THE HOBBIT DIGITAL MINI-CASSETTE SYSTEM REVIEWED.
BY ALF WANT
|MANUFACTURER ...||IKON COMPUTER PRODUCTS, KILN LAKE, DYFED.|
|PRICE ..........||£99 + VAT|
|DIMENSIONS .....||Height 9cm||Height below mounting board 7cm|
|Width 10cm||Depth 9cm|
Three Nascom 2 computers were in use in our primary school. The stage was
reached where they were ready to go into general school use as opposed to usage
in the computer clubs. With a dozen Maths and English games written we needed an
operating system that would make the entry of these programs truly child’s play.
A five year old (or even his teacher!) must be able to load the game that is
needed. Disks would be ideal but we could not afford three sets of drives. Our
computers will be too widespread and too mobile even for mains power and a
networking system would be hopelessly impractical. The Hobbit unit reviewed here
meets all our requirements so completely, and its use has already proved so
succesful that it was decided to write this review. I have not used the rival
decks produced in Scotland so can offer no comparisons with this Welsh unit.
Being English I can claim neutrality.
If you are thinking of instant retrieval of programs then forget the
Hobbit. A new cassette has to be formatted with certain timing information (F
command : 240 seconds). It is best to format both sides while you are at it. It
is then simplicity itself to write programs to tape, whether they be BASIC,
FORTH, PASCAL, or ZEAP. I did feel the instructions were a little incomplete
here, but I managed so they can’t be too bad. I do not know if Naspen can be
filed but if one of the Hobbit routines is not suitable then it would be easy to
write one that is. I do feel this to be a major omission from the Hobbit manual,
especially as Naspen will be our next purchase! The important thing is the ease
of finding the program again. The tape with the program on it has to be mounted
(M command : 80 seconds). The names of the programs on the tape can then be
displayed (N command : instant). I do not like the standard display format of
five names, followed by the next five on ENTER,.....up to 69 files. Nor do I like
only six character names, but given this it should have been possible to display
all file names on one screen. I am hoping to alter this on our systems. The
chosen program is loaded into memory and runs or executes automatically. (R
command : 6 seconds to 68 seconds).
There are 56 KBytes of storage on each side and we are able to record
about six of our school programs in that. If a cassette has been mounted for a
class to use it averages about 40 seconds to run one of its files. If a new
cassette is needed it takes about 230 seconds. Reliability is 100 per cent all
the time and appears to me to better the Commodore and Research Machines disks,
both of which have given me problems. I doubt if the simple Phillips mechanism
will ever need servicing.
The unit arrives ready built, well built, without plugs and uncased. It
is delightfully compact and is the first piece of computer hardware that has
brought forth, “Oh isn’t it sweet!” from wife and daughter instead of the usual.
“How much did that cost?” It uses mini-cassettes, much smaller than audio
cassettes, and two were supplied with our two drives. The whole cube shaped unit
would fit easily into a Nascom 3 case, or a Kenilworth. Ours mount just above the
keyboard. They may be mounted horizontally, vertically or any angle inbetween.
Ours even worked upside-down. Connections are 12 volts (120 mA), 5 volts (10 mA)
and Earth. Eight Data/Control lines go to port A on the Nascom, the big 26 pin
plug sometimes called PL4, the one with control port 6 and data port 4.
Any fool could follow the Hobbit directions thus far. Not so easy is
setting up the two 2708 EPROMS. As usual all the information is in the Nascom
manual but it does take some reading. These EPROMS are normally supplied to work
at D000 in the memory map. So connect pins 4, 6 and 7 to pins 10 and 11 on LKS1
and switches 7 and 8 on LSW1 up or closed. This will make the eight memory
sockets on the Nascom board decode as one 8 KByte block from C000 to DFFF. The