By JOHN KOLOEN
No matter where he goes, Lou Phillips is surrounded.
The president of Myarc Inc. and chief drumbeater for the company’s much-discussed 9640 computer, Phillips is ac.customed to spending hours fielding questions from TI users. There seems to be no end to the number of questions he takes on, whether they are asked by visitors to this com.pany’s booth on an exhibit floor or behind a podium in a packed conference room. Always there is patience in his voice, no matter how many times he hears the same ques.tion. And always he is animated when he speaks about his company’s products, particularly the 9640, dubbed the Geneve (“it’s just a catchy name,” Phillips insists).
Trying to visit with Phillips requires patience. It is not uncommon for a ring of people three deep to surround his booth, each person waiting to get a question or comment. The wait can last a half-hour. Phillips seldom gives a yes-or- no answer to even the simplest question. And his listeners seem to like it that way.
Unlike last year’s Chicago TI Faire, at which a demonstration of Myarc’s computer was promised but never materialized, this year Phillips brought along “the first production board” of the 9640. The board, which was fitted in.to a Peripheral Expansion Box, included 512K of dynamic RAM, a Texas Instruments 9995 microprocessor, a boot ROM, a high-speed, no wait state static ROM for storing the code for floating point arithmetic and to display images on the screen, a real time clock and the same sound generator chip as used in the 4A. The board uses the same 9901 chip as in the 4A as an interrupt controller.
A 9938 chip, produced jointly by Microsoft and Yamaha, with 128K of DRAM, is also on the board. Connectors include an 8-pin DIN connec.tor for video, five pins of which are the same as the composite video connector used on the 4A. Users will thus be able to use their present monitor with the 9640. The remaining three pins are for RGB blue and green and the RGB synch signal: A jumper is used for the red signal. A user will be able to select RGB or composite display at any time. The board also includes ports for a mouse, joystick and IBM compatible keyboard. The only things not supported by the board is a cassette port and cartridge port.
The built-in mouse interface is compatible with the Com.modore Amiga mouse. The RGB connector is also Amiga compatible. The joystick port is the same as used on the 4A.
The software bundled with the 9640 includes a disk operating system that is similar to MS-DOS 2.1. Commands are virtually “the exact same,” Phillips said. Also included is Advanced BASIC by Myarc. Patches for TI-Writer and
software to save cartridges to disk will also be provided. The format of the cartridge-saving software is the same as used by Miller Graphics’ GRAM Kracker.
Thus, those who have saved cartridges to disk using GK will be able to load the software into the 9640.
According to Phillips, production of the board is being held up because the gate array is not available. “This is the chip that should have been in long ago, and it’s one that we custom-designed ourselves. It has 84 pins on it, 21 on a side. The gate array contains all the logic, the dynamic RAM refresh logic, the wait state logic so we can run this machine at various speeds.... It also handles the memory mapping
that the 9995 uses to access more than 64K.
Phillips described at length the features of the 9938 chip, dwelling on its graphics and display capabilities. “It’s really the most exciting feature of this board,” he said.
In addition to a variety of commands, including draw, search, fill and an animation mode, are its graphics modes. While the 4A has four graphics modes: graphics 1 mode with 32 columns, a 40-column text mode, a multicolor mode and a high resolution graphics mode, the 9938 offers a bit.mapped graphics mode that allows users to control each pix.ii on the screen. The chip’s high resolution mode displays 512x424 lines and in this mode any pixil may be any one of 16 available colors. Another mode is a 256x212 display allowing the user to select any of 256 colors for any bit on the screen.
Phillips says the 9640 supports a variety of existing disk controller and RS232 cards, including those manufactured by Texas Instruments, Myarc Inc. and CorComp Inc. The Horizon RAMdisk by Horizon Computers Ltd. and Myarc’s RAMdisk card are also supported.
While it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, Phillips noted that he’s not involved in the TI market to make a kill.ing, and doesn’t expect to make one with the 9640.
“The attitude we’ve taken all along is that one is certainly
not going to make a fortune in this market anymore. The early ‘80s are long gone,” he told the hundreds who listened to his presentation in Chicago.
Phillips was assisted in his presentation by Paul Charlton, developer of the Fast-Term terminal emulator, and J. Peter Hoddie, developer of Font-Writer and other software. Both
are involved in the Myarc computer project.
Hoddie is modifying TI-Writer for 80-column display, which he demonstrated. Among the features of Hoddie’s TI-Writer is the addition of a View File command that allows the user to look at a D/V or D/F 80 file on disk without having to load it into memory. Thus, a user would be able to work on a document in memory and look at a second document without erasing the first document from memory.
Other modifications may include moving the status line from the top to the bottom of the screen, a Show Directory command that will offer the option of listing only text files to the screen and the ability of the user to determine how much memory to devote to a text buffer. Mouse support for the cursor is also under considera.tion. The editor and formatter will reside in memory simultaneously.
Hoddie is also toying with the idea of creating a windowing capability that would include 255 columns. Text with 80 columns or less will be saved in D/V 80 format while text with longer lines will be saved in D/V 255, he said.
“Everything that is in TI-Writer is still there. You’re not losing anything, but it’s a lot faster,” particularly with inserting and deleting functions, he said. The Find String function is also being changed so that it can be used to locate all occurrences of a string, rather than just the first occurrence. “It will work like the Replace String function,” he said.
Phillips said that Mack McCormick is working on an 80-column patch for Microsoft Multiplan and Pecan Systems is supporting UCSD Pascal software, version 4.21. This will allow users to compile Pascal, Fortran 77, Cobol and BASIC. Myarc is also developing a two-pass BASIC compiler. Pike Creek Computers, producers of the TI-Count package of business programs, is developing business software for the system.
Charlton is modifying his Fast-Term terminal emulator for the new machine. Inscebot, which markets TI- Artist, is developing a MacPaint equivalent and windowing software, Bright Data is developing professional business accounting software that will print reports while simultaneously allowing data entry, and Clint Pulley, developer of C for the TI, is developing a C Compiler. Asgard Software, DataBiolics and other companies are also developing software for the new machine, Phillips said. Asgard is work.ing on a multi-tasking operating system similar to the DX1O operating system used on TI mini-computers.
Existing 99/4A software that uses a keyscan method other than the standard console keyscan routine, such as Fast-Term and 4A-Talk, won’t be compatible with the 9640, Phillips said. Also, some software won’t work because of the timing used in addressing the VDP memory. “When we turn the machine on in the 4A mode, we look exactly like a 4A. Everything is memory mapped in the same place.”
Noting the popularity of Lotus 1-2-3 in the PC and business market, Phillips said “that’s the next area of concentration, a Lotus 1-2-3 look-a-like so that you can use your data disk from your IBM-PC and plug it in this machine.”
“We feel that this will be a well supported machine by the fact that it runs most 99/4A software. It will im.mediately start off with thousands of pieces (of software),” Phillips said. “As we all know, when Atari released (its) 520 they didn’t even have a BASIC interpreter. But, painful as it was, we finally have our own BASIC inter-preter, version 2.11, and we’ve been getting quite a few calls with raves as far as what it can do versus TI’s Ex.tended BASIC. And since our Extend.ed BASIC 3 is based upon that we think it will be virtually bug-free or close to it on first release.”
Phillips said that benchmark tests between IBM-PCs using BASIC and the 9640 using BASIC 3 “we’re running about 50 percent faster on some things than the PC. Considering the fact that all of our numbers are in double-precision floating point, I think that’s saying something. What we’re talking about is a machine that is about 50 percent more powerful than the PC and comes with the capability of ad.dressing two megabytes.”
Although the 9640 will be able to use files written using a PC, Phillips stress.ed that PC programs won’t run on the machine, “because an 8088 is not a 9995. I want to have data file com.patibility, but assembly language programs won’t work. I would say that if anything we want to be compatible from the point of view of compilers and things like that.”
“For example, there’s a big difference between the TI BASIC inter.preter and the Microsoft BASIC. In many respects the TI interpreter is much more powerful than the IBM, in its structure and its capability of interfacing with assembly language programming. On the IBM, it’s horrendous. On the TI you just CALL LOAD, CALL LINK.”
However, when asked about the likelihood of an IBM compatibility card, Phillips said, “Once you have an IBM keyboard like that I think it’s down the road a short time from now. Today, though, we’re selling 9640s and we want to support that. It’s a very powerful and very capable computer.”
Holding up the 5 x 7-inch board containing the 9640, Phillips said, “it’s the equivalent of an IBM-PC motherboard, it’s the equivalent of an EGA graphics card, it’s the equivalent of an MS mouse interface card and it’s the equivalent of a Quadrani card minus the parallel and serial interface. I think we’ve done one of the finest jobs in terms of packaging a product in the entire personal computer field.”