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                             REVIEW:  PC-TASK3
   Antony Karantze                         antony.karantze@welcom.gen.nz
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[This is the first of a three-part review on PC-Task 3.  Mr. Karantze will
tackle PC-Task 3.0, while the Emulation Rambler will return next issue to
embark on a two-issue run on 3.0 and the newly released 3.1, as well as
updated information on the demo version and possibly even a conference
announcement.  Stay tuned... -Jason]

Have you ever had the desire to experience life in the IBM Compatible
market?  Over 70 million PC's are in use around the world today, and there
are very few programs that are released without a PC version on offer.
There have been several attempts at offering PC emulation for the Amiga
range of computers - from Commodore's horrendous software only offering,
The Transformer [1986] which cost around $120, to Vortex's 486 Golden Gate
Bridgecards, costing upwards of $1000.  The list of emulation products
released in the last few years is testament to the Amiga's versatility:
There are very few platforms that haven't been emulated.  Latest on the
list is Utilities Unlimited's "e586dx" module for their EMPLANT board.

PC-Task began it's life as a relatively unstable shareware XT emulator way
back in 1992.  It was slow, only offering Monochrome or CGA emulation, with
a maximum memory base of 640k - a standard, 1982 class IBM XT.  In the last
two years it ha s slowly matured, and author Chris Hames has had the time
to increase not only it's functionality but also compatibility (it was
entirely possible to use Windows 3.0 with PC Task v2.03).  But, it had
remained a shareware product, with crippled (read-only) versions being
available on most major bulletin boards and online services such as GEnie
and Compuserve.

Version 3 marks the product's transition to a commercial product.  PC Task
v2.03 was released in 1993, and nothing was heard from Chris Hames since
then (although he did continue to update his DirWork program, an excellent
DirOpus alternative).  PC Task has been completely rewritten and offers
much more over the previous versions.

Obtaining PC Task v3.

You can obtain the new version of PC Task from:

Quasar Distribution
P.O. Box 188
Southland Centre
Victoria 3192
AUSTRALIA

+61 3 583 8806 [Voice]
+61 3 585 1074 [Fax]
+61 3 584 8590 [Galaxy BBS, 1200-28.8k]

Internet: pctask@quasar.dialix.oz.au
Amiganet: PCTask Echomport @ 41:300/584.0

[Late note: Software Hut are promoting PC Task 3 as having up to 486
compatibility, in the latest AmigaWorld.  This is NOT true]

Authorized Distributors prices are:

Country       |    Street Price   |    RRP
-------------------------------------------------
United Kingdom|    59.95          |79.95
-------------------------------------------------
Germany       |    DEM199.00      |DEM150.00
-------------------------------------------------
Australia     |    AUD129.00      |AUD129.00
-------------------------------------------------
United States |    $119.00        |$??????
-------------------------------------------------

Quasar Shipping $10 AUD to send the package outside Australia.

Software only PC emulators have never run quickly.  Emulating a different
chip is relatively easy if speed is not an issue: each instruction is
received by the proogram, processed and executed.  Adding this additional
layer of complex processi ng tends to slow a processor right down -
hardware based emulators, such as the Commodore and Vortex Bridgecards have
real Intel processors onboard to do the grunt work, with the software
acting as a traffic warden.  Software-only emulators have the added
difficulty of running the traffic system too! 

All Amiga models are catered for, from the humble Kickstart 1.2 Amiga 1000
to the powerhouse Kickstart 3.1 Warp-Engine Amiga 4000's.  Owners of Amiga
1200's with fastram will get the best initial experience, as they have both
a quick process or and fast graphics chips on offer.  PC Task will run on
68000-based machines, but it will be VERY slow - you have been warned!

With 1.5 MB of Memory you will get a 640k CGA based IBM compatible machine.
Although the manual states that Amigas with at least 512k can be used, the
PC you will get will not have enough memory to load anything above DOS v2.1

My test system is an Amiga 2000 with a Derringer030 board, 13 MB of memory,
a Multiface 3 serial card, ICD's Flicker Free Video and Power XL's High
Density floppy drive, and Workbench 2.1.

-----
PC Task 3, at a glance

So, what do you get for your money?

Manual: Previous versions of PC Task had the manual as a file on the disk.
Version 3 includes a ring bound 50-page manual, which greatly helps in
setting up the program.  It does feel though, that the instructions on disk
have been reorganized for readability, run through a DTP program and
printed out.  Also, it does not dispense with the jargon associated with
the Amiga and PC computers.  For the neophyte computer user, it can still
be a challenge to set up a working system.

Video: Emulation now covers all video boards up to 2MB SVGA cards, but only
CGA remains as the most compatible of all modes.  Some graphic modes
require the AGA chipset, or machines with 24bit display cards such as the
Retina or Picasso boards.  ECS machines can display some of the above AGA
display modes, but with greatly reduced on-screen colors and refresh
speeds.  Video screens can now be opened on their own custom screen, or
through Workbench (which can affect video refresh speeds if you use WB3.0
or greater and/or a 24-bit graphics card)

Processor: 8088 [IBM XT] or 80286 [IBM AT].  There are two PC Task modes:
Normal or Turbo.  Turbo mode speeds up PC Task's internal functions, at a
cost of taking 4x more memory.  So, a 640k XT in normal mode would consumer
about 1.3 MB memory , whereas in Turbo mode it would require about 5.5MB.

Sound: Partial support for the PC's beeping speaker

Serial/Parallel: Full support for serial and parallel ports, including 3rd
party cards such as GVP's IoExtender and Oktagon's Multiface 3 card.  Mouse
support has been improved as well - most mice on the PC are attached to
COM2: (serial port #2), and Windows requires this emulation for the mouse
to work.

I/O: Two floppy drives and two physical hard drives are supported.  High
Density floppy drives, such as Commodores HD drive in the A4000's and Power
Computing's XL drive work fine.  Hard drives are limited to two PC
partitions C: and D:, but you can make logical partitions, as vol E:. 
Also, although I have successfully used Stacker with PC Task, it is not
recommended (since you will take a BIG performance hit, and because PC Task
does not give MS-DOS 100% control of the hard drives - therefore making
Stacker less than reliable).

Memory: The biggest limiting factor of previous versions was that only a
640k could be emulated, which was about as functional as a 1mb Amiga 500. 
Chris has added XMS [Extended Memory System] support to PC Task, meaning
that up to 16MB of memory can be addressed by your PC [1mb conventional and
15MB XMS].  EMS [Expanded Memory System] has not been added-and few, if
any, 286 apps will call for it.

Real World Performance & Compatibility

Previous users of PC Task will have little trouble setting up the new
version for their machines: the setup screen is almost 100% identical to
the previous versions, with only a few more options being offered.  
CrossDos, provided with versions 2.1 upwards of Workbench, proves to be
very useful in setting up Disk I/O.  Although examples are provided in the
manual on setting up a hard disk partition, I still required an afternoon
to get it all working correctly.  I chose to set up my partition through
CrossDos, which also allows me to access it from Amiga programs such as
DirectoryOpus.  I created a Mountlist entry that allowed me full access to
a 130MB partition I had set aside for my PC Emulator.  PC Task also allows
you to you create a hardfile.  A hardfile is an AmigaDOS file, but PC Task
is tricked into thinking it is an MS-DOS partition.  This is the easiest
option as it does not require you to tamper with your precious hard drive
partitions, but there is also a cost: a hardfile will never be as fast as a
dedicated partition.  Setting up a working MS-DOS hard disk is not
complicated, but you will need a PC system disk to begin with.  There are
versions of MS-DOS on the market that upgrade previous versions of DOS
already on the hard disk - you cannot use these unless you have a bootable
DOS disk.  This disk wDISK and FORMAT commands to be present on it, so that
you can prepare and format the hard drive.  Bootable system d isks are not
difficult to create, but you will need access to a real PC before y ou can
begin.  Buying a full standalone version of DOS will bypass all these
problems

I often thought the program had crashed, only to find that it was grinding
slowly through the interpreter.  Below is a comparison of the programs
speed with and without my accelerator card.  Please note that according to
Chris, benchmark programs should not be relied on for real system
performance and that PC Task may be indeed working faster than what is
shown.

              |    68000     |68030    |Intel 8086|
---------------------------------------------------------
COMIT for Dos |    0.4 Mhz   |3.5Mhz   |4.077 Mhz
---------------------------------------------------------
Norton Tools  |    7 Mhz     |47 Mhz   |4.077 Mhz
Version 6.0   |              |         |
---------------------------------------------------------

Having used all versions of the Intel cpu, it felt as if I had a 10Mhz 286.
Video performance varied greatly.  In CGA [Color Graphics Array] mode I had
the greatest speed, since this equates to a 4-color workbench screen.  CGA
is a terrible mode to use, but it also remains the most compatible.  EGA
[Extended Graphics Array] was marginally slower, but resulted in a squashed
screen that was not very useable.  VGA is the best mode I had available to
me at the cost of video slowdown, since this is the same as a 16-color
workbench.  These results should be taken with a grain of salt though:
MS-DOS does not have to maintain a graphical screen like Workbench or
Windows, but remains text based.  In VGA mode I was still zipping about
quite quickly with little slowdown at all.  My Flicker Fixer is very
selective about what sort of screens it opens, but anything up to 640 x 480
VGA worked fine.  Larger screens, such as SVGA 800 x 600 opened on virtual,
scrollin g screens.  I could not fully test the screen modes since I did
not have AGA or a 24bit board, but these options should allow screens up to
1280 x 1024 in 256 colors to be used.

PC Task 3 & Windows

Ok, so by now you may be asking how well does Windows run, and can I get a
cheap PC from PC Task?  Windows is not a ROM-resident operating system like
Workbench.  Computers like the Amiga and the Macintosh have their OS
partially stored in the ROM, so it is present when you turn the machine on.
The operating system that is load ed gives you access to those commands
without adding layers of software that req uires more CPU time to process.
Just as those operating systems perform better with faster equipment and
more sy stem resources, so too does Windows.  Having said that, it is
possible to run Windows with PC Task.  Remember though, that a 286
processor is not recommended for Windows, and that many new Windows
programs are beginning to require 486's or very fast 386's.  I tested PC
Task with Windows 3.0 and 3.1.  Windows 3.0 will run in XT mode, but it
will be of very limited use since you will only be able to address up to
704k memory.  Doing this is akin to trying to run Workbench 2.1 in 512k -
not very easy at all.  In 286 mode, with access to more memory, Windows
becomes better and better.  Windows v3.0 was released in 1990 and is no
longer supported.  It is also slow and prone to crashing unexpectedly.  It
does however come on 720k disks, meaning all Amiga owners will be able to
use it if they wish.  Windows 3.1 is much better.  It will only run with a
286 processor or higher, and requires about 6MB hard disk space to install.
Screen redraws are about 3x faster, and the whole program is much more
stable compared with version 3.0.  I run Win3.1 in monochrome VGA mode,
with about 5MB of memory allocated to it.  Even with my 030, I still
experience painfully slow screen redraws, and 16-color ECS scr eens are all
but useless.  Comit for Windows, which came with my Supra FAXModem, refuses
to work properly with my setup, and I have not yet had a chance to try out
Word & Excel.  Windows for Workgroups requires an 80386 CPU, and so doesn't
work with PC Task 3.

PCTask 3 and DOS programs

It is here that PC Task 3 shines.  As a DOS emulator it is excellent.  I
have had about a 95% hit rate trying to run DOS programs, although several
of these progr ams act in ways they shouldn't.  I have successfully run
Norton Tools 6.0, Q&A 4.0 [a Database program], dBase 3+, PC Backup 6.0,
Comit for DOS, Leisure Suit Larry 1, Blockout, Rogue [a game similar to
Larn] and QSB+ [statistical analysis].  Several shareware programs have
worked reasonably well, whilst others have crash ed my system horribly. 
Using Comit, I was able to transfer files at 9600bps with no loss, and
14.4kbps with data overflow.  If you are a fast typist like myself, then
you are likely to be disappointed.  PC Task does miss characters on me, and
I have found myself subconsciously slowing down so that the program can
keep up.  Using faster video modes, and/or having a faster processor does
help, as the screen update will keep up with your typing speed.  Processor
intensive tasks, such as extracting .ZIP files (the equivalent to LHA on
the Amiga platform) can take a long time, as can disk intensive tasks such
as defragmenting a fragmented partition.  If you own a CD-ROM drive, you
are in luck.  Although a basic CD-ROM driver has been provided since
version 2, many users reported difficulty, such as reading subdirectories
on their PC CD disks.  I do not own a CD-ROM drive, but I have talked with
several users who report that many problems have been fixed, and when used
with MS-DOS version 6.22 they can access their CD-ROMS just fine.  Programs
that try to access the hardware directly will fail: for example, PC Backup
can access the floppy drives directly, so that backing up a 60MB hard disk
can take only 3-4 minutes.  This program failed on my system, until I
changed the drive speed options to low-speed [DOS compatible].  This
significantly increased the backup time, but it did make it usable. 

Conclusions

Emulating other computer platforms is a complex process.  As Amiga owners,
we are lucky that the popular platforms are relatively easy to emulate,
since they do not have custom chips such as Agnus and Paula that need to be
emulated.  It is far easier to emulate a PC than to emulate an Amiga!  To
get the most out of an emulator requires a machine with horsepower.  An
A500 with 1mb is really not enough, and most users should look to an A1200
with fastram and lots of hard disk space as a minimal emulation platform.

PC Task version 3 excels at emulating a viable DOS computer.  On my system
I have found it to very useful, and have found it's compatibility much
higher than the previous versions.  The addition of COM2: mouse emulation
and new graphics modes have added to it's functionality.  For the price it
is the best software-only emulator on the market.  It is a commercial
product stemming from the shareware market, and while the addition of a
printed manual is a great move it still needs to be made more jargon-less.
All emulators for the Amiga require significant horsepower to be useful:
fast processors, lots of RAM, graphic boards, etc etc.  If you are like the
majority of Amiga owners who does not spend hundreds of dollars upgrading
and maintaining your system, you are likely to be disappointed.  Windows
does work, but just as in the PC market it requires a powerful computer to
perform at it's best.  Remember too, that many new Windows programs are now
requiring at least a 386 CPU to oper ate.  Although the 286 CPU was
abandoned in 1987, there are many programs available that will still run on
it.  You do not need to run the latest and greatest software to get the job
done, and with that image, PC Task is a great product.