Indus GT Disk Drive

reviewed by Colin Boswell

 

 

Issue 12

Nov/Dec 84

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A World Champion?

Same old problem, every time you write a large program you have to wait 15 minutes to save it on cassette. So what do you do? Save up your pennies for a disk drive. Until now British users could only look with envy at the choice of four independently made drives for the Atari available to users in the States but now Hi-Tech Distribution Ltd, based in Birmingham, are importing the INDUS GT disk drive made by Indus Systems of California and very nice it is too!

The first impression is one of amazement at the packaging. No huge grey cardboard boxes here, the GT comes packed in a shrink-wrapped plastic briefcase type box inside which is a set of dividers allowing you to use it as a disk-box Also inside are four disks, five manuals and a large wad of grey foam, again shrink-wrapped. After removing this layer of foam and plastic, you get to the disk drive, in the now familiar wrapping. The drive itself is finished in matt black with a smoked plastic door covering the drive entrance. It is around half the height of an 810, two thirds the width and the same length. The overall impression is of a very well made piece of equipment.

On the back of the drive are two serial port connectors, the power socket and switch and a four-way dip switch. This switch is used to configure the drive, the first two switches being used to set the disk drive number, the third allowing you to set the density on power up, with the final one unused at the moment On the front of the disk drive is the catch for the door, which once opened gives access to the disk and the control panel. This panel contains a numeric display to the left, three indicators in the middle and four switches on the right. The display is put to several uses, one of which is to show the current sector being accessed. It can also show an error code, if an error such as a bad sector occurs, as well as the drive number and density. The first two indicators light when the disk is powered up and when it is busy, the third light is the protect indicator and lights whenever a disk with a write protect tag is in use. In addition, if a disk is inserted without a write protect tag you may write protect it by pushing the button marked `Protect'.

The other three buttons change the display mode. Pressing the button marked `Track' will clear the display back to the current track after an error or after pressing one of the other buttons. The button marked `Drive type' is used to display both the drive number and the density in use. The GT will work in 810/1050 single density mode, 1050 dual density mode or full double density mode, allowing you to store approximately 90k, 130k and 180k respectively on a single sided disk The mode you are using may be changed in one of three ways. You may set the density entered on power up by changing the switch on the back of the drive or you can use the front panel switches by pressing the `Drive type' and `Track' button together and finally you can change the density from software, although the manual discourages changing modes without rebooting as few Disk Operating Systems can handle it There is one more button marked 'Error' and it is used to display or clear the last error encountered. Error messages are displayed in the form of a letter showing the type of operation together with a number showing the type of error.

After obtaining permission from the importers, I opened up the review drive to inspect its innards. Inside it is clean and neat, with well constructed boards and all wires grouped together with cable ties. There are two boards and on the side of the main board are two expansion connectors which will be used to provide unspecified add-ons at a later date. The mechanism itself is very quiet in operation, barely rising above a quiet hum when accessing the disk All connectors are of good quality and the serial lead supplied is a massive five feet long so there is no danger of pulling the GT off its perch. The power supply is manufactured specially in this country and is around the same size as the 810 power supply although there is some twenty volts difference! One problem that may occur if you own two or more drives, is that the plastic dust door on the GT may jam or be trapped shut if stacked and therefore the GT must be on top of any 810 or 1050 and two or more GTs may be a problem to stack.

Unlike the 1050 which only comes with a single disk containing DOS 3, the Indus comes with a package of four disks and five manuals, one of which is the drive operating manual. The Disk Operating System (DOS) supplied is DOS XL written by Optimized Systems Software (OSS), who produce such programs as BASIC XL and ACTION!, so it has a fine pedigree. Although, as supplied, DOS XL does contain an Atari type menu, I tend to use it in command line mode which is virtually identical to CP/M type systems, down to the use of the COM extension for machine code files. (Imagine being able to go from BASIC to DOS, type DIR for a directory listing, and back to BASIC without waiting for any DUP. SYS files to load!). Configuring DOS XL to work with both single and double density drives at the same time is relatively easy, enabling you to use a number of different drives at once. Unfortunately, the manual supplied with the GT version of DOS XL is no match for the original written by OSS so I recommend that anybody who buys the Indus GT should try and get hold of a copy of the OSS manual. The only problem with DOS XL is that it does not support `dual density' mode, although with double density available, I do not see the need.

In addition to DOS XL, the GT is provided with three software packages. The first is called the 'Estate Word Processor' and, as its name suggests, it is a simple text editor. On loading `Estate' you are presented with a title page. Pressing any key takes you to the main menu which is split into three sections. The top line displays various numbers relating to the text size and also shows any error messages. The bottom line is the command line and is used to execute special instructions such as load and save text and the rest of the screen is the blank `paper' on which you will write your document When typing in text, the software will automatically scroll the text if you go over twenty characters. This is better than other editors such as Atariwriter, which actually wrap the text on the screen and change it to fit in the margins at Print time, since it gives a better idea of what is on the screen.

In use, the word processor is relatively simple to get to grips with and provides a useful way of handling your daily correspondence. Since the maximum line length is 255 characters, a number of other possibilities exist such as the production of tables or forms. Although some of the commands are a little obscure and the error messages terse, the manual is quite useful and comes with a handy reference card. If this were available 'off the shelf' it would certainly give some other systems a run for their money!

The second package is called 'Data Manager' which is, not surprisingly, a small database. Although limited in scope, it provides a good introduction to database technology and could probably be used to catalogue stamps or recipes and the like.

The final package has a jokey title 'Albert E. Spreadsheet' and is a jokey program. Supposedly a spreadsheet, it is written in BASIC and is consequently slow. This could be forgiven if it were not so cumbersome to use. There is a slip of paper supplied with the manual saying that the program has been copy protected against piracy so I suppose someone must consider it of some value!

In conclusion, the Indus GT is a very nice piece of equipment and Hi-Tech are to be congratulated for importing it. During the review period it has never given any problems and it stood up to some quite rigorous testing. With one exception, the software supplied with the drive is of good quality and, in my view, the DOS supplied is the best available. The only question mark arises over the price. At nearly 400, the Indus is a hefty investment although the software included does make it better value for money. I would certainly have one, if someone would lend me four hundred pounds!

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