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Article #61 (74 is last):
Newsgroups: freenet.sci.comp.atari.product.8bit.reviews
From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: ComputerHouse Controller Card / hardware
Posted-By: xx004 (aa700 - Michael Current)
Reply-To: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Date: Fri Jun  5 22:26:32 1992




Reprinted from Usenet.


  ComputerHouse Controller Card.
  ------------------------------

  Review by Dean Garraghty.
  -------------------------

  The Computer House controller card was available from Computer House in the
  UK. Unfortunately, they ceased trading a while back. But, there are still
  some of these things around, and you may (like I did) get one second hand.

  What is the controller card?
  ----------------------------

  The controller card is a small circuit board which was available for both XL
  and XE machines. It required some soldering to fit. It also came with a
  master disk containing various control software. More on this later. A manual
  was also supplied.

  The basic idea behind the controller card, was that special software could be
  loaded and remain invisible to whatever software you were running normally.
  This allows you to do some pretty clever things.

  ComputerHouse calls the controller card the "Desktop Management System".

  The Software
  ------------

  Supplied with the controller card is a disk of master utilities. This disk is
  double sided, but each side is the same. Side 1 is for printers with 216/n
  variable line feed, and side 2 is for printers with 144/n variable line feed.

  You simply put the disk in drive 1 and turn the computer on. You then get the
  main dektop menu. From here, you can change system parameters, or load other
  desktop utilities from the disk. This is what is available:

  System character sets - you can choose from 14 character sets. Once you have
  set the one you want, it will remain active until you finally turn the
  computer off.

  Control Panel - Lets you alter various parameters. You can turn auto scroll
  on/off, turn noisy I/O on/off, turn the key click on/off, turn inverse flash
  on/off, turn fast cursor on/off, change colour defaults, and alter cassette
  baud rate. Again, these will all remain active until you turn the computer
  off.

  SuperDump II - this desktop utility is very useful. It allows you to stop
  your main program and dump the contents of memory out to disk. This is useful
  for software development, but is also a good way of transferring those
  awkward tapes to disk, because this utility dumps the program AFTER it has
  loaded, therefore by-passing the muti-part tape load problem.

  The O.S. boot menu - This allows you to convert Mutiboot menus to a menu
  which remains resident under the control of the controller card. This saves
  you having to keep loading the menu from disk.

  400/800 O.S. saver - 400/800 owners are in for a treat here! If you load the
  desktop software into a 400 or 800, and then select this option, it dumps the
  O.S to a bootable disk file. Then you just boot this disk into an XL/XE with
  a controller card and the old O.S remains resident. Your XL/XE is now the
  closest you can get to a 400/800 because you have the exact old O.S in your
  XL/XE. This means you have to plug Basic in on cartridge. Also, the self test
  is replaced by the memo pad! This is the utilmate translator!

  Snapshot printer dumper - another excellent utility for those of you with an
  Epson compatible printer or an XMM801. You install the printer dumper on your
  controller card and then boot a game or whatever. When you want to dump a
  screen to the printer, you just press the HELP key. The controller card takes
  over and freezes the program and dumps the screen to the printer. When it's
  done, the program just continues! The printer dumper has draft, SHQ I, and
  SHQ II modes. Draft seems good enough for me, but SHQ must be even better.
  Unfortunately, these modes don't seem to work on my XMM801.

  Disk I/O analyzer - If you load this util in your desktop, any disk you boot
  will cause the controller card to send data to your printer, with the
  following details: disk status, command status, hardware status, memory
  location, sector, memory buffer, commands sent to disk drive, disk status,
  call addresses. Each sector read from the disk causes a line of data to be
  printed detailing what exactly is happening. This allows you to find lost or
  corrupted files. Holding down the HELP key stops it doing this.

  Format disk - Formats a disk in non-standard format. Just used for the
  following option:

  Save desktop to disk - this allows you to save your favourite set-up to disk
  as a boot file. This saves you having to keep selecting from the menu each
  time.

  Direct exit - performs a cold start. This saves all the set-up details for
  you in the desktop, and then boots your disk in the normal way. You can also
  hold down START here as well if you want to boot a tape.

  The control panel
  -----------------

  The control panel is a set of little pins which are mounted on top of the
  computer. You have 3 little blocks which slot over the pins in various ways.
  This gives you extra control over the desktop.

  Desklock - with this set, your own program is unable to re-set your
  controller card.

  RAM mode - your program is allowed to re-set the desktop with this set.
  Mainly used if you want to write your own utils for the desktop.

  Desktop on - with this set you can use the desktop facilities.

  Desktop off - switches the desktop off completely. Computer now acts like a
  standard XL/XE.

  Basic on/off - lets you switch Basic on and off.

  You can also switch all these settings while your programs are running.

  The manual
  ----------

  The manual comes as a pile of A4 sheets stapled in one corner. Not the most
  professional looking document I have seen. It also seems that the author
  didn't have a very good grasp of English! But, it contains everything you
  need to know, even if it is a little brief!

  Problems
  --------

  It appears that the controller card uses the 16K of RAM hidden under the O.S
  to store the utils you load onto it. This causes problems if you want to use
  SpartaDos X or Turbo-Basic or anything else which uses this same area. You
  have to turn the desktop off in this case.

  Conclusions
  -----------

  The controller card is a technical piece of kit, which may not be of use to
  everyone. But if you see one available, grab it! The XL and XE versions of it
  are different, so make sure you know which it is for. Price guide: XL or XE
  card on its own - 20-25pounds, fitted in computer - 35-50pounds. Make sure
  you get the utils disk and manual. It's useless without these. Also,
  ComputerHouse released extra disks for use with the card. I have the 1029
  printer dump. This is the same as the dump on the master disk, but this util
  dumps the screen to a 1029 printer.
-- 
 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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