ICD intends to continue Atari 8-bit support, but it also plans to support other computers, including the ST, for which an ICD product could appear as early as the summer of 1987. "We don't want to be the first one on the block with new products," says Harker. "That's usually reserved for those who want to make a fast buck. And that's why we're slow in coming out with products for a new system. When a new computer comes out, people are tempted to jump in with products that aren't necessarily top quality"
ICD has molds made for each of its product cases-the molds usually cost about $15,000 apiece. "We don't want to sell just a stock box with holes and wires," says Harker. "We want to make everything work up to Atari's quality. We don't want our products to look like a hobbyist's expansion."
ICD does all its own product design-unusual for a hardware company Harker says that's why ICD has been able to make money and be profitable since day one. "We have a good, loyal following. Many other hardware companies just market products that are developed by outside people."
Including Harker and Gustafson, ICD has 10 employees: five assemble, produce and ship the products, and the rest work in the office and also do product development. All products are made in-house except for ICD's interface cables.
"We have people on the phones at almost all times, including me," says Harker. "Customers can speak directly to the company president. We have a 24-hour BBS with technical information and files to download. We also spend time on Delphi and CompuServe answering questions about our products, and we hope to get on GEnie too."
1220 Rock Street
Rockford, IL 61101
(815) 968-2228 (Voice)
(815) 968-2229 (BBS)