Reviewed By R. A. Matulko


Issue 16

Jul/Aug 1985

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Fortunately for all us Atarians there is a growing interest in the supply market for all types of programs, games, utilities etc. and enhancements. I wrote last time about the 'US Doubler' product, published by ICD Inc., which converts the 1050 disk drive to double density. Included in the package was SpartaDOS.

SpartaDOS joins the disk operating systems already on the market, the three published by Atari (so far), DOS-XL by O.S.S., TOP-DOS by Eclipse Software and there are probably others of which I am not aware. I consider this new DOS to be another step forward and may prove to be the best so far.

SpartaDOS supports single, dual 1050 and true double densities, single and double sided, 5 in. and 8 in. disk drives and even a hard disk drive. Apparently the new 3 in. drives are not supported and this may be a serious error. I expect that ICD are not unaware of the situation and that they will issue an enhancement as soon as the new drives become available.

SpartaDOS is a mainly memory resident disk operating system in that it resides in RAM and is therefore always available. This means that no program or data is lost when you switch to and from DOS and thus the DOS2MEM.SAV file, which always seemed to me to take ages to load, is not used or necessary. Unlike DOS2, SpartaDOS is command-driven which means that you simply type a command and then leave the DOS to it. DOS 2 uses a menu structure from which you make your selection and this is somewhat time consuming. Not all the commands, however, are RAM resident. Most of the commonly used ones are, such as ERASE, RENAME, DIR (for directory of files), CAR (to run a cartridge and return to program), LOAD, SAVE, APPEND and RUN (binary files) and others. It is a pity but some other DOS utilities that you will use have to be loaded from a master disk. These include FORMAT, INIT, SPCOPV, UNERASE (yes!), DUPDSK etc. which ICD call external commands. You could, of course, copy some of these onto your working disk and then they would be almost immediately available. All the necessary DOS 2 functions are included on SpartaDOS along with a lot more. I shall only describe the additional features and differences and not waste your time with the familiar ones.

Unusually SpartaDOS requires that you give each disk a 'volume' name at format time such as ADVENT1, DISK12, 01234 etc. which I guess ensures that disk insertion errors are not made when duplicating a disk on a single drive system. I cannot think of any other valid reason for this requirement. Note that DOS must be written to each disk at format time where it acts as a boot file. The DOS's available are firstly, the normal full DOS, and secondly, a special short DOS, using very little memory for loading game disks that do not require to be written to, and each can be used at normal or high (ultra) speed. You can only use the high speed DOS if your drive is equipped with the US Doubler or Archiver II chips, and as I showed last time, reading is performed at about three times faster and writing at between two and five times faster than other DOS's. Sector links are handled differently than DOS 2 or DOS-XL with the result that, in single density format with full DOS, 665 sectors, (or 687 sectors, with the short DOS) each of 128 bytes, are available for your use compared to 707 125-byte sectors in DOS 2. In double density full DOS 689 256-byte sectors are available. This represents a data storage capacity of over 172K bytes!

The number of files you can have on a disk is virtually unlimited through the use of sub-directories. There is one main directory and this can have up to 128 files or sub-directories, each of which in turn can be subdivided into 128 further sub-directories and so on. This is obviously intended for hard disk drives which are capable of storing in excess of 15 megabytes (and soon to be available from Atari if Jack Tramiel's statements are anything to go by). Files will have to be very small for this to be effective on 5 l/4 in. drives. None of my disks have more than 35 files, but the facility is there should you need it.

On my 48k 800 the standard speed SpartaDOS has a LOMEM of $2000 and that of the high speed $2300, which means that some non-SpartaDOS utilities that load at below $2300 will crash (or lockup your system). To avoid this you would have to use a non-high speed DOS or relocate the utility. You will therefore understand why the high speed DOS leaves you with only 30734 bytes for BASIC programming use. On the 64K XL machines it should be possible to move the DOS into the otherwise unused RAM under the operating system ROM and thus recover most of the lost RAM. XL users may therefore have about 37K bytes free for BASIC if ICD or a clever programmer can come up with the goods.

AUTORUN.SYS is not used in SpartaDOS, instead a more flexible and easy to implement STARTUP.BAT file is used to load any number of machine code files in sequence, for example you could have a batch file load an English language error message file, then go to the BASIC cartridge and run a program, all automatically on switching on the computer. However if you should boot a disk containing such a batch file or type CAR when in DOS without having inserted the BASIC cartridge the system crashes forcing you to reboot I would much prefer the system to switch back to DOS or for an error message to be printed to screen rather than just freezing.

To execute a machine code file that has been saved under the name 'filename.COM' with the INIT/RUN pointers, you only need type its name without the extender. LOAD 'filename.EXT' is used to load and not run a machine code file, in the same way as the BASIC LOAD command, for example if you want to load a special character set, and RUN is used to execute a file that is already in memory or RUN [ address] to run a file starting at that byte. All this seems very sensible to me.

SPCOPY is used to copy files from any disk of any density to another disk which allows you to transfer your single density DOS 2 or DOS-XL files to and from the high speed double density SpartaDOS disks very easily, especially if you have more than one drive. Using a single drive system involves some disk swapping.

LOCK and UNLOCK are not implemented in SpartaDOS and, as I hardly ever used these, I do not feel at all unhappy by their omission.

Possibly one of the most useful DOS utilities will be UNERASE. This enables you to recover accidentally, or otherwise, deleted files as long as they have not been overwritten. How many times have you deleted a file only to find that you could not live without it? You might like to know that with DOS 2, POKEing 3926,234 and 3927,234 allows you to load a deleted file which can then be reSAVED. But remember to press RESET before saving.

All files are dated and timed when written but I have not felt the need to utilise this function mainly because the time/date has to be reset every time at switch on and the SpartaDOS clock runs inaccurately because it is linked to vertical blank occurring 50 times a second compared to 60 used in the USA for which it was designed. SET can be used to correct the date and time if you want to use time/ dating.

Those using the 850 interface or the ATR 8000 will appreciate the RS232 handlers included which do not require reloading when switching to and from DOS.

An interesting range of XIO Atari BASIC functions are available and full instructions for their use are included in the manual For example XIO 40 is used to load, and XIO 41 to save a binary file.

As you would expect a very readable but detailed manual is included giving examples for most functions which novices should be able to follow without difficulty. It also includes some general information about disks together with a warning about the wide practice of notching and writing to the reverse side of single sided disks.

SpartaDOS is available from ICD's UK distributors, Zoomsoft, and costs 39.95 or, better still it is included in the US Doubler package for a total of 79.75. My impression of SpartaDOS is favourable, I like the ease of command processing, being able to switch instantaneously to and from DOS without losing any data, but especially the speed of reading and writing on my US Doubler converted drive. On its own I am not convinced that SpartaDOS offers that much more over DOS-XL, which uses less RAM anyway, can already be used in extended memory form to increase usable RAM, and costs less. However when SpartaDOS is used in conjunction with the US Doubler hardware chips, the package comes into its own. My overall assessment, then, is excellent. For owners of the 1050 disk drive or those who are considering purchasing one I can thoroughly recommend the US Doubler package to you as a 'best buy'. It is well worth every penny of the asking price.