Adieu for the Atom - PCN

The price of Acorn's Atom has fallen dramatically. Geoff Wheelwright warns of the concequences.


Installing the Word Pack ROM: the ROM plugs into an available socket on the main board of the Atom, the utility ROM socket. It is located towards the centre of the board between the 6502 main processor and the 8255 IC. Make sure the notch on the WordPack ROM faces the back of the board (matching the other ICs), and don't bend the pins by forcing it in.

Acorn has said they’ll continue support- ing the Atom for two years after its ‘death’, but it’s unclear at what level that support will be maintained. It took PCN some weeks to get a copy of the Word Pack.

Many Acorn dealers have already made it clear that once they’ve rid themselves of their current stocks of Atoms, they don’t have plans to stock peripherals or software for the machine because it’s obsolete.

So be careful when buying a cut-price Atom. If you’re sure of what you want to use it for and can get the equipment necessary to use it as a dedicated word processor or accountancy aid, then it’s well worth it.

If not, then take heed - ‘from little Acorn Atoms... do great problems grow’.

The Atom Word Pack ROM plugs into a socket at the back of the Atom board. Acorn calls it a utility ROM socket, but it serves the same function as the sideways ROMs on the BBC and can be found between the 6502 processor and the 8255 chip at location IC 24.

Great care must be taken, however, to make sure the notched end is facing away from you and that you don’t bend the pins when you stick the chip in.

The easiest way to get the chip in without bending the pins is to ease one side in first, making sure all the pins are properly aligned with their corresponding sockets, and then push it slightly to one side so that the pins on the other side now align properly.

When all the ‘legs’ of the chip are in place, press it firmly to make sure strong contact is established. When you subse- quently boot up the Atom, the program should then be available in ROM

The same procedure is undertaken with all Atom ROM software, including Atom- Calc - a 4K ROM spreadsheet which gives the traditional sideways scrolling to give a grid of up to 62 columns and 255 rows.

Each position in the grid can contain a label, number or calculation - so that well-documented spreadsheets are easily developed with the program.

Of course, this sad state of affairs doesn’t apply to all Atom peripherals. If you get the Atom with a built-in printer interface it shouldn’t take much to hook it up to many standard printers.

And there are Atom peripherals which will only sell to Atom owners - and they will be available as long as stocks remain. One of these is the Atom Disk Pack - so large, bulky and ugly a device that no-one except Atom owners will be able (or want) to use it.

The disk pack plugs into the expansion interface at the back of the Atom and requires some internal modifications to be made.

Some extra buffers must be added to drive the expansion bus and these you can either install yourself or have installed for you (I would recommend the latter). But it requires a certain mechanical bent and a willingness to dirty your hands inside the machine.

The introduction of the new Electron micro from Acorn (see this week’s Hardware Pro-Test, pages 24-27) has sent the price of the old Acorn Atom plunging. With prices as low as £50 for the machine, it’s tempting to consider buying it for a simple dedicated purpose. Since the machine (like the BBC) offers the capacity for sideways ROM software it could be well worth getting a spreadsheet or word processing ROM and dedicating an Atom to doing that task, You would be hard-pressed to find a better buy. But don’t expect to be able to buy any add-ons in a year from now as you may not be able to get them. For word processing, you would have to make sure that:

  • You get a fully expanded Atom - 12K RAM + 12K ROM and a printer interface.
  • You make sure the word processing program has got all the facilities you need, A ROM-based word processor like Acorn’s Word Pack ROM is recom-mended - costing around £25.
  • You ensure that your TV will have a relatively tight hold on the Atom’s video signal, as there is nothing more tiring and frustrating than trying to work on an out of focus screen.

The Word Pack is a particularly good idea in this case because it takes up no internal memory and provides a full range of text-editing facilities, including inser- tion and deletion, page numbering and block moves. The Atom gives a 40 column display and has room for about three A4 size pages in memory.

Cursor control includes auto-repeat on the keys and single movement to the start and end of lines in the text. The Atom is probably the only micro available for under £100 with a full-travel keyboard and printer interface, although the printer interface only comes with the expanded version of the Atom. Acorn has, in the past, offered a BBC Basic board for the machine (PCN Issue 3), but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long the company will keep producing that, or any other add-ons.

PCN AUGUST 25-AUGUST 31, 1983 - 21