Reviewer: Kathleen Peel
Magazine: Your Computer
Date: January 1984
The big cat is back. Kathleen Peel takes the turbo version of the Lynx for a spin.
THE LYNX HAS BEEN available in 48K form since the beginning of 1983. Camputers has recently launched a 96K memory version with an enhanced ROM set, to be followed shortly by the 128K Lynx.
The additional 4K ROM in the 96K Lynx is the first in a series of planned expansions for the Camputers microcomputer. The prices of the Lynx are as follows:
|128K Lynx||£445 available soon|
|48K to 96K upgrade||£90|
Not all the additional memory in the 96K Lynx is available for Basic programming. The extra 48K of memory has 24K masked out by the ROM. The masked memory has to be accessed using an Ext command and is only suitable for non-program type data storage. The memory break down is as follows:
|96K Lynx||38.5K Basic 23.5K Data 34K System|
|48K Lynx||14K Basic 34K System|
The majority of the system memory is taken up by the colour screens that give the Lynx its excellent colour and pixel resolution of 256x248. Externally the only difference between the two machines is the inclusion of the number 96 on the Lynx logo.
Internally there are several subtle differences. The 4K Eprom in the spare socket is the most obvious, the PCB is now at issue three and incorporates all the early 48K machines wiring patches.
The major change occurs in the area below the speaker where the 6K chips have been replaced by 64K devices with changes to the PCB links to accommodate the new larger memory devices.
The quality of the keyboard is poor for a proper keyboard machine. The reading of the keyboard was inconsistent as was the required keystroke travel needed to register an input. There were times when it appeared that my two-finger typing speed was too fast for the Lynx, which is not a good reflection on the characteristics of the display speed.
On virtually all cassette tape machines the remote socket is next to the mic socket. This enables the use of any one of a large number of remote microphones. Why, therefore, does the earphone plug colour match with the remote plug instead of the microphone plug matching the remote plug?
The cassette interface was extremely sensitive to levels, an additional leaflet on operating the Lynx with a cassette recorder was provided but this is no substitute for an efficient reliable interface.
The television display from the 96K Lynx produced a lot more dot crawl than the 48K machines, but this I would suspect is merely a problem in the factory tuning of the modulator circuitry.
The version 2.0 of the Lynx ROM is now supplied with all new Lynx 48K and 96K computers. The Lynx executes a memory test on power-up to determine whether it is 48K or 96K, the latter being denoted by two beeps on switch-on.
Some of the original ROM errors have been corrected and a couple of the mathematical algorithms improved for speed.
The Lynx has both parallel and a serial output port sockets. The parallel output requires an interface pack before this mode of operation can be implemented: the pack costs £50.
The serial port is implemented in software, but this is not a true RS-232 serial facility. There are only three lines, in, out and ground, no DTR or CTS. It appears that the serial interface will only be suitable with printers capable of running at 2,400 baud and having a fairly substantial input buffer. The manual suggests the Seikosha GP-250X as being suitable.
Without adequate handshaking, I would suspect that the Lynx will not be able to act as part of a micro network. It was a real struggle to get data transfer via the serial interface in order to obtain the few listings that form part of this review. Figures 1 and 2 provide the programs used to establish the link.
I was only able to dump the Lynx data to a Spectrum screen through the serial interface and then process from there. It could be said that the Lynx is not meant to be networked to other micros; at this price it should.
Joystick and light-pen commands are incorporated in the 4K ROM extension. The joysticks require an interface - £15.
The Lynx version 2.0 ROM command set is well structured and reasonably comprehensive. The error messages are good and the line entry syntax check useful.
Many of the facilities of Lynx Basic remind me of BBC Basic. The structures are very good but lack the very simple On . . Goto and On . . Gosub. The ability to use machine code from within a Basic program and the use of VDU-type commands are also reminiscent of the BBC-type Basic.
The lack of multi-channel sound facilities is very noticeable, the new inbuilt sound commands of Laser, Zap, Klaxon etc., are poor.
One bright spot on an otherwise cloudy horizon is the built-in monitor. This should enable fast machine-code program development when coupled with the quite reasonable set of Basic to machine-code links.
The 23K Data store can be segregated into 48 discrete components in any combination of length and number to fill the available data store. The extended Lynx Basic command Ext is used to prefix a series of commands similar to Basic's Read, Data and Restore i.e., Fetch, Store and Back.
Data files can be Chained, Saved and Loaded, even stored in integer format. Whether this is a new way of partitioning to improve memory efficiency, or just a means of trying to get some use out of memory not properly bank switched, I shall reserve judgment.
The remaining extended Basic commands include facilities for circle, clear window, fill triangle, error trap and video reset.
The 96K Lynx is supplied with an additional eight-page 96K User Manual, which briefly explains each of the new commands.
The fact that only eight pages are required to explain the benefits of the 96K Lynx over the smaller 48K machine is more a reflection on the inadequacies of the documentation than poor value for money. I think that more detailed explanations would be advisable, but this could be said of the Lynx manual as well.
The data store concept as implemented is not documented elsewhere in other literature and I think that in this area at least a few guidelines on various uses with examples are essential if the majority of Lynx users are not to allow this memory to fall into disuse by default.
When the Lynx was launched nearly a year ago, the price of the 48K Spectrum was £175, only £50 less than the 48K Lynx which, when taking into account the keyboard, superior colour graphics and built-in monitor, was probably reasonable even allowing for the Lynx's bad points.
Today the price of the Spectrum has fallen to £130, but the Lynx price has remained the same where it now faces competition from the Electron and more seriously the latest offering from Atari and the Commodore 64.
The Atari and Commodore machines have proven, although limited, CP/M capability and large libraries of quality software, if Commodore can quickly overcome the current reliability problems of one of its products and Acorn is able to manufacture the Electron in large numbers, life will be very difficult for the Lynx.
- The keyboard is one of the worst real keyboards I have come across for predictability. Better than most moving-key keyboards, but only just.
- The vertical wrap-around scrolling of the screen is not implemented on any other popular micro and can be a real nuisance.
- Not all the RAM is available for programs. Setting aside that required for high-resolution colour graphics as reasonable, 40 percent of the remainder is for data only and is not available to store a Basic program.
- The cassette interface reminds me of a ZX-81. Large memory can mean a large program and if it is stored on cassette, it has to be capable of extremely reliable loading.
- The serial port is not an RS-232 implementation with DTP and CTS control. Just three lines make computer-to-computer working extremely difficult. The interface is configured for a printer with a buffer.
- There is no parallel printer facility without the hardware which is an add-on extra.
- It is an expensive games machine, without the huge library of software available to some of its rivals. As a business machine it still cannot run CP/M. For this you need the 128K Lynx and that is £445 and not yet available.
- One of the problems of expandability and longevity is that previous system failings tend to be perpetuated in order to sustain the idea of an expandable system. It may be more politic to remove some of the design restraints and go for a more user-friendly approach.
1 LET a$="" 5 POKE 23750,7 10 FORMAT "t" ;2400 20 OPEN #4;"t" 30 PRINT INKEY$#4;: GO TO 30 45 CLEAR # 46 FORMAT "t";600 47 OPEN #3;"t" 50 LET b$="" 55 FOR x=0 TO 17 60 FOR y=0 TO 31 65 LET a$=SCREEN$ (x,y) 66 IF a$ ="?" THEN GO TO 70 68 IF a$ ="," THEN LPRINT b$: LET b$=" ': GO TO 70 69 LET b$=b$+a$ 70 NEXT y 75 NEXT x 80 LPRINT 90 CLEAR #: STOP
100 CLS 103 DIM A$(40) 105 LET A$="" 110 FOR A=14576 TO 15096 115 IF PEEK(A)=64 THEN GOTO 140 116 IF PEEK(A)=192 THEN GOTO 140 120 IF PEEK(A)>32 flND PEEK(A)<126 THEN LET A$=A$+CHR$(PEEK(A)) 130 IF PEEK(A)>128 THEN LET A$=A$+","+CHR$(PEEK(A)-128) 132 IF PEEK(A)=0 THEN LET A$=A$+"," 135 IF LEN(A$)>30 THEN GOTO 170 140 NEXT A 151 LPRINT A$ 152 PRINT A$ 155 BEEP 2000,100,60 160 STOP 170 LPRINT A$ 171 PRINT A$, 180 LET A$="" 190 GOTO 140