Atari's 80 column board and
For me, an avid 8-bit user, there was one outstanding
item at last year's PCW show. It's presence took me completely by
surprise and generated more excitement than any of the myriad other
products on display. I found it on the Atari stand, seemingly
unnoticed by the passing multitudes.
'It' goes by the catchy name of XEP80. It's purpose?
Wait for it.... to provide a high quality 80 column display for the
8-bit machines. Yes folks, Atari have actually gone and produced the
80 column board we've all been longing for for all these years. And
it's a cracker!!!
It plugs into the joystick port and is driven by a
handler booted from disk. You can use it straight away with BASIC
and other programming languages, but unfortunately not with
Atariwriter. An Atari representative said he thought this anomaly
would be handled in one of two ways. Either a new version of
Atariwriter Plus, or a special add-on 80 column driver would be
produced for it - he wasn't sure which. He said he expected other
producers of serious 8-bit software to support it fairly soon.
Don't forget you need a decent monitor to make use of
this device. Atari were using a Philips monochrome monitor
for the demonstration, and the quality in 80 column was nothing less
than superb - the text was rock steady, razor sharp and perfectly
readable. As well as displaying normal 80 column mode text, the
XEP80 has one or two additional tricks to offer, too. Text fields
can be displayed in normal or inverse video, and as a steady display
or flashing. You can also choose to have the cursor flash - no more
losing it on a screenful of text! There's also a double height
character set you can use for headings, menus, etc, and the full
Atari character graphics set is available. The device has it's own
8K memory and this is accessible to the programmer, allowing use of
custom character sets.
As if this weren't enough, Atari have included a
standard parallel printer interface on the back of the box, so you
can plug in any Centronics type printer. It sounds as if this device
could be the basis of the rumoured 'Amstrad bashing' word processing
this point I was reaching for my cheque book, but unfortunately the
XEP80 was not available at the time. The model on display was one of
only two in the country. The good news is that it is scheduled for
the end of 1986 and should be available in the shops by the time you
read this. The cost? Somewhere around £70!
I guess this has just solved the problem of what to
buy with all that money you were given for Christmas! I just can't
wait to get my hands on one!