Going for a Drive 

Harvey Kong Tin, New Zealand


Issue 7

Jan/Feb 84

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I bought my Atari 800 48K computer last December, and since then I have sampled as many of the cartridges and cassette games that I could get my hands on - of course I have also keyed in as many ATARI BASIC program listings that I could find. Recently I took the plunge and decided to upgrade to a disk drive. This article is about my impressions on changing from cassette to disk, and whether it turned out to be worthwhile.

The obvious advantage of a Disk Drive is the speed and reliability of loading and saving any program and because of the random access of Disk Files, you can immediately call out the file you want. The disk drive by itself is rather limited - its the useful programs that you can run on it that make it worthwhile. The DOS (Disk Operating System) is very good but you have to go out from BASIC and into DOS to use any of its menu commands. To use DOS more efficiently I like using a Wedge program (from November's Compute!) to access the more useful menu commands, while still in BASIC!

Using an AUTORUN.SYS is a very good convenience (it is a routine which will load and run a selected program, when you switch on the computer - the Wedge is done in this manner), you could have the disk directory printed out to the screen or better still I've used it for a demonstration disk which runs through an information & instruction screen before going onto the main descriptive menu.

The disk drive makes it easier for you to get into the mood of entering in program listings - Interruptions (friends calling in) are no bother, and you can save parts of programs every half hour or so (to avoid the problems of keyboard lock-up, if it occurs) - it's done instantly with a disk drive. You will also be keen to experiment with and modify programs, because all of your programming utilities will be on tap on the one disk.

On the disk, you only have 626 sectors with which to store your programs. I find that I am always running out of disks and have gone into the process of using the other side. i.e. I cut out a notch and flip the disk over, the disks have not been designed to be used like this - but I assume that it is reasonably safe to use this side. I would like to hear from others about the pros and cons of using the other side.

A whole new world other than games opens up. A good example to start on is Atari's Home Filing Manager, this well set-out Database program is the ideal thing I've been looking for to list the range of programs I have, and have room enough to include a reasonable description of the program. Tinytext can go on a disk run by an Autorun System, the text files are saved to the same disk. Other languages are now very tempting to use - Microsoft BASIC attracts me, because I have been taught some Burroughs BASIC while on a course. I have a sampler program of Video 80 (that puts 80 characters across a normal screen) from Compute, and can't wait to see a word-processing program that utilises this unique feature.

The biggest headache in going from tape to disk is in trying to upload the commercial game tapes you have onto disk. There are utilities available which can only do certain types of programs, but the better games out are designed not to be transferred from tape to disk.

The disk-based games are not that much more outstanding than those available on tape. The disk games that I have so far seen have not been the sort that I would have rushed out to buy a disk drive for. I have so far played: The Wizard & the Princess, Repton, A.E., Threshold, SAGA Adventureland, Zork 1, Starcross, Seafox, Bandits, Ulysses & the Golden Fleece, The Cosmic Balance, Wayout, Snooper Troops 1, Space Eggs and The Nightmare. Some of the games have been good though. Perhaps the newer games will prove me wrong: The Pinball Construction Set, The Arcade Machine, Archon & others. I'm hoping that they will

Of course, there is nothing wrong with staying on a cassette based computer system, you can always find plenty to do while a tape is loading: read the instructions, write a letter to Page 6, or wash the dishes. You will still get to play the great games just out: The Blue Max, Dimension X, Donkey Kong and Pole Position. But the disk drive does open up a much wider world into Atari Computing. Now where's the cash for that FX-80 printer?