The Hobbit, worth a few months salary in Russia is fully software compatible with our beloved Spectrum but with only about 16 percent component commonality. It's bigger, better and badder but does it represent the zenith of Spectrum development? Is it the '+4'?
The Hobbit 8060, a useful machine by all accounts.
Paul weighs up the situation.
Break out the wodka, the Hobbit is here. Known as the Hobbit 8030 it is fully compatible with the 48K Spectrum - but not the 128K. It contains many extra hardware and software features plus advanced networking capabilities and facilities which are only available as peripheral add ons on conventional Spectrums.
The Hobbit's development can be traced back several years and owes its origin to the many different types of Spectrum clone that sprung up either in people's hobby rooms or in small production establishments around what was then known as the Soviet Union. These clones were crude copies but about three years ago an indigenous design known as the Hobbit became available. Some of you may have read about the Hobbit at that stage but then, for various reasons it disappeared from the scene and was never heard of again. Until now.
Under the new democratic movement in the Commonwealth Of Independent States the Hobbit took on a new guise and a lot of new capabilities, under the watchful eye and amazing (if a little crazy) brain of Dimitry Mikhilov a main specialist and designer at a newly formed company called Intercompex. They expanded RAM to 64K, expanded ROM to 64K (enabling many interesting features to be added), built in a power pack, made it run from PC formatted 3.5 and 5.25 inch disks and launched the machine onto the waiting world.
Dimitri Mikhilov, responsible for design and programming the Hobbit.
The Hobbit uses a standard 'QWERTY' keyboard but without the 'notorious' extend mode of the Spectrum. The biggest difference though being that the keys are in Cyrillic as well as Roman lettering (ie, you can write in Russian as well as English). The Hobbit can load standard spectrum software using its cassette interface, but once this is done you can then record it onto the optional PC formatted floppy disk drive. As well as providing a disk operating system (DOS) for use in Spectrum mode, the machine includes a CP/M operating system. This allows paging for ROM and RAM which also allows application developers to use shadow ram to hold 'indestructible' resident tools, such as monitors, debuggers and assemblers - without needing any extra peripherals. When in Spectrum compatible mode you can switch to shadow mode giving full control of the computer. This can be used to temporarily suspend a game and save it to disk or print it a screen image for example.
The BASIC on Hobbit is compatible from top to bottom with Sinclair BASIC, but many extra features have been added. These include keyboard macros, automatic numbering and renumbering, disk commands and networking commands.
DOS operates the additional disk drive. Russian tank model.
As well as BASIC the second and most recommended language for the Hobbit is FORTH which is included in the price of the machine though a disk drive is needed to run it. The version of forth is exceptionally fast because it compiles directly into machine code. Forth can use disk drives (including remote drives on network) as virtual memory, giving up to 3.2 mb of apparent memory! Word processor, database and spreadsheet software will be available free of charge for machines using forth.
The network interface allows several Hobbit machines or even a PC to be linked together and controlled by one machine, building systems of immense power. This system is currently used in schools all over the CIS.
The Hobbit uses a Zylog Z80 processor running at 3.5Mhz and is fitted with 64k of RAM and 64k of ROM. Its screen resolution is the same as the standard Spectrum 192 by 256 in 15 colours. The network transmits data at 56 kilobits a second.
Now available here in Britain the importers see three main markets for the Hobbit; 1) Spectrum enthusiasts who want a better or more unusual machine. 2) Schools who want low cost computer networks. 3) People who need Russian word processors. It's being currently offered at a special discount price of £79.00 inclusive of VAT and delivery as a special introductory offer. The external floppy disk drive costs just £59.00 and provides a 5.25 drive of 640k capacity (It can also read IBM format disks.) It's currently available through a UK handling agent 'Intercompex-ADB Russian services', London E14 9BS. Technical support and queries can be dealt within, believe it or not, Russia at Intercompex, St.Petersburg, Russia.
We'll be carrying an in depth comparison between the Spectrum, the SAM and the Hobbit next month, comparing programming, ease of use etc. etc. How will it stand up to the competition? See SU September.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Russian Navy has used the Hobbit to help out with underwater navigation - as well as for playing games on long sorties!