Franklin Ace 1000 – Apple Work-Alike

FranklinAce

By Chuck Carpenter

Having one personal computer that will do most everything l 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.

Features

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.

Figure01

Figure 1. Circuits for cassette interface are included in the circuit board etch. However, the cassette input/output routines are not included in the monitor firmware.

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.

Hardware

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 built in, 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 removed 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 both worked 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 peripheral cards and software I used in the evaluation of the Ace 1000.

Software

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

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.

Conclusions

For those who want to use a personal computer as a word processor, the Franklin Ace 1000 is an excellent choice. The full size upper and 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

Table 1 – Franklin Ace 1000 Specifications
Microprocessor 6502 at 1.022 MHz
Text 40 characters x 24 lines standard

5 x 7 upper/lower case

Direct lower case entry

Normal, Inverse, Flash

Graphics Black and White only

40 horizontal x 192 vertical

40 vertical with 4 text lines

Hi-Res Graphics (B&W) 280 horizontal x 192 vertical

160 vertical with 4 text lines

Cost $1530 Processor

$579 Drive & Controller

$479 Drive without Controller

EME/RF1 FCC Class A Service

Class B pending

Memory 64K bytes of RAM

250ns access time

6 EPROM sockets (2716)

Keyboard 72 keys upper/lower case

15 key Visicalc pad

2 special function keys

I/O Joystick/paddle connectors

8 expansion slots

Physical 17.75” x 4.5” x 19.75”

15 pounds

Power 115 VAC, 60Hz, 65 Watts

 

Table 2. Franklin Ace 1000 Comparison
Item supplied Apple II Ace 1000
Full upper/lowercase keyboard No Yes
Cassette interface Yes No (1)
Color graphics Yes No
Black and white graphics Yes Yes
Visicalc 15-key keypad No Yes
80-Character columns (2) No No
Power supply with fan No Yes
64K RAM memory (3) No Yes
Mini-Assembler (4) Yes Yes
Floating Point routines (4) Yes Yes
Sweet-16 interpreter (4) Yes Yes
Programmer’s aid routines (4) Yes Yes
(1) Circuitry of components included on the main circuit board

(2) Videoterm or equivalent board suggested

(3) 16K equivalent expansion board built-in to Ace 1000 main circuit board.

(4) Available with soft-loaded Integer Basic or Integer Basic ROM card

Note: A ROM card or memory expansion card can be used in slot 0 if appropriate cuts-and-jumpers are added to the selection block area of the main circuit board.

 

Table 3. Franklin Ace 1000

Peripherals and Software Tested

Peripheral Software
Microsoft Z80 Softcard Super-text II
Apple Controller 2 Drives Sargon II
Wesper 80-column Video Board Space Eggs
Mountain Computer Clock Gorgon
Wesper BPO Printer Buffer Universal Boot Initializer
Apple Parallel Printer Board Flash! I/B Compiler
Micro-Sci Controller & Drive (1) S-C Assembler 4.0
Hayes Modem II Data Capture 4.0/80
  CP/M & Basic-80 (MBasic)
MPC SIO Serial Printer Board Locksmith 4.1
  CP/M & Wordstar W/P
  Visicalc
  Pascal
(1) Optional drive supplied by Franklin

First published in Creative Computing magazine, January 1983

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Commodore 64 – A Best Buy for 1983

C64001

By Ron Jeffries

The Commodore 64 is a lot of computer for the money. For only $595, it comes with 64K of RAM memory, excellent graphics, a three-voice sound synthesizer, Microsoft Basic, a 6510 microprocessor, a built-in RF modulator to connect with a television, and a typewriter-style keyboard.

Although not a true “open design” such as the Apple II or IBM PC, the 64 has several easy-to-use input/output interfaces built in. There is even a cartridge slot that will allow a Z80 microprocessor or game cartridge to be added to the system.

Commodore has announced that the popular CP/M operating system will be available when the Z80 cartridge is released in early 1983. A single 5.25″ floppy disk (Model 1541) is available for an additional $399.

Not A 40-Column Vic

The 64 is packaged in a plastic case that looks exactly like the VIC-20, except that it is brown instead of white. But don’t let that fool you: the 64 is not a 40-column VIC. The two computers share only two features: the plastic case, and the same version of Pet Basic.

VIC programs that don’t use any of the special VIC graphics or sound and that do not rely on the 22-column screen will run on the 64. Unfortunately, those constraints severely limit the number of VIC programs that will work on the 64.

The 64 uses a 6510 microprocessor. The 6510 is exactly like a 6502 (which is used by the Pet, VIC, Apple, and Atari) except that the first two bytes of page zero have been “stolen.” These two memory locations are used for an on-chip 8-bit input/output port by the 6510. The 64 uses this port to control its memory map, which makes it unusually flexible.

For example, when a game cartridge is plugged in. the 64 automatically acts just like the Commodore Max Machine game console. This means that the 64 is an inexpensive development system for programmers who want to write Max games.

Excellent Keyboard

The first thing that impressed me when I unpacked the 64 was the excellent keyboard. Several people who have wandered by my office have tried the keyboard, and their comments have all been quite positive.

As is true of most computer keyboards, some keys are not placed where they would be on a standard typewriter. If you are a touch typist, be sure to type for a few minutes on the 64 keyboard before you decide to buy it. The placement of keys on the 64 probably won’t bother you.

The keyboard of the 64 is sculptured, which means that the tops of the keys are slightly concave when viewed from the end of the keyboard. (Some keyboards look like a staircase when viewed from that angle.) Most typists seem to prefer the sculptured design, which is what IBM uses for their popular Selectric typewriter.

The 64 keys also have a matte, non-glare surface that is attractive. The “feel” of the keyboard is above average, although for my taste it is a little softer than ideal. There is no audible click when a key is pressed, a feature I have come to appreciate on machines such as the Atari 800.

As a point of reference, the IBM Selectric keyboard is the best I have ever used. My favorite personal computer keyboard is the IBM PC. It has a sharp, “clicky” feel that works very well for me. I rate the 64 keyboard about 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, with the IBM PC rating a 9, and the Selectric getting a perfect 10. Obviously, the $600 64 does very well in comparison with the much more expensive IBM PC.

The 64 keyboard has a somewhat high profile. The home row of keys is 70mm above the desk surface. (The 64 looks higher that it is. For example, the fairly sleek Atari 800 has a 77mm high home row.) A low profile keyboard such as the IBM PC places the home row of keys approximately 30mm above the desk top. Research in human factors has shown that low profile keyboard design reduces fatigue in users’ fingers and
hands.

Commodore decided to use a slightly modified VIC plastic case for the 64, even though that meant having a high-profile keyboard. On the other hand, by using existing plastic tooling, they were able to get the 64 to market several months sooner than if they had designed a new case. (They probably also saved $20,000 to $50,000 in development costs.)

Advanced Graphics

The graphics capabilities of the 64 are exciting. Commodore-64 graphics are more powerful than those of the Atari, IBM PC. Apple. Tl 99/4A. or Radio Shack Color Computer. (The 64 also has far stronger graphics than its cheaper cousin, the VIC-20.)

The most important feature is its dedicated hardware support for rapidly displaying eight detailed objects anywhere on the screen. Each of these objects (Commodore calls them sprites) can be 24 pixels wide and 21 pixels high, or about the same as a block of 3 x 3 characters.

After a sprite is designed, and the dot-by-dot pattern for the display (called a bitmap) is stored somewhere in memory. the sprite can be moved around on the screen very quickly and easily. All the programmer has to do is POKE the horizontal and vertical location into the appropriate registers of the dedicated graphics processor called the “Video Interface Chip,” or VIC. The VIC chip directly supports eight sprites at one time. (In machine language it is possible to “re-use” sprites, and thus have more than eight of them on the screen at once.)

Sprites Are Versatile

Each sprite has a priority. This allows one sprite to appear to pass in front of another sprite, so that three-dimensional effects are possible. The video chip also keeps track of collisions between sprites, and between sprites and the foreground. This can be very useful when writing sophisticated game programs.

Each sprite can be enlarged to be twice as wide, or twice as tall, or both. However, when a sprite is enlarged, there is effectively half as much resolution, since the same bitmap of 24 by 21 pixels is used. (The pixels making up the sprite are enlarged.)

For some reason, the characters on the 64 appear to be “smeared” on the display. This effect is least visible when there is reduced contrast between the character color and the background. I suspect that is why Commodore decided to have the 64 display light blue characters on a dark blue background when it is first turned on. However, this combination of foreground and background colors does not provide as much contrast between text and the background as other popular systems.

Many combinations of text and background colors produce an unreadable display. The background color (as well as the border color) can be changed with two POKE commands. After some experimentation, I have found that blue text on a white background looks pretty good, although it does exhibit some of the character smearing. I trust that Commodore plans to improve the quality of the display.

Music Synthesizer

The 64 produces sound using the 6581 Sound Interface Device (SID). This special chip is a music synthesizer and sound effects generator. It provides three voices that can be controlled by the user. For each voice, you can control pitch over a nine-octave range. The waveform can be a triangle wave, sawtooth, variable pulse, or noise. (You can create great sound effects for games with the noise waveform. For example, it is easy to produce explosions, shuffling feet, or ocean waves.) For each voice, you can also control volume, and there is a master volume control.

For each of the three voices, you can control what are called envelope generators. The way a note or sound effect sounds when it is produced is the result of many different things. Naming the envelope of a given sound is a shorthand way of describing four of the important parameters that control how it sounds.

There are four parameters that describe an envelope: attack, decay, sustain, and release, or ADSR for short. With the 64, the attack rate can be varied from two milliseconds to eight seconds. Both the decay and release rate can range from six milliseconds to 24 seconds, and the sustain level can range from zero to peak volume.

After spending quite a bit of time using a sound editor that makes it easy to build new sounds and then experiment with changing them, I am very impressed with what the SID can do. Frankly, 1 can’t remember the last time that I have had this much fun (at least with a computer). When I start playing with 64 sound generation there just doesn’t seem to be a good place to stop. Many 64s will be purchased solely because of the SID synthesizer.

Given the excellent sound and graphics capabilities of the 64, it is too bad that Commodore did not choose to support the new hardware at a high level in Basic. All of the sound and graphics are controlled with POKE statements that change magic memory locations. POKEs are inconvenient for experienced programmers, and completely mystifying to novice users.

Microsoft has extended Basic to support graphics and sound on other machines such as the IBM PC. So why was the 64 released with version 2 of the same old Pet Basic, which does not support the new hardware features?

I think that Commodore decided that the 64 would sell very well without an enhanced Basic. After all, the 64 is priced relatively low for the features. (Using the existing Pet Basic is another way that development costs were minimized.)

Will there ever be an enhanced 64 Basic? I think it is unlikely. My guess is that a better version of Basic will be one of the features of the $995 P-500. The new computer will have the same color graphics and sound as the 64, and will also have 128K of RAM, a 10-key numeric pad, true programmable function keys, and a faster microprocessor.

The 1541 Disk Drive

In addition to supporting the standard Commodore cassette tape format for storing programs and data, the 64 can also be used with the VIC-1541 disk drive. (The original VIC-1540 drive requires a new ROM in order to work with the 64.)

The 1541 uses a 5.25” drive that stores approximately 170,000 bytes. The drive is a single-sided unit that uses Commodore’s unique disk format, and is packaged attractively, although the case is white (like the VIC-20) which doesn’t match the tan color of the C64.

The disk format used by the 1541 is compatible with the standard Commodore 4040 disk drives that have been used for several years with the Pet and CBM models. This means that disks can be transferred among the 64, the Pet. And the VIC-20.

In the case of data files, no changes should be needed when interchanging files. Pet programs can be transferred to the 64 easily. Many Pet programs work on the 64 after minimal editing. Programs that POKE screen locations must be changed, since the screen has moved.

Changing the CB2 sound of the Pet to use the SID chip isn’t difficult, if you use this formula:

10 HS = 2^(1/12)

20 SID = INT(.5 + 14*HS (LOG(255/BC2) / (LOG (HS))

Where SID is the value to POKE into location 54273, and CB2 is the value that was POKEd into location 59464 on the Pet. Naturally, you have to have the other SID parameters set up correctly for the 64 sound to work.

Commodore plans to release what they call a Pet emulator for the 64, that will do much of the dirty work for you. I think that converting a Pet program to the 64 is a better approach, since there is no runtime overhead, and you can take advantage of unique 64 features such as color, user-programmable characters, sprites, and of course multiple-voice sound.

How to Transfer C64 Programs to the PET

Taking 64 Basic programs to the Pet is somewhat complicated. After LOADing the 64 program into the Pet from disk or cassette, use the PET monitor as follows:

SYS 1024

At this point, the monitor will display the contents of the 6502 registers. We can ignore them, and type the M command to display a portion of the PET memory:

.M 0400 0407

The command shows the contents of the seven bytes that begin at location 0400 hex. We will ignore the values that it displays, and type the following in their place:

.: 0400 00 01 08 0000 00 00 00

After pressing RETURN, exit from the monitor with the “X” command:

.X

Now, in Basic, type a zero and press RETURN. What we have done is play a trick, using the machine language monitor. We created a fake line zero in the monitor, and then deleted it in Basic. If your program already has a line zero, it will not be deleted, since Basic will only delete the first line zero that it encounters, which will be our fake line.

“Smart Peripheral” Problems

The disk operating system for the 1541 resides in ROMs that are in the 1541, rather than in the 64. The advantage of this approach is that the DOS doesn’t consume any RAM in the computer, since it has its own RAM on the disk controller.

Commodore takes great pride in the fact that their system has what they call “smart” peripherals. What this means is that each disk unit or printer has its own microprocessor, and can accept commands from the “main” computer, such as the 64.

Unfortunately, there is a fly in this intelligent peripheral ointment. Basically, the disk is a very independent device. The 64 sends it a command, the disk attempts to perform the requested action, and then sets an error code. Note that I said “sets an error code,” not “tells the computer whether things worked or not.”

The problem with the Commodore approach is that the user program (or the user, in the case of commands from the keyboard) is responsible for discovering that an error has occurred. When something doesn’t work, the 64 does not print an error message on the screen.

The result of all this is that Commodore disk systems such as the 1541 are not among the easiest to use when compared with other personal computer systems. Evidently, there are many consumers who either don’t know the difference, or don’t care, because Commodore disk systems seem to sell very well.

Limited Disk Speed

The 1541 disk transfers data slower than several other personal computer disk systems. For a simple benchmark, I used a program that writes 10,000 bytes to the disk. (To keep the interpretive overhead down, the program uses a FOR loop that goes from 1 to 500. Each time through the loop a string of 20 bytes is written to the disk.) The 64 with the 1541 disk took 34.8 seconds to write 10,000 bytes. The standard Pet 4040 took 17.5 seconds, and the Atari 800 took 28 seconds with “read-after-write” disabled.

Atari is the only personal computer that automatically reads each sector after it is written. However, this Atari “feature” can be disabled by typing POKE 1913,80. With read-after-write enabled, the Atari 810 disk took 46 seconds for the benchmark. The IBM PC with IBM DOS took 11.4 seconds to write the 10,000 bytes.

I ran each disk test several times and averaged the results. Also, the old data file was scratched by using a keyboard command rather than in the benchmark program. To my surprise, I found that scratching a file from the disk takes quite a while.

Furthermore, the amount of time taken to scratch a file depends on the location of a file on the disk in several popular disk operating systems. For example, with the 1541 disk, a scratch command can take a noticeable amount of time.

Since most consumers don’t bother to time the performance of their disk drives, the important question about the 1541 may be “Is it fast enough for the average user?” The answer is a qualified “yes.” If you mainly use the disk for program storage, any disk is much faster than a cassette tape recorder. But if you plan to use the 64 for disk-intensive data management, you should do some serious benchmarking before making a purchase decision. At $399, the 1541 is one of the least expensive disk units available for personal computers.

Conclusions

The Commodore 64 is an excellent value. For $595 you get powerful graphics, a complete sound synthesizer, and a versatile computer with 64K of memory. At the moment, 1 think it is the “best buy” in the $600 personal computer price range. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back and tune-up my 64 snare drum sound effect…

Acknowledgements: Glen Fisher of The Code Works provided numerous clarifications of the technical details of the 64. David Rosenwald of Commodore was most helpful in providing hardware and software.

First published in Creative Computing magazine, January 1983

Data General Portable PC

DataGen002

By Corey Sandler

Is the Data General/One the crowning achievement of the IBM-compatible laptop portable race? Or, is it yet another triumph of nascent technology over real-world utility?

Well, it all depends on how you see it.

The DG/One is an MS-DOS compatible, full-keyboard, battery-powered microcomputer that can be equipped with a pair of built-in disk drives and 300 baud internal modem. It is possessed of the first commercially applied full-screen (80 characters by 25 lines) liquid crystal display (LCD). And, though at 11 or so pounds for the standard configuration it is not quite the weight or size of a three-ring binder, it does honestly qualify for the title of “portable.”

Prices start at a hefty $2895 for a 128K, one disk drive machine. A second internal disk drive lists for $599, and each block of additional 128K of RAM is listed at $599. The internal modem lists for $250, an external 5.25″ disk drive for $795, and a portable thermal printer for $499. A battery pack and recharger and a carrying case for the whole system each list for $99.

Under the hood beats an 80C88 microprocessor heart, the low-power CMOS equivalent of the 8088 chip used in the IBM PC and compatible machines. The DG/One comes equipped with at least 128K of RAM, expandable in blocks of 128K to as much as 512K. However, the video display circuitry of the machine does not have its own memory, and therefore you must lop off the first 48K of RAM for the screen. If the program you intend to use requires 256K of RAM, you will actually have to move up a notch to a 384K machine.

And, unlike many other laptop portables, the RAM is not kept under power when the computer is shut off; like a standard microcomputer, the RAM is volatile and information in it disappears when the power is shut off or the batteries run down. You must be certain that the contents of RAM are copied to permanent storage on disk.

The computer has several disk storage options, beginning with one or two built-in 3.5” disk drives. These drives, based on the Sony technology also used by Apple in its Macintosh machine, can store as much as 720K of data each – twice the capacity of the IBM PC floppy disk drives and two-thirds of the way to the high-density storage of IBM’s 1.2 megabyte drives in the PC-AT machine. The disks are formatted at 512 bytes per sector, with eight or nine sectors per track, and 40 or 80 tracks per side, yielding the 720K top end.

Safe and Sound Disks

The disks themselves are nicely protected inside plastic carriers, with a sliding metal door protecting the medium from fingerprints, dirt, and paper clips. However, because the size and design of the drives are different from the 5.25” floppy system found on the IBM PC, using a program written for the IBM requires a few extra steps – you must either buy special 3.5” disk versions of software or download programs from a 5.25” drive or a telecommunications source. Data General sells an external 5.25” drive with connector to the DG/One to allow direct exchange of magnetic media with an IBM PC or compatible.

Be aware, though, that you will not be able to transfer copy-protected software to the smaller disk format, and that the software use license for a particular program may legally limit use of a program to a single computer. The seller may object to a user making copies for use on a PC at the office and a DG/One for the road.

Another issue involves software that is tied directly to hardware rather than to the MS-DOS operating system. Data General appears to have done a good job of ensuring near-total compatibility through careful design of its BIOS system which is present as part of its adapted MS-DOS system. Data General provided downloaded 3.5” disk versions of standard WordStar and ThinkTank for this review. The system also booted up IBM DOS 1.1 on one disk I tried.

Data General has announced that it will make available soon an expansion unit for the portable that will include five IBM-compatible hardware slots and hold an external 5.25” floppy disk drive or another storage option. The box – the size of a small desktop computer – will allow use of an IBM or compatible display card and other devices. The price had not been set at the time this article was prepared.

The MS-DOS package from Data General includes Microsoft’s GW-Basic, which is a functional equivalent of IBM’s BasicA. (Here is a free inside tip: If an applications program on any PC-compatible absolutely insists on finding a program called BASICA.COM before it will execute, you may be able to save the day by renaming GW-Basic as BasicA.)

The LCD: Good News and Bad News

It is the LCD display that is both the boon and the bane of the machine. By opting for the full-sized screen, Data General (and its Japanese manufacturing and design arm Nippon Data General) has dealt nicely with one of the most damning criticisms aimed by many at the rest of the crop of laptop computers.

Pioneering devices like Radio Shack’s Model 100 display only 8 lines of 40 characters. Other newer machines like Epson’s PX-8 have pushed the frontier to 8 lines of 80, while Hewlett Packard’s Portable goes one step beyond to 16 by 80. And in November, Texas Instruments announced its entrance into the fray with a device called the Pro-Lite, which includes an LCD with the same display abilities as those of the Data General/One.

Data General’s machine mimics the full IBM PC display. It will show a full page of text from a word processor, or it can show a full-sized Lotus 1-2-3 screen. And, if you are so inclined, you could check up on the pilot by running the standard (monochrome) screen of Flight Simulator on your lap as your jet lines up on final approach to O’Hare.

The inherent nature of the LCD screen is that it works with the aid of reflected light rather than as a light source itself like a cathode ray tube (CRT) or other luminescent technologies (see “Hi-Res and Color Liquid Crystal Displays” in this issue). And, it seems that the larger the screen and the smaller the pixels (and therefore the more information displayed) the more difficult it is to find just the right amount and angle of light for viewing.

The reason the LCD screen has been adopted by nearly every manufacturer of battery-powered portable computers is that it draws very little current, thereby allowing the use of relatively small and lightweight batteries. Other technologies, such as electroluminescent screens, plasma displays, and low-power CRTs for battery-operated machines, are still in the labs.

Impressed though I was by the technological achievement of the full screen, I found it a bit of a strain to read in most situations. The best lighting I found was from a strong but indirect source over my shoulder- I’m not certain that an airliner’s overhead spotlight would save me from a headache. The contrast of the DG screen can be adjusted through commands from the keyboard, but the angle of the screen cannot be changed – it is either open or shut. And, the characters on the review model I used did not seem as sharp as those displayed by the smaller and more limited Radio Shack and Epson machines I have used.

The Vital Statistics

DataGen001

The device itself is also larger than the “typical” laptop computer, measuring 13.7″ by 11.7″ by 2.8″. Its starting weight is 9 pounds, with a single disk drive and without the optional rechargeable battery pack. With a second drive and batteries, the system crosses the 11-pound threshold. I was quite surprised to discover that the unit did not include a built-in carrying handle; a separate case or briefcase is necessary.

The batteries are supposed to be good for at least eight hours of typical use – disk drive and modem operation consume more power than do screen display and computation. Recharging the batteries requires use of a small transformer cube and power cord; operating the computer directly from an AC outlet requires a different transformer cube and power cord.

The microprocessor runs at a clock speed of 4MHz, almost 20% slower than the IBM standard of 4.77MHz. The difference was noticeable in computation intensive operations like screen updates. Data General included with my review package a copy of a PacMan-like game, and fighting boredom I was able to rack up record scores by outrunning the slightly slower ghosts.

Users familiar with the forgiving nature of the entrance slots of most 5.25″ disk drives will find the DG units to be slightly more demanding: the plastic case must be inserted exactly right or it will not drop into place for reading and writing operations. The disks include a small movable notch to write-protect contents – an improvement over the silver tape method used for floppies. By the way, the prices of the 3.5″ disks have settled thus far in a range of about twice the price of a 5.25″ floppy. Byte-for-byte, that makes the media identically priced.

The optional 5.25″ disk drive is called device C by the operating system, but the DG ROM BIOS has been told to boot from drive C if there are no disks in the first two internal drives. This should allow programs with their own operating systems to load from the external drive.

Making Your Own Disks

Copying from a 5.25″ disk to a 3.5″ disk is a straightforward procedure using the copy or diskcopy command. (Using diskcopy, though, will format the smaller but more capacious disk as a standard 320K or 360K disk, depending upon the formatting of the original.)

Going the other way, from the small internal disks to the external floppy requires the copy command, and you must consider the halved capacity of the floppy – it could take two floppies to store all of the data recorded on a single 3.5″ disk.

One other storage option for DG users is a RAM disk (also called an “electronic disk” or a “virtual disk”). This is a program that fools the operating system into thinking of a portion of RAM as a disk. Programs and data can be copied into and out of the RAM disk at a significant increase in speed over the physically limited real disk drive. You must take care to observe two cautions, though: first, any data in the electronic disk must be stored to a permanent disk before power is shut off, and second, you must leave sufficient RAM available for the needs of an application program. For example, WordStar requires at least 128K. Together with 48K for the screen display memory, the first 176K must be left untouched in such an application. DG’s supplied VDISK.COM program creates a CONFIG.SYS add-on to DOS, calling the RAM disk drive D.

The DG/One keyboard is a competent device, about half an inch narrower than a standard typewriter or computer board. The 79 keys have a sure, dicky feel to them, slightly softer than the IBM PC model but should prove quite comfortable for most users. Across the top of the board are ten downsized function keys, plus Ins, Del, Num, Lock, Scroll Lock, and PrtSc buttons. A carrier just above the function row holds a plastic cheat sheet card that can be used to remember specialized assignments given the keys.

In addition to the standard Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys, DG has added a Cmd key, a Spcl key, and a blank and thus far unassigned key along the right side of the board. A set of four cursor control keys resides along the bottom right – the horizontal placement of up, left, right and down are not my favorite arrangement. The small board understandably does not include a separate cursor key pad. Instead the UIO/JKL/M keys can be toggled into roles as the bottom half of a keypad for number entry.

A Choice of Video Options

The DG/One equivalent of a video display adapter can be set to emulate the IBM special monochrome adapter and screen or the IBM Color/Graphics adapter. Commands from the DOS prompt can also set the display to 40 characters. At the Comdex show last November, I saw the DG/One with a prototype of the expansion box with a standard IBM Color/Graphics board driving an RGB monitor.

One of the more common uses for a portable computer is as a link to a main office computer for electronic mail, database inquiry, or transfer of files. Other users tie into public networks like MCI, the Source, and CompuServe for various purposes. The DG/One accommodates these uses through an optional 300 baud direct connect modem, or through an RS-232C serial port that can be wired to an external modem. Data General will offer a 1200 baud device, but the price had not been set at the time of this review.

The DG internal modem follows Hayes protocols, including auto-answer. The device comes with a T-connector allowing a telephone to be plugged into the same line to allow you to switch back and forth between voice and data communications. Also available is a set of acoustic cups to be used with nonmodular telephones.

I tried the modem with MCI mail and had no trouble using that system’s commands. I did not have a full-function telecommunications program to test uploading and downloading. One word of warning: the communications chip set used in the CMOS system of the Data General is not the same as that used by the IBM PC and most compatibles, and as such it is a good bet that many off-the-shelf communications programs will not work on the machine. You’ll probably have to use an altered version.

I also successfully linked the DG/One directly to my IBM PC using a null modem cable, the system I use to download data from my personal portable. The two computers, both under control of my IBM, swapped files at a gratifying 9600 baud.

The Built-In Programs

The DG/One includes four small scale utility programs on a ROM chip inside the unit, including a terminal program that allows configuration of the portable as a standard terminal or as an emulation of a Data General Dasher terminal. Options include use of an internal or external modem, output flow control, and several other protocol elements – but no way I could discover to save files to disk or retrieve from disk or RAM.

Another of the ROM programs is Notebook, a simple text processor that can be used in conjunction with the modem for sending and receiving files, or as a quick memo pad. The program will hold as many as 500 lines of 80-column text in RAM. The other two options are a Setup configuration program (the settings are retained in a small portion of RAM that is powered by a separate lithium battery that also runs an internal clock/calendar) and a set of extended diagnostic routines to check memory chip-by-chip and test the various available disk drives.

There is also a built-in self-diagnosis program that is invoked when the computer is first turned on. The test reports net available memory (48K of RAM is taken by the operating system) and then a numeric code indicating any tests failed by the computer. The routines check the microprocessor, RAM, ROM, DMA controller, LCD controller, keyboard and speaker interfaces, various interrupts, power supply, output ports, and the internal memory if installed.

DG also sells a portable 27-pin thermal matrix printer that connects to its own serial output port on the computer. Powered either by its own set of rechargeable batteries or from an AC outlet, the device can work with regular bond paper using a special thermal transfer ribbon, or with specially coated thermal paper. According to Data General, the printer emulates an Epson MX-80 with Graftrax or its close cousin the IBM PC Graphics Printer, running at 40cps for draft quality and 20cps for “letter-quality” printing.

What’s New?

The DG/One pushes LCD technology to its present commercial frontier. In addition to obtaining sufficient supplies of the new large screens (Epson is reported to be one of the OEMs), engineers also found a way to deal with the “ghosting” problem often associated with LCDs. In effect, the large DG/One screen is treated by the computer as if it were several smaller screens with an individual driver for each portion of the display.

Another interesting design choice was the use of 8K by 8-bit RAM chips instead of the more common 64K. by 1-bit chips. Both devices will store a total of 64K bits, and therefore in a bank of eight will store 64K bytes. However, the IBM PC design stores each bit of an 8-bit byte in a separate chip, while the DG stores all eight bits in a single chip, saving another smidgen of power.

The construction of the machine seems solid, although the plastic shell does have the appearance of a device selling for less than $3000. A hinged cover at the back of the unit slides into place to cover the panel of connectors at the back and also serves as a prop to adjust the angle of the machine; it popped out of its grooved track every time I used it. DG does not endorse users taking the covers off to install add-ons. If the machine does make a significant dent in the marketplace, though, third-party manufacturers may seek to tie into the planned expansion chassis or attach to one of the ports.

Who should consider buying a device like the DG/One? Well, I spoke recently with a book editor who said his company’s sales staff was lugging one of those 40-pound “transportable” PC-compatible machines around the country for use in order entry and communication with the home office – the DG/One would be a quite worthy, back-saving replacement. It would also make a worthy companion for traveling heavy users of electronic spreadsheets.

You should have noticed by now that the only significant knock against this machine – assuming you can afford the price of admission – is based on a completely subjective decision about the LCD screen. A long word processing session did not appeal to my tired eyes. But, if you are considering the purchase of a portable, go and see for yourself.

Data General’s achievement with its portable computer is in a way comparable to IBM’s with its original PC model. The technology – with the exception of the LCD screen – is proven, off-the-shelf provisioning. What DG has done is make up a package combining a very high degree of PC compatibility, several disk storage options, a capable keyboard, and perhaps most important, added into the mix an established and respected name. You might say that the company immortalized in “The Soul of a New Machine” has brought a little of that soul from the minicomputer to your lap.

Hardware Profile

  • Name: Data General/One
  • Type: Portable PC-compatible computer
  • CPU: 80C88 at 4Mhz
  • RAM: 128K standard, can be increased to 512K in blocks of 128K
  • ROM: 32K
  • Operating system: MS-DOS 2.11. Can also use CP/M-86
  • Keyboard: 79 keys, with 10 function keys
  • Display resolution: LCD display of 640 by 200 pixels, or 25 lines of 80 characters.
  • Ports: Two serial ports built in. Expansion chassis that will accept IBM compatible hardware cards announced.
  • Dimensions/wt: 13.7” x 11.7” x 2.8”. Approximately 11Ibs. With two disk drives:
  • Documentation: Instruction manual
  • Summary: The first commercially available full-screen LCD portable computer with a high degree of PC compatibility.
  • Price: $2895 for unit with 128K RAM, one internal disk drive.
  • Manufacturer: Data General, 4400 Computer Dr. Westboro, MA 01580

First published in Creative Computing, February 1985

Amplot II

The Amplot II is an easy to use capable six-pen flat-bed plotter at a modest price.

By David H. Ahl

The Amplot II is a six-pen, flat-bed plotter that is quite easy to use. It has 20 drawing commands, reasonably high resolution, and built-in parallel and serial (RS232) interfaces – all at a very modest price. It even comes with a protective plastic cover.

Interfacing the plotter, particularly through the parallel port is extremely simple (although you would never know it from reading the manual). The Amplot II has a Centronics-type connector on the rear; a printer cable from the computer works just fine. The serial interface is only slightly more complicated; it requires a null modem cable (pin 3 to 4, etc.) and can be set to any of five baud rates (300 to 4800), 7 or 8 data bits, and parity, and 1 or 2 stop bits. The important thing is to make sure your computer matches the settings on the plotter.

amplotII001

Six pens are held in drop-in holders at the left side of the Amplot II plotter bed

The Amplot II can handle up to international paper size A3 (11.7” x 16.5”) as well as US. standard 11” x 17”. The effective drawing area is 270 x 400mm (10.6” x 15.7”). Paper is held down by a paper guide at the bottom of the plotter bed and two 7” magnetic strips at the top.

Six fibre tip pens are furnished with the plotter, one each of red, orange, green, blue, violet, and black. Aqueous fibre tip and oily fibre tip pens (for drawing on acetate) are also available. The pens are loaded by simply dropping them into the six holders at the left of the plotter bed.

amplotII003

Letters can be printed in four directions.

amplotII004

Circles show four basic types of lines.

Commands are sent to the plotter from Basic, either in an LPRINT statement (parallel interface) or PRINT #1 (serial interface). Commands must be sent as capital letters enclosed in quotation marks, while numeric amounts may be sent as numbers (120, 175) or variables (x, y) not enclosed in quotes.

The plotter surface is divided into 0.1 mm lengths (2700 x 4000), and plotter coordinates are specified in millimetres. The origin may be set any place within the drawing area; for example, if it is in the center, plotting coordinates can range between ± 1350 and ± 2000. There are no scaling capabilities.

amplotII002

3-D cosine wave from van de Panne article (Feb. ’84) was easily translated for the Amplot II.

Commands include the expected Draw Absolute, Draw Relative (with respect to the last point), Move Absolute, and Move Relative. Line Type specifies solid and three types of dashed lines, while Line Scale sets the repetitive length of line segments; combining both commands allows drawing ten or more distinctive types of lines. Axis draws an x or y axis with hash marks at specified intervals.

The Circle command draws a circle or arc of any radius. Unlike the more general command found on some plotters, this one cannot draw ellipses.

The Home command moves the pen to the lower left position, while Z moves it to the top center. ASCII characters can be printed in any of the four compass directions. “Standard” character sizes range from 3 mm to 11.2 mm high, although it is possible to specify the height and width of a character (up to 200 x 200mm). Six graphing marks can be drawn in sizes up to 10mm.

Pen speed can be set to either normal (200mm/sec) or slow (100mm/sec). We found the normal speed was satisfactory for all of our tests. The Paper Size command limits the effective drawing area for paper sizes smaller than A3, while the Window command also limits the effective drawing area, temporarily, for drawing several charts on one piece of paper.

Making Plots

We found it quite easy to take programs written for other plotters and adapt them to the Amplot II. In general, only a few minor changes were necessary in plotter commands and variable values. During conversion, this led to some errors when values were out of range or when incorrect commands were sent to the plotter. When the plotter receives an erroneous command or value, it halts and a red LED comes on. The error can be cancelled by pressing any one of the four pen direction switches; this clears the data buffer and readies the plotter to accept more commands. (Actually, when debugging a plotter program, we find it best to do so without a pen in the holder. When things “look” right, it can be run with a pen.)

As mentioned earlier, the step size is 0.1mm; the manufacturer-specified repetition accuracy is 0.3mm with the same pen or 0.4mm with different pens. In practice, we found the accuracy to be better than that.

The manual contains two sample programs for drawing a bar chart and a combined bar and pie chart. We weren’t enthralled with the efficiency of coding, but the programs are well-explained and demonstrate most of the plotter features. Notes at the end of the manual offer helpful tips on how to use the plotter with an IBM PC and overcome the Device Timeout problem. Users of other computers will find these tips helpful as well.

All in all, we were impressed with the Amplot II. It is easy to use, has both serial and parallel interfaces, and has good resolution and accuracy. While it is not in the same league as the Houston Instruments DM P-29 (which costs more than twice as much), it is an able competitor in the $1000 multi-pen plotter derby.

Hardware profile

  • Name: Amplot II
  • Number of pens: 6
  • Paper size: 11” x 17”
  • Plotting area:6” x 15.7”
  • Resolution:004”
  • Repetition accuracy:012”; different pen 0.016”
  • Plotting velocity:8”/sec
  • Parallel interface: Centronics
  • Serial interface: RS232
  • Digitiser mode: No
  • Dimensions:8 x 18.2 x 5.5”
  • Price: $1092
  • Manufacturer: Amdek Corp, 2201 Lively Blvd. Elk Grove Village, IL 60007

First published in Creative Computing magazine, February 1985

512K Mac – Packing the Missing Punch

Apple introduces the Fat Mac

By John J. Anderson

AppleMac001

The nameplate on the back of this machine is the only visible indication that this is the Fat Mac, not the standard Mac.

It has been six months now since my initial review of the Macintosh computer appeared in the pages of the July 1984 issue of Creative Computing. I received more mail concerning that review than any piece I have ever written. I got letters telling me I was wrong: that the Macintosh was a gimmick, a flash in the pan, and I was foolish to call it a “breakthrough.” I got letters telling me I was wrong: that the Macintosh was the greatest thing to happen to computing, and I was foolish to poke holes in such a miraculous development. The fact that readers of both ilks were mad at me was gratifying, at least in one sense: it showed that my point of view was at once suitably awed and suitably critical to offend the extremists at both ends of the spectrum. That pleased me nearly as much as the handful of complimentary notes I received.

My conclusions in that article were neither profound nor heretical. Quite simply, I asserted that the introduction of the Mac did in fact represent a milestone in the history of personal computing, but that the machine had some rather serious problems that could not be overlooked simply because its user interface was so strikingly elegant. My bottom line was that the Apple Macintosh represented a hefty and heady promise of what a computer might one day come to be. The question was, could it make good on that promise?

So that question remains today, though we are closer to an answer. But let me make one thing perfectly clear at the outset: I am a user. There is a Mac on my desk at work and a Mac on my desk at home. So, browbeat me all you like, but don’t assume that to show loyalty to a piece of hardware you must not criticize it. Because that’s wrong. Remember, we’re “the rest of us,” right?

It was easy then and it is still easy now to dismiss the Mac out of hand. Thanks to slick campaigns and multi-megabucks, the ballyhoo is still with us – test drive a Mac, or look through a special edition of Newsweek with nothing but Apple ads in it. In a way, Apple’s California trendiness, laid-back pitch, and open-collar media image may ultimately work against Macintosh sales. When it comes down to business, buyers don’t want madras. They want white button-down. In a TV ad for Compaq, John Cleese’s impression of a typical Mac buyer hits the dynamic right on the nerve.

Let’s take it a step further and dare to suggest that two of the Mac’s very hottest features also mitigate against its popularity in the business world: 1) it is too small, cute, and sexy; and 2) it is much too easy to use. I don’t have the space here to elaborate on this theory, but those of you who know I’m right will know I’m right. It has to do with the color of your cerebral cortex. Once it turns even the slightest shade of blue, all bets are off.

But the cosmetic issue is far from most significant. The major factor hurting Mac sales in the business market today is the fact that it is “not powerful enough.” Fact is the Mac is top-heavy with overhead devoted to its slick user interface, leaving precious little memory for the actual jobs at hand. I stick by my original assertion that the Mac was never a 128K machine on the early drawing board. I would guess that 256K was the target, but the need to lower costs eventually wiped out the option. What was left was an incredibly neat little machine terribly restrained by memory limitations. This was the most serious flaw I could find in my initial report.

And though some good 128K software has made an appearance for the machine, by and large the Macintosh software scene was rather disappointing in 1984, both in quantity and quality. The cardinal sin in any Mac software trade off is to sacrifice needed features for ease of use, and unfortunately, many Macintosh packages are guilty of that transgression to quite some degree. Many of the programs that are available today in very powerful MS-DOS incarnations have been bowdlerized in some way, shape, or form in order to bring them to fruition on the 128K Macintosh. I can mention two prime examples: DB-Master and ThinkTank. Both now run on the Macintosh, albeit in a highly abridged form. In order to release a Macintosh version, both manufacturers traded off features – an undesirable transaction, to say the least.

Now the 512K Mac has hit dealer’s shelves and has been dubbed, much to the chagrin of McDonald’s, the Fat Mac. The Fat Mac packs its punch into the same mother board as the 128K Mac, with the replacement of 16 memory chips on its left-hand side. This fourfold gain in RAM can also be purchased as a retrofit to existing 128K Macs. The option adds $1000 to the list price of a 128K machine – whether purchased initially or fitted as an upgrade.

The RAM chips themselves are soldered directly to the multilayer motherboard of the Mac, and only as an act of vandalism can be removed with an IC puller. You cannot, therefore, do the upgrade yourself, but must bring the machine to an authorized dealer. In a 15-minute procedure, motherboards are switched. The old board is then reconditioned and itself sold as an upgrade.

Fat Mac units themselves are in short supply, but we managed to lasso a machine. The only hint that it is any different from a standard Mac is its nameplate, and since that nameplate appears on the back of the machine, it is a quiet self-announcement. But when you start using it, the difference is readily apparent.

I’m going to assume here that our readers who use the Mac regularly have purchased a second disk drive, if not a hard disk unit. For them, the bother of disk-swapping is already in the past. So I won’t dwell on the improvement 512K makes on a single disk machine. Certainly if I were to be limited to a single disk machine, I would do my best to make that machine a Fat Mac. Because bigger chunks of data can be stored at a time, disk-swapping is cut to a minimum. Even on a dual-drive system, file transfer time is cut dramatically.

But that is a minor advantage of the 512K Macintosh compared to its improvement in computing power. From a maximum of 10 single-spaced pages per document in Mac Write, the same program can yield an 80-page document on the Fat Mac. (A new version of MacWrite uses virtual memory techniques to allow 50-page documents on a 128K Mac and 250-page documents on a 512K Mac.) In MacPaint, the user interface is now silky smooth while scrolling the page, rather than chopped by sporadic disk loads. In Basic, desktop tools can be called up during program execution without disturbing screen memory or the stack itself. In MacTerm, the text buffer is huge. In Multiplan, spreadsheet size can be increased dramatically. In other existing software packages, the usable workspace can be quadrupled.

Even more significant, however, is what the Fat Mac can do for software currently under development. Features that would have to be lopped off to make a program run in the 128K can be salvaged – even improved upon – in a 512K environment. It would not be surprising to see two versions of a single product, like Lotus’ integrated package or Microsoft Word – for which 512K would be required to take full advantage of all features, but a limited version would run on a minimally configured machine. By developing products for the Fat Mac, software houses can subvert the reputation that Mac software sacrifices power for ease of use. We Mac users know that software can do more and be easier to use at the same time.

So: is a Fat Mac or an upgrade for you? The answer to that question is without a doubt a resounding yes. The remaining and real question is when will a Fat Mac or upgrade be for you. The upgrade chips themselves, 256K dynamic RAM chips, are still relatively rare and still relatively expensive. I would not be startled if chipset costs were cut in half – to $500 list, or even less – by this time next year. And so you must measure lost convenience across a function of time.

When the next generation Mac appears, it will most probably sport a megabyte of RAM as standard equipment, and 512K will be considered paltry. It’s all relative, folks.

First published in Creative Computing magazine, February 1985