Interested in having access to your very own PD library — on a single disk? Vic Lennard meets up with the Atari GEMini CD‑ROM...
Some months ago my predecessor, Martin Russ, mentioned the CD‑ROM revolution. Technology never stands still; four months can be a long time in computing, and that is certainly the case here. Four months ago, a decent CD‑ROM drive would have cost you at least £250, and the only CD‑ROMs available were either Mac or PC‑designated versions. Now, you can now buy a good quality CD‑ROM drive for around £160, and the first Atari‑specific CD‑ROM has just hit the streets...
A CD‑ROM is essentially a data version of the standard audio CDs that you handle every day. It looks and feels similar to the point that most CD‑ROM drives actually play CD audio discs, having a headphone socket on the front panel and a pair of audio outputs on the rear. So working with CD‑ROM isn't such a great step‑up technologically.
I've been using an Apple CD300 CD‑ROM drive for some time — with an Atari 1040STFM! Surprised? Well, the CD300 is a SCSI‑embedded drive, which means that it has a standard socket on the rear. While the Apple Mac can immediately support such a beastie, the ST does not have a SCSI socket; it has a DMA variety instead, and so needs a product to act as a go‑between — a DMA‑SCSI converter. This isn't too much of a problem, as at least two different types exist. ICD's The Link works well with the Apple drive; another possibility is System Solutions' Translator. Both of these devices are readily available, and include the relevant software drivers that need to be installed on your hard disk or floppy system.
If you are fortunate enough to own a Falcon, you'll be pleased to hear that you don't need a converter at all, because a SCSI socket sits proudly on the rear panel. All you require is the special lead, which will set you back a further £25 or so.
If you use your ST for more than just music, then a CD‑ROM drive gives you access to a whole host of goodies, especially in the graphics domain. While floppy disk formats differ from computer to computer, CD‑ROMs generally remain compatible across the board, adhering to a standard called 'ISO9660'. So you can read a Mac or PC disc on your ST, which is good news — CD‑ROMs such as GIFs Galore hold thousands of quality images for you to use in your DTP or word processing work.
The real interest lies in the brand new Atari GEMini CD‑ROM, the first Atari‑specific disc on the market. Load this up, and the enormity of the technology will take your breath away — the disc holds 644.5Mb of data, the equivalent of almost 900 full floppy disks! In fact, there are over 33,000 files on this disc, of which nearly 3,000 are actual programs, the rest being resource or data files. There are 1,200 fonts in nine different formats, including Degas and GDOS, some 400 desk accessories, over 3,000 games files... and a music folder containing just under 60 megabytes of data and some 1,700 files!
So, what's on offer? For kick‑off, what synths do you own? If you have a Casio CZ101, or a synth from that family, there are dozens of banks of tones. Same for Roland's MT32 and multi‑timbral D‑series, Yamaha DX7, Ensoniq ESQ1, Kawai K1 and Yamaha TX81Z. And not just sounds — many of these synths also have editors included for them, such as CZPatch and DXPatch. Most of these refer to older synths, and have been around for a while — chances are that you already own some of them, as they are either public domain or shareware. But the joy of a CD‑ROM like this is that they all exist in one place, and in a format that cannot be damaged easily or pick up a virus!
Also included are various shareware sequencers such as Alchemie Junior. There's also a few demo versions, such as Dr. T's Tiger Cub and RealTime, Microdeal's Concerto and Hybrid Arts' EZ‑Track, all of which are functional apart from saving and a few other features.
It would have been nice to find thousands of MIDI song files, but no dice. I'm not surprised; it's often difficult to be certain who holds the copyright for song files, and it only takes one mistake to enforce the withdrawal of a product such as this. Still...
If you're into Christmas (at this time of year? — Ed), then you'll like MIDITree, a MIDI File player that sports an on‑screen flashing Xmas tree and a folder including 110 Christmas MIDI files. Also included is Playback, a MIDI File play‑back program that appears to be public domain by its very inclusion on this disk — so if you've been looking for an easy‑to‑use play‑back module for your MIDI files, here it is.
If you're into Soundtracker and sound clips, then GEMini is a haven — TCB‑Tracker, ST‑NoiseTracker, DigiComposer and Jukebox are all included, as is the Falcon‑specific Pro‑Tracker.
Have I missed anything? How about Robo Bop, a rhythm pattern creator? Or MDFormat, which plays music while it formats a disk??
While there is bound to be some dross within so many thousands of files, it's worth remembering that this is the first such disc for Atari users, and includes a wide selection of public domain, shareware and freeware products that have appeared over the past nine years. As such, the quality control has been lax in places and many of the programs have been superseded — but that disk‑copying utility you've always needed is likely to be in the Utility folder, though you may have to search a little.
Other CD‑ROMs will follow, and there are bound to be overlaps in programs — perhaps someone will create a music‑specific disc if there is the public demand.
Once you have a CD‑ROM drive in your system, you also open up the possibility of incorporating holiday and family snapshots within your DTP or document processor files. Kodak's PhotoCD technology has taken a while to filter through, but you can now take a roll of film to the chemist and get the results back on a CD‑ROM that your drive will then read. The results are generally of a very high quality; witness the PhotoCD image on this page...
- CD‑ROM: Acronym for Compact Disc Read Only Memory.
- DMA: Direct Memory Access, the type of interface used by the ST for connection to a hard drive. If the latter is SCSI‑embedded, as most are now, then a DMA‑SCSI converter (usually called a host adaptor) is required.
- Double‑speed: Look for a CD‑ROM drive labelled as 'double‑speed' or 'multi‑spin' as these provide you with a faster data transfer rate.
- Multi‑session: Most modern CD‑ROM drives can read PhotoCD images that have been written to the disc after the initial 'session'.
- SCSI: The Small Computer System Interface is the standard connection on Apple Macs for scanners, hard disks and CD‑ROM drives. The Atari Falcon also has such an in‑built interface.
ICD's The Link (£89.95), Translator (£69.95) and the Atari GEMini CD‑ROM (£29.95) are all available from System Solutions (Tel: 081 693 3355). Apple CD300 CD‑ROM drives can currently be obtained for around £160 from your local Mac dealer.