As a regular user of both the Atari and Mac versions of Magic Joe Connor can't decide where to cast his spells...
MagiC PC can turn any Wintel machine into an Atari clone which, for less than £150, outperforms a TT!
MagiC PC requires Windows 95 or Windows NT to access system peripherals and can be used with or
without Ease v5 (included) and with or without NVDI PC which is available separately
(or bundled with MagiC PC).
The mid-range Pentium used for the review turned in Gembench results around twice as fast as a TT equipped
with FastRAM and FPU in TT medium resolution (640x480x16 colours) without NVDI PC
- which means we're talking about a seriously useful emulator capable of running most serious applications.
MagiC PC, like Gemulator, currently supports resolutions from mono up to 16 colours (4-bit).
MagiC PC is supplied on two HD disks along with a couple of (outdated) A5 spiral bound manuals. Installation takes advantage of the Windows 95 setup wizard. Feed in the master disk, enter your personal details, select a destination, then select which MagiC PC components to install (MagiC PC, Ease v5 and documentation). There's a useful uninstall option should you need to disentangle MagiC PC from your Windows folder at a later date.
Deciding which options to emulate is a trade off between speed and usefulness. The manual suggests allocating half the system memory to MagiC PC, so any machine with 24Mb or more memory can specify the maximum 14Mb of memory (13Mb under TOS).
The Yamaha sound chip emulation requires a Soundblaster compatible sound card. If one isn't available or sound isn't needed clear the checkbox to divert precious processor cycles towards better performance. The 'Refresh rate' sets the number of times per second the MagiC PC window is redrawn. The higher the value the smoother screen redraws appear - but at the expense of overall performance.
Here's where devices can be assigned real windows destinations or 'Drive containers' which, like Gemulator's 'Virtual drives' are one large file. These can be created any size up to 32Mb. MagiC 'Drive containers', unlike Gemulator 'Virtual drives', do not grow dynamically as their contents increase but reserve the total size even when empty so think carefully if hard disk space is at a premium.
Floppy drives can also be assigned Drive containers and using the options provided in the 'Assign Drives...' dialog autobooting floppy disk images can be created. To boot TOS, instead of MagiC, Drive containers must be used and Windows partitions and floppies cannot be accessed directly. To get around this limitation there's a special 'O' drive which allows access to real partitions and floppies - neat.
Currently there's no convenient way to set up the drives to allow boot time selection between TOS or MagiC. It can be achieved easily enough by installing MagiC PC twice and selecting between them but one solution which springs to mind is to add the ability to select between different Drive 'Sets' - in much the same way boot managers work.
Once the Desktop appears the only operational differences compared to other MagiC versions are the special key combinations used to switch between Windows and MagiC, the alternative Help/Undo keys and keys to access the Program Manager. Special characters are supported using the [Alternate] + ASCII code entered on the number pad method.
MagiC PC is remarkably compatible. Any software which runs under MagiC on a real Atari machine, with the following exceptions, should work fine:
The ability to boot TOS is an important edge over MagiC Mac (v1.2.5).
- Most games (try booting in TOS)
- Software which requires a maths coprocessor (FPU)
- Software which requires the Falcon DSP
- Software which requires a dongle
- Software which accesses the MIDI or cartridge ports
MagiC handles the execution of Auto folder programs differently to TOS - which executes programs in the order they are copied into the Auto folder. Under MagiC PC the Auto folder includes a batch file, called AUTOEXEC.BAT, containing a list of programs in running order - a simple and practical solution. This file can be edited as desired using any suitable ASCII text editor (Everest/Edith).
Comms works well, with support for all four COM ports and speeds between 2400 and 230400 bps - although you'll need a fast Pentium to get reliable data transfer at higher speeds. The mid-range Pentium was set to 38400 and tested as follows:
- ConNect: Manual login to 42BBS, file download and browsing.
- Semper/LED/IOS Point setup: Automated session exchanging packets and file transfers
- - Semper doesn't work properly under MagiC Mac (v1.2.5).
- Cixcomm/Cixread: Automated sessions (blinks) and manual online browsing.
I did experience a problem with GSZRZ v6.3 which kept aborting transfers and exiting with protocol errors but these went away after a trial and error session tinkering the GSZRZ switches - turning off -L and -S worked for me. The serial port can be de-activated if not required.
Floppy handling under MagiC PC is a lot better than MagiC Mac (v1.2.5). Data was exchanged happily with a double-sided 10 sector/80 track floppy and a single sided 10 sector/81 track also worked despite graunching noises and complaints from Windows. Floppies can also be converted to disk images and read from hard disk using Drive containers, which provides a method to launch autobooting or disk-keyed software.
However if you're thinking of switching to MagiC PC and selling your real Atari machine you could run into difficulties.
Most PCs use internal IDE drives with SCSI support an unusual extra. This makes it inconvenient to transfer large amounts of data between machines. For example, you can't plug a SCSI ZIP or SyQuest in the back and move stuff across. At some point you'll need to install software from floppy and several of the install programs I tried refused to cooperate and I was left with no alternative but to clone pre-installed setups from my Falcon and recreate them under MagiC PC.
Output from applications which require GDOS, such as Kandinsky and CAB, requires NVDI PC and output from these programs was trouble free and fast. It might be possible to get output using other GDOS programs but NVDI PC is made for the job and hassle free.
However, printing from the desktop, or from programs such as Calamus, That's Write or Papyrus using bitmap fonts were tested and all worked fine without NVDI PC.
MagiC PC won me over. I was convinced my 040 equipped Mac was the fastest emulation I'd ever see on the Atari platform but the mid-spec Pentium PC was around 10% faster! Unless MagiC Mac v2 improves disk handling and offers the ability to boot into TOS I'll probably switch platforms.
Nice and Easey
The review copy included Ease v5 and we'll take a more detailed look at Ease v5 next issue.
No doubt Ease enthusiasts will be pleased to hear Ease v5 offers long filename support up to 64 characters including spaces.
It is pretty much an essential for Ease to achieve compatibility with the Windows 95 file system because MagiC PC can access files on windows partitions directly.
Ease has also junked its own iconify routines in favour of standard iconfication and this is another welcome step in the right direction. Like MagXDesk, Ease can now also launch desktop accessories from the desktop and they appear under the Desk menu.
Unfortunately the dialogs are still modal which really does limit its usefulness as a multitasking Desktop.
To break the 16 colour barrier NVDI PC is required. This supports all colour depths from mono (1-bit) all the way up to 24-bit (16.7 million colours) and includes off-screen bitmap support.
MagiC PC, used with NVDI PC, can boot into any resolution and colour depth irrespective of the Windows settings. For example, with Windows in 256 colour mode MagiC PC can be booted into TrueColor - this is achieved by dithering the screen output.
Although NVDI PC is an optional extra it dramatically improves redraw speed and gets faster with each new release because the original Motorola code is systematically being stripped out and replaced with native Intel code. Add to this the printer driver support, including colour printers, and NVDI PC starts to look indispensable - the choice is yours.
Left: With NVDI PC Right: MagiC only
In addition to adding support for more than 16 colour resolutions NVDI PC offers increased performance across the board.
The MagiC PC TOS extractor
MagiC PC installs the MagiC OS by default but this painful sounding Freeware utility can extract the ROM (TOS/GEM system code) from any ST for use with MagiC PC (or Gemulator). So long as you own the ST and don't use it while you're running the ROM you'll remain on the right side of the law.
A criticism often levelled at MagiC is that it only supports 'cleanly programmed GEM applications' - this typically rules out games.
Running MagiC PC with a ROM image means some software MagiC doesn't get along with can be persuaded to run - you can even create floppy disk images and run autobooting games!
Buggy Boy on a Pentium - the sound is clunky but it works!
Product: MagiC PC v1.10
Publisher: Applications Systems Heidelburg (ASH)
UK distribution: System Solutions
Contact: + 44 (0)1753 832212
Price: MagiC PC £149, NVDI 4 MagiC PC £69.95, or both for £199, all inclusive of VAT
System: 486/Pentium IBM compatible running Windows 95 or Windows NT with 16Mb memory minimum
Pros: Seamless / Uninstall possible / Resolutions from ST-Low to TrueColor (with NVDI PC) / Seamless CD-ROM access / Upgrade your PC and MagiC will run even faster
Cons: Slow maths routines / Limited sound support / Documentation lagging behind.