You can't really have a Hard Disk on
an 8-bit system, can you?
Yes you can!
What is the ultimate
luxury addition to your Atari 8-bit system? How about a Hard Disk
Drive? Most of you are probably aware of hard disks for the ST and
'business' computers but may not have realised that you can in fact
add a hard disk to your existing Atari XL or XE system. The only
drawback is the horrendous cost but, if you have already invested a
lot of money and time in your system it may well be worth it. There
are a lot of serious Atari 8-bit owners who have stretched their
systems to the limit, so why not a little further?
The only hard drive
available, at least in this country, is the Supra 20Mb Hard Disk
drive which is imported by Frontier Software and sells for £749.95.
It is small, quiet, easy to use and has a prodigious appetite for
programs! 20 Mb means that you can have the equivalent of over 208
single density floppy disks on one drive!
Let's suppose you have
persuaded the bank manger that you can afford one of these beasts.
It will arrive in a fairly small box, well packed in foam, and
inside you will find the drive, a power supply, a copy of MYDOS,
plus instructions and an interface to connect it up to your XL or XE.
If you have an XE you will need to use the extra board supplied to
enable you to be able to still use the cartridge port on the
computer. This board is the only disappointment, being a bare
circuit board which makes the system look tatty. It really should be
cased at this price. The drive itself will surprise you as it is a
lot smaller than a 1050! It measures 285mm x 137mm x 70mm and looks
really neat in a solid metal casing similar in colour to the 130XE.
Setting up is easy. Find
somewhere safe for the drive (they don't like to be knocked about in
use), plug the interface to the computer and to the drive, connect
up the power to the drive and away you go. Initially you will have
to boot up with a copy of MYDOS in Drive 1 but thereafter you can
write this to the Hard Drive and you will never need a DOS disk
again! The interface, by the way, has a built in printer interface
so you could save a bit of money if you add a printer to the system.
You will only need to find a ribbon cable which you can pick up for
STARTING TO USE IT
If the drive is not
already formatted you will need to do this but full instructions are
given in the manual. The review
drive came ready formatted, so I did not try this out, but
experience on a Hard Drive for the ST suggests that there should be
no problem. As 20Mb is a lot of space, the drive is divided into
four logical drives. They are all of course on the same disk but are
treated as totally separate drives by software. The standard
division (which cannot be altered) is drives 1 and 2 configured to
the same size as a normal 1050 and drives 3 & 4 configured to each
hold 9.2Mb. The latter two drives each have 36,800 sectors but these
are true double density sectors of 256 bytes. Drive 1 is used to
copy your DOS files to, and once done can be used to boot up the
system. Any of the drives can then be accessed and used as you would
normally use a floppy drive. The major difference is of course speed
and the amount of storage. One warning about using drive 1, is to be
very, very careful about putting an AUTORUN.SYS file on it. I tried
it and as the program was one that you could not exit from there was
no way to get to DOS and therefore load any other program!
So how fast is it? I did
not try any really fancy benchmark tests but did a few comparisons
of a nature likely to be useful. Firstly I tried loading files of
various sizes. A BASIC program occupying 144 sectors on a normal
single density floppy loaded in 19 seconds from the floppy and just
2 seconds from the Supra! As the files get bigger, so the time saved
is greater. A 242 sector binary load file took 30 seconds from a
floppy and 3.3 seconds from the hard disk. Some difference! Actually
reading and writing data to disk did not show the same type of time
difference but was nonetheless impressive (see Table 1).
Incidentally NOTE and POINT can be used in the same way as a normal
drive to access any sector on any logical drive.
writing/reading a four letter string ("TEST") to disk (times in
Number of times
DOS 2.5 cannot access the
number of sectors available on the Supra drive so a copy of MYDOS is
supplied. This also has the ability to handle sub-directories which
is essential for the number of files you will be able to fit on the
drive. Whilst MYDOS is perfectly usable, Frontier recommend that you
use SpartaDos. The only reason it is not supplied is a problem with
Supra licensing the program.
The Supra works like a
dream with the 8-bit and could be a godsend to anyone with a large
collection of frequently used programs. The only problems I could
think about are that it may not be possible to transfer many
commercial programs to the Hard Drive (ST owners have that problem
too) and you could find problems in backing up the drive. As far as
I know there is no software available to back up the 8-bit Supra
drive and whilst you can back up each program individually, it is
extremely time consuming. A major problem could occur if you have
any database software that sets up a database occupying more room
than a normal floppy. You can still use it but won't have a back up!
Would I buy one? Well, it
is an awful lot of money but it is a superb piece of equipment to
use. No more searching for DOS disks, no finding the right disk for
your program and some really fast access for programming, especially
write long machine code routines. As I said at the beginning, if you
are sufficiently committed to, and happy with, your 8 bit Atari, it
is the ultimate addition. If you can find the money, I would not
hesitate to recommend it. Once you have got over the shock, you'll