A review of the MicroProfessor MPF-II.
Published in YOUR COMPUTER, October 1982.



REVIEW
MPF-II

Tim Langdell discovers whether the 64K MPF-II really is an Apple at far less than half the price.
MicroProfessor II with keyboard template

TAIWANESE MULTITECH has pushed a new contender into the £200 colour-computer arena. Its MPF-II is a 64K 6502-based machine with six colours and a Basic which bears far more than just a passing resemblance to Applesoft. In fact the MPF-II is almost identical to a 64K Apple II — but without the expansion potential — and will run most Apple software.

About 32K of RAM is available to the user, and a further 16K or so is required for the video pages. It uses 16K of ROM, which again seems very similar to the Apple II. Indeed the few Calls we made to the ROM produced the same results as on our Apple. For instance, Call -932 cleared the screen, and Poking location 33 enabled us to set the line length to any given value.

Positive keyboard

The MPF-II's unattractive casing is flat and light-grey, about 7in. wide by 10in. deep, by about 1in. high — it is rather like an Apple in a Spectrum case. The keyboard is of the calculator type, although it has a more positive feel than many on the market. Multitech claims an inexpensive add-on typewriter-quality keyboard is also about to be released.

As soon as you begin to work with the MPF-II its similarity to the Apple becomes apparent. There are three modes: text, low- and high-resolution graphics. The text mode is black and white only, but six colours are available in either of the graphics modes. The lower-definition graphics mode has a resolution of 40 by 40, while the higher is 280 by 192. The MA command moves the screen memory to another location, and there is a choice of two high-resolution screens. The first leaves four text lines at the bottom of the screen; the second leaves just one line for, say, error reports.

The MPF-II has a full QWERTY keyboard with larger keys for Return, Space, Control and Shift. There is also a reset button, which is set precariously close to the 0 key, and four cursor keys. The keyboard is uncluttered, but hides many secrets.


Use of templates

The first of the two templates supplied with the machine reveals that the keys provide a full range of graphics functions, accessed by pressing CTRL B followed by any key. There are a total of 49 graphics, ranging from a variety of line-drawing aids, through block graphics, to hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.

The second template presents the surprise; pressing Shift and CTRL at the same time — they are conveniently adjacent — along with another key produces a full key-word on the screen. Thus you can type words in the normal manner, as well as use the Sinclair approach of single-key entry. Offering both is an excellent idea, and using templates instead of cluttering the keyboard is ingenious.

At the back of the MPF-II are sockets to attach either a domestic television or a video monitor. There are also Mic and Line sockets for your cassette recorder, and one for an AC plug. On the left-hand side is a printer interface, a plug-in ROM socket and a socket labelled RCB.

This socket is for the £10 Remote Control Box — or either a Chinese-character generator, an additional keyboard, or an £80 speech-synthesis and sound-generation box.

The MPF-II's Basic is excellent and, as stated, virtually identical to Applesoft. It may well represent the most powerful Basic available with a machine that costs less than £200. Table 1 gives a list of the key-words.


Capacity for graphics

Although the MPF-II can use only six colours, it can plot them in even the highest resolution. This is in contrast to all other sub-£200 computers on the market which either limit the number of colours available in the high-resolution mode to two, or only allow definition of colour by character squares — for example, the Spectrum.

The MPF-II is thus capable of very good colour graphics in a limited range of colours. This is enhanced by an excellent facility — again, as offered on Apples — to be able to draw shape tables in memory using Draw, XDraw, Rot, Scale and SHLoad.

With these commands you can display a defined shape in memory on the screen, either as it was written into memory, or scaled up or down, or rotated through a given number of degrees, or drawn in the complement colour — XDraw. In addition it is possible to load such shapes on to cassette or disc and recall them again — astounding abilities for such an inexpensive computer.

The Basic contains all the standard data and variable handling key-words along with such unusual but very useful commands as OnErr Goto — when an error occurs a Goto is executed — On Goto, and On Gosub. The two graphics resolutions are set by either GR for low resolution or HGR for high.

Drawing lines and plotting points are easily achieved with commands such as Plot, VLin, HLin — drawing horizontal and vertical lines — and Scrn which returns the colour code of the point defined. The printer can be switched on or off using PrtOn and PrtOff — and one presumes that these two replace the more extensive Prt commands on the more expandable Apple II.

The ability to delete blocks of lines from programs using Del is welcome, but the Basic sadly lacks a renumber routine. Screen editing, Multitech claims, is possible by moving the cursor to the line on screen with an error and retyping it. However this full screen-editing facility did not seem to work on the review version.


A rather interesting plus for those used to other inexpensive microcomputers is the fact that like the Apple the MPF-II has a built-in monitor which can be Called from Basic. Once Called, memory locations and register situations are displayed. With simple one-key commands you can dissasemble (sic) any area of the memory map into 6502 mnemonics.

Hex dumps are also possible, and there is also a facility for testing areas of RAM for certain bytes, moving bytes in blocks to other locations, and reading and writing machine code to tape or disc. Multitech has included two such systems, one for its own system, and one compatible with the Apple II.

Although sound is clearly possible with the MPF-II, directions on using it are not given in the manual. The useful Diagnostic Nurse supplied with the MPF-II runs a check on most aspects of the machine, including a display of its sound capabilities, which are essentially duration and pitch variations. Like the Apple, the MPF-II has a Trace facility to aid debugging. Unlike the Apple II the MPF-II is not expandable, but it will soon have a disc drive, the speech-synthesis and sound-generation board mentioned earlier and Pascal and Forth. A Chinese-language unit has already been produced which allows Chinese-speaking users to work in the Dragon symbol system. Excellent plug-in ROM games are available, and the Invaders and Bridge provided with our system were of excellent quality. A £110 printer will also appear soon, producing 150 lines a minute in a 40-character-per-line format.


CHR$, ASC, LEFT$, RIGHT$, MID$, POKE, PEEK, WAIT, CALL, USR, HIMEN, LOMEN, LIST, LISTx,y, DELx,y, REM, INPUT, INPUT"", GET, DATA, READ, RESTORE, LET, DEF FN, GOTO, GOSUB, IF-THEN, FOR-TO-STEP, RETURN, POP, ON GOTO, ON GOSUB, ONERR GOTO, GR, COLOR, PLOT, HLIN, VLIN, SCRN, HGR, HCOLOR, HPLOT, HPLOT TO, HR2, SIN, COS, TAN, ATN, INT, RND, SGN, ABS, SQR, EXP, LOG, PRTON, PRTOFF, HC, CONTROL, MA, MP, LOADT, SAVET, LOADA, SAVEA, LOADD, SAVED, DRAW AT, XDRAW AT, ROT, SCALE, SHLOAD, SPEED, TAB, SPC, POS, HOME, NEW, CLEAR, FRE(0), DIM, VAL, STR$, TRACE.
Table 1. Key-words.

CONCLUSIONS

  • The MPF-II offers excellent value at around £200.
  • The fact that it is compatible with the Apple II means that an enormous amount of software is already available for it.
  • It is the only £200 microcomputer with true high-resolution colour graphics, and offers a Basic which until now is to be found only on machines as expensive as the Apple II or a BBC Micro.
  • The excellent idea of having the option of either single-key entry or normal entry of key-words should mean that the MPF-II satisfies everyone.
  • It would make an excellent training machine, especially with its good, built-in monitor, but also a good home computer for the game player or a low-cost computer for the small businessman.
  • Clearly, anyone who has been attracted by the Apple's facilities but not by its price will seriously consider this micro as an inexpensive alternative.  ¨





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