The Einstein 256 - This was the successor to the Einstein TC01 and as the picture shows was a lot smaller. In the UK, the standard package comes complete with purpose built 14" high definition coulour monitor, computer, connecting lead, master disc and comprehensive documentation. For use in other countries, or for use with composite video monitors, there is a television adapter, which allows you to use the computer with a domestic TV or composite video monitor, although this will result in some loss of display quality owing to the restrictions imposed by such displays.
Gone is the traditional Einstein image of a large machine on top of which sits a monitor. The Einstein 256 comes in a keyboard-sized package with its neat slimline 3" drive conveniently to the right of the keyboard. There is no provision for a second drive to be installed in the computer itself. Instead, disc drive expansion is by an add-on unit. The display has undergone a transformation too. It's more in keeping with the latest monitor style TV's. The display provides the power for the computer, and houses the loudspeaker, through which the orchestrations can be heard. Two simple controls are provided : Volume and Brightness. These are concealed behind a little door beneath the screen. Alongside the controls is the signal/power connector, into which plugs the single lead from the computer.
According to the boffins at TATUNG's Labs, care has been taken in the design to ensure compatibility with existing Einstein software, so as to take advantage of the 500 or so software titles that are available for the new machine's predecessor (TC01). Another advantage is that existing users of Einstein are not "alienated" should they decide to change machines, or acquire Einstein 256 as a second computer. The degree of compatibility is, indeed, impressive. Over 98% of existing software will run on the new machine.
CPU AND MEMORY
The processor is the ubiquitous Z80A running flat out at 4MHz. The choice of Z80 takes advantage of the wealth of programming experience around for this particular processor, and also allows the use of CP/M software, of which there are some 2,000 - 3,000 titles out there in the jungle, many of which have already been ported onto Einstein format.
As its name suggests, Einstein 256 has 256K of RAM. Many computers that give you lots of memory don't really give the user any substantial benefits. This is not the case with Einstein 256. The memory is partitioned into 64K of CPU memory, and 192K of video RAM (VRAM). The massive amount of VRAM means that the machine is capable of very impressive graphics.... more of which later! When not being used by the video display processor, the VRAM may be used for other purposes - RAM disc for example. The architecture ensures that the full 64K of CPU RAM is available for user software. With DOS loaded, the transient program area (TPA) - the space for your programs - is 56K.
The machine operating system (MOS), COPY and BACKUP utilities reside in a 16k ROM. MOS is based upon TATUNG/Xtal MOS, but has been greatly enhanced by the design team to fully support the MSX 2 Enhanced Video Display Processor (EVDP) that is the heart of Einstein 256's graphics capabilities. There is a providision to expand the ROM to 32K.
With the Einstein 256, TATUNG follow the trend, first set by the Einstein computer. For a 3" disc drive fitted as standard, The drive chosen is the Matsushita EME-150, which provides a capacity of 250K bytes per side, unformatted. The discs themselves can be flipped over, giving a total disc capacity of 500K bytes, with a formatted capacity of 188K per side.
The new machine supports up to two drives, the additional one being fitted externally. Fitting the extra drive is a matter of removing the cover of the computer, removing the signal cable connecting the internal drive to the circuit board, plugging in the lead from the external drive, and refitting the cover.
TEXT AND GRAPHICS
As mentioned earlier, the Einstein 256 owes its graphics ability to the large amount of VRAM, in combination with the YAMAHA V9938 MSX 2 display chip. The hardware supports two text modes and 7 graphics modes, and the text modes allow for 40 and 80 column text to be displayed in colour. The ultimate resolution of the graphics is 512 x 424 pixels. Four character generators are provided : English (TSO 646); ASCII; German; and Spanish. The appropriate character set can be selected from both MOS and BASIC, while the character set displayed on power up can be set by means of a DIP switch inside the computer.
Text and graphics can be displayed in 512 colours. In most modes, colour selection is from a palette of 16 colours, with the palette being chosen from the 512 colours available on the machine. A line interrupt structure allows programmers to have all 512 colours on the screen at one time. In graphics mode 7, the display is organised as 256 x 192/212 pixels. Each pixel can have any one of 256 colours.
A total of 32 multi-coloured sprites is available to the user, with each sprite based upon a matrix of 8x8 or 16x16 pixels. Each row of 8 (or 16) pixels can have its own foreground colour - the background colour is always transparent. There can be up to 8 sprites per horinzontal row - in sharp contrast to the limited sprite ability of machines such as the Commodore 64, or the Japanese MSX 1.
The sound generator is the same device that is used in the Einstein, Amstrad and MSX computers. It provides three "music" channels and one noise channel. Pitch, amplitude and duration are under software control. The display monitor houses the loudspeaker, which is much larger than fitted in most micros. Coupled with a 0.25 watt amplifier, the sound quality is a great improvement on the standards achieved by most other micros. At the rear of the computer itself, there is a stereo output jack capable of driving a pair of low impedance Walkman style headphones. The stereo effects are created by using channel A of the sound generator as the left hand channel, channel C the right, and channel B the centre.
A number of I/O ports are fitted to the Einstein 256: a serial port (RS232-C); Centronics printer port; user port; two digital joystick ports; a read only audio cassette port and a port that TATUNG call the "VAMP", which is an achronym for Video, Mouse and light Pen interface. Unusually, a number of logical ports have been combined into one physical port. The joystick, Centronics printer and user ports are all combined into the two joystick connectors, and the system works well in practice. The I/O can drive either a serial or parallel printer, and the printer default setting on power-up is determined by the setting of an internal DIP switch.
The computer provides standard linear RGB, Composite Video and mono audtio outputs for the display monitor/TV adapter. The same socket also accepts power, thus eliminating the multitude of leads often associated with computers.....
DOS and BASIC
The DOS (EDOS) is a development of TATUNG/Xtal DOS 1.31 used on the Einstein and originally developed with the first-time user in mind. The command are clear and meaningful with easy to understand error messages rather than the obscure codes you get on CP/M.(No more BDOS error on A:!) EDOS can run CP/M programs, and is compatible with TATUNG/Xtal DOS.
EBASIC is a greatly enhanced version of the TATUNG/Xtal BASIC 4 used on the new machine's younger brother. It has been extended by the design team to support the new features of Einstein 256, and has a comprehensive set of over 198 commands and functions, many of which control the graphics and sound. EBASIC supports 80,64,40 and 32 column multi-coloured text modes. Only graphic modes 2 and 6 are supported, thus the maximum resolution available from BASIC (Without accessing the EVDP chip directly) is 512x192 pixels. The demonstration programs on the Master Disc show just how easy it is to generate complex programs with comparative ease. A welcome addition is the ability to control the serial port from BASIC - a feature omitted on the original language.
The Master Disc supplied with the computer contains the BASIC, DOS, utilities, demonstration programs and five arcade games. There are four utility programs: FKEY, which allows the user to define the 8 function keys without having to load BASIC; TAPE, which allows the user to read pre-recorded programs from cassette tape, DOSCOPY, which allows you to copy the DOS tracks from one disc to another - a very useful feature to allow the creation of a turnkey system from applications programs which come without DOS; and FORMAT which initialises a blank disc. (The COPY and BACKUP utilities are in ROM, and are available all the time EDOS is loaded.)
TATUNG have drawn on their wealth of experience in television design and manufacture, and have developed a tailor made 14" colour monitor to go with the new machine. By combining the power supply for the computer with that of the monitor a saving in cost and an improvement in overall reliability has been achieved. The monitor has forward facing controls and computer connector. The quality of the resulting display is excellent, and I had no difficulty i reading 80 column text.
In the event that a different display, or even a domestic TV is required, TATUNG have developed a television adapter. This is a device that provides power for the computer and interfaces to a Composite Video monitor or standard television set. It goes without saying that you cannot expect the same quality of display as that provided by the purpose built monitor.
The Einstein 256 employs the latest technology. In order to get all these "goodies" into a sensible size, TATUNG have used a custom micro chip, designed by the Telford Team and manufactured by HITACHI. This chip handles the memory, I/O decoding and interrupt logic. 256K DRAM is used, organised as 64K x 4 bits. The V9938 video display processor runs at an incredible 21 Mhz! The disc controller is a Western Digital single chip controller, WD177OPH. The ubiquitous 8251A provides the serial interface, whilst the Z80 CTC provides the timing functions.
The mighy tome takes the form of an A4 sized book comprising some 300 pages. There is the usual section on setting up the bits and pieces, an introduction to computing, a section on BASIC, and a series of appendices covering memory maps, I/O maps, ASCII code charts, circuit description and diagram, connector details, hardware specification, and ROM routines.
The manual is printed in an easy to read type face. There is no detailed information to enable machine code programmers to use the new display chip, although the functions of the various display registers are given. This is because the data for the chip is itself a book! A programmer's guide to the Einstein 256 is published by SYNTAXSOFT of Burnley, Lancashire, and explains the display chip in more detail.
AT A GLANCE
* Compatible with existing Einstein Software
* Built-in 3" disc drive
* Matching 14" high definition colour display
* Memory : 256K
* Processor : Z80A - Clock Speed - 4Mhz
* Display Processor : V9938
* Display Resolution : 512 x 424 pixels max (512 x 192 pixels from EBASIC)
* Sprites 32 total, 8 per line - multi coloured
* 512 colours
* I/O : Dual digital joystick port
* Serial Port
* Read only cassette port
* Stereo sound output for headphones
* Centronics/general purpose printer port
* VAMP (video, mouse and light pen) interface
* 3- Channel sound, noise, generator
* Keyboard : Typewriter style full travel, 69 keys, including 48 alphanumeric, 8 function, 9 control and 4 cursor keys
* Language : EBASIC
* Operating system : EDOS
* Sound : 3 tones plus noise