Shiuming Lai tests the
latest networking solution
We Atari folk used to have the luxury
of custom-made network adaptors, most notably BioData's
excellent BioNet and Riebl's VME/Mega Bus Ethernet products,
both very reliable and still in commercial use today.
Also hailing from Germany is this new home user kit,
which takes the route of providing an Atari interface
and software to make use of an existing PC device.
Elmar Hilgart's Connect It bundle
arrives exceptionally neatly packed in a nice bright
Deutsche Post Euro Express box. Inside you'll find a
Genius E3000II Pocket LAN Adapter which, though clearly
looking dated with its lack of Windows 9x drivers and
copyright date of 1994 (don't let that put you off,
as the product and packaging is in mint condition),
is actually a nifty little device. It has both BNC and
RJ45 sockets, comes with a mains power supply (230V,
50Hz), a power-tap lead to run it off the PS/2 port
of your portable PC if needed (irrelevant to this review,
I know), and a BNC T-adaptor. Rather less thoughtful
is the omission of the unit's MAC address on the outside,
so that has been hand-written on each one by Elmar.
At first glance you'd be forgiven
for thinking the Pocket LAN Adapter could plug straight
into your Atari's parallel port, as it's obviously designed
this way, with a pass-through port on one side. It's
not as easy as that because Atari's parallel port is
missing certain signals, so that's where the second
half of the package comes in.
A tiny custom circuit board is included,
plugging into the Atari ROM port at one side and connecting
to the Pocket LAN Adapter at the other side via a short
ribbon cable. To keep costs down this PCB is not encased,
so it must be handled with extreme care. Personally
I'd be happy to pay extra for a properly cased board,
though in fairness it practically disappears from sight
once plugged in and there's still the danger of accidental
unplugging while powered on.
If you don't want to or can't use
the mains power supply, the Pocket LAN Adapter may be
powered directly from the ROM port thanks to another
useful feature, see below.
Despite unclear print quality in places
- I'm told this will improve - the bilingual (German
and English) manual does a good job of explaining how
to install the Ethernet module with the provided TCP/IP
stack, STinG. After tweaking a firewall setting, my
Falcon and PC were happily pinging each other (Computer
Ping Pong?), indicating the successful establishment
of the IP link.
Once this is done you're in business.
So far STinG has enabled networking between Ataris using
what ports are built-in, and now with Ethernet support
it's just got a whole lot better. An obvious application
is cross-platform file transfer. For the moment this
has to be done with FTP, no transparent file sharing
like in BioNet or Windows, where you can easily and
directly access network volumes from within programs
like any other drive, or on the desktop. There may soon
be an implementation of Samba or NFS for MagiC and TOS
users, allowing just this. It's been possible with MiNT
for several years.
If your network is going to be exclusively
Atari and limited to eight machines or less, there are
still benefits to this package. First of all you can
have a proprietary file-sharing system using Vassilis
Papathanassiou's BNet software, while Ethernet interconnection
will give superior transmission speed and distance (up
to 500m with Cat. 5 media and signal repeaters every
100m) to any of the built-in ports.
Being a low-cost product it's, not
unsurprisingly, limited to 10 Mbps bandwidth (10Base,
the slowest form of Ethernet). Throughput seems to be
typically about 1/12 of that on my point-to-point link
with cross-over cable here. CD-R(W) and Zip will remain
popular for rush jobs; where they lose out to "real"
networking, regardless of speed, is unsupervised batch
I recommend the ROM-Port Ethernet
Link, it's good value. You're not going to break any
speed records but the hardware is stable and software
development continues as I write, ensuring more functionality
and ease of use. Better act now if you want one because
they're selling quickly. Our friends in Sweden snapped
up the last lot like marinated herrings.