Issue 9

May/Jun 84

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In order to connect your Atari to any non-Atari peripheral you need an interface. A short while ago this presented no problem at all, you just bought the Atari 850 Interface. This was an easy choice to make, for in fact there was no choice, all you had to do was find the money. The 850 was, and still is, very expensive for what generally ends up as a plastic box buried away at the back of your equipment and the high cost coupled with the increasing scarcity of the 850 prompted several people to start producing their own printer interfaces. There are now about half a dozen available in this country and many more in the States, so let's look at three of them to see what you get.

ATARI 850 INTERFACE The original and still the only interface available here that will allow you to run something other than a printer. If you want to use a modem then the choice of interface is still quite simple, this is it! Although it is by far the most expensive at 135 you do get much more for your money, however unless you are an electronics hobbyist you are unlikely to use it to the full. The unit measures approximately 10" by 2" high and is just the right size to fit beneath a 410 recorder or a Maplin Modem. There are 4 RS232 ports, all of which are programmable, plus one parallel port for use with a printer and two I/0 sockets to allow daisy-chaining. It has a separate transformer similar to the rest of the Atari equipment and so presents the problem of what to do with yet another transformer. The I/0 cable supplied is fully 5 feet long which gives good flexibility for placement of the unit but you do not get a cable for the parallel interface and must therefore be prepared to buy this as an extra when you buy your printer. The manual is a real tour-de-force and will provide you with everything you need to know about interfacing provided you can understand and digest its 102 pages!

AXIOM AT846 PRINTER INTERFACE A tried and tested American interface that retails here for 99.95 although if you have an Epson printer you will have to purchase a separate transformer. The unit is quite small, being 5" by 3" by 1" deep and has two cables protruding from one side with an adjacent I/0 socket to allow daisy-chaining. The cable lengths are 38" to the computer and 21" to the printer. The 12 page manual is generally very good with many tips and much advice on using a printer but in certain parts it is quite confusing. The manual seems to indicate that you get a transformer with the unit but you don't and in fact you don't need one unless you have an Epson. The unit draws its power from the printer but the Epson does not give a reliable +5 volts forcing you to buy a transformer as an extra. What is annoying is that although you don't get a transformer, the unit is set up for one and you must take it apart to change a jumper to use it direct from the printer. The instructions here are confusing giving the impression that you need to do some soldering but that is not the case. If you have any doubts, I suggest that you ask the supplier to set up the unit for you.

BLACKTHORN PRINTER INTERFACE This one comes in an attractive two-tone white/grey box and has another attractive feature, the price of 69.95. The unit is 7" by 4" by 1" and has rubber feet to protect the furniture. The cables to the printer and computer enter at opposite sides giving a little more length but I still found the cables a little short at 21 " each. There is an I/0 socket to allow daisy-chaining and the unit comes complete with a transformer of the type that plugs into a 3-pin socket. The instruction sheet is quite adequate with the added bonus that Blackthorn Electronics can be easily contacted and are quite happy to help with any problems or questions. Although the unit sent for review requires an external power supply, I understand that Blackthorn are working on a revision that will draw its power from the computer and will be more compact overall.

All of these units work perfectly well and simply plug into the computer and printer and require no additional software. There should be no compatibility problems with any type of software.

The new Atari printers do not require an interface but there are several much better printers about and I would recommend that you look at these as well rather than buying an Atari printer just to save on the cost of the interface. At the moment nobody other than Atari, makes a combined printer/RS232 interface which is a pity as it is quite possible that after you have bought a printer, you might want to buy a modem.

The final choice is yours, but if all you want to do use a non-Atari printer it would be sensible to forego the four RS232 ports of the 850 and saw yourself some money. Besides the 850 seems to be as rare at the moment as a 1450XLD!

Thanks to The Atari Center in Birmingham for loan of the Axiom Interface.