Epson PX-8 (Geneva) review

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info...@ucbvax.arpa

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Sep 22, 1984, 9:13:38 PM9/22/84
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From: hplabs!hao!seismo!ut-sally!utmbvax!mmr@BERKELEY

The following is based on working with the PX-8.

> There is 15K RAM disk available as drive A:.

The RAM disk can be set to as high as 24K, but some programs won't run
with it at the maximum. In any case, 24K is still too small. A separate
60K or 64K RAM disk is available and, I think, mandatory. The separate
RAM disks attach to the base unit making a very nice package. They do ad
~$500 to the price though.

> I was not impressed by the data transfer rate of the disk. I believe I
> saw something that said that it was running at 38.4 Kbs, but I may be wrong.

I don't have the disk, but that is the rate given in the manual. Haven't seen
the disk even, but at that rate they certainly would be slow.

> Another one has a slimmed down version of Wordstar, although I think that
> this one will be harder to learn, since the ^J help menues are among the
> missing.

Almost certainly true. The version of Wordstar will be very easy to use
for anyone who's used it on a larger machine -- only a few things are missing.
One annoyance: because the menus are missing, it's not possible to see
the state of various toggles that are normally displayed on the ^O menu.

> There are two additional ROM drives that I wasn't able to see: a scheduling
> program (by Micro-pro), and a spreadsheet program. There is also an
> internal micro-cassette tape recorder, but I was not able to discern how it
> was operated, in the time available to me.

The scheduling program looks real nice, but it stores the schedule in an
expandable area of main memory. Other programs may interfere and this
area is definitely less secure than a file (even on RAM disk) would be.
The spreadsheet program is similar to SuperCalc (not to CalcStar!) but
much more limited. The cassette, for the most part, looks like a disk and
is operated as the H: drive. There are some limitations like no random
access (random access BDOS calls are supported provided that the records
are actually read in order starting from the first) and only one file
open at a time on the tape. The tape is, however, very slow. It's not
really practical to work from it, so these restrictions aren't all that
important.

> Another BIG boo, is the fact that they have chosen to go non-standard on their
> RS-232. They use what appears to be a mini-DIN plug. They have cables that
> adjust from their plug to DB-25s, but they are male plugs, so I would need at
> least a gender-mender in addition to their $30 one-foot cable. I asked the
> Epson (not the dealer's) technical representative if the information to craft
> my own cable came with the unit, he "thought" so.

The information for making cables is in the manual. Even so, I'll second
the boo. The last thing I needed was more RS232 cables.

> I noticed no battery-low indicator on the unit, and the display documentation
> said that if "you turned the unit on and the display didn't show anything, it
> was time to recharge the unit." I certainly would hope that the screen
> doesn't die on me after I had been working on a report for several hours. I
> asked if there were a spare battery pack that you could carry with you,
> but the tech rep said that he would have to get back to me on that.

If you are working with the machine and the battery get's low, it displays
the message "Charge Battery" and locks up. No warning. An extra battery
pack should be no problem -- just order the replacement battery -- it just
plugs in, but it would be a bit of a nuisance as I don't believe Epson provides
any external way to charge the battery. One could, of course, find or build
a charger. There is a public domain program to check the battery condition;
this helps, but, since you have to run it to check, is not nearly as good
as a warning system.

A few quibbles not contained in the original posting:

There is no parallel printer port. This is strange since RS232 is not
standard on Epson printers. WordStar (and some other things) are configured
for Epson printers and are not changable.

The technical documentation is not adequate. There is nothing on accessing
the I/O ports except from BASIC.

Not all of the standard CP/M utilities are included. It is arguable that
those not included aren't appropriate on a lap top, but I feel that if they
are advertising CP/M they should give it to you.

My bottom-line opinion: for some people, an adequate lap-portable, and I feel
that Epson came close to making me part with my money, but I believe that I
will wait until they make further adjustments.

I do like the machine very much though. My base point is the Radio Shack
Model 100 (essentially the same as the NEC). Languages other than BASIC are
supported. Unless you have the diskette drives, it would be difficult to
run a compiler on the PX-8 (Turbo Pascal may be an exception), but it's no
trick to compile on another machine and move it to the PX-8. Standard
CP/M software runs quite nicely (subject, of course, to disk space and
screen limitations). Once you do figure out how to use it, I/O to the
RS232 is easier and more flexible than I've seen on any other micro.

All in all, I'd say that in spite of some flaws, the PX-8 is an excellant
portable machine, particularly for someone who has another CP/M system.
--

Mike Rubenstein, OACB, UT Medical Branch, Galveston TX 77550

info...@ucbvax.arpa

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Sep 23, 1984, 8:06:00 AM9/23/84
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From: decvax!mcnc!ecsvax!mjg@BERKELEY

I also read about the multi-unit for the PX-8 in a review in Computer
Shopper a month ago. It said the multi-unit also will have a parrallel
centronics type printer port - can anyone confirm this ?

Mike Gingell ....decvax!mcnc!ecsvax!mjg

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