The P-Gram

The P-GRAM Card
Another way to dump cartridges
MicroPENDIUM December, 1988

By Harry Brashear

GRAM loading devices.., what are they? Perhaps 1 had better explain that before we get into this, but let's keep it simple. There have been a couple of these devices circulating around the community for a while now. The most famous one, the GRAM-Kracker, came from Miller Graphics. Essentially, what they do is grab the contents of a cartridge, put it on a disk, and from there it can be loaded into a special RAM. This allows two things of im­portance to happen:

1. YOU can now "throw away" the car­tridge and, 2. You can now make changes in the cartridge's contents because you can get to the RAM to manipulate the program.

Take, for instance, Extended BASIC. Soon after the GRAM-Kracker came out, various people began to redo and/or add to some of the routines in the XB program. The end result was the Miller designed Super Extended BASIC cartridge. All of the routines that are now in this cartridge were available on disk to add to Extended BASIC before SXB came out.

Here's another example. How about all those old cartridges that defaulted to the RS232 port for printing. Put them into a GRAM device and you can change the RS232 to PlO with no problem. Those two examples hit the closest to home for most people, but it doesn't even begin to tell what can be done with a little imagination. The bottom line is control over things that you had to accept as carved in stone before. Now with all of this in mind, let's take a look at the P-GRAM card.

I had in hand a hard-wired version on a prototype board, and it operated flawless-Iv the whole time I had it. There has ob­viously been a great deal of time put into the engineering and software development of this package. I just couldn't find a single bug.

The first thing you want to do when you get the P-GRAM is to print out the docs, all 46 pages of them. FORTY-SIX PAGES!! Don't get nervous. Instructions on getting started occur within the first 10, and if you know where the computer switch is, you can do it with ease. The docs are as clear as glass all the way through the highly technical data in the last chapter.

If you're a walking ad for the Horizon RAM like I am (I have three in my P-box), you don't want anything interfering with those little beauties. The idea of something With another CRU address switch draws persperation from my forehead at the mere thought. As it turns out, though, the P-GRAM likes switch No. 7(CRU 1600), so it never gets in the way of my three RAMs, or anything else for that matter. Setting this switch is the very first thing you should do, then you can go ahead and drop it into any remaining slot of your P-box.

The next thing is to load the DSR routine into the P-GRAM. This is just like loading the ROS into your Horizon RAM, and just as simple. It's provided with the software and will load from almost any cartridge. I used the EditorAssembler, but it can also use Extended BASIC or TI-Writer. I wanted to get the optional clock going next, which was just a matter of going into BASIC and typing CALL PTIME. I was then presentd with inputs for day of week, month, date, year and, of course, the time based on a 24 hour clock. So much for that! I also had to go into my RAM MENU with a sector editor and get rid of the string "CLOCK". This is so that the time would function in the upper right corner of my menu screen. No big deal, the docs tell you how to do it step by step.

OK, time to load a cartridge. Needless to say, the first thing I wanted to load in was my Super Extended BASIC. To me the most important fact involving this P-GRAM card is that NOTHING will ever have to be plugged into my cartridge port again. In as few words as possible, and just this simply, do it this way: 1) Install the cartridge you ,want to save and go to BASIC. Type CALL PG and this brings up a five-part menu. 2) Select No. 1, "Initialize GRAM". This clears and resets all of the GRAM/RAM memory, and takes about three seconds.

3) Put a disk into your drive and select "Save P-GRAM". Enter a file name and the cartridge is dumped to disk in 34 sec­tor memory image pieces. How many pieces depends on how big the cartridge program is. The Editor Assembler is about one-sixth the size of SXB.

4) Select "Load P-GRAM" from the menu and enter the file name of the now disk-based cartridge.

5) Once the program is loaded, quit and shut off the console. Pull the cartridge and forget it. When you power up again, you will find the name of the cartridge on your menu. Press the corresponding key, and bingo, there's your cartridge, and there's nothing up your sleeve, or in the cartridge port. How simple can you make it?

The fourth selection of the menu is for the memory editor. This is where you can get into some really heavy hacking on whatever program(s) you have in the P-GRAM card. I'm not going to get into this too much, though, because frankly, other than some string manipulation with sector editors, I'm not well versed on this subject. Suffice to say you can shift whole blocks of memory around, print them out, and do whatever else you tend to do with sector editors. Frankly, I can find enough reasons to buy the card without getting into this stuff. I don't want to knock it, I'm just not into it. Other people are going to have a ball with this thing and, in short order, we are probably going to have all kinds of neat "cartridge" updates.

I want to stop here for just one second and talk a little about the community and how they deal with products, particularly hardware.

There are already a lot of GRAM-Krackers out there. I'm not sure how many, but a lot of them. The Gramulator is also a reality, and now along comes the P-GRAM card. It should be clear to people by now that these devices are not just a fad, but an important upgrade to the TI com­puter. The Horizon RAMcard proved itself to be the best of at least three or four cards of this nature, as will the P-GRAM prove itself in time. But the Horizon virtually sat on the shelf for a year or two before it took off. Why? Simply because people tend to be afraid of new upgrades. Generally speaking, though, there is no need to feel this way. Everything new that comes out is usually downgradable. In other words, it will work with whatever you have until new stuff takes hold. In the case of the P-GRAM, everything that has been worked on, or created with the GK will work with it. So there are a lot of things available already to help with this piece of equip­ment, along with the superb backup that Bud Mills gives his products. The more any single item gets sold, the more new pro­ducts people will come up with to work WITH it. I know there are a few stingers out there, but when it comes from com­panies such as Bud Mills, Rave, and others that have supported their products to the hilt, don't sit on it. Work with it! 'Nuff said!

The P-GRAM is available as a kit for $150. This is cheaper than both of its predecessors for the initial product. The clock chip is a $20 option, but I can't con­ceive of anyone not wanting it. (Providing they don't have a Triple Tech card or some other stand alone clock.) For a fully assembled and guaranteed one it costs $180, or $200 with the clock installed.

The card has 72K of memory of which 8K is reserved for the DSR, etc., but I have been told that it can be added to later. (Don't quote me on that, though.) I don't know how much more you would really need. The card came to me with Editor Assembler, Disk Manager Three, and TI-Writer installed, but my SXB took over the whole allotted memory. What the heck, the idea is to get rid of cartridges and it sure does do that, plus everything else that you would expect it to. Your money will be well spent with this latest innovation from Bud Mills Services. It's straight "A" in my book.