product reviewsRAMBO XL
1220 Rock Street
Rockford, IL 61101
(256K RAM chip set, $28)
Reviewed by Matthew Ratcliff
The RAMBO XL is a hardware modification for the Atari 800XL or l200XL computer that turns your machine into a 256K RAM system- twice as powerful as the 130XE.
RAMBO XL makes your 800XL or I200XL compatible with the 130XE in "CPU mode" for extended memory. Thus the Atari DOS 2.5 RAMdisk and BASIC XE will run on your computer after this installation.
This extra memory will be primarily used as a RAMdisk, "fooling" your computer into using this extra memory as a second disk drive. However, the Atari DOS 2.5 RAMdisk only recognizes 64K of the available 192K. The 256K chip set replaces the 64K chips. It is not added to the originals, therefore the lower 64K of the 256K takes the place of the original chips. The remaining 192K is available as extended bank switch memory
To make full use of the extended memory you will need a DOS that supports it. A utility on lCD's SpartaDOS Construction Set ($39.95) supports the 192K and gives you a true double-density RAMdisk.
Any software that supports the extra memory of the l30XE should use 64K of the extra RAM that RAMBO XL provides. According to the documentation, the following programs have been tested to work with this modification: BASIC XE, OSS; SynFile+, Broderbund; Atari DOS 2.5 RAMdisk; PaperClip, Batteries Included.
One feature not supported is the ANTIC mode, where display memory resides in one bank, accessed by the ANTIC chip while the working memory (program, data, etc.) is accessed separately in another bank by the CPU chip. This feature is unique to the Atari l30XE and its FREDDY chip. However, it is seldom used and will not be missed.
After installing my RAMBO XL, I tested it thoroughly by making club disks for our ACE St. Louis user group. Using the SpartaDOS sector copy utility, with the RAMdisk option, I was able to copy from a master disk to RAM, and then from RAM to multiple destination floppies in no time. I created 15 disks that were perfect mirror copies of their originals.
When used with the Covox Voice Master, which provides full l30XE support, the software automatically set up with a 130XE version. The modification has performed flawlessly since I added it to my old 800XL. Installation is another matter, however.
RAMBO XL requires relatively minimal soldering if your computer chips are "socketed"-plugged into chip holders instead of soldered directly to the circuit board.
If the chips are soldered directly to the board-as many 800XLs are- then you should not attempt this modification unless you are an experienced "solder jockey" with access to a good desoldering station.
I think all 1200XL computers were socketed. So after the computer is disassembled, it is a simple matter of prying out the old chips with a small flat blade screw driver. But you can't be sure about an 800XL until you disassemble it.
The eight RAM chips on my 800XL were not socketed on my 800XL, so I had to desolder them and add sockets to the machine myself. (Being an electrical engineer, I had access to a desoldering station.) The installation involves unplugging the old RAM chips, a decoder chip and the PLA chip. Five pins on the PLA must be "bent out" and the chip is returned to its socket. You have to plug in new RAMs and a small circuit board in place of the decoder. You make one to three jumper modifications and solder 5 wires to the PLA chip.
The documentation is a complete guide. Note carefully the recommended 20-35 watt ratings for your soldering iron with a fine point for electronic applications. Don't use one of those heavy duty soldering guns, unless you want to cook some RAM chips or vaporize some etch.
You may wish to purchase your RAM chips from another mail order house instead of from lCD. Complete sets of 256K RAMs can be had for $20 or less, when purchased in quantity lCD does not package them with the kit because "RAM prices change faster than computer prices. Nobody wants to be caught holding a large inventory when the price drops." LCD simply keeps some RAMs in stock for those who prefer the convience of taking care of the entire upgrade in one order. So shop around, or get some friends together to make a group buy from an electronics mail order service.
If you hate to get rid of the old faithful XL in favor of the XE, this kit may be just the ticket. If you are an incessant hardware tinkerer, you will have great fun with this project. If you are a SpartaDOS user, you will find RAMBO XL an invaluable addition. With a full 192K RAMdisk instead of the 64K on the 130XE, I use the 800XL in preference to the 130XE all the time.
I probably find more need for a RAMDISK than most because I develop a lot of software with MAC/65, and .INCLUDE files from RAMdisk make for blazingly fast assemblies of huge source files. I will be using the RAMBO 800XL regularly until I can get my hands on a 512K modification for the 130XE.
2755 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
$49.95, 48K disk
Reviewed by Harvey Bernstein
According to Webster's Dictionary, an Avatar is the embodiment of a quality or concept. In order to complete Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar you must become the living embodiment of eight qualities. And believe me, folks, it ain't easy.
Ultima IV is not only the finest game in the award-winning series by Lord British, it is also my current all-time favorite graphic fantasy role-playing adventure. Usually when a sequel to a popular game is published, it amounts to little more than a rehash of the original. But by successfully adding spiritual/moral/philosophical elements to the action, Ultima IV is raised above the mundane to a class of its own.
At the start of Ultima IV, you are asked a series of questions with morally ambiguous answers.- Your character is set up via this process, making your real-life personality a significant factor in successfully completing the game. Depending upon your responses to the questions, you start off at a given level in one of eight professions-bard, tinker, mage, etc.
As the game progresses, it is your task to gain perfection in the values of Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Sprituality Humility Sacrifice, Justice and Honor. Only then can you go on to the final challenge and become a true Avatar.
The most novel thing about Ultima IV is the way you can carry on complete conversations with other characters. The towns of Brittania have literally hundreds of different inhabitants. Some may join your quest and most of them can provide much-needed hints along the way-if you ask the right questions. In fact, you will definitely need to take detailed notes, because a character in one town will often refer you to somebody in a different town. I would say that it is impossible to finish the game without detailed and accurate records.
All this is not to imply that the hack-and-slash element of previous Ultimas has been dropped. Don't forget, there are still hostile forces in the land. Combat is handled much the same as in the other Lord British games, except that now you must sometimes fight mixed groups of enemies. The number of opponents you must face at one time depends on the number of people in your party making the game easier in the beginning.
The graphics, as in previous Ultimas, do not exactly tax the Atari's capabilities. However, the depth of play is so great, the goals so challenging, that this one limitation of Ultima IV is acceptable. It is also nice to see more game companies following the lead of Infocom and providing high-quality support materials. Ultima IV comes with two manuals (one general and one on magic), a metal ankh, and a cloth map. For the first time, the map shows the location of all the towns, making it a lot easier to find your way around.
If you enjoyed previous Ultimas, by all means buy Ultima
IV. If you've never played the others and wonder what the fuss is about,
this is the perfect place to start.
P.O. Box 311
Rochester, NY 14616
$19.95, 32K disk
Reviewed by Scot Tumlin
Screens, a flexible 100% machine language utility program, enables you to create and control as many as nine independent windows with positioned text and simple graphics displays. In these windows, you can mix character sets and display text in several different sizes.
The software installs a "W:" device handler in the form of a 4K AUTORUN.SYS file which can be inserted into your own program. Then Screens lets you use BASIC CIO (Central Input Output) commands to control the windows on the screen. Any programming language that supports the CIO will work with this software.
For experienced BASIC programmers, creating fancy windows with Screens is just a matter of working with the same CIO commands used to access any of the other standard Atari device handlers.
Screens also has additional NOTE/ POINT commands to store and retrieve windows in memory-helpful when windows overlap each other. Two additional XIO commands let the user add borders to a window and invert the characters inside it. The program allows modification of 15 window parameters.
To program a window with Screens: Pick a graphics mode and open an IOCB channel as device "W:" for both input and output. Use the XIO 100 command to modify the window size, write the new values with the POINT command and place a border around the window with the XIO 101 command. PRINT some window text in your choice of sizes. Poll the keyboard for characters to print in the window. If the [RETURN] or [BREAK] key is pressed, close the window and END the program.
The manual is easy to understand and every concept is
explained with a BASIC example, a nice touch. There's also a selection
of sample programs included on the disk.
P.O. Box 443
Holt, MI 48842
$49.95, 16K cartridge
Reviewed by Andy Eddy
The ACE80 is an 80-column cartridge for 8-bit Atari computers. The ACE80XL version is for the single slot of XL/XE models, or the left slot of the 800. The ACE80 is for the right slot of the 800, allowing you to use a language cartridge in the left slot for 80-column programming.
The ACE80 includes a disk of "patch" programs for modifying software to work with the 80 columns. The patches currently include Letter Perfect (version 6), BASIC and OS/A +, with a Speedscript addition promised soon.
The first time I loaded my Letter Perfect word processor with the ACE80, I thought I was sitting at the wrong computer. To see a document formatted onscreen as it will look on the page is cause for relief. Most importantly file compatibility and editing power are retained.
With all this in its favor, I still found the text to be somewhat poor in resolution. At worst, characters like 0 have a filled-in appearance and letters with multiple vertical components like M, N and H can be hard to tell apart. Letters that are similar in capitals and lower-case such as C and P can also give you trouble. But I found that if you use ACE80 for awhile, you adapt to the shortcomings of the display
The software-generated ACE80 works by intercepting calls to the operating system, running them through the reprogrammed screen editor and replacing the normal character set with a high resolution Graphics 8 set. It's important to note that most software manufacturers won't support the ACE80, so all concerns must be referred to TNT.
Many of us Atari loyalists have compiled software libraries
of sizable proportions. It makes much more sense to mold our computers
to our needs, rather than purchase an incompatible computer just for 80-column
power. The ACE80 seems to fit this need suitably and at a price that won't
break the bank
COMPUTE!'s THIRD BOOK OF ATARI
P.O. Box 5058
Greensboro, NC 27403
Reviewed by Matthew Ratcliff
COMPUTE!'s Third Book of ATARI is an anthology of useful information, a compendium of their best Atari works since, well... COMPUTE!'s Second Book of ATARI. If you are a regular reader of COMPUTE! magazine, you won't see much new here, but a few of the articles have been updated and some go into more depth than a magazine publication can usually allow.
Even if you kept all the back issues, it is quite handy to have the best of COMPUTE!'s Atari work in one volume. Since the magazine has begun covering every computer from Atari to Zenith, it is rather difficult to locate back-issue articles of particular interest. Old standards are covered including a character set editor, sound effects, a few games and even a word processor.
The word processor presented is "SCRIPTOR," a rather simple BASIC program. COMPUTE!'s newer 100% machine language word processor for the Atari, "SPEEDSCRIPT 3.0" offers a lot more-except maybe for a beginner who might consider it a learning experience.
One very helpful article is "Reading the Keyboard Codes ." It gives you many helpful keycode charts showing how to read [SHIFT] key [CONTROL] key and even [CONTROL][SHIFT] key presses. Special keyboard registers for inverse and [CONTROL][SHIFT] lock are explained. Even the little-known l200XL function keys are covered. It also shows how to convert your computer to a Dvorak keyboard. This and "Blinking Characters" cover the interface with the keyboard and text display very well.
An interesting graphics utility is titled "Super TextPlot." This USR routine allows you to put text anywhere on a Graphics 3-8 screen (it's mainly written for Graphics 7) in any of three colors, at any angle of rotation. Multiple size characters can be printed on the screen. You can even specify the characters as overwriting graphics or merging on the screen with it.
The cover claims this book is "XL Compatible," which is not entirely the case. "The Wedge," a utility for adding immediate mode DOS commands to Atari BASIC, is not XL compatible. The utility makes an illegal call to the Atari Operating System to the entry point for the get character routine (like GET #1,A). It's one of the routines that was moved in the XL/XE computer systems, as documented in Exploring the ATARI XL, Antic, June 1984.
I'm sure "The Wedge" would be quite frustrating for any XL/XE owner who takes the time to type it all in only to have the computer lock up. It will run with a Translator disk of some sort, but I hardly call that XL-compatible.
Those of you who have any Atari XL computer will find the "1200 Memory Map" a useful reference. It was written by Ian Chadwick, author of the authoritative book Mapping the Atari. However, it is only 15 pages long and not complete or up-to-date for 800XL and XE owners.
I found that this compilation of COMPUTE!'s better Atari
articles made it easier for me to throw away four years' worth of back
issues that were taking over my computer room. The articles are informative,
although not all are timely. As with COMPUTE!'s First and Second Atari
books, you'll see material here that cannot be found anywhere else. I recommend
this new volume, even if only to complete your set.
1635-A Holden Avenue
Orlando, FL 32809
Requires 1050 disk drive
$19.95, 48K disk
Reviewed by Stephen Roquemore
Micromod is a useful program for owners of small businesses who want to get started in computing with a minimal investment. The software defies categorization. It is not just a record-keeping program, although in this respect it is very capable. It is not-a real inventory program, although it can serve this function with the extra modules available from the publisher.
Micromod is so flexible that you can do almost anything with it in terms of designing your own record layouts.
Its power lies in the record-design function providing a package which can be used to track most or all of a small business' records. It can provide for accounts payable and receivable, invoices, payroll (with the additional modules available) and other necessary functions.
A $5 demonstration disk helps you get started using the program before entering your own data. The manual is readable, but by no means fancy.
According to the publisher, Micromod requires an Atari 1050 disk drive if you are using a single-drive system, but it will work on any disk drive if you use two drives or more. It uses the full 130XE RAMdisk, and the program is not copy-protected.
I can recommend Micromod to small business owners who want to get the most record processing power for the least money However, they will need some understanding of computers to get started. The manual is not adequate for an absolute beginner.
(As this issue went to press, Micro-Miser Software informed us that
their latest revision of Micromod-version 3.0-ad4resses a number of the
criticisms made by the reviewer According to the manufacturer, some of
these improvements include: a more complete manual, single and double density
support, more standard accounting formats, faster access time. -ANTIC