Sunday 5 June 2011

Laser 200

This is a Laser 200 Color Computer, an 8-bit micro released around 1983. It was pretty widespread in its basic varieties, such as the Salora Fellow in Finland and the Dick Smith VZ-200 in Australia, where it was quite popular. At least it's the source of most information and material on the net on these varieties.

This particular version has only 2 kilobytes of RAM in addition to 2 kilobytes of video memory, which makes it less than a VIC-20. The Salora Fellow and the VZ had at least 6 kilobytes, which can be considered standard for this type of computer.

The machine has both RF and video outputs, the video cable gives quite a solid picture on a television set. The character display mode allows 32x16 characters on screen. The programs are written in a fairly standard Microsoft basic.

The example program I wrote changes into the graphics mode and plots a sine wave on screen. The graphics mode has 128x64 pixels with four colours. The colours can be used freely but then again the resolution is not very huge. It's unclear whether the character display can be made to point to user defined characters. This could greatly expand the graphics capabilities of the machine, although 2 kilobytes of RAM is not really enough for storing a copy of the character set.

I used an audio cable to save and load programs between the Laser and a PC. I used Audacity to store the data as wave files. For the PC, there are programs for converting binary files (such as games) into such an audio file. I was unable to load anything interesting this way, as most of the programs are written for larger memory!

Another interesting piece of software translates plain text files into basic programs compatible with these computers. Using the aforementioned software they can then be made into audio files. This is a relief, as it is a pain to type in programs with the bad keyboard. Double-typing errors are very prevalent, and the keyboard is generally very unresponsive. The keyboard has keywords for each key, so as to allow entering long words with a combination of two keys. Fortunately, it does not enforce the keywords like the Sinclair computers would do. Having the keywords printed on the keyboard is a handy reference, though.

Here's the kind of cable setup that allows storing files to a PC or a tape recorder. The audio connector is the one between the power cable and the video cable (the yellow one). The tape connector is a stereo audio jack. The other channel is for in and the other for out. When saving, the loading cable has to be removed. The adapter divides the connector, but curiously it needed stereo jacks to actually make the connection. This is probably because I did not understand what the adapter actually does.

All in all, the Laser 200 has been quite a fun little ride. There’s something fresh about a computer that can be immediately used for BASIC programming. The limited feature set encourages a relaxed attitude towards exploring the machine. A wealth of materials, code, utilities and manuals exist on the Internet, so all problems are likely to have a solution. Sadly the keyboard is very poor for quick programming. However, loading little pieces of software out from another computer takes only a few seconds really, as the programs can never be very long. Perhaps later I’ll try to compile some z80 code.

Laser 200 at