The XEP80

Review by John S. Davison


Issue 25

Jan/Feb 87

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Atari's 80 column board and printer interface

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 package.

At 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!