8-bit Hardware Upgrade, Modification and Add-On FAQ

From: Michael Current (aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 07/14/96-05:27:37 PM Z

From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: 8-bit Hardware Upgrade, Modification and Add-On FAQ
Date: Sun Jul 14 17:27:37 1996

The Atari 8-bit Hardware Upgrade,
  Modification and Add-On FAQ
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 /  |  \
Version 0.1
Dated February 18, 1995
Maintained by: David A. Paterson
      This is a very basic version.  I intend to add as people give
 feedback to what they want to see, and how they want to see it.
 Any info you have is more than welcome!
      This FAQ exists to describe the various hardware
 modifications available to the Atari 8-bit user.  It does not
 teach you how to do them.  It definitely doesn't take any
 responsibility for the results if you do try them.  But it will
 try to give you some information about where to find more
 information, which upgrades (or "hacks") are best, and who to
 consult if things go wrong.  For addresses and phone numbers of
 any of the companies listed, consult the Vendors and Developers
 List, posted at or about the 15th of each month.
      It also exists to describe the many wild and wonderful
 products that have been produced for the Atari 8-bit.  Many are
 unique, some may be apocryphal.  Mainstream items like printers,
 modems, disk drives and cassette decks are all excluded.
 Temperature gauges, combination printer buffer/ramdisks that run
 through the joystick port, and other such are fair game.
      This FAQ is posted whenever I remember to post it.  It is
 posted to comp.sys.atari.8bit.
Part I
            RAM Upgrades
                  listed by computer
Part 2
                  80 Column devices
Part 3
            Operating Systems
Part 4
            Other Neat Stuff
                  stereo sound, add-ons
Key to abbreviations
 ANL - Analog Magazine
 AC -  Atari Classics Magazine
 ANT - Antic Magazine
 AIM - Atari Interface Magazine
PART I - RAM Upgrades
      The 6502 microprocessor at the heart of every Atari 8-bit has
 a sixteen bit wide address bus.  What this means is that it can
 access up to 2^16 memory locations.  That's 65536 bytes.  Some
 people, wanting more memory, came up with a variety of techniques
 to use more memory.  Most were built around the idea of bank
 switching.  Bank switching means that you swap chunks of memory
 around so that the CPU can see them when necessary.  Most schemes
 use 16k banks, though 4k and 32k have also been tried.
Atari 400
      The original Atari 400 had either 8k or 16k.  Atari produced
 a board with 48k.  Mosaic produced a 32k board, as well as a 64k
 board with 48k RAM plus 4 4k RAM banks. (ANL 13, IFC)
Atari 800
      The Atari 800 came with three memory slots.  Each slot could
 contain Atari 8k or 16k RAM boards.  Mosaic produced 32k and 64k
 boards.  Three 64k boards could be combined for 192k.
      Axlon produced the 128k RAMdisk board.  It banks 16k, using
 $CFFF as a control register.  Banked memory appears from $4000 to
      David Byrd created the "800 PLUS 288K UPGRADE" which rewired
 existing 16k RAM boards, but required additional work to become
 fully Axlon compatible.  A nasty sort of flame war erupted between
 David Byrd and Jay Torres of the Windhover Project over who
 invented the upgrade.
      Magna systems produced 256k, 512k and 1M boards which
 followed the Axlon standard. (ANL 65, 68)
Atari 1200xl
      See 800xl.
Atari 600xl
      As shipped, the Atari 600xl came with 16k RAM.  Atari
 released the 1064 memory module which expanded the 600xl to 64k.
 MPP, now Supra, produced the Microram 64k Memory Board (ANL 19,
      RC Systems produced three expansion modules for the 600xl,
 raising memory to 32k, 48k or 64k (ANL 26, 12)
      Richard Gore produced the Yorky, a 256k board which plugs in
 to the PBI.  It provides full compatibility with 130xe type
 banking.  It is for use on 600xls upgraded internally to 64k, or
 on 800xls.  (AC 3/2, 10)
Atari 800xl
      The Atari 800xl came with 64k RAM internal.  To access RAM
 hidden under the OS ROMs, the PIA chip was used (PORTB, used for
 STICK(2) and (3) on the original 800).  Claus Bucholtz published
 plans for a 256k upgrade which banked 32k at a time using PORTB
 for control in Byte magazine. (Byte Sept 85)
      ICD released the RAMBO upgrade, providing 256k in 16k banks,
 using PORTB.  Newell came out with the 256k XL, which would work
 on a 1200xl or 800xl, providing 256k total memory, .  The two
 upgrades used different sequences to access their banks. (ANL 44,
      Charles Bucholtz updated his upgrade to use 16k banks after
 the release of the 130xe.  Most of the 800xl upgrades can be made
 compatible with Antic banking.  The only possible problem would be
 when Antic and the CPU are supposed to be using different memory
      The Yorky will also provide 256 on an 800xl (see the entry
 under 600xl).
      Newell released 1Meg and 4Meg upgrades for the 800xl.  These
 banked 16k as well, and required disabling internal BASIC to
 properly access the memory.
      Fine Tooned Engineering, having bought the rights to ICD and
 Newell's products, is bringing out a third method in the Mars 8.
 Though not yet released, it will use SIMMs for 256k, 1Meg or 4Meg
Atari 130xe
      The 130xe was the first "official" method of banking memory.
 It too used PORTB, but with an added twist: ANTIC and the CPU
 could access different banks.  This provided headaches for some
 owners of "older" upgrades, but few programs took advantage of
 this feature (SpartaDos Wedge and VideoBlitz demo only).  Upgrades
 for the 130xe include replacing one set of 64k chips with 256k
 chips, raising the RAM to 320k.  Adding another 256k for 576k
 total has also been done.  These were designed by Scott Peterson,
 as was a 1088k upgrade.
PART II - Video
      The most common video upgrades are the SuperVideo series,
 described in AC 2/6.  Plans were provided for the 600xl, 800xl,
 1200xl and 130xe.  The SuperVideo upgrade provides the forgotten
 chroma signal on the monitor port.  It corrects a number of errors
 in the parts in the Atari video circuit, resulting in a clearer
 image, particularly on monitors.
      Providing TTL output was also covered in AC 2/6.  Bob Woolley
 provided plans for the circuit, as well as instructions for
 getting TTL output from an XEP80.  Be warned that the output is
 not in the standard Atari colours; on a CGA type screen, the
 sixteen possible shades are translated into eight colours.
80 column devices
      Since the 400/800 were released in 1979, people have been
 clamouring for better text displays than the default 40x24.  Two
 products were released for the 800: The Austin-Franklin 80 column
 board and the Bit 3 80 column board were both for use in the Atari
 800.  They replaced the third memory module.  The Austin-Franklin
 board came with a "Right Cartridge" which provided the drivers.
 Removing the cartridge disabled the board.  Some software would
 not run with an 80-column board installed.
      Ace 80/80xl was a cartridge released which provided 80
 columns by using  bitmapped graphics on an 80 column screen.  A
 similar technique was used in the Newell Omniview, an add-on for
 their Omnimon.
      Atari's entry into the 80 column field was the much maligned
 XEP80.  For maximum compatibility, the XEP80 attaches to the
 computer via a joystick port.  It includes three character sets,
 8k internally, and a parallel printer port.  The software provided
 by Atari supports a 320x200 graphics mode.  This mode only
 supports direct bit images.  Hacks have been released which hook
 the XEP80 on via the parallel bus.
      In October and November of 1991, Michael St Pierre published
 articles in the SLCC Journal describing plans for a monochrome
 Genlock.  A genlock is a system to synchronize live video with a
 computer image.  Graphics can be overlaid, faded in or out, or
 used for titling.
      In 1994, Michael announced Prism Studio, a full colour
 genlock.  It is sold by Mytek.
PART III - Operating Systems
Computer                OS
 --------                --
400/800                 Rev A.  No self test; Memo Pad mode.
                        Rev B.  Fixes several bugs in Rev A.
1200xl                  XL OS.  Some incompatibilities with 400/800 OS
600xl/800xl             Revised XL OS.  Includes parallel bus
                        handlers. Internal BASIC.
65xe/130xe              Revised XL OS. (as above)
xegs                    Modified XL OS.  Self-test mode changed.
                        Internal Missile Command and BASIC.
Operating System upgrades
UltraSpeed + OS : from CSS.  Supports high speed disk
 communication.  Drives 1 through 9.  Any RAM upgrade.  Includes
 three modes: standard xl/xe OS; 400/800 OS; UltraSpeed+ OS.  For
 XL/XE systems.
Omnimon: from Newell.  M/l monitor for 400/800.  Installs into
 $C000 page of memory, otherwise unused.
RAMROD OS: from Newell.  Replacement for 400/800.  Includes
 accelerated floating point math package.
RAMROD XL: from Newell.  OS speed-up routines, fast math, and
 Omnimon.  Includes option for second OS.
XL Boss: from Allen Macroware.  OS replacement for XL model
 computers.  Includes m/l monitor.  400/800 OS compatible.
TurBoss: available from KP and Best.  Fast math and fast screen
 routines.  For XL/XE computers.
PART IV - Other Neat Stuff
      In ANL 59,60 and 62, Dr. Lee S. Brilliant provided plans and
 software to turn a surplus Atari into a printer buffer for another
 Atari.  He called it "The Atari Zucchini".
      The Printer Buffer Routine (PBR) and Disk Emulator Routine
 (DER) came from B.L. Enterprises.  They were cartridges and cables
 which worked in a similar fashion to the Zucchini.  The PBR
 provided a buffer, while the DER emulated a disk drive on the
 remote computer.  Stock XLs gave 403 free sectors; a 130xe would
 give 914. (ANL 65, 67)
Voice Master
      Covox sold the Voice Master and Voice Master junior.  These
 would capture and record speech.  Bundled software attempted
 recognition of commands, with limited success. (ANL 47, 44)
      The Parrot was a sound digitizer sold by Alpha Systems.
 Resembling a paddle, the device had phono jack for input.  Antic
 provided plans for a similar project, called the Antic Sampling
 Processor.  (ANT 8/8, 11)
      Among the more esoteric products ever released was the
 SoundMouse, which interpreted sound to provide a reading on a
 paddle register.  It did not act as a digitizer, like the Voice
 Master and Parrot did.Bundled software made the lava lamp look
 mainstream in its appeal.  No commercial applications taking
 advantage of this unique device were released.
      Chuck Steinman of DataQue created this set of plans for
 building stereo sound by installing a second Pokey chip (Pokey and
 Gumby, get it?).  Once installed, the second channel has all its
 addresses 16 bytes higher in memory ($D210 - $D21F).  A small
 number of demos have been released in stereo.
      With the use of PORTB for RAM banking, hackers were looking
 for more parallel outputs.  This plan, for adding one more PIA
 chip, includes notes for adding two more.  It was intended as a
 means to control large RAM upgrades.  (AIM 3/2, 16)
Critical Connection
      A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, was a mystic
 operating system known as CPM.  A company named USS Enterprises
 produced the Critical Connection, a device to permit a CPM
 computer to emulate disk drives for the Atari.  It was a cable,
 plus software for the CPM end of the system.  The CPM system could
 also act as a printer buffer, and the CPM keyboard could be used
 in the place of the Atari keyboard.  (ANL 39,103)
      With the demise of CPM and the rise of the IMI cartel
 (IBM-Microsoft-Intel) a new system similar to the Critical
 Connection arose.  Nick Kennedy developed the SIO2PC hardware and
 software, which permits any PC with a serial port to act as up to
 four disk drives for an Atari.  It can also act as a printer
Computer Eyes
      Computer Eyes was a video capture system which plugged into
 two joystick ports.  It could render images in a variety of modes.
 It required a composite video source.  (ANL 35, 53)
Easy Scan
      Take a cartridge, add a fibre-optic cable, and hook it onto a
 printer, and you've got Easy-Scan, an image scanner for the Atari
 8-bit.  Innovative Concepts produced this item.  (ANT 7/6, 43)
WIMA Radio, Lima, Ohio
      This radio station, when automating 6 broadcast hours daily,
 created a hardware and software package built around a 130xe for
 control.  Control was via joystick ports and tone decoders. (ANT
 8/7, 30)
      This provided 8 or 16 channels and 2 or 4 sensors.  It would
 monitor the temperature, with options to log results to disk or
 printer, or to sound an alarm if the temperature strayed out of
 set boundaries.  The software was described as "cumbersome". (ANL
 48, 35)
Turbo 816
      Released by DataQue, this provided a replacement OS as well
 as a replacement for the 6502 CPU.  A 65816 was substituted,
 providing new opcodes and a 24 bit address space (16Megs vs 64k
 with the 6502).
Sweet 16
      Released by Fine Tooned Engineering, this provides a 65816
 CPU to replace the 6502.
      MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.  It is
 a system for computers to record, replay and control musical
 instruments.  MIDIMATE, when combined with MidiTrack software,
 permits an Atari 8-bit to take control. (ANL 33, 26)
      Supra provided the Atari community with its first networking
 product.  MicroNet provides nine SIO connectors.  Eight are for
 computers.  The ninth goes to whatever peripherals are to be
 connected.  The system served to isolate the computers
 electrically.  It did no software checking, meaning that two or
 more users attempting to print or save at the same time could
 trash each others output.  (ANL 51, 76)
      CSS provided a better way to network.  The Multiplexer system
 requires one host system which has all the disk drives and
 printers for the network.  The slaves are connected via the
 cartridge port to the host, and all their disk and printer i/o is
 rerouted to the host.  All the systems involved require their OS
 replaced with a special multiplexer OS.
      ICD manufactured this wonderboard in 1987.  Connected to the
 PBI or ECI, it provided either 256k or 1Meg of RAM, two RS232
 ports, a parallel printer port and a SCSI hard drive port.
      Currently under development by Fine Tooned Engineering, this
 PBI/ECI board will provide an interface and power supply for an
 IDE hard disk.  It may also include extended memory support for
 CPU upgraded computers, as well as a parallel port.
Black Box
      CSS manufactures the Black Box, a PBI/ECI device that offers
 an optional 64k printer buffer.  Its main attractions are its m/l
 monitor, 19200 baud RS232 port, parallel port, and hard disk
 interface.  The parallel and serial ports do not use standard DB9
 or DB25 connectors; custom cables are required.
Floppy Board
      This is an add-on to the Black Box, also from CSS.  It
 permits standard floppy drives, 360k, 720k, 1.2M and 1.44M, to be
 attached to the Black Box.  Since they are connected to the PBI,
 these drives operate extremely quickly.
Supra/KP Hard Disk Interface
      Supra released one of the first hard drives for the 800xl.
 It hooked up via the PBI.  KP bought the rights to the interface
 from Supra.
R-Time 8
      This is a clock cartridge for any Atari from Fine Tooned
 Engineering.  It includes a pass-through connector so that any
 other cartridge can be plugged in as well.  Though primarily
 intended for SpartaDos, software for other DOSes is included.
      This is still under development from Fine Tooned Engineering.
 For 800xls only.  Memory expansion of 256k, 1M or 4M.  Install
 internally Action, Basic XL/XE, MAC/65, SpartaDos X, R-Time 8.
Atari 850
      This device hooks into the SIO line, and provides 4 9-pin
 RS232 ports and a 15-pin parallel port.  The RS232 ports are NOT
 IBM PC standard.  The MIO and PR Connection use the same pinout.
P:R: Connection
      This device plugs into the SIO line, and provides 2 9-pin
 RS232 ports and a 15-pin parallel port.  It is powered by the SIO
 line.  The Atari 1200xl requires an internal modification to work
 with this device, or with the Atari XM301 300 baud modem.
Voice Box II
      Manufactured by the ALIEN Group, this speech synthesizer even
 nade it into TIME Magazine in their "Machine of the Year" issue in
 1982.  Plugging into the SIO line, this device would produce
 speech of the traditional computer variety.
R/128 RAMdisk Printer Buffer Spooler
      Protronics of California announced this 128k RAMdisk/printer
 buffer which interfaced via the joystick ports, offering it as a
 replacement for the 850.  A 512k upgrade was promised. (ANT 2/8,
      Newell Industries announced this 850 replacement in 1983.  It
 offered two serial and one parallel port, along with an expandable
 8k printer buffer.  (ANT 2/8, 106)
Oscar Model 1
      This bar-code scanner was from the Databar Corp.  The intent
 was to permit the speedy entry of computer programs which would be
 encoded in magazines.  (ANT 2/8, 107)
1200XL PBI
      Hackers love the 1200xl for two reasons: because of all the
 space available within the case, and because of the great
 keyboard.  Bob Woolley came up with this set of plans for adding a
 parallel bus interface to the 1200xl.
=== End ===
Michael Current, 8-Bit Atari FAQ & Vendor/Developer Lists maintainer
   User groups: CAIN, SPACE, NWPAC / mailto:mcurrent@carleton.edu

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