Four Add-Ons

 

 

Issue 14

Mar/Apr 85

Next Article >>

<< Prev Article

 

 

Hardware add-ons for the Atari have been few and far between in this country with little being imported for fear of incompatibility and little interest being shown by British Companies. Suddenly, a new company, W. E. Electronics has produced four add-ons for the XL computers with the promise of more to come. So far produced are a cassette interface to allow ordinary cassette players or hi-fi decks to be used for storage, a printer interface, a speech synthesiser and a 32k RAM expansion for the 600XL. Let's take a look at each in turn.

CASSETTE INTERFACE

The unit is quite compact and plugs into the serial I/O port of the computer and then, via a choice of leads into either a standard portable cassette recorder or a Hi-Fi stereo recorder with provision for remote control of the cassette motor if the recorder allows this. Programs can be loaded or saved in the normal way and the unique Atari 'sound track' facility is retained. Using a non-Atari recorder means that you will initially have to experiment with volume levels to ensure successful recording but once this has been mastered, the settings can be left or noted for future use. Good results can be obtained but the use of a non-Atari cassette does tend to be a bit fiddly. Obviously the unit is aimed at those owners who have had troubles with their Atari Program Recorders (and there are many) who will no doubt be willing to put up with a little more inconvenience in order to successfully load and save programs. The price is 19.95 which is perhaps a little high and you need to specify which type of cassette you intend to use.

PRINTERFACE

Interfaces for printers are generally very expensive so this one at 33.95 may look attractive. Again the unit is very compact and plugs into one joystick port via a very short lead with 2' 6" of ribbon cable to the printer. The design works well on the XL models although it is difficult to use on the 400 and 800 as it sticks out at the front of the joystick ports. The main drawback to this type of printer interface is that it is software controlled and requires to be booted each time it is used. A boot cassette is provided for this purpose although the full source code is provided both in the documentation and on the cassette enabling anyone familiar with machine language to amend it for disk use or, more adventurously, use the interface to drive other devices. The interface works well with all the normal BASIC print commands and is a full 8-bit allowing graphics dumps to be performed on a suitable printer. Whilst it is compatible with AtariWriter there would be difficulty using it with a printer driver which itself needs to be booted up for use. If you have a limited system and cannot afford the price of a printer and an interface, the Printerface would no doubt suit you. The penalty for the saving in cost is the inconvenience of booting up each time and some limitations such as mentioned with AtariWriter but it should provide the means to access a printer at about half the cost of a normal interface.

SPEECH SYNTHESISER

Speech synthesisers for 8-bit micros are not greatly sophisticated and require considerable programming to be able to achieve good results. They are however great fun and you can spend many interesting hours perfecting programs, trying different spellings and timings to achieve quite good results. The W.E.E. synthesiser is allophone based which mean that it produces individual speech sounds rather than full words and therefore has an unlimited vocabulary. All you need to do is string different sounds together by poking a couple of locations with a number which represents a particular sound. You need to understand the construction of speech and a comprehensive set of notes is provided for this purpose. These need to be read fully and then kept for reference to get the best results from the synthesiser. A cassette of demo software is provided which includes three programs which can be listed out to show you how to write programs of your own. The first program is the complete alphabet. The second is a demonstration of words and the third a simple children's game of guessing numbers. The speech on these is quite recognisable but could be improved with further programming.

I tried the unit out with a ready made program allowing sentences to be typed in and found that the results were good although words occasionally needed to be spelled in a different manner, for example doubling or tripling letters for the correct emphasis. This could however be incorporated in the program and the right combination will be found by experimentation and practice.

Many people think that you can buy a Speech synthesiser, plug it in, type a question and get an answer! It is not that simple and you do need to know how to program (not necessarily on a complex level) but, with patience, the W.E.E. Speech Synthesiser will give you hours of enjoyment. The unit works well, is adequately documented and is a cheaper alternative, at 38.95, than those originally available from the U.S.A. Perfect for the late night compulsive programmer who gets a bit lonely!

600XL RAM EXPANSION PACK

At last a RAM expansion for the 600XL which is cheaper and, hopefully, easier to get hold of than Atari's own. Not much you can say about a RAM pack except that the unit is fitted upright instead of out flat which makes it more compact and that it works well as a RAM expansion. Note the word expansion for, unlike Atari's 64k module which is a complete 64k memory, the W.E.E. RAM pack adds an extra 16k or 32 k. What this means is that some (a very few) programs which switch out the XL operating system will not run. Fortunately these are quite rare and you may not have any problems. If you write your own programs or use magazine programs you should never have any problems and the overwhelming majority of commercial software will be alright. We have had one attached to a 600XL for a couple of months and it has performed perfectly. You still get the same amount of user RAM as on an 48k 800 or an 800XL. Prices are 52 for a 16k expansion (which may be upgraded) or 66 for a 32k pack.

Further details of these products can be obtained by sending a large s.a.e. to W.E.Electronics, 19, North Street, Emsworth, Hants.

NOTE Certain prices have been reduced since this review was prepared.

top