THE INTEGRATOR by Piper
Reprinted with permission from:
The ST CLUB Newsletter
9 Sutton Place
49 Stoney St.
Now this one is tricky. What I've been promised "RSN" is a
system which could give the ST one of the biggest boosts it's
ever had. What I've actually got in front of me is a hard/floppy
disk workstation with extras. Reviewing it as it stands would
be an injustice to the idea behind it. Reviewing it as if it
was complete would be an injustice to you lot out there
reading this. Let me tell you a little about what I'm on about.
The Integrator is the basic box around which the Troika
system is to be built. It consists of a fast access (28 msec)
SCUSI hard disk of 20 to 60 Mbyte capacity, which will (but
doesn't yet) support daisy chaining. Two floppy disks can also
be incorporated, one 3.5" coming as standard (a high density 1.5
Mbyte version is promised later), one optional 5.25", which you
can switch between. It is also possible to switch between mono
and colour monitors without fiddling about with leads, or you
can use a multi-sync monitor via a socket at the back. An audio
output is available to plug directly into the hi-fi, and a
composite video output for plugging into anything with a
composite video input. Other outputs consist of four power
connectors, so your computer, monitors and printer can all be
plugged directly into the Integrator and switched on and off from
the front panel, cutting down on spaghetti, with the added
advantage of the inbuilt power surge filter. And there's a clock.
Not bad so far, but Troika is where the whole thing gets
exciting, except that it's not available yet. It will have
everything the Integrator has plus a 100% compatible PC emulator,
including facilities to add graphics cards and RAM expansions, a
100% compatible Mac emulator, coping with the newer 128K roms
and even reading the original Mac disks, so you don't need
access to a Mac or to have special format disks to run the
programs. It can even set up a Mac partition on your hard
disk. It is also possible to have a modem incorporated. All in
one box. The potential of such a system is enormous. Just
think of the advantages with something like DTP, where you'll
be able to accept disks from the two most popular business
micros as well as from the most popular 16 bit home micro.
Taking a quick reality check, none of the emulator components
are ready yet, so let's get on with a review of what actually is
available at the moment.
Condor Computer, the manufacturers of the Integrator, have
decided to aim their products at the business market, and this
decision is apparent in nearly all aspects of their product. For
a start, the whole thing is housed in a box originally
designed for use with the PC (rough translation: it's big,
it's strong and it's ugly) which has a footprint of 15 x 19
inches, stands 3.5 inches high and weighs approximately the same
as a full grown mountain gorilla. To reduce the inconvenience
of having such a monster on the desk, Condor came up with the
simple but eminently sensible device of including legs. When set
on its legs, an ST (even a Mega) can slide happily beneath it,
whilst the monitor sits on top, a set up which actually takes
up less desk space than putting the monitor behind the
computer. It has the added advantage that the cooling fan for the
Integrator (not the quietest of devices) keeps the air around
the ST at a reasonable temperature. I've left the thing running
for over 48 hours at a time and the only heating problem I
noticed was that it made the room a little cooler.
The front panel consists of (from left to right) a busy
light for the hard disk, two black switches, the first to set
the computer to either a hi-res or colour monitor, the second to
switch between the 3.5" and 5.25" drives, then a series of
switches for power, the first to power up the whole kaboodle, the
next four to throw some electricity through the plug sockets at
the back. These light up when in the "on" position.
Unfortunately, they also glow slightly even if they're off. Not
much, admittedly, but it's always worrying to see electricity
going through something that you thought was turned off.
Next comes the 3.5" drive, a Toshiba, which Mr. Lemberg of
Condor assured me would happily write to 82 tracks, so, of
course, the first thing I did when I got the thing home was to
try formatting a disk to 85 tracks. No problem. Obviously,
Mr. Lemberg, despite being American, is not prone to
Finally comes the covered slot where a second floppy drive
can be inserted should you so wish. All in all, the front
panel has an excellent array of features, all easily
accessible, all fully functional, and about as attractive as a
skin disease. It all looks extremely cheap and nasty. Of
course, it also looks flimsy, but it's quite capable of taking a
colour TV and mono monitor, so the looks are deceptive, but it
would be nice if the packaging was as good as the components:
At the moment it looks like it was knocked up in someone's
garage with spare parts from the electric kettle. Mr. Lemberg has
said that it's being redesigned even as we speak. Maybe they
could make it a trifle smaller and quieter whilst they're at it.
The hard disk is a Miniscribe controlled by a Berkeley Micro
Systems 100 V2.0 interface. As mentioned before, access time is
28 msecs, but that doesn't really tell you much. In fact, the
disk varies from being 16 times faster than a floppy (PRINTing a
100 character string to disk 1000 times) to only 1.4 times as
fast (INPUTing 1000 numbers). What that translates to in real
terms is that loading a program such as Protext, which takes 27
seconds from floppy disk, will take only 4 seconds using the hard
disk. Added to that are the usual benefits of a hard disk
(massive storage, having everything in one place instead of
having to search through all your floppies and great pose value
with your friends). I've been using it for over three weeks
now with no problems whatever after the initial setting up and
have gotten rather addicted to the speed and convenience of the
machine, as well as finding the clock far more useful than I'd
thought it could be.
The software which comes with the package includes back
up utilities, an auto-booting program, formatting software
(which I didn't find particularly flexible, but the
documentation is still being prepared, so how useful it might be
will remain, for now, one of life's mysteries), GDOS, clock
setting and resetting programs, software for extra folders
(to get over the 40 folder problem) and, of course, the driver
program. Quite a reasonable collection.
Now for the bad news. I said earlier that the Integrator was
being designed with the business market in mind. This is also
reflected in the price. It weighs in at £746, which is quite a
strain on most home users pockets. You do get a lot for your
money, and everything is centralised in one box. You also
have the upgrade path available for PC and Mac emulation. If
you are considering the Integrator as your starting point for the
Troika system, I can only suggest that you wait until Troika is
actually available to see how well it performs. If, on the other
hand, you're interested in it just as a hard disk system, I
have to say that I think it's at least £50 too expensive as it
now stands considering that a 30 Mbyte Supra drive will only set
you back £499, and a Systems 2000 40 Mbyte drive only around
£550. If the floppy drive is replaced with a high density
drive at the same price, as Mr. Lemberg has suggested it might
be, then it might just fall into the "worth considering"
category, but with the price of hard disks finally coming down,
it will be difficult justifying the price tag despite the
excellence of the idea behind the product.
Company: Condor Computer Ltd., 31 Palace St. London SW1E 5HW.
Points for: Strong, centralised, lots of extras,
possibility for upgrade, superb concept.
Points against: Expensive, ugly, noisy.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.