A MATE FOR YOUR SPECTRUM?
Yet another peripheral for transfer of protected commercial software is AT & Y's SPEC-MATE. Unique in that it can transfer programs to tape at normal or double speed, to the Challenge Sprint tape recorder, microdrive, Wafadrive and last but not east to the BETA disk drive system (Version 3.0). SPEC-MATE seems to resolve any kind of transfer problems for less that £40.00, but does the transfer fee also include a lot of hassle and lots of debugging?
SPEC-MATE could be mistaken for another of the long line of uncharacteristic looking joystick interfaces housed in a nondescript black box. An extension port and a push switch at the top right of the unit are the only visible features.
The transfer procedure is simplicity itself. After installing SPEC-MATE, the program is loaded in the normal way and run. It can be frozen at any point by just pressing the pushbutton. The border flashes for a second and then turns black. This is where the first of up to four selections have to be made. The first decision is whether to save to tape (t). to microdrive (m), to BETA disk (d). to Wafadrive or to save at double speed to tape (f). A further option lets you examine the screen for any hidden data by removing the screen colours.
Pressing the required option takes you to the red border mode. Here you decide how to save the program - with or without the loading screen. 'N' saves the program with the frozen screen, 'S' saves it without any screen. If you want to save the loading screen as well, you need to load the program until the full loading screen is visible and then interrupt the loading. Then, in red border mode, select 'A' which saves the screen. Next, you need to reload the program entirely, freeze it and then select 'B' in the red border mode to save the program itself.
After the red border mode comes the blue border mode which allows you to specify which part of the screen area SPEC-MATE will use for its work data. It requires a third of the screen as workspace and, as some programs have hidden data in some area of the screen, it is important that you can choose which part of the screen SPEC-MATE is to use. If you choose the wrong section of the screen, hidden data is overwritten by SPEC-MATE and the program crashes.
Last of the border modes is magenta, which allows you to enter the name of the program after which ENTER starts the saving procedure. If backing up to tape, the tape recorder should be in recording mode. If everything is hunkydory, the program will unfreeze and continue running. If it doesn't, the back-up will not have been successful and you may have selected the wrong part of the screen memory for SPEC-MATE to use.
If saving to Wafadrive, the red and blue border mode are skipped. The only other difference in procedure between the various back-up media is number of characters allowed in the title.
Several programs were backed up successfully onto various media and SPEC-MATE seemed to perform both well and as promised. Saving at double speed to tape was impressive, reducing the loading time of Way of the Exploding Fist from 4min 33sec to 2min 10sec, for instance. A certain amount of trial and error may be necessary to secure a successful save - some programs may not save out if they are frozen at certain points during execution, while the choice of screen area for SPEC-MATE's workspace is also critical.
Not all programs load successfully to Wafadrive. Barry Blitz of AT & Y explains that this is due to a higher memory requirement of the Wafadrive operating system work area. He reckons that about 80% of programs will transfer easily to Wafadrive. Further problems were encountered with the BETA disk interface. Apparently there are several sub-versions of version 3.0 DOS. At present only particular issues of the BETA DOS 3.0 seem to work with SPEC-MATE. It appears that earlier versions of the DOS have different call addresses and the drive does not respond. Barry believes that Cumana have batches of earlier versions still on sale. AT & Y is investigating the possibility of accommodating these earlier versions into the SPEC-MATE ROM. Also on line is an improved version of SPEC-MATE which will be able to operate with the OPUS disk drive system (in 2-3 weeks).
File handling programs such as TASWORD can be saved with their files to produce working versions on Wafadrive or disk. An interesting feature of SPEC- MATE is the fact that back-up programs run without the presence of SPEC-MATE: they are fully independent. Perhaps this is the reason why AT & Y stress in the SPEC-MATE manual the point of not pirating software...