AS GOOD AS A +3?
Roy Stead investigates Miles Gordon's +d - the new disc drive interface threatening to superceed the +3.
Got a Spectrum which isn't a Plus 3? Join the majority. So what are you going to do about getting your tape software onto ultra-post disc?
When Baron Alan Sugar d'Amstrad launched the Plus 3, everyone became aware of the advantages of disc. It's faster than tape; it's more reliable than tape; and with a disc you can do clever things like loading a specified program from any position on the disc, or searching for programs and data files using "pattern matching" sorting techniques. For games players, the main advantage is that you can sort your huge piles of cassettes into a few fast-loading discs.
The Plus D is an interface which connects any Spectrum except the Plus 3 to a 3.5 inch or 5.25 inch disc drive. Bear in mind that these aren't the same as the 3 inch drive built into the Plus 3, so it won't allow you to use any software released for the Plus 3.
Like the various microdrive interfaces on the market, the Plus D allows you to take "snapshots" of the Spectrum's 48K or 128K memory, or just the screen, and save it to disc. On a double-sided disc you have 780K of storage space, so you could get two 128K snapshots, eleven 48K snapshots and the odd screen file onto one disc. Handy, yes?
When you first plug in the Plus D, you need to let it know what type of disc drive or printer you are using. This is done by loading up a system program and answering a handful of questions on its set-up menu.
From then on, all you have to do is load your favourite program from tape, press the reset button to zap it onto disc, then reload any 48K program in about three seconds!
Since you can transfer the program at any point, this allows you to save games at high levels if you don't want to go trudging through the early stages every time you play. You can also dump graphic screens directly to the printer, or save them to disc for printouts later.
The manual is written in plain English, and the syntax used to control the disc drive is very much like that of the Microdrive. The Plus D is compatible with the Disciple, an earlier product which also features joystick ports and various other widgets, and both can be used with a number of "werious" packages such as Tasword 2, Devpac Assembler, The Last Word, Masterfile and many more. Kempston is currently working on an Amiga-like window/icon/mouse desktop system using the Plus D.
The command syntax is dead simple. There are two ways to load a program from disc; either use Load d1 "Program Name", or use Cat 1 to produce a list of all the programs on the disc together with a file number, and use Load p(number).
It's also easy to use the Plus D as a printer interface; the Poke@ command is used to set line length, spacing, margins and so on, and Llist, Lprint and Save Screens are used to produce normal or large-size screen dumps.
But it's as a disc-drive interface that the Plus D really shines; it's ideal for beginners or advanced users (as you can examine discs sector by sector if you wish), and there's an excellent support service from the independent Disciple and Plus D Users' Group (INDUG).
At £49.95 for the interface, or £129.95 for the interface and a double-sided double-density 80-track disc drive, it won't cost you much more to invest in a Plus D and drive than it would to sell your old Spectrum and invest in a Plus 3. The Plus D is an excellent system, and unless someone brings out a product which allows you to transfer tape software onto Plus 3 three-inch discs, it's the perfect choice for anyone who is fed up with waiting five minues for their games to load.
Product: Plus D disc/printer interface
Supplier: Miles Gordon Technology, Unit 4, Chesterton Mill, French's Road, Cambridge, CB4 3NP, 0223-311665
Price: £49.95, or £129.95 with 3.3" disc drive. 5.25" drives also available.