1020 Printer/Plotter

reviewed by Phil Griffin


Issue 9

May/Jun 84

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At long last the new Atari peripherals are starting to appear in the shops and the one that I have been waiting for with greatest interest is the 1020 Colour Printer. The main reason for this is the ability to produce a listing of programs without going to the expense of a dot-matrix printer with interface.

The 1020 comes complete with a power unit, input/output data cord, 2 sets of pens, a roll of paper, an operating instruction book and a cassette containing various demonstration programs. The printer is almost identical in looks to the new 1010 program recorder except for a removable top cover which is shaped to accept the roll of paper. It has four keys along the front edge and these are labelled POWER, PEN, COLOR and PAPER. The functions are as follows


PEN inserting and removing pens
COLOR rotating the pen-holder to select the pen to be used
PAPER paper feed

The printer connects to the other units in the system via the data cord in the now familiar 'daisy-chain'. The instruction book covers the steps necessary to get operational in a very clear and concise way. This involves inserting the four colour pens (black, blue, green and red) into the penholder and loading the paper. The only major problem encountered was that the indicator colours on the pen-holder are at the opposite end to that stated in the instruction book!

On powering up the machine proceeds to draw a test pattern of four squares in order to show the condition of the pens. Should these require renewal or 'coaxing' into life, the instruction book is again very clear and concise on pen removal. From here onwards however, the instruction book becomes less and less helpful and in some instances is downright confusing. More of that later.

A brief description of the way in which the printer works might not go amiss at this point. The different coloured pens can be selected manually by using the COLOR key or within a program by using the relevant command. The pen-holder rotates to present the selected pen to the paper. The pen can only be moved horizontally but the paper can be fed backwards and forwards so that diagonal lines a
nd curves can be drawn. The machine has an onboard processor which co-ordinates these movements so that all you have to do is tell it when and where to draw.

The printer works in two modes, text and graphics. In the text mode, the printer can print in widths of 20, 40 and 80 characters per column. The default setting is 40 characters per column and at this setting it can print 10 characters per second. In addition, you can print characters in 64 different sizes with the 'SET SCALE' operation and an international character set is available. Unfortunately the instruction book is not clear on how to print this character set despite the provision of a table showing the keyboard character required to obtain a specific character. What the book does not tell you is that you need to press CONTROL at the same time as selecting the keyboard character in order to produce a graphics character which will then be interpreted by the printer as an international character!

Demonstrations of the graphics mode are contained on the cassette supplied with the printer. Side 2 of the cassette contains 6 sample programs for drawing a variety of patterns. They are loaded from tape by CLOAD and then RUN in the normal way. The first program leaves the pen-holder in the middle of the drawing on completion and it can only be moved by running another program or by switching the machine off and then on. The instruction book contains a listing for this program and extra lines of code are included which overcome the problem. The second program is a random pattern generator, the results of which can vary from mediocre to excellent. The remaining programs perform well and are visually very impressive. A sine/cosine curve program is also included in the instruction book.

The code for each cassette program can be listed and this is just as well, as the instruction book gives very little guidance on designing and writing your own programs. The various commands and operations are briefly outlined in the instruction book but for a fuller understanding of their use, you really need to study the program listings. The printer is capable of drawing with solid or dotted lines, moving to a new position without drawing and printing X and Y axes with scale marks. Charts and graphs can be labelled with text printed in a choice of four different directions using the 'ROTATE' operation.


AtariLister - requires Java

Side 1 of the cassette contains a program which allows you to draw on the screen and plot on paper directly using a joystick. The use of this program is documented in an instruction sheet supplied with the cassette. There are also instructions on the use of disk drives with the program and details of how to save and display completed graphics screens.

That just leaves us with the reason I bought the 1020 in the first place, that is its ability to produce program listings. It does this superbly with clear and legible print and the added bonus of a choice of four colours. Unfortunately it is not able to produce the graphics character set and where these occur in a listing the character is replaced with a blank space. This can however be overcome to a certain extent by using the CHR$ equivalent in your program. The only other 'quirk' I have come across is that inverse characters are printed as though they were ordinary characters.

I have said that listings can be obtained from the printer, but what I have not told you is how you actually get them. I am not alone in this as Atari don't tell you either. Nowhere in the instructions do they even hint at the fact that listings are available. For those of you not in the know, a program can be listed to the printer by the simple instruction LIST 'P:' entered in immediate mode. If only lines 10 to 50 (say) are required then this can be done by LIST 'P: ', 10, 50.

Despite my reservations about the adequacy and accuracy of the instruction book, the 1020 Printer represents good value for money at its price of 199.99. At the time of writing prices were not available for replacement pens or rolls of paper but as these are fairly standard items it may well be that other manufacturers products will be suitable and, perhaps, cheaper.

Try to visit your local Atari dealer for a demonstration, I am sure you won't be disappointed.