APPLICATIONSDIVERS ★ GRADUATE SOFTWARE CPM ROM|THE AMSTRAD USER) ★

Graduate Software CP/M BOX|The Amstrad User)CP/M Plus
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From Graduate Software comes the CP/M+ ROM Loader, effectively storing CP/M and utilities on a chip. Joseph Elkhorne leaves Serendipity for a month to take a look.

Graduate Software, of UK, produce an add-on for anyone who works with CP/M regularly. Essentially, this is a plug-in to the expansion buss, which contains a custom copy of CP/M Plus.

Inside the attractive grey plastic box, we find six (6) ROM sockets and DIP switches to enable the filled positions. One and Two hold 32K worth of CP/M. Utilities and applications programs in ROM can live in the others. To ensure against piracy, your original CP/M+ disc is send to Graduate, who dump it to ROM. This ROM copy is further customised with your name, address, and unique serial number.

The CP/M Accessory box comes with an A5 manual and a pocket card which summarises the command set. If accessory ROMs are selected, additional printed matter accompanies them. The box has a short ribbon cable and edge connector which fits onto the computer expansion buss. This, of course, is done with power OFF! To review this unit, I looked at the current state of my rig and wondered if one more add-on would make a difference. Edgar (my CPC 6128) is already full blown: joystick, ribbon cable to NEC printer, cassette cable, ribbon cable to 5.25" disc drive and serial interface leading to modem. Throwing caution to the wind, I plugged the CP/M box onto the i/f and hit the power switches.

The first change is tha sign-on screen. A portion thereof appears in red with yellow lettering- quite vivid- and additional copyright information. It's business as usual after that for AMSDOS applications. I ran up Tasword to see if anything unusual was going to occur. Everything seemed normal. I still had 360K access to my B:drive (using the Dform entry) and editing, saving etc. all worked fine. I closed off the word processing and glanced at the manual for a few milliseconds. Enough to find that to took me into the alternate environment straight away. There are a number of approaches and options with this accessory and reading the manual is a must.

128K AND 3" DRIVE ESSENTIAL

Before I get bogged down in detail, I must say that the accessory requires 128K. This means 664 arid 464 users will need the 64K rampack. The latter, of course, will also require a 3" disc drive. Actually, if yau already use a ROM board, Graduate's CP/M ROMs can be bought separately. The only proviso of these ROMs is that they must live below MAXAM version 15 if you are using that. Both use an I o command. In Graduate's case, this is a quick way into CP/M saving a whole two keystrokes as against the I ems (early morning start) entry. Graduate gives you the best of all possible worlds; use of the accessory ROM does not preclude using the I cpm entry for different CP/M configurations or those games that use it for auto-booting.

When the Graduate ROM boots, the signon message includes your name, address, and serial number. At this point you would have the normal A> prompt- unless a disc with a PROFILE.SUB file is resident. Then, the submit process takes off and the profile commands are executed. Using the Graduate Roms means you can improve your prior CP/M operations. The 25K .EMS file no longer needs to reside on the applications discs. This gives you more working space for applications like dBase II for example. You still have to have the 6K SUBMIT.COM file on-board to process the PROFILE.SUB, though.

There are a number of Bar commands that will be new to you. These provide the ROM version, access to owner's name (for use in BASIC programs), ability to disable CP/M and free the small bit of memory space normally reserved for the system, a password facility, and other goodies. For example, you can immediately go into a CP/M application from AMSDOS by entering |o,"application". In fact, you can have a menu-driven BASIC program to access the other environment- providing the proper disc is installed.

A further option is the I op entry. This presents a CP/M menu with all .COM and .SUB files on a disc listed. Moving the highlight along the names with the space bar and hitting ENTER then runs that one. Using Escape allows you to swap discs and repeat the process. A second Escape keypress takes you back to AMSDOS.

PASSWORD AND FURTHER CHECKS

The password facility improves protection of your BASIC programs and data. Graduate state: 'It is not "hacker" proof but it is "fool" proof. Using I password in a program supplies the question mark prompt and expects a proper reply. Three misses and CP/M is invoked, thus wiping the program. For those devious souls who know how to use the Break facility, an additional Bar command further checks that the password routine has successfully run. Again, one ends up in CP/M if this is not the case. Obviously, none of this will stop the determined hacker, but it does protect against casual meddling and accidents.

Moving into the CP/M environment, we find that Graduate have really planned ahead. Not only do you have instant access to the facilities you are used to, if you want the disc version of a command on ROM, you need only enter name.C to access it.

What the designers refer to as "built-in" commands are:
  • 24LINE, ensures the scrolling error messages at bottom of screen;
  • 25LINE, which turns off that status line and puts any error message on screen under the bad command; AMSDOS, the 1K disc utility which ensures a clean exit from CP/M;
  • BUILTIN tells you all commands in your ROM;
  • BORDER changes the colour as m Locomoive BASIC;
  • CAT exists for those who resist DIR, again ghrog you an alphabetical son and free space;
  • CLS clears the screen just as in BASIC, homes the cursor but does not affect screen mode;
  • DATE is supposed to display the system date and time. More on this later;
  • DETAILS inform you about the system set-up;
  • EXPAND assigns a character string to a lone keystroke;
  • HOME send the cursor to the top left-hand corner of the screen without clearing the screen; INK works as in BASIC;
  • INVERSE gives paper-on-ink colours, or reversed display, until the NORMAL command is giver;
  • KDS controls the optional 8-bit port, if you have one;
  • LANGUAGE accesses the various character sets available;
  • LPRINT dumps a file to your printer;
  • MODE for columns on screen, as in AMSDOS;
  • PALETTE changes screen cotours easily;
  • PAPER and INK do what normally happens in BASIC;
  • ROMCAT tells you what's on-board other accessory ROMs;
  • SETLST initialises the printer;
  • SET24X80 is a single command combining MODE 2 and 24LINE functions, so existing PROFILE.SUB files need not be modified;
  • CKEY allocates an ASCII code to a Control+key combination, NKEY is for normal key assignment;
  • SKEY uses shift+key for ASCII assignment;
  • SIGNON lists accessory ROMs available for use under CP/M;
  • WAIT prompts user for keypress.

The normal .EMS commands are: DIR, DIRS, ERASE, RENAME, SHOW, TYPE and USER. SHOW is actually a subset of the disc version which takes up 9K. If you need the lot, you need only type SHOW.C option, to get to the disc version. The Graduate handbook curiously refers to these as "transient" whereas a CP/ M manual calls them "built-in" (being part of the Command Control Processor, or .EMS functions).

Interestingly, commas are now accepted as delimiters, and prompts arc issued if you do not include the information with the command. You need the manual and the pocket card to keep track of the surfeit of commands, as shown in the box. On the whole, the manuals are adequate. Enhancements to the usual CP/M approach will be appreciated by users more familiar with the BASIC environment.

NOT WITHOUT MINOR BUGS

On the down side, there are some bugs. DATE will be wrong 3 years and one month out of four years, even when you are careful with DATE SET. I was quite surprised when I typed a date in and found I was one day out. Did I make a mistake? 1 tried again; same result. Apparently our programmer in this area was carcful about the Leap Year factor, to the exclusion of all else! Further, anything before 1 January 1978 is an "illegal date". I honestly do not know if anyone would ever need to date stamp a file so far back — but it annoys me for a machine to tell me something that flies in the face of reality.

Another minor bug exists with 24LINE. If you execute this at the bottom of the screen, the cursor ends up on the command line over the first character. I know such a quibble is picky but it should have been picked up.

More serious is the CAT bug. In theory, this does the same as in AMSDOS. I interrogated a disc on B: drive with D (such a handy utility! and available in the accessory ROM). It showed all filenames. DIR gave the same result. CAT, however, ignored three files-and I don't know why! AMSDOS CAT recognised their existence. What an anomaly.

One other gremlin surfaced whilst I was playing about. With everything still attached and powered-up, I needed to format a 5.25" disc. Pulling the appropriate utility out, I was surprised to find the file corrupted. The screen display blew itself apart.

Being a clever fellow, I retrieved the backup copy, only to find the same thing happened. At that point, I powered down and disconnected the add-ons. On power up and standard entry into CP/M, everything was normal until I ran the utility. Splat! Now, this could be- and probably is- one of those funny coincidences, a Murphy's Law case.

Certainly, nothing else seems amiss. On reconnecting the lot, everything again works as it should, save this one file. As I have not needed it for a couple of weeks, it is probable that the accident to the program occurred during a previous work session.

Still, one wonders. With all the extras hanging off the computer, perhaps there is ribbon cable crosstalk, rogue signals from the monitor getting into the system randomly, or perhaps simply I have reached the power limit of the supply. Understand- this in no way implies a criticism of the Graduate unit. I only mention that the anomaly occurred to present all factors present during the review. In point of fact, I am going to be extremely reluctant to return the unit to The Editor.

Several times since 1 initially tested it, 1 have instinctively tried to use it, though it was no longer connected. On my second extended run, I accessed half-a-dozen bulletin boards without problems. Once or twice, I lost RAM buffer saves, but this happens sometimes, in any case. Again I suspect random interference.

I have not tried a CP/M comms program yet, with the Graduate unit attached, but do not anticipate any untoward problems.

All in all, I would have to rate this wonderful accessory 9 on a scale of 10. Despite the minor bugs uncovered during my evaluation, I would have no hesitation in recommending it to any Amstrad computer user.

TAU

★ PUBLISHER: Graduate Software / Digital Research
★ YEAR: 1988
★ CONFIG: 128K + CP/M
★ LANGUAGE:
★ LICENCE: COMMERCIALE
★ PRICE: £24.95 (The Resident CP/M package is available on a chip (£33.50) or as an external interface box (£55.00) and can only be bought directly from Graduate Software in the UK Send international money order (prices include postage) and your original CP/M disc to Graduate Software)

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.