Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 6, NO. 7 / NOVEMBER 1987


Laptop-to-Atari Connection


Handy file transfer to your 8-bit or ST


I love my Atari computers. And I love them most because they have changed forever the way I write. I could never go back to banging out draft after draft on my old Smith-Corona. Last year I formally acknowledged this fact when I gave away the typewriter to the Salvation Army.

But now that I am hooked on word processing, I am also hooked to the computer. Gone are the days of disappearing into a redwood grove to finish a report in solitude. No longer the romantic fantasy of being an author dressed in summer whites, sitting in a wicker chair on the lawn with a small typewriter on my knees.

Then I began to think, who needs a small typewriter. . .? I can get an inexpensive small computer! So that’s what I did. I found a first-generation laptop computer being closed out for less than $200. It's a member of the Radio Shack Model 100/NEC 8201A family

This type of computer is not very powerful, but it supports a delightfully flexible writing environment. It's small enough to keep in the car, take to the library, or curl up with in an overstuffed chair You can even bring a low-cost laptop to your favorite coffee house and write poetry on a full-size keyboard instead of paper napkins and old envelopes.

So my writing life became a lot sweeter-but it was still not perfect. My laptop’s text editor is pretty primitive. It doesn't even have search and replace. And there’s no printer support at all, just an ASCII file dump. So if this laptop isn't a full-fledged word processing computer, what is it? Well, to me it's the perfect peripheral for any Atari-a portable terminal for either an 8-bit or an ST. (ANTIC ONLINE has used a Radio Shack 100 since 1985 to transmit live reports from computer shows. - ANTIC ED)

My laptop is a very convenient tool for getting my first draft into digital form-sort of a memory dump for the brain I go someplace that inspires me to work creatively and write a rough draft. Then I zap the text over to the Atari, where I rewrite, edit and generally massage it into shape. This works great for me, because rewriting takes the concentration and focus that my office can provide.

Zapping the text file to your Atari is easy. Almost all laptop computers have some kind of telecommunications capability and most of them (even the lower-priced models) have a built-in modem. This provides several possible ways to accomplish the file transfer-depending on which Atari computer you own.


There are a few extra factors you must keep in mind when uploading laptop files to an Atari 8-bit computer. That’s because 8-bit don't have a built-in RS-232 port like the STs.

If you have a modem that plugs directly into your 8-bit, such as the Atari 1030 or XM301, you can use it with your laptop’s built-in modem. But you'll be restricted to the speed of your slowest modem-probably 300 baud. Get a short cable with a modular telephone plug at each end. Connect the cable to your modem and to the modem jack on the laptop. Now you can follow the overall directions in the next section.

If you don't own a modem that plugs directly into your 8-bit, you'll need an interface module with an RS-232 adaptor, such as ICD’s P:R: Connection or the Atari 850, before you can proceed to the instructions below.

There is one more adjustment 8-bit owners must make. These Ataris use a non-standard code for the carriage return and line feed (155 instead of 13 and 10). Your software adjusts to this with a parameter called Translation. Set your Translation for ASCII (sometimes called Light Translation) and the returns will be fixed automatically.


To transfer files between a laptop computer and your Atari, you need a suitable cable, some telecommunications software and either a modem or a “null modem"

Null modem connectors are two-way plugs that generally cost less than $10. These devices switch the wires controlling data flow, which makes two computers think they're talking to modems instead of to each other. Several different wiring patterns qualify as RS-232 null modems. But if you have a choice, get the simplest null modem that’ll do the job for your system. You can also get cables wired as null modems. These work just as well, but you can't also use them with real modems. (For more information about null modem connectors, see ST File Transfers with Kermit Antic, August 1985, page 25. - ANTIC ED)

My ST and my laptop both have standard DB-25 sockets, so I can use a null modem connector with a normal modem cable. Other laptops might need custom cables. Any Atari telecommunications software should work. Most laptops already have adequate file transfer programs built-in.


Get started by connecting your portable to your Atari via modem cable and a null modem (or real modem). Turn on the telecommunications software of both computers. Now you'll need to set the software for both machines to the following:

 8-bit word length
 1 stop bit, no parity
 Half duplex
 XON/XOFF enabled
 Highest baud rate for
 both computers

(The highest baud rate both computers can handle is generally 9600 or 19200 baud, although some software may be limited to 2400 or even 300 baud.).

If one computer won't accept some of these parameters, set the other one as shown above and pray for luck. If you're unlucky, work your way through all the possibilities until you hit on one that succeeds. You'll know you got it right when something typed on either keyboard shows up unscrambled on both screens. Make sure the carriage returns come through correctly too.

If your modem software supports macros, save your successful configuration for future use. Otherwise, just write it down and keep the note handy.,

Now set your Atari to receive a simple text file. Most programs call this CAPTURE or RECEIVE ASCII, but there are other variations. You do not want XMODEM, KERMIT, or any of the other protocols. Give your Atari a filename to save the text. Now the Atari will wait to receive the data.

Tell the laptop to send the file. The computers will handle the rest. so sit back and watch the text scroll across the Atari screen. When the file transfer is complete, be sure to save the file to disk before you continue.

All this sounds like a lot of work, but it's really easy and takes less time to do than to describe. The entire process will become automatic by time you complete your second or third file.

My laptop computer is the best purchase I've made since I got my original 8-bit Atari. It has made the hard work of of writing so much more pleasant. For example, this article was written on a sunny Saturday afternoon while watching the radio-controlled sailboats glide across Spreckles Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Charles Cherry, former product manager for The Catalog has written many reviews for this magazine and is the 8-bit editor of the ABACUS users group newsletter in San Francisco.