Double the density .. twice the
speed .. worth the price?
are now producing some superb products for the 8-bit user, and the
two reviewed here can only enhance their reputation further. The
first is SpartaDOS, a replacement for Atari DOS which can be used on
any 8-bit disk system. Better still, you can use it with its
companion ICD product, the US Doubler, a hardware modification to
add sparkling performance to your old 1050 disk drive. They are
marketed in the UK by Frontier Software, who sell them for £29.95
each or, as reviewed here, in a special combined package for a very
SpartaDOS is an advanced Disk Operating System for
use on Atari 8-bit machines. In fact, it's a whole family of DOS
programs bundled together in a package known as the SpartaDOS
Construction Set. Its name is derived from the way you can build a
system disk containing a version of SpartaDOS appropriate to your
purposes and hardware configuration.
The package includes two 5.25" disks containing all
the software, a comprehensive 161 page instruction manual, plus a 36
page supplement covering SpartaDOS V3.2, the latest version. The
combined package also contains the US Doubler chip set.
FREE GAMES AND DEMO's!
The first disk contains four different versions of
SpartaDOS V1.1 plus its command/utility files. These may be used
with any 8-bit machine having 24K or more of memory. They're not
directly compatible with Atari DOS 2.0/2.5, but the powerful copy
utility provided can convert files from Atari DOS to SpartaDOS
format and vice-versa. The four versions include the standard DOS
with and without US Doubler high speed support and two cut down
versions for use simply as game loaders or with AUTORUN.SYS files
Side B of the disk contains a working sample of the
SpartaDOS binary file loader menu. Included with it are a set of
seven really good public domain games, and three spectacular
graphics demonstration programs — a nice bonus.
The second disk contains SpartaDOS V3.2 and two
different flavours of V2.3. These versions will only run on XL/XE
machines with 64K or more, and have a built-in Atari DOS 2.012.5
handler, making them directly compatible with Atari DOS files.
V3.2 is the latest version, including support for
ICD's R-Time 8 realtime clock cartridge, BASIC XE, and hard disks
amongst other things. The only difference between the two V2.3's is
that at boot-up one gives priority to any installed cartridge
software, while the other gives priority to SpartaDOS. Between them,
all these different versions should cover virtually any requirement
— you just have to decide which one is most relevant to your needs.
SpartaDOS provides you with vastly improved
facilities in a number of different areas. Firstly, it gives
additional features not found in Atari DOS such as use of volume
labels, sub-directories (like ST folders), time and date stamping of
files, command files, batch files, and keyboard buffering. It's got
45 extra commands — over and above the equivalents of Atari DOS menu
items. And if you still feel SpartaDOS is missing something, the
command file facility allows you to expand the system by writing
your own commands.
Secondly, it improves on facilities provided in Atari
DOS with such features as handling up to 8 disk drives, expanded
capacity directories, locking at disk level as well as file level,
and an excellent way of tagging files for copying as a batch instead
of handling each one individually — a great time saver.
Thirdly, it provides support for virtually all types
of disk drives in single (90K), 1050 enhanced (127K), true double
density (180K), and even hard disks via the Supra hard disk
interface. It handles RAMdisks too, and not only on the 130XE. When
using BASIC on any XL/XE it will use the 8K of RAM under the BASIC
ROM as a small RAMdisk.
Finally, it complements ICD's US Doubler hardware
modification for the 1050 disk drive, giving true double density
capability (180K per side) and a spectacular increase in speed.
Incredibly, even with all these additional facilities
it gives you MORE free memory for BASIC programs than Atari DOS!
This wizardry is achieved by holding some of the code in the memory
under the OS ROM. How about that for efficient use of resources!
COMMANDS OR MENU?
SpartaDOS is essentially a command driven DOS, and in
use it reminded me of IBM PC-DOS. If you don't like using commands
then you can invoke the SpartaDOS menu function. This is worlds away
from the simple Atari DOS menu, but it can make things easier for
construct a SpartaDOS system disk by initialising it with the
appropriate density and sector skew, and choosing the version of
SpartaDOS you want to use. Sector skew determines how the sectors
are physically mapped out onto a disk track, and the US Doubler
requires a different skew from standard. US Doubler skewed disks
will still work on an unmodified 1050, but slower than usual.
US Doubler itself looks most unexciting, but its effect is anything
but! It consists of just two chips which you fit onto the 1050's
circuit board, replacing the ones already there. In most cases you
just unplug the old chips and insert the new ones however, Atari
produced drives with two different types of chips, so if you have
one of the less common types you also have to unsolder and resolder
two jumper cables as part of the installation process.
The most difficult part of the exercise is
disassembling the drive to get to the board and reassembling it
afterwards, for which you need nimble fingers. ICD provide excellent
instructions, so most people should be able manage it without too
much hassle. The whole job took me under an hour, but I didn't have
any soldering to do. Once the chips are installed SpartaDOS can take
advantage of them straight away.
In practice, the US Doubler and SpartaDOS worked
together flawlessly, happily transferring data back and forth
between disks of different densities and between Atari DOS and
SpartaDOS disks. The US Doubler handled the switching between
densities completely transparently — you don't even know it's
The US Doubler really makes itself felt when used with the high
speed versions of SpartaDOS. The normal pedestrian beep-beep-beep of
1050 I/O is replaced with a frenzied torrent of beepery as the data
screams to or from the 1050 at three times normal speed. It's truly
A NEW LEASE OF
hardly recognise your 8-bit machine when used with these two
products. It really will take on a new lease of life, gaining
facilities, operating convenience and a performance sparkle you
never thought possible. And they'll probably save you time and money
too, particularly if you use a lot of disks.
I have only two criticisms. It's difficult to find
things in the highly detailed manuals as there's no index and the
built-in time-of-day clock runs slow, presumably because it's
designed for use in the USA with a 60Hz VBI. Frontier Software
really should have fixed this before selling the product in the UK.
In summary, if you're a disk user you'll benefit from
SpartaDOS. If you're also a 1050 user, you can give your system a
tremendous boost by using the combined
SpartaDOS US Doubler package. These products represent unbeatable
value and provide you with the ultimate DOS upgrade for your 8-bit
machine. Buy them.