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Article #45 (74 is last):
Newsgroups: freenet.sci.comp.atari.product.8bit.reviews
From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: XEP80 / hardware
Posted-By: xx004 (aa700 - Michael Current)
Reply-To: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Date: Tue Apr 21 19:46:07 1992


Reprinted from the A.C.E.C. BBS (614)-471-8559

______________________________________
Xx XEP80 REVIEW
______________________________________
Living With the XEP80 a Subjective
Review by Wally Wong, BRACE

Yes, folks, it's finally here, the
long awaited 80 column adaptor from
Atari, the XEP80.  Actually, it's more
than an 80-column display module, it's
also a parallel printer interface (Due
to deadlines, I did not have a chance
to investigate the printer aspects of
the XEP80 but will tell what the
claims are).  There are some delights
and some plights you should be aware
of as well as a plethora of potential
programming hacking that could keep
some Atari enthusiast awake many a
nights.

The Atari XEP80 Interface Module is an
80-column video display controller and
"standard" parallel printer interface
for all 8-bit computers with a minimum
of 16K RAM. The XEP80 looks just like
the Atari SX212 modem, same size,
dimension and color - minus the lights
on the front panel. The XEP80 comes
with just about everything you need;
video cable to connect the module to a
composite monitor (monochrome
recommended), power supply adaptor
(Egads! Another one, that makes six!),
the module, a 20 page owner's manual,
a warranty card (that no one I know
sends in), and a 5 1/4" distribution
disk, all for $79.99,list.

A nice long cable runs out the rear of
the module that connects to your
computer via joystick port one or two.
Most will probably elect to use port
two and keep the other available for a
joystick. No problem except one of the
demo programs (WINDOW.BAS) will only
work if the joystick is in port two
and the module plugged into one. The
power switch is located in the rear
and a tiny diagonal window emits a
subtle green light on the front panel
when the power is on. The video cable
is a simple cable with RCA male jacks
on both ends. One end connects to the
rear of the module and the other to
your composite monitor.

The "standard" parallel printer port
is a DB25 parallel female connector
found on the STs and IBM type systems;
not centronics, and not a Atari 850 or
P:R: Connection connector. This is one
of the reasons why I haven't tried the
printer aspect of the module; no cable
and not being able to use my 850
parallel cable. The reason for using
DB25 connection is for
"standardization" which means you can
obtain a printer cable from just about
any computer store, and not be
hand-cuffed to "Atari Only" vendors
who would be the only ones carrying
850/PRC parallel cables (but we will
make our purchase at our local Atari
vendor, right!!). If you wish to use
the parallel printer port soley as a
printer port, hold down the shift key
while booting the disk and continue to
hold until its done loading.  This
will allow output to the printer
although you'll be in 40 columns
through the computer video port or RF.
Here is what the owner's manual says
about selecting the printer port:

"When you start up your system with
the XEP80 Module, the module is
prepared to direct output to a printer
throught the parallel port(P1:).
Specifying P2: directs output to the
ATARI 850 Interface Module; P3:
outputs to the 1025 Priner; P4: to the
1020 Color Plotter; P5: to the 1027
Printer; P6: to the 1029 Printer; P7:
to the XMM801 Printer; and P8: to the
XDM121 Printer."

There is a "PRINTER.BAS" program on
the distribution disk. I haven't
looked at it, it may have something to
do with configuration and the XEP80.
The XEP80 also sports an internal 2K
buffer for printing. Nice touch.
(Nicer if its easily expandable,
that's too much to ask of Atari.)
That's all I can say about the XEP80
as a printer interface.

Turn on the XEP80, monitor, disk
drive(s), insert the XEP80 disk (of
course you made a copy of the
original, right?) and turn on the
computer. The XEP80 handler comes as
an AUTORUN.SYS file so it will boot up
automatically. If your monitor is
adjusted to give you a full screen
with a normal 40 column screen (like
mine), the first thing you will notice
is the bottom half of the last three
characters of the "READY" prompt of
BASIC in the upper left hand corner of
the screen.  If you type "DOS" to get
to the DOS menu (DOS 2.5 comes on the
disk), the first line of the heading
is tucked somewhere beneath the top of
your monitor chassis. The next thing
you will notice is the bunch of tiny
characters (relative to 40 column
characters) on the screen! Folks, you
now have an 80 column display. The
characters are quite readable on the
BMC and Commodore 1702 composite color
monitors. The display looks !great! on
a monochrome composite monitor (once I
got mine to work properly).

The characters are defined within a
7x10 cell (7 wide x 10 high) compare
to 8x8 cell used normally. I think
this is the reason for the truncated
display at the top of the screen; the
characters are taller than normal and
pushing the top of the display. Now,
this is just a guess, I'm no video
display wiz. This can be corrected by
adjusting the vertical width.
Correcting for 80-colums will create a
smaller vertical screen when you
return to 40 columns. This is okay if
the vertical adjustment is located on
the front of the monitor or easily
accessible, if not, you'll have to
decide if you want to make this
adjustment and then find someone
qualified to do it.

The XEP80 can actually display up to
256 character columns but only 80 are
available at a time (Hmm, doesn't
AtariWriter Plus scroll in 256
columns??!!). The demo program
"WINDOW.BAS" and a joystick
illustrates this aspect nicely.
Remember, the module has to be plugged
into port one and the joystick in two
for the program to work. If you want
to disable the XEP80 but want to use
the printer port, hold down the shift
key when booting the system. This
disables the 80-column and enables the
normal video output; composite video
port or RF.  The XEP80 handler
disables the ANTIC chip from
displaying and display I/O is directed
to the XEP80.  There is a document
file on the distribution disk that
explains all this in detail.

The distribution disk comes with DOS
2.5, the XEP80 driver, assorted demo
programs written in BASIC, assembly
language source code, and a doc file
that goes into the hardware and
software specifics in detail.

The following are some thrills and
chills I've experienced during the
course of a week since I bought the
XEP80.  Remember, these are only
preliminary experiences and are not
conclusive, especially the items
listed in "CHILLS."  I qualify that
because the XEP80 handler is
relocatable and compatibilty may just
be finding the right spot for the
handler.

THRILLS:
1)It is compatible with SpartaDos 3.2.
  The XEP80 handler (the AUTORUN.SYS
  file on the distribution disk) must
  be installed through the
  STARTUP.BAT. I renamed the
  AUTORUN.SYS file to XEP80.COM and
  when creating the STARTUP.BAT file,
  the XEP80 file should be the last
  item in the batch. I have not tried
  it with the Time/Date Display (TD)
  line since I rarely use it because
  of the conflicts with other
  programs. Note: If you happen to
  setup your ramdisk (RD.COM) after
  installing the handler, you'll get
  garbage on the screen. I found that
  by turning the XEP80 off and back
  on, the screen clears and behaves.

2)ATARI BASIC - you still have a
  maximum of three lines per line
  number but now three lines equals
  240 characters instead of 120. I
  would refrain from extending BASIC
  lines beyond 120 characters to
  maintain compatibility between the
  XEP80 and standard 40 column screen.
  SETCOLOR AND DRAWTO commands cannot
  be used.

3)MAC/65, yes!

4)The display is good on a color
  monitor and great on a monochrome.
  The doc file provides plenty of
  information to develop some great
  applications taking advantage of the
  XEP80.  I've been looking at some
  PD/Shareware text editors written in
  BASIC that could easily be modified
  to use the XEP80. Remember to give
  credit to the author is you plan on
  using existing programs as a
  foundation for your programming.
  I'll leave it to your good
  programming morals to contact
  authors before you start hacking
  someones program and distributing
  them.

5)The demo programs on the
  distribution disk are a great source
  for programming ideas and tips on
  how to use the many attributes of
  the XEP80.                           
CHILLS:

1)There are no programs available that
  uses the XEP80 except for the demo
  programs.

2)AtariWriter 80, if I may call it
  that, will be a couple of months
  before it is released. November,
  maybe?? Contrary to some rumours
  that the AW80 was cancelled or
  shelved, the AW80 is being worked
  on; confirmed with Neil Harris on
  GEnie.

3)No ACTION! XEP80 does not like the
  way ACTION! behaves with the screen.

4)No BASIC XE. Same reason as number
  (3). Probably the same with BASIX
  XL.

5)I also found that with the system
  on, it may try to reboot when
  turning the XEP80 off and on with
  DOS 2.5, sometimes. Turning the
  XEP80 off and on like this is
  probably not good for your system,
  so make sure you process the
  SpartaDos batch files correctly to
  avoid this.

6)Inconvenience between switching
  plugs connecting the monitor between
  the video cable coming out of my XE
  and the XEP80. You can't have both
  connected at the same. There are two
  solutions-
  a)run out and buy a monochrome
    composite monitor and connect the
    XEP80 into this monitor and keep
    the video connected to the color
    composite monitor (or vice versa
    if your present monitor is
    monochrome) or
  b)build a switch box that will
    handle all the different
    connections. Plans for the switch
    box I built is simple and I'll
    submit it to PSAN...next month.

Neutral Notes:

1)Be sure you try out the monitor with
  the XEP80 before you buy.

2)Some monitors have a 40 or 80 column
  switch either inside or outside.
  This switch might have to be set to
  obtain a decent display (as
  suggested by Darryl, Atari Tech.).

3)If your monochrome monitor looks
  fine in 40 columns but you get
  flashes of indecipherable dots, try
  adjusting the horizontal hold.
  Again, this adjustment might be
  internal so think before you jump.

4)The XEP80 supports bit mapped
  graphics, 320x200.

5)the XEP80 handler replaces the E:,
  S:, and P: vectors in the Handler
  Address Table.

Personal Touch:
I believe this is the single product
that will make or break the "only a
game machine" mentallity of the eight
bit Ataris. If the applications
software is done well and released in
reasonable time and the advent of the
new disk drive and maybe a drop in
price, the Atari XE will be the most
affordable, versatile and serious
computer system on the market. Imagine
the day when new computer buyers
choose the Atari because it's
AFFORDABLE and DOES THE JOB WELL!....
and it has great graphics and games.
We know this already, now it's time
for the public to find out.

-- 
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
   The Cleveland Free-Net Atari SIG is the Central Atari Information Network
      Internet: currentm@carleton.edu / UUCP: ...!umn-cs!ccnfld!currentm
     BITNET: currentm%carleton.edu@{interbit} / Cleveland Free-Net: aa700





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