DISCIPLE WITH THE RIGHT CONNECTIONS
Say halo to the Disciple - a holy wonderful interface.
The breakup of Sinclair Research has produced a swarm of peripherals from ex-employees with an intimate knowledge of the Spectrum and a mortgage to feed. The latest add-on from the exclusive ex-Sinclair club is the subtly-named Disciple disc/printer/joystick/network unit.
Canonised in September. at the same time as the 128K+2, it's already into the second version, and this is the one reviewed here.
The Disciple resembles nothing so much as an overgrown Interface 1. It fits in the same way, with a couple of screws bolting it to the underside of Spectrum 48Ks and it's compatible with both 128Ks and 128K+2s. The connectors used to hook up to the unreasonably large number of accessories that it supports are mostly BBC micro type, thus assuring lots of leads available immediately. See, the Beeb is good for something...
Briefly, you can use any disc drive, any parallel printer, any standard joystick, and network to any other Disciple or Interface 1 that you happen to have lying around. It's also got the obligatory Magic Button, for putting desirable data on to disc by divine intervention.
The first time you use your Disciple, you have to configure it to your specifications. This is done by a short and explicit program loaded from cassette. You get asked various questions about your disc drive, your printer and exactly how you want to use the network. The program is logical, painless and well explained in the manual. Once that's done, a disc is formatted by the program and your personalised system is saved. That disc is used in future for starting everything up but, if you find that you've got something wrong or you buy a new printer, you can always configure it again. It only took me about three minutes, including looking things up in my printer handbook.
The network is better than the old Interface 1, as one station can always talk to another, even if the other is busy. Perfect for schools with lots of Spectrums, especially since all stations can use one disc drive, and a station designated Master can look at the screen of any of the pupils on the net.
The joystick can be either Kempston or Sinclair type, which covers just about every game ever written. They work, too.
As the software inside the Disciple doesn't use any of Spectrum's Ram, it will work with most commercial games and stuff. I took a peek inside, and was suitably impressed with the quality of construction. Just a couple of wire links... better than the Interface 1.
All these facilities are available from Basic in much the same way as Interface 1 did it (like Load *"M", 1, "Kalisti), or by friendlier syntax (Load D1 "Hoopla") or by selecting a program from the catalogue listing (Load P3 loads the third program on the catalogue).
The snapshot button works well, too. A bonus over other similar products is that if you press Cap Shift before pressing the snapshot button, you get a copy of the screen on your printer. Very useful to prove to your friends that you really have got to the end of Zappem. And if you have a game or peripheral that objects to the Disciple, there's an Off button. There's a full edge connector brought out to the back, in fact it's even got some extra signals, to do with the disc drive.
And it all works luverly. The manual's good, clear and with a few helpful hints that might even stop people writing to Sinclair Surgery. Techies will like the list of port addresses (but there's not much more heavy info), and I hear tell of a hook-code compatible version on the cards.
I'm impressed. With peripherals like this, the Spectrum can walk on water. This interface saint bad (that's enough religious jokes - Ed).