Empowering the 8-Bit
Reviews: The Expander, Fleet System 2
The Expander is a replacement operating system for expanded-memory 800XL and 130XE computers. It supports 512K upgrades, and future versions are slated to support 1 Mb upgrades. It's a 27128 IMPROM chip that replaces the OS ROM chip in your computer. If your OS ROM is in a socket, first take the normal precautions against static electricity, then unplug the old and plug in the new. If it's soldered in, you'd better leave it to a professional.
The Expander sets up the extra memory as RAMdisks which can be used with almost any OS and most programs. A 256K upgrade gets you one or two single-density drives, or one double-density drive; 512K doubles that. You can't set up drives with more than 707 sectors available. There are routines to format the RAMdisks and copy whole disks to them.
The real power of Expander is its ability to renumber drives and boot from any drive. Those few programs that benefit from this ability do great. However, I had no luck with Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, which comes on two unprotected, single-density disks. In fact, none of the combinations I tried with different Infocom games worked, but older, single-disk games like Zork worked fine. It's a pleasure to go adventuring without waiting for the disk to spin. Saves wear and tear on the drive, too.
There were, of course, compatibility problems with other programs-- enough for you to install this with a switch to restore your original operating system. Synergy Concepts provides no instructions for this. In fact, the kit has no installation instructions at all. I didn't know which chip to replace until I noticed there was only one 28-pin chip on the board.
Overall, the Expander is a great idea in need of fine-tuning. The user interface is a bit rough, the manual is truly terrible, and the Expander seemed confused by more than one physical disk drive. Nevertheless, I recommend the product. It does work, it can do things that DOS can't, and it lets you reboot without erasing your RAMdisks.--CHARLES CHERRY
$49.95. Synergy Concepts, P.O. ox 421370, Sacramento, CA 95841.
FLEET SYSTEM 2
Fleet System 2 is a powerfull word processor that's easy to use and has a 70,000-word spell-checker. This Atari version of a successful Commodore product supports 19 different printers, including the Epson MX, FX, and RX series, and lets you choose 40, 80 or 120-column display formats and the colors for the center and border of your screen.
Formats with more than 40 columns require horizontal scrolling, but make it easy to do columnar tables and special layouts. If you try that with AtariWriter, with its wordwrap and 40-column-only display, your eyes will go on strike. (Fleet Street 2 doesn't have wordwrap at all, unlike most word processors for the Atari 8-bit computer. The First XLEnt Word Processor has a wordwrap on/off option.--ANTIC ED)
Fleet System 2 is command-driven and most commands start with the [ATARI] or [\] keys. The commands are divided into four groups--general, function, format and output.
General commands include limited DOS functions, text file load and save, line insert/delete, output mode and setting/clearing tab stops. The numeric tab stop function lets you align columns of numbers easily. In fact, this word processor also sums up columns of numbers for your report.
The function commands consist of print control (underline, superscript, etc.) and block functions (copy, move, delete). There's also a delete function which lets you highlight words or sentences to be removed. The format commands let you set page sizes, margins, centering, justification, headings, page numbers, etc. There's also a command for chaining multiple files for global operations. Output commands include printing to paper or screen, and allow page and copy count options as well.
The program has a useful help file which can be loaded into auxiliary memory or "extra text" area. It's then easy to flip to the extra text area and look up the function you need. The spell-checker lets ypu add about 10,000 words.
Unfortunately the Fleet System 2 disk is copy-protected. Also it does not contain a DOS, which means you must first boot from a disk with Atari DOS 2.5 or another DOS that has enhanced density. Then you insert the Fleet disk and type RUN "D:BOOT" from BASIC. The manual, though well written, is not Atari-specific--Atari commands are summarized in an appendix. I'd also like to see extra memory support for the 130XE as well a [BACKSPACE] key that can also quickly delete characters under the cursor. WILLIAM COLBURN
$59.95. Professional Software, Inc., 51 Fremont Street, Needham, MA 02194. (617) 444-5224.
By Charles Cherry
Now that there are some interesting alternative operating system chips for the Atari XL and XE computers, it's handy to be able to switch between them. Fortunately, that's not hard to do. All you need is a double pole-double throw switch and a couple of feet of thin wire, about #30.
(Unless you are skilled and experienced at soldering electronics components, you might find it advisable to have this sort of modification done for you by professionals. You could damage your computer if you mishandle the job. And of course you are voiding what ever warranty you may have left on your Atari when you open it up for a hardware modification.--ANTIC ED)
Bend up pin 20 on both OS chips. Piggyback one on top of the other, soldering together all the pins except 20. Plug the chips into the motherboard. Run a wire from pin 20 of one chip to one of the poles (center connectors) of the switch. Run a wire from the pin 20 on the other chip to the other pole of the switch. Run a wire from pins 22 (which are soldered together) to one of the corner connectors on the switch and then continue it to the opposite corner.
Run a final wire from pins 28 (which are also soldered together) to the two remaining corners of the switch. Drill a hole in the case near the SIO plug and mount the switch. Route the wires around the metal RF shield and tape over sharp edges and corners.