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dark willow

Best solution for 80 column display?

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I'm looking into getting an 80 column display adapter for the 800XL, but confused by the options out there. I know the VBXE is out there, but I'm frighteningly hopeless at soldering, so really tossing up between a XEP-80 and other external or software solutions. Is there anything out there that is TurboBasic XL and SpartaDOS X compatible that can run comfortably on a stock 64k system?

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There are 3 choices.

 

1) VBXE: This is the best option because it gives you nice crisp 80 columns supported in local hardware, easily programmable and adaptable to just about any standard application. It does require an analog RGB monitor (Can use standard VGA displays with the right FPGA core and oscillator installed).

 

2) Software 80 column handlers: These are slower because they draw the characters on the hires graphics screen and depend on a resident handler. If you want to read this legibly, you really need an svideo (chroma/luma) monitor. Good examples are the C=1084, 1084s, 1701, 1702, etc.. or the magnavox CM series. Or any display that has decent resolution and will do a clean s-video input.

 

3) XEP80. This thing is a total pile of shit, and not worth considering for anything other than collector/novelty value. It requires a memory resident handler, which sends the text data out of joystick port 2, to the XEP80, which displays it at about ~4800bps or so on a second screen which must be a composite input screen that has high enough resolution to show 640x200 pixels reliably.. (an old monochrome monitor such as the ones made for Apple II or very early IBM XT mono graphics cards works best.)

 

If I was you.. Since you are in the U.K.... I would talk to FlashJazzCat. A VBXE install doesnt take very much time. You do need to have somewhat competant electronics/soldering skills to install any internal upgrade in a reliable manner. John may be able to help you with the install.

Edited by MEtalGuy66

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So I am I understanding this correctly, that the VBXE can run existing DOS applications (i.e. TurboBasic, Kyan Pascal etc. in 80 column mode?). If so, that would be really useful.

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With the right drivers (and most of those available are currently designed with SpartaDOS X in mind, although KMK's S_VBXE driver can be installed under other DOSes), many applications which use the standard screen handler for output can indeed be run in 80 columns. I'd recommend VBXE at the end of the day if you want 80 column output. There are many software solutions available, but they tend to consume a lot of RAM, and for sheer readability VBXE cannot be bested. The fact you also get RGB output is a tremendous bonus.

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Hello guys

 

The XEP80 receives data at about 15.7 kbps. Check out some stuff Erhard Puetz found out at my special stuff page. Start by reading XEP_1.HTM and XEP80_2.HTM, that'll tell you why the XEP80 seems to be slow.

 

Sincelery

 

Mathy

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The XEP80 was/is a freakin joke.. It's one of the worst excuses for a half-assed defunct hardware solution ever passed on a consumer base. It is not a serious 80 column solution. Its by far the worst choice of the 3.

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Hello guys

 

The XEP80 receives data at about 15.7 kbps. Check out some stuff Erhard Puetz found out at my special stuff page. Start by reading XEP_1.HTM and XEP80_2.HTM, that'll tell you why the XEP80 seems to be slow.

 

Sincelery

 

Mathy

 

I had a look at the articles. A lot of it was a bit beyond me, but very interesting as it seems the XEP was crippled more by Atari's sloppy programming than by inherent flaws in the hardware, though the choice of the joystick port for screen data transmissions seems bizzare to the say the least. Maybe less at the time, though, given the way terminals worked over standard RS232 ports in the days of yore - and as a plain text interface I guess that beyond a certain thresholdm higher bandwidth didn't make that much difference.

 

Do the (improved) drivers work in a similar fashion to those of the VBXE, in that programs using the standard screen handler will be redirected to the XEP?

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Hello dark willow

 

Sorry, I haven't used the XEP80 in ages and don't use the XL/XE much at the moment either. And it's been a while since I translated the articles. What I can say is that the XEP80 was crippled by software as well as hardware design choices. The main chip inside can handle 64kB of RAM, 16 bits instead of 8 (IIRC), bank switching is mentioned in the data sheets (just above "BlackBox settings") and they could have chosen as many bits per color (R, G and B) as they wanted.

 

Sincerely

 

Mathy

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The VBXE can be called directly by programs via hardware functions. The XEP80 can not.

 

And yeah, the XEP80 is an ill-conceived hardware design from the ground up. The chip they are using is designed to be the core of a data terminal, not a display device.

 

As mathy pointed out, they could have added more support hardware on the device and probably made it better, but still, it would be a device that takes serial input and displays it. Its not anything close to what anyone could ever consider a "native display".

 

Today, with USB 2.0 capable of 430Mb/sec+ transfer rates, a "serial connected" display is useable as a secondary display, but it still isnt worth crap for anything requiring fast updates of large portions of the screen. In the 80s, on an 8-bit computer, with a 6520 PIA doing the serial "talking", its absolutely absurd to think you are going to get anything resembling RESPONSIVE output worthy of a primary display.

Edited by MEtalGuy66

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While the XEP80's interface is indeed goofy and CPU intensive, I'm not sure speed is that much of a problem for a text screen. Consider that the XL/XE OS's screen editor achieves putchar speeds that are well below what the SIO bus achieves at 19,200 baud -- a throughput below 1K chars/sec -- but was used for the primary display of a wide variety of Atari programs.

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Speed is an issue.. Functions like insert line, delete line, etc. are not natively supported by the terminal chip in the XEP80 the same way that they are on the atari's OS text editing. So in many cases, it must me done in software, over the serial connection, or not at all. Also, the thing doesnt have an internal text buffer that is kept in sync with what is buffered in the atari (or if there is, Ive never seen it used effectively,) so scrolling up and down is MAJORLY slower when dealing with large text documents more than one screen in length. There is a hugely noticable difference.

 

Basically, its about like using a terminal at 4800bps to edit actively scrolling text on a remote machine. It has very similar effective latency.

 

Bottom line is that apps like The Last Word have shown us that optimized software 80 columns on a sharp display can vastly outperform the XEP80. And as far as speed comparisson of the XEP80 to the VBXE.. heh. There is none..

Edited by MEtalGuy66
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I'm looking into getting an 80 column display adapter for the 800XL, but confused by the options out there. I know the VBXE is out there, but I'm frighteningly hopeless at soldering, so really tossing up between a XEP-80 and other external or software solutions. Is there anything out there that is TurboBasic XL and SpartaDOS X compatible that can run comfortably on a stock 64k system?

 

I think the best solution for a specific case depends on what kind of functionality and speed that particular case expects from the 80 column display. From a technical standpoint VBXE is definitely the most advanced, but you may or may not need (which seems to be the case from what I can see) that for your particular application. So if a software solution or an XEP80 will do the job efficiently maybe that's all you need. And you will be the one who will make that decision. For an Atari enthusiast latest and greatest is not always the best and the person may not be using software designed to perform best on newer devices,sometimes even the nostalgia value of a device or simply being a collector will dictate what solution needs to be selected.

 

If I was in your place I would probably go with a XEP80, but that only reflects my position in this subject according to how I use my vintage equipment.

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Hello guys

 

You could use the VBXE as the first screen and the XEP80 for the second screen. A second screen is nice if you want to have extra data on screen that you do not want to appear on the "normal" screen. For instance when you are testing something while programming and you don't want the extra data to mess up the layout of you first screen.

 

Sincerely

 

Mathy

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I have an XEP80 and used it as a second screen back in the day. I found it quite usable for terminal program use (at the time I believe the fastest modem I owned was 2400bps or possibly 9600bps) and some word processing. Although it seems like a bad design (I always though it strange to use the joystick port), it worked, at least for certain things. I had a copy of AtariWriter that worked with it as well.

 

One thing is certain: the text it very sharp and looks great on a monochrome composite display... It's too bad it wasn't faster.

 

The missed opportunity for Atari was to design a parallel bus version of the 80 column interface, or simply build it into the system. The 8-bit Atari could have been a very cost effective dedicated word processor or terminal type system. I believe that these capabilities were more enticing on the Apple II than the CPM/z80... 80 column is really a must for word processing. AtariWriter was serviceable, and 80 column versions of teh Synapse apps would have been rather awesome.

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I have an XEP80 and used it as a second screen back in the day. I found it quite usable for terminal program use (at the time I believe the fastest modem I owned was 2400bps or possibly 9600bps) and some word processing. Although it seems like a bad design (I always though it strange to use the joystick port), it worked, at least for certain things. I had a copy of AtariWriter that worked with it as well.

 

One thing is certain: the text it very sharp and looks great on a monochrome composite display... It's too bad it wasn't faster.

 

The missed opportunity for Atari was to design a parallel bus version of the 80 column interface, or simply build it into the system. The 8-bit Atari could have been a very cost effective dedicated word processor or terminal type system. I believe that these capabilities were more enticing on the Apple II than the CPM/z80... 80 column is really a must for word processing. AtariWriter was serviceable, and 80 column versions of teh Synapse apps would have been rather awesome.

According to Mathy the XEP80 hardware is capable of higher speed, but is limited by poor software.

 

An advantage of using the joystick port is that the XEP80 can be used at the same time as a PBI/ECI HDD interface, and can also be used with machines lacking a PBI/ECI.

http://www.mathyvannisselroy.nl/xep_1.htm

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Had Atari included the ECI in the 65XE I suspect we might have seen a PBI 80 column device.

 

I do recall seeing a modified driver for the XEP80 that permitted 320x200 graphics with PLOT and DRAWTO - a nice change compared to the stock driver that only permitted you to send images bit by bit

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There's a couple of solutions similar to the XEP80. Mostly AVR processors with monochrome VGA output. They just use a two bit resistor DAC<?> hooked to a couple of port pins of the AVR to generate video and sync. They have been evolving as the AVRs get faster and have more internal memory. They started off as 40 columns and are now up to 80 columns last time I checked. Has to do with internal memory of the AVR of course, first implementations were done on processors with only 1k RAM.

 

There may come a time when existing SIO2SD type devices will be able to include VGA output *IF* you want it. I think the existing AVRs are already up to ~16k which means they could handle existing SIO2SD software and buffer 8 pages of text. I'm personally in doubt there would be much of a move to something like this since it would take people away from PBI devices to the slower SIO. I guess what I am trying to say here is it could be done, probably at 57k SIO speeds, with some degree of integration with existing software. Pretty huge task w/o a lot of chance for recovering any of the costs.

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I have an old Antic magazine with a write-up on the XEP 80, and the reason they used the joystick port had little to do with the 65XE, Atari wanted maximum market market for the device including ALL the 8-bit line; 400/800/XL/XE and the only way was through the controller ports to satisfy all Atarians.

 

I just use the software solutions for my 80 column output, and with Supervideo 2.1 upgrade in my 1200XL, and my 1084s monitor, software 80 columns looks great. The Last Word processor is really the only time I use it, and I'm perfectly happy with that solution. But there are other software solutions that work just as well for use with programming like Turbo Basic and Textpro.

 

 

I hope to upgrade to a VBXE soon, but the last reason for me getting one is for 80 column output.

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I have an old Antic magazine with a write-up on the XEP 80, and the reason they used the joystick port had little to do with the 65XE, Atari wanted maximum market market for the device including ALL the 8-bit line; 400/800/XL/XE and the only way was through the controller ports to satisfy all Atarians.

 

Just because an ANTIC columnist speculated along those lines (or made that excuse at the time in order to defend ATARI's piss-poor design decision) doesn't make it gospel truth or sensible in any stretch of the word.. ATARI built machines with 3 generations of parallel expansion schemes.. Like it or not, a single device isn't gonna fit the bill.. That's just reality.. Using a crappy serial terminal with the keyboard left off is a TERRIBLE solution and everyone at ATARI KNEW THIS.. They just didn't care at that point what kind of garbage they passed on their user base. (especially the 8-bit user base, at that time.) ATARI's support for the 8-bit line in the latter half of the 80s was absolutely terrible..

Edited by MEtalGuy66

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Option 4: Use 480i interlaced graphics and turn the monitor or TV on it's side (portrait mode)

 

Hey presto! 60 columns at 8 pixels wide or 80 columns at 6 pixels wide.

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Just because an ANTIC columnist speculated along those lines (or made that excuse at the time in order to defend ATARI's piss-poor design decision) doesn't make it gospel truth or sensible in any stretch of the word.. ATARI built machines with 3 generations of parallel expansion schemes.. Like it or not, a single device isn't gonna fit the bill.. That's just reality.. Using a crappy serial terminal with the keyboard left off is a TERRIBLE solution and everyone at ATARI KNEW THIS.. They just didn't care at that point what kind of garbage they passed on their user base. (especially the 8-bit user base, at that time.) ATARI's support for the 8-bit line in the latter half of the 80s was absolutely terrible..

You are assuming too much. This was a direct interview with ATARI representatives, IIRC, I'll have to re-read it. The only one speculating and assuming here is YOU. And, I never said it wasn't a piss-poor device or design, I'm just relaying the reasons, as I recall,direct from ATARI's reps! Even if it was Antic's columnist's speculation, it's not mine. So don't get pissed at me or give me shit. What the h*ll crawled up your *ss? Did the XEP 80 wrong you in some way? Why so much hate? And don't hate me because you hate it! I'm sorry if your having a bad day, but don't take it out on me, I was just relaying a reason for it's design. You are acting towards me as if it's MY fault Atari Corp. sucked. Chill out. :thumbsdown:

 

I'm right with you in my love for Atari computers and an anger towards Atari executives and the Tramiels.

Edited by Gunstar
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Dude, you have some kind of serious paranoid delusional thing going on..

 

I'm not sure how you got "hate" (towards you or anyone else) from anything I said.

 

It is VERY TRUE that the XEP80 is a piss poor piece of shit for which NOONE should have been screwed out of their hard earned money.

 

If I have any bad will at all concerning this, it's towards the fools who ran ATARI during the latter half of the 80s. I remember reading the exact article you referenced.. As well as others in Atari Explorer and various other publications at the time. And then, when the guys at the user group Demo'd one and everyone hated it, that was the end of that. Many years later I bought one for a few bucks as a novelty. Wouldn't dream of trying to use it for any kind of productivity.. Nor would I advise anyone to try to do so. Its really THAT BAD..

 

As far as me getting pissed, giving you shit, having something crawling up my ass, hating you, having a bad day, taking things out on you, or blaming you personally for things Atari did back in the 80s...

 

I'm not sure where you came up with any of that delusional crap. I didn't say a single thing to attack you. If you can't have a discussion without being massively and personally offended when someone disagrees with something you said, then you are the one who needs to "chill out"..

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Let's all agree that the XEP-80 is a piss poor kludge of a device and leave it at that. Do we really need to get all pissy over something so stupid?

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