It looks like 8-bit computing is back in fashion! Now that the modern computers have become powerful enough to simulate old machines as a decent speed, it seems that a lot of people are getting nostalgic about their first computers. Even better, there are some people who are actually using these 8-bit computers for the very first time! But the Sam can perhaps be a little confusing if you haven't used it before, so here are some tips and pointers which will hopefully be useful to first-time users.
First you will either need to find a real Sam, or else download a copy of SimCoupe for your other computer. SimCoupe can run under Windows, MacOS X, and various flavours of Unix. For more details, you should visit the official SimCoupe web site.
Quick Start: Running Programs
On a real Sam, Insert the disk and press F9.
In SimCoupe, this translates to: Press F1 to select a disk image, and press 9 on the number keypad.
Using SamBASICWhen you switch on or reset your Sam, or load SimCoupe, you will see the Sam's boot screen (shown, right). A version of the BASIC programming language by Dr Andrew Wright is built into the Sam's ROM, so you can start using it straight away.
Type a command, and it will be executed straight away. Alternatively, give it a line number and it will be stored away for later use. For example, type:
10 LET a$="Hello":FOR x=1 to 10 (return) 20 LET a$=a$+"!":PRINT a$ (return) 30 NEXT x (return) RUN (return)
For more details about using SamBASIC, see the Sam User's Guide (external link, 5.4MB PDF).
Loading and Saving FilesBefore you can start using the Sam's floppy disks, you'll need to BOOT. The Sam's ROM contains only a small loading routine, which loads the main DOS from disk into memory. If you're using a real Sam, you'll need to find a disk with a DOS file on it. If you're using SimCoupe you can load a suitable disk image here. Samdos2 is the DOS supplied with the Sam; technically it is not free, but since everybody has already got a copy, nobody seems to care about people distributing it. B-DOS is a freeware replacement written by Edwin Blink, see more info here. MasterDOS is a commercial program, not for free redistribution.
To boot DOS, ensure that the disk is in the drive, or in SimCoupe that the disk image is ready; then type the command BOOT. A shortcut to the BOOT command on the Sam is F9, or in SimCoupe key 9 on the number pad. Some disks will load and run programs automatically; with other disks, control will return to BASIC.
In BASIC, certain extra commands are made available. To see a directory (list of all the files on the disk) type DIR, or DIR 1 for a more detailed list such as the one shown, right. You can also see filenames which match certain characteristics with a command such as DIR 1;"*.txt" - * is the wildcard character for a string, ? is the wildcard character for a single character.
To load a Basic program from a disk, type LOAD "filename" or LOAD number, where number is the number given to the program in a long directory listing. To store a Basic program on a disk, use SAVE "filename" or SAVE "filename" LINE number, where number is the line number that program will automatically run from when it loads. If a program's filename starts with "auto", then it will be automatically loaded when the disk is booted.
Essential Sam programsThese are a staple part of Sam's software diet. Everyone with any interest in the Sam Coupé should have seen them! They all work pretty well under SimCoupe emulation.