Apple work-alike: Franklin Ace 1000. (evaluation) Chuck Carpenter.
Having one personal computer that will do most everything I want to do has always seemed highly unlikely. That is, until I tried the Franklin Ace 1000, an Apple work-alike computer from the Franklin Corporation.
By simply including a standardized, full size ASCII keyboard, the Ace 1000 comes close to meeting all my requirements, primary among which is word processing. Others include communications, hardware testing, and software development for business purposes (test, measurement and control, not accounting or inventory). Let's take a closer look at the Ace 1000; perhaps it will meet your requirements, too.
One of the first things you notice is the size of the Ace 1000 assembly. Some of this added size is width necessary to accommodate the length of the full size keyboard. Inside, extra space is needed for the large power supply and the spacious main circuit board.
Extra space on the circuit board means more room between components and between cards in the expansion slots. With more room between parts, cooling is improved and heat related problems are less likely to occur.
Additionally, the power supply has a built-in fan, which is noisy but not objectionably so. Besides keeping the power supply cool, the fan circulates air inside the computer case to aid in component cooling.
Table 1 shows the published specifications of the Ace 1000. In using the system, I have listed some additional features which should be of interest to prospective purchasers and users.
Most significant is the full-size keyboard. It includes a sculptured design to aid the user, and the layout of the keys is similar to an IBM Selectric. All the Key functions worked properly with the languages and programs I tried.
Keys on the keyboard are individually replaceable. Manufactured by Keytronics, the keyboard uses capacitive switches so there are no contacts to wear out. The "feel' is somewhat spongy with a certain amount of tactile feedback to the user. I am used to a keyboard like this so it didn't bother me.
All keys on the keyboard are repeat keys. Consider how much help this feature is when using a word processor. Text editing involving extended cursor movement is greatly improved, for instance.
Two special keys called PAUSE and BREAK are included on the keyboard. These are especially useful in Basic and Pascal programming. PAUSE generates a CTRL-S and BREAK generates a CTRL-C.
Memory for the equivalent of a 16K RAM expansion card is included on the main circuit board. Slot 0 is not needed for this application. A cut-and-jumper area is included to allow you to use slot 0 if you need to.
Cassette capability is not included with the Ace 1000. However, space for the circuit components is included in the circuit board etch (see Figure 1). I suspected that some of the Ace 1000 features used the memory space originally occupied by the cassette input/output (I/O) routines, and on investigation this turned out to be the case. Therefore, the cassette routines are not available in the firmware. Because the Ace 1000 is not considered a hobby machine, the cassette interface was not included.
Booting with the Ace 1000 Master Disk allows you to enter Floating Point Basic in lower-case. (Similar to Basic-80 under CP/M.) When you list a program the lower-case commands and statements are converted to upper-case. Any variables entered in lower-case remain in lower-case. Under control of the Ace 1000 Master Disk, a lower-case filename is saved in upper-case. Integer Basic is converted directly to upper-case as you type.
When you boot with an Apple II Master Disk, you can enter Floating Point Basic in lower-case but not disk operating system (DOS) commands. Also you can't save a program using a lower-case filename. For Integer Basic you must press the shift lock key and enter everything in upper-case.
Otherwise, the operation and functions of the Franklin Ace 1000 are the same as the Apple II. A few minor problems arise because of the differences in keyboards. These will be discussed in more detail later. Table 2 is a summary comparison of Ace 1000 and Apple II features.
Generally, the hardware is much like that of the Apple II. Power supply capacity is greater--about 65 watts for the Ace 1000 and 40 for the Apple II. Memory expansion (16K) is builtin, or you can use slot 0 for memory expansion of your choice. To use slot 0, you make cuts to a designated block on the main circuit board.
There are several other memory options you can select through cuts and jumpers with this board option too. They are described in the User Manual. A reset button is provided under the left front edge of the case.
Operating the Ace 1000 is much like running an Apple II. I remove all the cards from my Apple--except the language card--and inserted them in the Ace 1000. Without exception, all of them worked.
I used the dual drives from my Apple for most of the test. Drives available from Franklin are Micro-Sci drives (reported to be manufactured under license by Franklin). I tested single Micro-Sci drive and controller and bothworked without any apparent problems.
To gain further assurance I tried a sampling of software from my collection. Other than the minor problems alluded to above, everything worked. Table 3 summarizes the perpheral cards and software I used in the evaluation of the Ace 1000.
Because most all Apple programs expect upper-case input, you must press the shift lock key to make them work (the minor problems). For instance, with Super-Text, the character X is used to print a file. A lowercase x wouldn't execute. Furthermore, a filename typed in lower-case wouldn't save. Upper-case filenames worked fine.
Another difference, again with Super-Text, concerns shift key operation. With the Apple II and a Videx Keyboard Enhancer, a certain key sequence is required to make the shift key work typewriter style.
By experimenting, I found a sequence that performed a similar function with the Ace 1000 keyboard. First, ADD mode is selected. Next, the shift lock is pressed, followed by a CTRL-C. Now the shift lock or shift key generates upper-case characters. Using a CTRL-P, the code for starting a paragraph, caused the steps just described to terminate their response. My solution was to use the tab function to indent paragraphs.
In addition to the Super-Text word processor, I tested Word Star running under Apple CP/M. My test was rather limited but showed that it worked at least enough to write a short letter, save it, recall it, and make local and global changes.
Included in the Ace 1000 service manual is a patch for the Applewriter II word processor. The patch lets you modify Applewriter so it will recognize the keyboard features of the Ace 1000.
Software provided with the Ace 1000 is limited to a Master Disk. Most of the programs are utilities and are much like those included with DOS 3.3. Each program is described in the Users Manual. Diagnostics are also included on the master disk. These utilities will help you locate a problem should you experience difficulty in operating the system.
Except as noted earlier, all programs from the Apple II master disk worked. Integer Basic was loaded into the expansion RAM and it worked too. In fact, the utilities such as the mini-assembler and those from the programmer's aid ROM worked very well.
Along with a check on the machine language utilities, I tried PEEKs, POKEs and CALLs from the Integer and Floating Point Basics. As expected, as long as no routines from the cassette I/O are used, all access to memory locations functioned properly.
Documentation is rather sparse. The Users Manual is all you get. If you want to learn any more than how to operate the machine, look elsewhere. There are no descriptions of programming languages included in the manual.
In fact, there is less information in the Ace 1000 manual than there was in the first Apple II manual. At least the original Apple manual included memory usage, a summary of machine language and Integer Basic commands, and sample programs. I expect some improvement in the area of documentation very soon.
If you are considering purchasing the Ace 1000 as a second Apple-like computer, all you need to know is how the new system works. More than likely you will already have all the documentation you need to describe programming languages. If Ace 1000 will be your first machine, locate and purchase as many of the Apple II manuals as you can.
For those who want to use a personal computer as a word processor, the Franklin Ace 1000 is an excellent choice. The full size upperand lower-case keyboard is a delight to use. This review was written on the Ace 1000.
If you want a system, as I do, with flexibility, ease of expansion, and functional utility, the Ace 1000 will do the job quite nicely, especially if you are considering a second computer and already have documentation. Software for personal, business, professional, and development applications is available through many sources.
If you are interested in color graphics, however, forget it. The Ace 1000 generates only shades of grey and black and white (assuming you use a black and white monitor). A color adapter board is "soon to be available.' It will plug in to one of the expansion slots.
Based on my evaluation of the computer, I suspect that any software or peripheral that will work on an Apple II, will work on the Franklin Ace 1000.
The Apple II is probably to be at the peak of its product life right now and, the Ace 1000 should help to stimulate the market for Apple-compatible products. The new Apple work-alike products won't injure the Apple market, they will enhance and sustain it.
One caveat: make sure the company manufacturing your Apple work-alike will support the product. Franklin appears to be establishing the required support network. High Technology, the local distributor, has been involved with factory training programs through Franklin. In turn, High Technology provides training and support for its dealers.
Franklin Computer Corporation, 7030 Colonial Hwy., Pennsauken, NJ 08109. (609) 488-1700.
Table: Franklin Ace 1000 Specifications
Table: Frankin Ace 1000 Comparison
Table: Franklin Ace 1000 Peripherals and Software Tested
Photo: Figure 1. Circuits for cassette interface are included in the circuit board etch. However, the cassette input/output routine are not included in the monitor firmware.
Products: Franklin Ace 1000 (computer)