Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 11 / MARCH 1989

SpartaDOS X or Atari DOS-XE?

Which is Number 1?

By Matthew Ratcliff

SpartaDOS X

SpartaDOS X, $79.95 from ICD, is the ultimate disk operating system for 8-bit Atari computers, bar none! This 64K super cartridge packs power galore. SpartaDOS X even works with the old Atari 800 and will support that computer's Axlon RAM upgrades.

SpartaDOS X is a "piggyback" cartridge, letting you insert a second cartridge on top. The SpartaDOS X cartridge can take complete control of your system, allowing you to access the cartridge on top, such as MAC/65, or run built-in BASIC while the top cartridge is still in place.

SpartaDOS X is a command line DOS, just like its disk-based predecessor. For example, you type DIR D1: *.* to see a directory of all the files on drive number one, instead of selecting a menu option and being prompted for more information. Power users can really fly through their system maintenance once they learn the basic command structure.

SpartaDOS X does have a built-in MENU, which makes it easy for novices to control all the power of this DOS. The MENU does not have the familiar look of Atari DOS, but with a little practice, it is not difficult to master.

The most fascinating feature of SpartaDOS X is that it uses the same commands as MS-DOS, the disk operating system of IBM PCs. Anyone experienced with a PC or clone will be familiar with the SpartaDOS X commands like CHDIR, DEL, and others. If you don't know how to use an IBM PC, SpartaDOS X will help you learn.

For those who are attached to the older disk-based SpartaDOS, SpartaDOS X retains many of the old commands as "aliases" of the new MS-DOS commands. Some will be required, but not much. For example, you used to type BASIC ON or BASIC OFF to control the internal XL/XE BASIC. Now you simply type BASIC to run the language, which automatically turns off when you enter SpartaDOS X.

The disk format utility XINIT is no longer necessary. From virtually any program making a system call to format a disk (XIO #254), the FORMAT command brings up a SpartaDOS X menu on the screen. For example, when I selected FORMAT from the AtariWriter main menu, the SpartaDOS X format menu popped up instantly. It flawlessly formatted a double sided, double density, high speed I/O, 360K disk on my XF551, and then returned gracefully to AtariWriter with my edit buffer unharmed.

From the format menu of SpartaDOS X, you may select the drive number, format type (including Atari DOS or SpartaDOS), and high speed I/O including ICD's UltraSpeed, Indus high speed, and even the high speed mode of the new Atari XF551 disk drive. Since SpartaDOS X is in a cartridge, this formatter will not write DOS to disk.


ARC is a new command in SpartaDOS X, an extremely fast and powerful version of the popular file compression utility. ARC will take one or more files at your request and compress them into one ARC file, by as much as 50% or more.

Using the MS-DOS command structure, SpartaDOS X adds new device names to your Atari. From SpartaDOS X you refer to the printer as PRN: and the keyboard as CON:. SpartaDOS X will not recognize the P: and E: devices you are accustomed to, although they are still accessible from BASIC and other programs.

When you boot with SpartaDOS X, the program looks for a file called CONFIG.SYS. This allows you to hook in custom drivers, making maximum use of your computer configuration. You can tell SpartaDOS X where your extra RAM, if any, can be found, and how much to use for disk buffers. To enable the high speed I/O driver for Indus disk drives, for example, your CONFIG.SYS text command file will specify DEVICE INDUS.SYS/.

The DEVICE ATARIDOS command must be included in CONFIG.SYS to have full access to disks formatted with Atari DOS or its derivatives, such as MyDOS. Even so, I have found that SpartaDOS X has a particular dislike for DOS 2.5 disks formatted in enhanced density, and refuses to access the extended sectors.

You will always want to enable RAMDISK.SYS, since SpartaDOS X requires a RAMdisk to save the working memory of BASIC or other cartridges. SpartaDOS X saves your working RAM in a manner similar to the MEM.SAV feature of Atari DOS. If SpartaDOS X cannot preserve your working RAM when you enter the DOS command, you are warned of the condition and given the opportunity to abort and save your file.

It may take a while to become accustomed to all these new drivers, but the default driver, when no CONFIG.SYS file is found, seems to work well.

PROTECT and UNPROTECT have been supplanted with the ATR command. Your file attributes can be set (+) and cleared (-) with this command, including A for archive, H for hidden, and P for protected. ATR + P is used to protect files, and -P will unprotect them.

CHDIR is the change directory command, and SpartaDOS X still fully supports the old CWD, as well as the common MS-DOS abbreviation of CD. Subdirectory path names can be separated by the old greater-than symbol (>) or with the MS-DOS back-slash character (\). MKDIR (also MD) and RMDIR (also RD) make and remove directories, just like the old CREDIR and DELDIR, which are still supported.

SpartaDOS X also includes the PATH command, offered previously on the SpartaDOS Toolkit disk. The PATH command allows you to specify the default search directory for SpartaDOS X. For example, you can place all your external command files (such as FLASHBAK.COM) in a DOS subdirectory on your boot disk and specify PATH D1:\OS in your AUTOEXEC.BAT file. Then, any time you specify a command that is not built into SpartaDOS X, the program automatically searches this path for the file.


Multiple search paths are allowed. SpartaDOS X also incorporates the Toolkit command PROMPT, which can set the prompt to display the current time, date and directory path if you choose, instead of the simple "D1:". This is an extremely valuable feature for hard disk users who have to keep track of a lot of subdirectories.

SpartaDOS X supports PEEK and POKE commands. They work exactly like their BASIC counterparts. This comes in handy for setting certain defaults, such as screen colors or keyboard repeat rate, from an AUTOEXEC.BAT file, for example.

The UNERASE utility from the Toolkit is built into SpartaDOS X. This is a powerful, immensely useful command. Whenever you accidentally erase the wrongfile, simply UNERASE it.

The CHTD command allows you to change the date and time stamps of files. This comes in handy when setting the time stamps of files copied from Atari DOS 2.0 and 2.5 disks, which don't have this feature.

The CHVOL command allows you to change the volume name of a SpartaDOS format disk. The volume name is generally specified at format time, but CHVOL makes it a snap to update. The CHKDSK command is a quick way to find out how much free disk space you have on a specific drive.

My favorite utility from the SpartaDOS Toolkit is WHEREIS.COM. A slightly different version has been implemented in SpartaDOS X, called FIND. It will locate any file or files matching your specification, on any disk in any subdirectory in your system. It can be a lifesaver when you lose track of important files in a maze of directories.


The SpartaDOS X cartridge works with the Atari 800, but if you "piggy-back" another cartridge on top of it, you won't be able to close the 800's cartridge slot door and engage its safety switch.

To engage the safety switch while the door is open, ICD recommends you carefully squeeze a toothpick or plastic pen cap into the safety switch slot, located about one inch above the [BREAK] key.


SpartaDOS X has the Lowest LOMEM of any DOS to date, providing more workspace for BASIC and assembly language programs. Sparta-DOS X completely smashes the limit of 126 files per directory, allowing over 1,400 files in a single directory!

The most frustrating "feature" of the disk based SpartaDOS was the key buffer, which defaults to ON. This type-ahead buffer was great-when it was compatible with your application program. It was not compatible with MAC/65, for example, and could completely lock up your system under certain circumstances. SpartaDOS X also has the KEY command built in, but it mercifully defaults to OFF.

MEM is a handy command for checking total free memory in your computer system. It even displays free banks of RAM in extended memory Ataris.

Initially, SpartaDOS X was not compatible with the Atari XEP80's handler. I talked to ICD, and they responded with a new driver, XEP80.SYS, within 3 days! This driver is currently available on CompuServe, and will be included in future copies of SpartaDOS X.

This amazing little utility allows one program to use both 40 column and 80 column displays. All S: output goes to the 40 column display. E: output is routed to the 80 column display. This allows me to run Express 3.0, Keith Ledbetter's modem program, in 80 columns. All the menus are displayed in the standard 40 columns, but the terminal mode gets the full 80 columns on the XEP80's display.

At this time, SpartaDOS X is still not compatible with TurboWord, the 80 column word processor from Micromiser Software, but ICD working with Micromiser to solve this problem. The preliminary manual I received with SpartaDOS X was a complete cut-and-dried technical reference. The new manual is more than double the size of the original, providing plenty of information and tutorials for beginners.

SpartaDOS X is the most advanced software and hardware product released for the 8-bit Atari since ICD's Multi I/O interface. It is so large and powerful, I just can't cover all its features in the span of a single review. I have found it to be powerful, bug-free and certinly worth the long wait!

The development of SpartaDOS X was a major accomplishment, and my congratulations go to Tom Harker and the entire ICD staff. SpartaDOS X is the super cartridge no experienced Atarian should be without.

$79.95. ICD Inc, 1220 Rock Street, Rockford, IL 61101.(815) 968-2228.


Atari's DOS-XE ($10) is finally here, about a year after their new XF551 disk drive was released. Now Atari has a disk operating system that fully supports their new drive, producing double-sided, double-density disks with a total of 360K per disk Some of you may recall that Bill Wilkinson of Optimized Systems Software was developing a new A-DOS for Atari. Well, this is it, renamed DOS-XE.

DOS-XE has many new features including multi-density support, subdirectories, date stamping, and even high speed I/O support for the XF551. It will work with any XL or XE computer with an 810 disk drive!

DOS-XE is not compatible with Atari DOS 2.0, nor is it compatible with DOS 2.5 single or enhanced density. This was the major flaw in Atari DOS 3.0 which resulted in its quick and painful death. DOS-XE tries to bridge this gap with support for reading and writing DOS 2 or 2.5 file formats, without the need for for running separate "conversion utilities". Your simply choose to allow DOS 2.X access from the appropriate menu.

DOS-XE is both a menu driven and command line DOS. Using the menus, just type the first letter of any command displayed in the current menu. Then, simply follow all the prompts until the command is completed.

If you enter all the information on a single line, separating each parameter with a single space, DOS-XE can decipher the entire command line and perform the functions without requesting additional input. To look at a [F]iles Listing from any of the sub-menus, you can enter a command line as follows:

F D2: *.BAS E:

This command will request DOS- XE to list all the .BAS files from drive 2 to the screen, the E: device. You can just as easily enter the P: parameter to send a file list to the printer.

Because of its sophistication, DOS-XE is broken into three sub-menus, all controlled from a main menu. From the main menu you can go to the File Access, Machine Language Access, or System Function menus. The user may also [E]xit to BASIC or to an external cartridge if installed.

From the System Functions sub-menu, you may elect to [A]llow DOS 2.X access. Once enabled, DOS 2.0 or DOS 2.5 disks are accessed as A1: instead of D1:. The letter A tells DOS-XE to use the special Atari DOS 2 handler.

Atari guarantees only that DOS-XE will read DOS 2.0 or 2.5 formats, not write them. I find this a serious limitation. However, a SpartaDOS/DOS-XE conversion utility is in the works. ICD is also developing a time stamp driver for DOS-XE which will support the R-Time 8 clock cartridge.

DOS-XE appears to do a good job of bridging the gap from the old to the new Atari DOS format. I found that the [C]opy files command in the File Access menu never works when copying to Atari DOS 2 or 2.5 disks, even when the special handler is enabled. For example, the following command:

C D1:WELCOME.BAS A1:WELCOME.BAS tells DOS-XE to copy the file WELCOME.BAS from the DOS-XE format disk in drive 1 to the Atari DOS: 2 or 2.5 format disk in drive 2. However, this always results in an error-168, "command invalid." It is interesting to note that when copying from a DOS 2.0 or 2.5 disk to a DOS-XE disk (e.g. from A2:FILE to D1:FILE), DOS-XE can handle the transfer with no problems.

Fortunately, you can save to and load from an Atari DOS 2.0 or 2.5 disk from BASIC, MAC/65, and other language cartridges. Once the Atari DOS 2 handler is enabled, it remains in effect until you reboot your computer.

You can return control to your cartridge and load from or save to a DOS 2 or 2.5 disk by using the letter A to indicate a DOS 2 or 2.5 drive. For example, if drive 2 has an Atari DOS 2.0 disk in it, you would SAVE your file to A2:FILENAME.

Under the file access menu, you can [P]rotect or [U]nprotect, [E]rase, [R]ename, [V]iew(type text files to the screen), [A]ppend to, and [C]opy files. The really new features are the [W]orking, [N]ew, and [D]elete directory options, used to manage your sub-directories.


A sub-directory can be thought of as a disk within a disk, with its own, separate directory listing.

Sub-directories let you organize large numbers of files in a logical manner. With a full 360K on your floppy disks, you may find this feature quite helpful indeed. DOS-XE always displays the current sub-directory at the top of the current menu.

From the File Access menu you may also [I]nitialize disks. If you choose this option you will be prompted for the disk drive number, then for a device type--AT810, AT1050, XF551 or SSDD.

The AT810 format is simply single sided, single density, or about 88K per diskette. The AT1050 is the Atari 1050 enhanced-density format, or about 12.08K per disk. The XF551 uses a "genuine" double-sided, double-density, full 360K disk format.

The SSDD stands for single sided, double density. This lets you create a single sided floppy 180K in size, which can also be booted, read, and written in a 1050 disk drive equipped with ICD's US Doubler, for example.

A command line is allowed here, as it is anywhere else in DOS-XE. For example: I 1 XF551 tells DOS-XE to format the disk in drive 1 in XF551 (360K) format. You are always prompted to press [START] to continue or [SELECT] to abort, to verify your inputs first.


The Machine Language Access menu lets you manage your binary files, such as data files, or machine language utilities and games. From this menu you may [R]un or [L]oad a binary file and [S]ave or [A]ppend memory to a file.

This menu is handy for patching files in memory with the [D]isplay (a nice memory dump in both hexadecimal and ASCII) and [C]hange memory commands. These can be thought of as sophisticated PEEK and POKE commands.

Once you have patched a file in memory you can save it, or test run it with the [G]o-to command.

The System Function menu lets you [R]un a batch file. A batch file is an Atari DOS 2.0 and 2.5 were nlB very flexible. If you wanted to change the number of disk drives supported - by either DOS, you had to remember some special POKE commands to enter from BASIC and then write ASCII file filled with commands that you would normally type-in. They can come in handy, assisting you with a lot of the "housekeeping" chores of managing your disks. There is not much information on batch files in the DOS-XE manual, so it is not yet clear just how sophisticated they might be.

DOS-XE requires an XL or XE computer with at least 64K of RAM to run. This DOS is so large that it requires some of the RAM "hidden" under the operating system to work. DOS-XE provides 32,274 bytes of programming space in Atari BASIC Revision C, exactly the same as Atari DOS 2.0.

When the Atari DOS 2 or 2.5 support is enabled in DOS-XE, your BASIC programming space drops to 27,264. Atari DOS 2.0 and 2.5 compatibility comes at the high price of 5,010 bytes of program space.

The advantage to using the extra system memory is that DOS-XE pops up instantly when you enter the DOS command from BASIC or from another cartridge.

The bad news is that Atari 400 and 800 owners have just been served notice that their machines are no longer being supported by Atari. Their only options are ICD's SpartaDOS version 1.1 and the SpartaDOS X cartridge reviewed in this issue, two disk operating systems which take advantage of the XF551's capabilities, while providing 400/800 compatibility.


The manual for DOS-XE (by Charles Cherry of Antic Software-- ANTIC ED) is very well done. It starts with the basics, especially for beginners who are new to disk drives and disk operating systems. All the DOS commands and menus are detailed with plenty of examples. The disk-related BASIC commands, including access to advanced features through XIO (extended input and output) commands are explained as well. Sample BASIC and Assembly language programs are presented.

Atari DOS 2.0 and 2.5 were not very flexible. If you wanted to change the number of disk drives supported by either DOS, you had to remember some special POKE commands to enter from BASIC and then write DOS to a new disk. DOS-XE comes with SETUP.COM, a utility which makes it simple to customize it to your particular preferences, including RAMdisk setup.

Except for the one glitch in copying to DOS 2 or 2.5 disks, I found DOS-XE works quite well. Its incompatibility with DOS 2.0 is an unavoidable price to pay for the increased power of sub-directories and date stamping. (Although they should have included a clock driver, allowing time stamping as well.)

Unfortunately, DOS-XE uses a new file format totally alien to SpartaDOS. So, getting from here to there will still require the lowest common denominator of Atari DOS 2.0 or 2.5 in single density format. Because of the new file format, DOS-XE will not be compatible with the current crop of bulletin board systems or most database programs, which require random access files.

I feel that DOS-XE will survive, unlike DOS 3.0, because it does a good job of supporting Atari DOS 2.0 and 2.5 when necessary. However, it isn't as sophisticated as SpartaDOS, which can automatically detect any DOS format it supports.

In conclusion, SpartaDOS is the power user's disk operating system. DOS-XE, on the other hand, is much easer to use. Its menu-driven user interface helps novices learn to use it quickly and easily, while the command line controls let power users fly through their DOS operations as well. DOS-XE will support up to 16 megabytes on a single disk, which means that DOS-XE could support a hard drive in the future.

$10. XL/XE with 810, 1050, or XF551 disk drive. Atori Corp., 1196 Borregas Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94806. (408) 745-2000.