Category Archives: CoCo

Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo)

Pac-Man maze in 64x32 semigraphics.

Drawing a maze level on the CoCo – part 1

See Also: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

A maze of ideas

Ready to fall down a rabbit hole, exploring ways to represent a maze screen efficiently?

Neither was I.

Somewhere on this site is an article series I wrote about programming a simple maze type game on the CoCo. In it, I presented an ASCII version of the Pac-Man maze. The arcade maze looks like this:

Actual size (224×228) Pac-Man screen.

And you can learn a ton about how the game works on the Pac-Man Dosier website. But basically, the game screen is a grid of 28 x 36 tiles. In the arcade original, each tile is 8×8 pixels. With the CoCo 1/2s text screen being 32×16, this means we could fit 28 tiles horizontally with room to space, but we’d be 20 tiles short vertically. (Pac-Man used a monitor mounted sideways to get this aspect ratio.) My solution was to scroll the maze up and down. I also removed the top and bottom rows that showed score and such, so this will be using only 31 of the games original 36 rows.

A portion displayed in ASCII text would look like this:

Pac-Man maze in ASCII

Though it wouldn’t look like the arcade, this is an accurate representation of the 28×36 tiles of the original game (well, 28×16 seen any any time). There are elements of Pac-Man that couldn’t really be recreated with this low resolution (such as the way Pac can hug to corners to go around them faster), but at least the maze layout could be accurate.

But ASCII is ugly, so we’d probably want to use the semigraphics characters (128-255). Using CHR$(175) for a blue block looks like this:

Pac-Man maze in 32x16 semigraphics.
Pac-Man maze in 32×16.

That’s better, but still a bit ugly. The background could at least be made black:

Pac-Man maze in 32×16 with black background.

That’s more better, but it looks more reminiscent of blocky Atari VCS games like Adventure.

By taking advantage of the 64×32 resolution semigraphics, the corners could be at least “rounded” a bit (if round meant “still square”), and the centers of the areas could be opened up like the arcade original:

Pac-Man maze in 64x32 semigraphics.
Pac-Man maze in 64×32 semigraphics.

At this resolution, I’m not sure if we can really do any better than that ;-)

The maze data could be represented as ASCII strings, either directly PRINTed on the screen, or read from DATA statements to be PRINTed or POKEd:

Pac-Maze DATA statements.

This would make creating new mazes and levels as easy as typing. But storing 28 x 26 characters is 1008 bytes of memory. Imagine trying to do that on a 4K Color Computer or a 5K Commodore VIC-20. (The highest resolution graphics screen on a CoCo 1/2 takes up 6144 bytes, compared to the 512 bytes of the text screen.)

Here’s the ASCII DATA:

1000 DATA "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX"
1010 DATA "X            XX            X"
1020 DATA "X XXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXX X"
1030 DATA "X XXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXX X"
1040 DATA "X XXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXX X"
1050 DATA "X                          X"
1060 DATA "X XXXX XX XXXXXXXX XX XXXX X"
1070 DATA "X XXXX XX XXXXXXXX XX XXXX X"
1080 DATA "X      XX    XX    XX      X"
1090 DATA "XXXXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXXXX"
1100 DATA "     X XXXXX XX XXXXX X     "
1110 DATA "     X XX          XX X     "
1120 DATA "     X XX XXXXXXXX XX X     "
1130 DATA "XXXXXX XX X      X XX XXXXXX"
1140 DATA "          X      X          "
1150 DATA "XXXXXX XX X      X XX XXXXXX"
1160 DATA "     X XX XXXXXXXX XX X     "
1170 DATA "     X XX          XX X     "
1180 DATA "     X XX XXXXXXXX XX X     "
1190 DATA "XXXXXX XX XXXXXXXX XX XXXXXX"
1200 DATA "X            XX            X"
1210 DATA "X XXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXX X"
1220 DATA "X XXXX XXXXX XX XXXXX XXXX X"
1230 DATA "X   XX                XX   X"
1240 DATA "XXX XX XX XXXXXXXX XX XX XXX"
1250 DATA "XXX XX XX XXXXXXXX XX XX XXX"
1260 DATA "X      XX    XX    XX      X"
1270 DATA "X XXXXXXXXXX XX XXXXXXXXXX X"
1280 DATA "X XXXXXXXXXX XX XXXXXXXXXX X"
1290 DATA "X                          X"
1300 DATA "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX"

If we tried to use numeric DATA statements to represent the screen blocks, it would be 4 times longer since every entry would be a three digit number with a comma:

DATA 175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175,175

But, if we were just using blocks and spaces, we could have a number represent eight of them. Each number could represent a byte (0-255) and each byte contains 8 bits, therefore each number could represent 8 character blocks.

In a DATA statement with numbers, the top row would look like:

1000 DATA 255,255,255,240

The storage space for “255,255,255,240” is 15 bytes which is less than the 28 string characters (plus quotes, if needed — like if the line started with spaces or had special characters in it like a comma or ‘ REM abbreviation, which this won’t).

I suppose we could use numbers representing 16-bit values (0-65535) and have only two numbers to represent that line:

1000 DATA 65535,65520

That brings us down to 11 bytes to represent the 28 block row.

The 4K CoCo BASIC did not have hexadecimal numbers, but on Extended BASIC machines we could convert to HEX:

1000 DATA &HFF,&HFF,&HFF,&HF0

…but that is 19 bytes. While that would be better than ASCII, it would be worse than two decimal values. Doubling up to 16 bit values results in:

1000 DATA &HFFFF,&HFFF0

That gets us down to 12 bytes so it looks like needing that &H at the start loses out — 65535 versus &HFFFF. Even worse when 1 has to be three times larger as &H1. Though 15 is only one by larger as &HF. But always larger.

Hex values could be written as a string without the &H, and that could be added by the READ routine:

1000 DATA FF,FF,FF,F0

…which gives us 11 bytes, matching the two decimal values. But reading those would require some extra code which might negate the savings:

READ A$:V=VAL("&H"+A$)

…versus just reading a decimal value…

READ V

Using hex without the “&H” requires an extra 15 bytes of code space (actually, maybe a little less, since the “VAL” keyword probably tokenizes in to one or two bytes).

But, we could also pack the hex values together:

1000 DATA FFFFFFF0

That would only take 8 bytes to represent a row. But even more code would be needed to parse that:

READ A$:FOR A=1 TO LEN(A$) STEP 2:V=VAL("&H"+MID$(A$,A,2)):NEXT

The code gets even longer. However, if we had enough data (and 36 rows of data probably is enough), the code space savings should be smaller overall. And clever programming could be done to have one massive hex string and decode it knowing how many bytes go to each line.

But this only gets us to displaying the maze in ASCII or as colored blocks. If we wanted to get that “rounded” corner look of a 64×32 display, we’d need twice as many bytes.

Or we could just make the computer do it for us.

To be continued…

Color BASIC and 16-bits and AND and OR and NOT

During #SepTandy2020, I posted a CoCo-related video each day of the month. A few of them dealt with bit operations in Color BASIC. This was when I fist learned that Color BASIC could not deal with more than 15-bit values. You can do AND/OR/NOT operations

These work:

PRINT 32767 AND 1
PRINT 32767 OR 1
PRINT NOT 32676

…but these will return ?FC ERROR:

PRINT 32768 AND 1
PRINT 32768 OR 1
PRINT NOT 32678

8-bits before 16-bits

8-bits is handled just fine. Here is an example program that will display an 8-bit value (0-255) as binary. It is very slow:

0 ' slow8bit.bas
10 FOR Z=0 TO 255
20 GOSUB 1000:PRINT
30 NEXT
40 END
1000 REM SLOW: 8-BIT Z AS BINARY
1010 FOR BT=7 TO 0 STEP-1
1020 IF Z AND 2^BT THEN PRINT "1"; ELSE PRINT "0";
1030 NEXT:RETURN

If you looked at TIMER, that one would count to 7339 (about 122.2 seconds). And here is a version that is substantially faster because it pre-calculates the AND bit values in an array:

0 ' fast8bit.bas
5 DIM BT(7):FOR BT=0 TO 7:BT(BT)=INT(2^BT):NEXT
10 FOR Z=0 TO 255
20 GOSUB 1000:PRINT
30 NEXT
40 END
1000 REM FAST: 8-BIT Z AS BINARY
1010 FOR BT=7 TO 0 STEP-1
1020 IF Z AND BT(BT) THEN PRINT "1"; ELSE PRINT "0";
1030 NEXT:RETURN

TIMER for that one would count to 1372 (about 22.8 seconds).

When I was recording those videos, I decided to make versions that handled 16-bit values. That is when I discovered you could not to that in Color BASIC.

16-bit workaround

Color BASIC seems to treat bit values as signed, so instead of 0 to 65535, it is really -32768 to 32767. That led me to a workaround where, if the high bit was set, I would subtract 65536 from the value and do the AND/OR/NOT on a negative value. And it worked!

0 ' fast16bit.bas
5 DIM BT(15):FOR BT=0 TO 14:BT(BT)=INT(2^BT):NEXT:BT(15)=-32768
10 FOR Z=0 TO 65535
20 GOSUB 1000:PRINT
30 NEXT
40 END
1000 REM SLOW: 16-BIT Z AS BINARY
1005 IF Z>32767 THEN Z=Z-65536
1010 FOR BT=15 TO 0 STEP-1
1020 IF Z AND BT(BT) THEN PRINT "1"; ELSE PRINT "0";
1030 NEXT:RETURN

The above version uses powers-of-two for the first 15 bits (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.) then for bit 16 it uses -32768, which will work. When the value is passed in, if it is larger than 32767, it is turned in to a negative value which would be a 16-bit number with the high bit set, indicating negative.

I have no idea if this is “supposed” to work, or even be allowed (AND/OR/NOT on a negative), but it does.

And what about AND? (And OR, and NOT?)

For something I am working on, I wanted to use AND to get the most significant and least significant bytes of a 16-bit value. I could not, so I came up with various workarounds:

  1. To get the MSB of a 16-bit value, shift the 16-bit value right 8 bits (divide by 256).
  2. To get the LSB of a 16- bit value, subtract the MSB*256 from the original 16-bit value.
10 W=&HFFEE
20 M=INT(W/256)
30 L=W-M*256
40 PRINT HEX$(W),HEX$(M);" ";HEX$(L)

This worked fine, but required swapping variables around to preserve the original values.

In my project, I then wanted to clear the top 5-bits of the word, so I would clear them in the MSB value:

M=M AND &H07

…and then I could re-build the word variable using “W=M*256+B”.

Then I wondered: Could I somehow use the same trick I used for 16-bit binary numbers to make AND, OR and NOT just work on the value?

It turns out, yes. Yes I could.

I started with a subroutine that would take a 16-bit value in in Z and convert it, as needed, to a negative value that represented the desired bits. I did this this by manually looping through the bits and adding the appropriate bit value from the same array I used in the fast 16-bit routine shown earlier:

5 DIM BT(15):FOR BT=0 TO 14:BT(BT)=INT(2^BT):NEXT:BT(15)=-32768
...
1000 ' CONVERT 16-BIT Z TO ZC
1010 ZC=0:IF Z>32767 THEN Z=Z-65536 ELSE ZC=Z:RETURN
1020 FOR BT=15 TO 0 STEP-1
1030 IF Z AND BT(BT) THEN ZC=ZC+BT(BT)
1040 NEXT:RETURN

I could then set a value to Z and call this subroutine and then use ZC with AND/OR/NOT:

10 V=65535:A=&HFF00
20 PRINT V;"AND";A;"=";
30 Z=V:GOSUB 1000:VC=ZC
40 Z=A:GOSUB 1000:AC=ZC
50 Z=VC AND AC

Yuck. But it worked. Except, after I AND the two converted values, the value I get would be a negative if it was using more than 15-bits. If I wanted to display that as HEX, I’d get another ?FC ERROR because you cannot HEX$ a negative.

Thus, I needed a routine to convert such a 16-bit negative value back to a normal positive number:

1100 ' CONVERT ZC BACK TO Z
1110 IF Z<0 THEN ZC=Z+65536 ELSE ZC=Z
1120 RETURN

The end result was a multistep routine I could use to AND, OR or NOT and 16-bit value:

0 ' AND16.BAS
5 DIM BT(15):FOR BT=0 TO 14:BT(BT)=INT(2^BT):NEXT:BT(15)=-32768

10 V=65535:A=&HFF00
20 PRINT V;"AND";A;"=";
30 Z=V:GOSUB 1000:VC=ZC
40 Z=A:GOSUB 1000:AC=ZC
50 Z=VC AND AC:GOSUB 1100:PRINT ZC

999 END
1000 ' CONVERT 16-BIT Z TO ZC
1010 ZC=0:IF Z>32767 THEN Z=Z-65536 ELSE ZC=Z:RETURN
1020 FOR BT=15 TO 0 STEP-1
1030 IF Z AND BT(BT) THEN ZC=ZC+BT(BT)
1040 NEXT:RETURN

1100 ' CONVERT ZC BACK TO Z
1110 IF Z<0 THEN ZC=Z+65536 ELSE ZC=Z
1120 RETURN

And it works!

But is there a better way?

A better way

To avoid all the swapping with temporary variables, it might be easier to just make subroutines for AND, OR and NOT that handled two passed-in variables and returned the results in another.

I created a generic subroutine that would take V1 and V2, and convert V1 (if negative) and create a new value based on the bits of V2:

4000 ' CONVERT V1 AND V2
4010 IF V1>32767 THEN V1=V1-65536
4020 IF V2>32767 THEN V2=V2-65536
4030 ZZ=0:FOR BT=15 TO 0 STEP-1
4040 IF V2 AND BT(BT) THEN ZZ=ZZ+BT(BT)
4050 NEXT:V2=ZZ:RETURN

The program could set V1 to a value and V2 to a value for the bit operation, then GOSUB 4000. Then the program could do “V=V1 AND V2” or “V=V1 OR V2” or “V=NOT V2” to perform the operation.

Then, a GOSUB to 5000 would convert V back to the positive value (if needed):

5000 ' CONVERT V BACK, IF NEEDED
5010 IF V<0 THEN V=V+65536
5020 RETURN

This allowed a slightly less ugly way to do AND, OR and NOT on 16-bit values:

0 ' ANDORNOT16.BAS
5 DIM BT(15):FOR BT=0 TO 14:BT(BT)=INT(2^BT):NEXT:BT(15)=-32768

10 V1=&HFFFF:V2=&HFF00
20 PRINT HEX$(V1);" AND ";HEX$(V2),"=";
30 GOSUB 4000:V=V1 AND V2:GOSUB 5000:PRINT HEX$(V)

40 V1=&H8000:V2=&H0001
50 PRINT HEX$(V1);" OR  ";HEX$(V2),"=";
60 GOSUB 4000::V=V1 OR V2:GOSUB 5000:PRINT HEX$(V)

70 V2=&HF00F
80 PRINT "     NOT ";HEX$(V2),"=";
90 GOSUB 4000:V=NOT V2:GOSUB 5000:PRINT HEX$(V)

999 END

1000 ' AND 16-BIT V1 WITH V2
1010 GOSUB 4000:V=V1 AND V2:GOSUB 5000:RETURN

2000 ' OR 16-BIT V1 WITH V2
2010 GOSUB 4000:V=V1 OR V2:GOSUB 5000:RETURN

3000 ' NOT 16-BIT V1
2010 GOSUB 4000:V=NOT V2:GOSUB 5000:RETURN

4000 ' CONVERT V1 AND V2
4010 IF V1>32767 THEN V1=V1-65536
4020 IF V2>32767 THEN V2=V2-65536
4030 ZZ=0:FOR BT=15 TO 0 STEP-1
4040 IF V2 AND BT(BT) THEN ZZ=ZZ+BT(BT)
4050 NEXT:V2=ZZ:RETURN

5000 ' CONVERT V BACK, IF NEEDED
5010 IF V<0 THEN V=V+65536
5020 RETURN

It still ain’t pretty, but it still works. (Though has not been extensively tested, so your milage may vary.)

Until next time…

DEF FN for Fun and Profit

In a comment to my recent article about VARPTR, Rogelio Perea chimed in…

Still learning something new about the CoCo even after all the years, excellent article!

Would there ever be one about DEFFN? :-)

–  Rogelio Perea II, 7/19/2022

Challenge accepted.

DEF FN: Definitely Fun?

There are many features of Microsoft Color BASIC that went right over my head when I was learning to program as a junior high school kid. DEF FN was certainly one of them.

My first CoCo came with Extended Color BASIC, and that was required to use DEF FN. But what is is? According to Getting Started with Extended Color BASIC:

Extended Color BASIC has one numeric function, DEF FN, that is unlike any others we’ve talked about so far. DEF FN lets you create your own mathematical function. You can use your new function the same as any of the available functions (SIN, COS, TAN, and so on). Once you’ve used DEF FN to define a function, you may put it to work in your program by attaching the prefix FN to the name you assign to the new function. Here is the syntax for DEF FN:

DEF FN name (variable list) – formula

name is the name you assign to the function you create.
variable list contains one “dummy variable” for each variable to be used by the function.
formula defines the operation in terms of the variables given in the variable list

Note: Variable names that appear in formula serve only to define the formula; they do not affect program variables that have the same name. You may have only one argument in a formula call; therefore, DEF FN must contain only one variable.

You may use DEF FN only in a program, not in the immediate mode.

– Getting Started with Color BASIC, page 177.

I think my work here is done.

Until next time…

Okay, maybe not.

DEF FN: Define Function

There are commands in BASIC, such as PRINT and GOTO, and then there are functions that return values, such as SIN, ABS and INT.

PRINT SIN(42)
-.916521549

X=-42
PRINT ABS(X)
42

X=4.2
PRINT INT(X)
4

DEF FN allows you to create your own function that returns a value.

A simple example

We start with a simple example. What if you wanted a function that added 42 to any value you passed in? I will call this function “UA” (for “Ultimate Answer”) and define it as follows:

10 DEF FNUA(N)=N+42
20 PRINT FNUA(10)

If I run that, it will print 52. The new “function” FNUA(x) returns whatever you pass in with 42 added to it. Tada!

Function names seem to follow the same rules as variable names so you can have one or two letters (A to Z, AA to ZZ) or a letter and a number (A0 to Z9).

In the parens is a parameter that also follows the same rules of a variable. The parameter is just a placeholder so you have something to use in your new formula on the right of the equal sign. If you did DEF FNA(X) then after the equal you’d have whatever you want to happen to X. When the user calls it with FNA(123) then 123 goes to where the X was in the formula after the equals… Neat.

It’s kind of like a C function with only one parameter, now that I think about it/

// fnua(n) - return n plus 42
int fnua(float n)
{
    return n+42;
}

int main()
{
    float x = fnua(10);

    printf ("x = %f\n", x);

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

You can have DEF FNA(X) or DEF FNZZ(AB) or any combination.

What can you use it for?

The manual gives an example of doing math with a long floating point value so you don’t have to have that value in your code everywhere you want to use it.

7 DEF FNR(X)=X/57.28577951
6 AA=FNR(AA): AB=FNR(AB): AC=FNR(AC)

At least I’m not the only one with code snippets that don’t really do anything.

Of course, for something like this you could have placed that number in a variable which would be faster than parsing a long number (in most cases). Still, if the formula itself is big, it could save typing, I guess.

Benchmarks, anyone?

I was curious if it would be any faster for other types of maths…

Suppose I want to use PRINT@ to put a character on the text screen, but want to use PEEK to see if it “hits” another character on the text screen. I would use the PRINT@ positions of 0-511, but I’d want to PEEK the screen memory locations of 1024-1535.

10 CLS:P=0
20 FOR I=1 TO 20:PRINT@RND(511)-1,"X";:NEXT
30 PRINT @P,"*";
40 A$=INKEY$:IF A$="" THEN 40
50 IF A$="W" THEN NP=P-32:GOTO 90
60 IF A$="A" THEN NP=P-1:GOTO 90
70 IF A$="S" THEN NP=P+32:GOTO 90
80 IF A$="D" THEN NP=P+1
90 IF NP<0 THEN 40
100 IF NP>510 THEN 40
110 IF PEEK(NP+1024)<>96 THEN 40
120 PRINT @P," ";
130 P=NP
140 GOTO 30

Above is a program that will clear the screen and put X characters in random positions. The player is an asterisk in the top left of the screen. Using the keys W (up), A (left), S (down) and D (right) will move the asterisk around the screen. Checks ensure you cannot go off the top or bottom of the screen, or run in to an X.

Line 110 does the conversion from PRINT@ position to PEEK position. Maybe we can do this:

0 ' defusr2.bas
10 CLS:P=0
15 DEF FNP(X)=X+1024
20 FOR I=1 TO 20:PRINT@RND(511)-1,"X";:NEXT
30 PRINT @P,"*";
40 A$=INKEY$:IF A$="" THEN 40
50 IF A$="W" THEN NP=P-32:GOTO 90
60 IF A$="A" THEN NP=P-1:GOTO 90
70 IF A$="S" THEN NP=P+32:GOTO 90
80 IF A$="D" THEN NP=P+1
90 IF NP<0 THEN 40
100 IF NP>510 THEN 40
110 IF PEEK(FNP(NP))<>96 THEN 40
120 PRINT @P," ";
130 P=NP
140 GOTO 30

The behavior is the same, and now I get the benefit of it not having to parse “NP+1024” each time. Parsing decimal values is slow. On Extended BASIC I could have replaced 1024 with hex &H400 and that would have been faster. For more speed, I could have used a variable and had “NP+S” or whatever.

But is it faster?

0 ' defbench1.bas
5 P=0
10 TIMER=0
20 FOR A=1 TO 1000
30 Z=P+1024
40 NEXT
50 PRINT TIMER

Doing “P+1024” 1000 times prints 481.

0 ' defbench2.bas
5 P=0
6 DEF FNP(X)=X+1024
10 TIMER=0
20 FOR A=1 TO 1000
30 Z=FNA(P)
40 NEXT
50 PRINT TIMER

That version prints 603. Not faster. The overhead of FN seems to be more than just doing it directly. In a way, this makes sense because in-lining code in assembly or C is faster than calling it as a subroutine/function.

But let’s try more… We could also include other things in the function, like the PEEK itself.

0 ' defbench3.bas
5 P=0
6 DEF FNP(X)=PEEK(X+1024)
10 TIMER=0
20 FOR A=1 TO 1000
30 Z=FNP(P)
40 NEXT
50 PRINT TIMER

That one prints 690, and if you had just done “30 Z=PEEK(P+1024)” it would have been 572.

Cool, but definitely slower. I believe this is because it’s still storing that formula in a buffer somewhere and executing it as if you’d just typed it in. Indeed, if you change the formula to use hex:

0 ' defbench3.bas
5 P=0
6 DEF FNP(X)=PEEK(X+&H400)
10 TIMER=0
20 FOR A=1 TO 1000
30 Z=FNP(P)
40 NEXT
50 PRINT TIMER

…it prints 480, which means it’s parsing that formula each time instead of converting it to a number when you define it.

Pity. It would have been really cool if this had been a way to bypass the detokenizer stuff in BASIC and speed up routines like that.

FN Conclusion

DEF FN is slower. I don’t see any example where it speeds anything up. With that said, I expect I’d use DEF FN if…

  • I had a custom function I used in multiple places, and wanted to maintain it in just one spot. This would be more efficient, perhaps, than making it a GOSUB subroutine.
  • I needed to save some bytes of BASIC memory.
  • I wanted to write an example that fix things on small lines on the screen, just for appearances.

For anything else, I think I’d just put it in and make the program a bit faster.

Where else might one use this?

More examples

Sebastian Tepper commented to another post with a more useful example for DEF FN. There are many times when we use two PEEKs to get a 16-bit value from two bytes in memory:

V=PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(27)

Sebastian mentioned using DEF FN for this:

DEF FNP(AD)=PEEK(AD)*256+PEEK(AD+1)

V=FNP(25)

That’s very cool, and something I could see myself using. I wish I had thought of that when I was doing all my “Color BASIC memory location” articles, since I typed the double PEEK lines over and over and over…

But that’s not all…

The defined function can also use other variables. You can only pass one in, but any variable that is declared at the time the FN is used may be used. You could do this:

10 DEF FNA(X)=X*Y
20 Y=10
30 PRINT FNA(Y)
RUN
50

Above, you pass in a value for “X” and it returns the value multiplied by whatever Y is at that moment. You could create more complex formulas that way, but it kind of defeats the purpose.

Speaking of defeating the purpose, here are more silly examples. Using it to replicate PEEK:

10 DEF FNP(X)=PEEK(X)
20 PRINT FNP(1024)

How about returning if something is true or not? Like, is a memory location outside screen memory?

…but that sure looks like it would be really slow. Still neat, though. You could do:

IF FNL(L) THEN PRINT"NOT IN SCREEN MEMORY"

It does make the code look neater — especially if something is being checked multiple times (such as checking four ghost in Pac-Man or whatever).

What other examples can you think of? Leave a comment.

Until next time…

CoCo ROM to RAM (64K test) – part 2

See also: part 1 and part 2.

On a 64K Color Computer, the BASIC ROMs configure it so the first 32K is RAM and the second 32K is ROM. It is easy to change a memory location and cause the upper 32K to be RAM, too, but if you did that from BASIC you would suddenly find yourself without the ROM and would have a nice crash.

Machine language programs that did not rely on any ROM calls could enable the 64K RAM mode and use the full 64K memory as they wished.

At some point, someone was the first to figure out they could copy the ROMs in to RAM, and then switch to RAM mode. This would allow them to be running BASIC from RAM, and thus it would be possible to use POKEs to modify the BASIC code and do patches.

In an effort to see who first figured this out and published details, I did some searching…

March 1982 – Frank Hogg

I found something on page 18 of the March 1982 issue of Color Computer News. The article was called “MORE ON 64K by Frank Hogg of Frank Hogg Labs.

https://colorcomputerarchive.com/repo/Documents/Magazines/Color%20Computer%20News/Color%20Computer%20News%20%2307%20-%20March%201982.pdf

Last month we showed you how to access the other 32K in your Color Computer bringing it up to the full 64K, This month we’re going to discuss some additional uses for that memory, plus a program to copy the ROM Basic into RAM and run it there;

– Frank Hogg, Color Computer News, March 1982

Included was a BASIC program that loaded the machine code, with example POKEs used to modify BASIC (such as changing the PRINT command to be WRITE).

The assembly code was listed in comments:

1820 ' THE MACHINE LANGUAGE
1830 ' PROGRAM TO MOVE BASIC TO
1840 ' RAM IS AS FOLLOWS:
1850 '
1860 '
1870 ' EP   ORCC #$50 DIS. INTS.
1880 '      LDX #$8000 1ST ADDR.
1890 ' LOOP LDA ,X
1900 '      STA $FFDF MAP TYPE 1
1910 '      STA ,X+ IN RAM!
1920 '      STA $FFDE MAP TYPE 0
1930 '      CMPX #$FFOO LAST +1
1940 '      BNE LOOP
1950 '      STA $FFDF MAP TYPE 1
1960 '      ANDCC #$AF ENBL INTS
1970 '      RTS 

Was this the first such program published?

April 1983 – Frank Hogg revisted

Frank had a follow-up in the April 1983 issue, as well, on page 19. It looks like an article, but it was labeled as a paid ad called “64K KORNER“:

https://colorcomputerarchive.com/repo/Documents/Magazines/Color%20Computer%20News/Color%20Computer%20News%20%2319%20-%20April%201983.pdf

The code listed was the same, but with updated comments. He also added a copyright notice as well as a small standalone BASIC loader:

1 ' Copyright 1983 by Frank Hogg Permission to use is
2 ' given for all but commercial use.
10 CLEAR 999
20 DATA 26,80,190,128,0,183,255,222,166,128
30 DATA 183,255,223,167,31,140,224,0,37,241,57
40 FOR I=1 TO 21:READ A:A$=A$+CHR$(A):NEXT I
50 P=VARPTR(A$)+1
60 POKE P,126
70 EXEC P
80 PRINT "NOW IN RAM!"

Frank chose to store the machine language bytes as characters of a string. He then gets the pointer to the 5-byte string descriptor and adds one to it. That makes P point to the unused byte which is directly in front of the two byte address of the string in string space. The string descriptor looks like this:

        Addr of String in Mem
                 |
              +-----+
              |     |
[Siz] [N/A] [MSB] [LSB] [N/A]
        |
        P points here

He then POKEs a 126 at that P location, which I believe is a machine language JMP instructions. Then he EXECutes P, which makes for a very clever way to execute this code!

[Siz] [JMP] [MSB] [LSB] [N/A]

I would have done it the long way like this:

P=VARPTR(A$)
EXEC PEEK(P+2)*256+PEEK(P+3)

Frank did much better.

July 1987 – Rainbow article

Another ROM to RAM program showed up in the July 1987 Rainbow on page 97. Joseph Forgione submitted a small utility to change BASIC’s “OK” prompt to say “READY.” In included a short DRIVER.BAS program which was a ROM to RAM routine:

1 DATA 26,80,142,128,0,127,255,222,166,132,127,255,223,167,132,48,1,140,255,0,38,239,28,159,57
2 FORA=&HE00 TO &HE18:READX:POKEA,X:NEXTA:EXEC3584:POKE65503,0:PRINT"OS IS NOW IN RAM!"

I fed those bytes in to the 6809 Simulator at www.6809.uk to see what it looked like:

4000: 1A 50     ORCC  #$50
4002: 8E 80 00  LDX   #$8000
4005: 7F FF DE  CLR   $FFDE
4008: A6 84     LDA   ,X
400A: 7F FF DF  CLR   $FFDF
400D: A7 84     STA   ,X
400F: 30 01     LEAX  $01,X
4011: 8C FF 00  CMPX  #$FF00
4014: 26 EF     BNE   $4005
4016: 1C 9F     ANDCC #$9F
4018: 39        RTS

This is very similar to Hogg’s original, except instead of incrementing X when the byte is stored (STA ,X+) the author chose to not do that, and have a different instruction add one to X (LEAX $01,X). That makes it a few bytes larger and a few clock cycles slower, not that anyone would really notice.

Where did it come from?

I have yet to locate the one I used back on my CoCo 1, but it was probably from my pre-disk drive days and is on some old cassette tape somewhere. I had never seen Color Computer News, so my version probably came from Rainbow Magazine, or perhaps one of the few issues of Color Computer Magazine or Hot CoCo I picked up from the newstand. I was unable to locate anything obvious in the Rainbow indexes except that 1987 article.

Variations of this code seem to pop up, even to this day. In 2016, Juan Castro provided me a routine which I used in an earlier article about 64K. It was a faster one, that copied 6 bytes at a time instead of just one.

If anyone know who did this first (or at least was the first time it was in print somewhere), please leave a comment.

Until then, we’ll say it was Frank Hogg in March 1982.

Until next time…

CoCo ROM to RAM (64K test) – part 1

See also: part 1 and part 2.

Due to reasons I discussed at length in an earlier article, the Microsoft BASIC in the Color Computer recognizes no more than 32K of RAM, minus the memory used for BASIC and screen memory.

When folks figured out how to upgrade the original Color Computer to 64K (by piggybacking 32K of RAM on top of the existing chips and running some wires), BASIC could not see or use that extra memory.

Enter the Dragon

Dragon Data, which sold the CoCo “clone” Dragon computers in the U.K., improved on this limitation with their Dragon 64 computer. It would boot up in a compatibility mode with the same memory limitation as the earlier Dragon 32 machines, but allowed entering a new mode that moved things around to allow more memory for BASIC.

If you start up a cassette-based Dragon 64 in the XRoar Online emulator, you get 24871 bytes available to BASIC:

If you then typed EXEC (to execute a machine language routine), the default routine it executed would do some magic to relocate BASIC and restart it with 41241 bytes available. (Both of these values will be less if using a disk system.)

Oh how I wish we had gotten that feature added to the CoCo’s BASIC when 64K machines first came out. (There were rumors that the Deluxe Color Computer 2 would have had something like this as part of it’s new features, but that machine never came to exist beyond some mentions in the BASIC manuals.)

CoCo RAM: Don’t ask, don’t tell.

On the CoCo, once you got to 32K, the machine would show the maximum amount of memory available to BASIC — the same 24871 seen by a Dragon 32 machine.

On startup, a cassette-based CoCo has 24871 bytes available for BASIC.

If you had a 64K machine, it would still show the same value since that is all BASIC knew about. The rest of the 64K was hidden.

“Assembly Language or OS-9”

In those early years, it seemed the official line from Radio Shack was that 64K was usable only from assembly language or the OS-9 disk operating system.

The same was true when the CoCo 3 came out in 1986. It came with 128K but could be expanded to 512K. Even though BASIC was enhanced to support the new graphics modes of the machine, it still only saw 32K available for BASIC programs. On a 512K CoCo 3, free memory for BASIC was reported as 24872:

…and now I am very curious to see where that extra byte came from.

Show me the mem’ry!

And here we are in 2022, over four decades after the first CoCo was sold in 1980, and folks are still wondering how to tell how much memory is in their machine.

One of the most suggested ways of determining if a CoCo 1 or 2 has 64K is to try to run the game Saylor Man from Tom Mix Software. It is notable for being the first CoCo game to require 64K, so if it runs … you have 64K and not just 32K.

But loading up a large program just to do a memory test isn’t the efficient way to do a memory check (even if it is the most fun way).

The second method is to run a short BASIC program that attempts to copy the BASIC ROMs in to RAM. If it works, and you can POKE to the BASIC ROM locations and change things, it proves you have 64K.

This test is convenient because it can be done by typing in a very short program in BASIC, rather than needing a way to download and transfer a tape or disk image of Sailor Man over to a CoCo.

In part 2, I’ll discuss several implementations of this “ROM to RAM” program, and then present a super simple 64K test program.

Until then…

Color BASIC string abuse – part 2

See also: part 1 and part 2.

In the first part, the following Color BASIC program was shared:

5 CLEAR 100*255
10 MX=99
20 DIM A$(MX):AL=0:DL=-1
30 SZ=RND(255):SZ=255
40 A$=STRING$(SZ,"X")
50 GOSUB 1000:GOTO 30
999 END

1000 REM
1001 REM ADD NEW STRING
1002 REM
1010 IF AL=DL THEN GOSUB 2000
1020 GOSUB 3000:IF Z<1024 THEN GOSUB 2000
1030 PRINT "ADDING";LEN(A$)"BYTES AT";AL;Z
1040 A$(AL)=A$
1050 AL=AL+1:IF AL>MX THEN AL=0
1060 IF DL=-1 THEN DL=0
1070 RETURN

2000 REM
2001 REM DELETE OLD STRING
2002 REM
2010 PRINT ,"DELETING";DL
2020 A$(DL)=""
2030 DL=DL+1:IF DL>MX THEN DL=0
2040 GOSUB 5000
2050 RETURN

3000 REM
3001 REM GET FREE STRING SPACE
3002 REM
3010 Z=(PEEK(&H23)*256+PEEK(&H24))-(PEEK(&H21)*256+PEEK(&H22))
3020 RETURN

5000 REM
5001 REM PAUSE
5002 REM
5010 PRINT"[PAUSE]";
5020 IF INKEY$="" THEN 5020
5030 PRINT STRING$(7,8);:RETURN

The program allocates enough string space to hold 100 strings of 255 bytes each. It then starts adding line after line until it detects string memory is getting low. When that happens, the oldest line is deleted (set to “”). The process continues…

The “gut feeling” was that this program should have been able to hold 100 full sized strings, but since it did use a temporary A$ (created to be 255 strings line, and the string we would be adding to the array), it seemed logical that it would have to start purging lines maybe a few entries before the end.

But instead, it starts deleting lines at around entry 47. And, the memory usage being printed out shows it drops by 510 byes each time instead of 255.

510 is an interesting number. That is 255 * 2. That makes it seem like each time we add a 255 byte string, we are using twice that memory.

And we are!

Strings may live again to see another day

The key to what is going on is in the main loop starting at line 30. We create a new A$ and set it to a string of 255 X’s. That string has to be stored somewhere, so it goes in to string memory. Then we do the GOSUB and add a string to the array, which copies our A$ in to the array A$(AL) entry.

When we go back to 30 for the next round, we create A$ again. The old copy of A$, in string memory, is deallocated, and a new A$ is created at the current string memory position. BASIC does not see if the old string space is large enough to be re-used. It just moves on to a new allocation of string space.

It looks like this… And note that strings fill from the end of the memory and move lower. Let’s say we have 16 bytes of reserved string memory (just to keep things fitting on this screen).

FRETOP points to where reserved string memory begins. MEMSIZ is the end of string memory. If we had done CLEAR 16, then FRETOP would be MEMSIZ-16.

STRTAB is where the next string will be added. It looks like this:

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.]
                                              |
                                           STRTAB 

Let’s say we create a 4-byte A$=STRING(4, “X”) (“XXXX”) that we plan to add to an array. It will be stored in string memory:

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][X][X][X][X]
                                  |
                               STRTAB 

Later in the code, we assign that to the array, such as A$(0)=A$. Now A$(0) gets a copy of A$, and it looks like this (using lowercase ‘x’ to represent the copy of A$ that was put in A$(0)):

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][x][x][x][x][X][X][X][X]
                      |
                   STRTAB 

When we go back to do this again, a new A$ is created, and it gets stored next. The old string data is still there, but A$ has been updated to point to the new entry.

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][.][.][.][X][X][X][X][x][x][x][x][X][X][X][X]
          |
       STRTAB

…and so on. As you can see, the way this loop was written, it is creating a new A$ every time through, copying it to the array (a new entry for that) and so on. That is why we see 510 each time through instead of just 255.

Now, if the string was short, we could have done A$=”XXXXXXXXXXXXX”. If we did that, the string would exist in program space and not in string memory. But we wanted a 255 byte string, and you can’t type a line that long in BASIC so STRING$() was used instead, which requires putting the string in string memory.

However, since in THIS version we are just using the same 255 character A$ over and over again, let’s make one change so we don’t create it every time through the loop. Just change the GOTO 30 in line 50 to be GOTO 50:

30 SZ=RND(255):SZ=255
40 A$=STRING$(SZ,"X")
50 GOSUB 1000:GOTO 50

Now the program will create one A$, which will store at the start of string memory, and then loop over and over just making new entries in the array.

That small change will instantly change the results to be more like we might have expected. Now we get all the way to entry 94 before any string deleting happens:

And, from looking at that screen, each number is dropping by 255 bytes as we expected.

By the time it reached line 94, it saw that there were less than 1024 bytes of free string space left. 1024 would have held another four 255 byte strings, meaning actually had enough memory to have gotten to line 98 — just one line short of our max 99 before it rolls over. And that memory is where the initial 255-byte A$ is stored.

Tada! Mystery solved.

But wait! There’s more…

The reason I chose 1024 as a threshold was to allow for other temporary string use in the program. Things like LEFT$, MID$, STRING$ all make temporary strings. When you add two strings together it creates a third string that combines the first two. Be sure to check out my string theory article for more details on this — I learned quite a bit when researching it. I also learned that some things required strings that I did not expect to. Fun reads. Helps put you to sleep.

If I modify line 1020 to check for 255 bytes remaining instead of 1024, then re-run, I get this:

…and that is as perfect as it gets. Array is filled with strings 0-98, plus the temporary string, which is a total of 100 strings of 255-bytes each — and that is how much memory we set aside with CLEAR!

Now how much would you pay?

And because this program is self-aware when it comes to knowing how much string space is there, it can actually operate with much less string space. It will just delete old strings sooner.

You can change the CLEAR in line 5 to something smaller, like 2000, and it will still work. But, 2000/255 is 7, so it has room for the A$ plus six array entries. I expect it would DELETE every 6 lines. Let’s try…

Bingo! After lines 0-5 (six lines) it deleted and old one, then since everything was now full, it had to delete every time it added something new.

And the point is…?

Well, let’s just say I wish I knew about this back in 1983 when I wrote my cassette-based Bulletin Board System, *ALLRAM*.

I always wanted to write version 2.0.

Until next time…

Color BASIC string abuse – part 1

See also: part 1 and part 2.

This program demonstrates Color BASIC’s string garbage collection. As strings are manipulated, string memory used will continue to grow until BASIC decides to clean up the string space and move things around a bit.

The program creates a string array and fills each entry up with string data. Using code that checks how much string space is remaining, it will delete old strings if string memory is low.

Watching it run reveals some curious things…

The Program

On an Extended or Disk BASIC system, you will need to do a PCLEAR 1 to get enough memory to run it.

  • Initialization
    • Line 5 – We CLEAR enough string space to hold 100 lines at their largest size of 255 characters. Note that when you use DIM to set an array size, it is base-0. Doing a DIM A$(99) gives you A$(0) to A$(99) — 100 elements. Thus, the CLEAR uses 100, but the DIM in the next line uses 99.
    • Line 10 – MX represents the maximum number of lines in the array.
    • Line 20 – DIM A$(MX) creates an array of 0-99 entries (100). AL is set to 0, and will be the line (array entry) we will ADD next. DL will be used to track the next line (array entry) we need to delete. DL is set to -1 for “nothing to delete yet.”
  • Main Loop
    • Line 30 – SZ is set to the length of the string we want to add. It has an unused RND at the start, but then SZ is hard-coded to 255. The program was designed to test random lengths of strings, but for this demo, we will be overriding that and making every string the maximum size.
    • Line 40 – GOSUB 1000 goes to a routine that will ADD a line. Then we GOTO 30 to create a new line and do it again.
  • Add New String subroutine
    • Line 1010 checks to see if the ADD line has caught up to the DELETE line. If it has, we GOSUB 2000 to handle deleting the delete line.
    • Line 1020 – GOSUB 3000 will return the amount of free string space in Z. If Z is less than 104, GOSUB 2000 is called to delete a string.
    • Line 1030 – It prints how long of a string is being added to which line, followed by the current free string space before the add.
    • Line 1040 – The string is added to the A$ array at position AL.
    • Line 1050 – AL (add line) is incremented by 1, moving it to the next line of the array. If AL is larger than the MX (max array entries), it will wrap around to entry 0.
    • Line 1070 – Returns.
  • Delete Old String subroutine
    • Line 2010 – Print which line is about to be deleted (set to “”).
    • Line 2020 – The A$ entry at position DL is set to “”, releasing the string memory it was using.
    • Line 2030 – DL (delete line) is incremented by one. If DL is larger than MX (max array entries), it will wrap around to entry 0.
    • Line 2040 – GOSUB 5000 is a pause routine so we can see what just happened.
  • Get Free String Space routine
    • Line 3010 – Z is calculated as the difference between the FRETOP (start of string storage) memory location and the STRTAB (start of string variables) in the reserved string area. This gives us how many bytes of unused string memory is available.
    • Line 2030 – Returns.
  • Pause subroutine
    • Line 510 – Print the message “[PAUSE]” with no carriage return at the end.
    • Line 5020 – If INKEY$ returns nothing (no key pressed), keep checking.
    • Line 5030 – Prints a string of 7 CHR$(8)s (backspace character) which will erase over the “[PAUSE]” prompt.

Based on the intent, one might think that running this would fill strings up to around entry 100, and then it would start deleting the old string

But is that what it will do?

Let’s run it and find out.

5 CLEAR 100*255
10 MX=99
20 DIM A$(MX):AL=0:DL=-1
30 SZ=RND(255):SZ=255
40 A$=STRING$(SZ,"X")
50 GOSUB 1000:GOTO 30
999 END

1000 REM
1001 REM ADD NEW STRING
1002 REM
1005 IF AL=DL THEN GOSUB 2000
1006 GOSUB 3000:IF Z<1024 THEN GOSUB 2000
1010 PRINT "ADDING";LEN(A$)"BYTES AT";AL;Z
1020 A$(AL)=A$
1030 AL=AL+1:IF AL>MX THEN AL=0
1040 IF DL=-1 THEN DL=0
1050 RETURN

2000 REM
2001 REM DELETE OLD STRING
2002 REM
2010 PRINT ,"DELETING";DL
2020 A$(DL)=""
2030 DL=DL+1:IF DL>MX THEN DL=0
2035 GOSUB5000
2040 RETURN

3000 REM
3001 REM GET FREE STRING SPACE
3002 REM
3010 Z=(PEEK(&H23)*256+PEEK(&H24))-(PEEK(&H21)*256+PEEK(&H22)):RETURN

5000 REM
5001 REM PAUSE
5002 REM
5010 PRINT"[PAUSE]";
5020 IF INKEY$="" THEN 5020
5030 PRINT STRING$(7,8);:RETURN

Running the Program

After a PCLEAR 1 and RUN, the program starts filling lines and we can see string memory going down. When it gets to line 47, there is only 1275 bytes of string space left.

And if we check those values, the difference between each one isn’t the 255 we might have expected. We clearly added a new 255 byte string, but memory went from 7905 to 7395 (510 bytes less) and continued down to 1785 to 1275 (510 bytes less). It appears each time we add a 255 byte string, it takes 510 bytes of string memory.

As we get to line 47, we must have had less than 1024 bytes of string memory left and the DELETE LINE subroutine is called. It deletes the oldest line, which is currently line 0. That should free up 255 bytes of string memory.

After pressing a key, we see the next few entries:

After deleting 0, memory has gone from 1275 to 756 (5120 bytes), so DELETE is called again. This time it deletes line 1.

We press a key and let it scroll a bit more until the next DELETE:

Here we see that, at some point, some string cleanup was done and our free string space grew larger. The trend of reducing by 510 bytes for each ned 255 byte string added continues…

And the process repeats, until eventually we roll over at line 99.

From here on, things get a bit more predictable, with a DELETE happening almost every line — though sometimes every two lines.

Eventually things settle in to a pattern of basically DELETING for every line ADDED.

Is it broken? Is it just poorly implemented? Or is it behaving exactly like it is supposed to?

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion…

The mystery of MEMSIZ and why CoCo 3 BASIC has one more byte of it.

This is just a (hopefully) short article following up on some tangents I went on while learning about Color BASIC string memory and VARTPR and other related (and nonrelated) items.

The story so far…

Color BASIC has reserved string memory that is located at the very top of the 32K that is accessible by BASIC. There are three 16-bit pointers maintained by BASIC that contain the starting address for this memory, the address where the next string will be inserted (sorta), and the end of this memory.

The Color BASIC Unraveled book called them FRETOP, STRTAB and MEMSIZ.

You can get the address in BASIC by using PEEK(x)*256+PEEK(y) with these memory locations:

  • FRETOP – 33 and 34
  • STRTAB – 35 and 36
  • MEMSIZ – 39 and 40

When digging in to this, I noticed the the MEMSIZ location returned on a 32K CoCo was 32766, and on a 16K it was 16382, and on a 4K CoCo it was 4094. The actual last byte of RAM was one byte higher (32767, 16383, and 4095), making me wonder if this was a mistake.

Indeed, when I checked on a CoCo 3, which had newer patches to BASIC done by Microware, the 32K value “correctly” reported 32767 as would have expected.

Will the real MEMSIZ please stand up?

When I posted about this on the Color Computer mailing list, William “Lost Wizard” Astle was once again one of the first to chime in with an explanation:

… That missing byte is needed so VAL can work on a string stored at the very top of string space. It needs to temporarily put a NUL byte after the string so the number parser knows when to stop. After executing, VAL restores the byte to its original value. Things would fail if the byte after the string data was ROM though. On the Coco3, that byte is in RAM so it didn’t need an extra reserved byte. I suspect, however,  that Microware didn’t know that, or thought it was a bug in the original, or just didn’t notice when they replaced the now useless memory scan with a simple LDX. So, it’s not a bug in the original ROM and, accidental or not, … the behavior on the Coco3 [is] also correct.

– William Astle, 7/14/2022

This led me back to the ROM disassembly, where I did indeed locate where the VAL command will load a byte, store 0 there, then restore the original value later.

Color BASIC Unraveled, page B38.

Prove it or lose it.

Since Man cannot code on faith alone, Art “ADOS” Flexser provided a simple way to prove this to be true:

You can demonstrate the need for the extra byte on a 32/64K CoCo 1/2 by the following:

Change the top of string space to $7FFF rather than the usual $7FFE by POKE 40, 255:CLEAR, upping the LSB of MEMSIZ by one.

Then try PRINT VAL(“&H5”) and you get the rather surprising answer of 94! Why 94? Because that’s decimal for hex 5E, and the “E” has arisen from the first byte of Extended Basic at $8000.

On a CoCo 3, the top of string space is already at $7FFF, so you just need to put it into ROM/RAM mode with POKE&HFFDE,0 before entering PRINT VAL(“&H5”) to get the answer of 94.

Art Flexser, 7/17/2022

And there you have it — the reason why MEMSIZE is not actually pointing to the end of usable BASIC memory on a CoCo 1 or 2, and why it still works on a CoCo 3 after being changed to actually point to the end of usable BASIC memory.

The more you know …

Thanks, William and Art. Your knowledge is greatly apprecaited.

Until next time…

Color BASIC info memory locations.

From the “wish I knew then what I (almost) know now” department..

On the Color Computer, the first 1K (1024 bytes) of RAM is reserved for the BASIC ROM code to use. In this article, we will look at some memory locations that pertain to our BASIC code, variables, arrays and strings.

Here are the locations as described in the Color BASIC Unraveled book:

Color BASIC Unraveled, page A1.

Each location contains a 16-bit number which is the address in memory of that information. Here are the values we are interested in, translated to decimal:

  • TXTTAB – 25 and 26
  • VARTAB – 27 and 28
  • ARYTAB – 29 and 30
  • ARYEND – 31 and 32
  • FRETOP – 33 and 34
  • STRTAB – 35 and 36
  • MEMSIZ – 39 and 40

To turn two bytes in to the 16-bit address, we take the PEEK of the first byte, multiply it by 256, then add the PEEK of the second byte. For TXTTAB (Beginning of BASIC program) we would do:

PRINT PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(26)

That value returned will be different depending on the configuration of the Color Computer.

Let’s dig in to what each of these locations means.

TXTTAB: Beginning of BASIC program – 25/26 (&H19/&H1A)

This location represents where in RAM the BASIC program starts.

PRINT PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(26)

On a CoCo with only Color BASIC (no Extended or Disk BASIC), storage for a BASIC program will be right after the 512 bytes of screen memory. The CoCo’s screen is stored at 1024 to 1535, so BASIC programs load at 1536.

START   END   SIZE   DESC
-----  -----  -----  --------------
    0   1023   1024  ROM USE
 1024   1535    512  TEXT SCREEN
 1536  32767  31232  BASIC PROGRAM

With Extended BASIC added, some RAM after the text screen is used for high resolution graphics screens. By default, 6K is reserved on startup, but more or less can be specified using the PCEAR command. Since the smallest graphics screen using 1.5K (1536 bytes), allocation is done in multiples of that size. Thus, on startup, Extended BASIC has four 1.5K pages reserved for graphics. This means BASIC would start at 7668 on a CoCo with Extended BASIC.

START   END   SIZE   DESC
-----  -----  -----  --------------
    0   1023   1024  ROM USE
 1024   1535    512  TEXT SCREEN
 1536   7679   6144  HI-RES GFX
 7680  32767  25088  BASIC PROGRAM

With Disk BASIC, there is an additional 2K of RAM used just after screen memory at 1536, with the high resolution graphics screens after that.

START   END   SIZE   DESC
-----  -----  -----  --------------
    0   1023   1024  ROM USE
 1024   1535    512  TEXT SCREEN
 1536   3583   2048  DISK ROM USE
 3584   9727   6144  HI-RES GFX
 9728  32767  23040  BASIC PROGRAM

NOTE about “START”: As I calculated this, I see that the starting location for BASIC is actually one byte higher than I expected. On a 4K CoCo, I expected BASIC to start at 1536, but PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(27) shows 1537. On an Extended BASIC CoCo, those peeks show 7681 instead of 7680. And on a Disk BASIC system, they show 9729 instead of 9728. I am not sure why it is off by one, but I’m sure someone smarter than I will have the answer in a comment.

NOTE about “END”: You will notice in my table the end location for BASIC is listed as 32766. That would only be true if the machine has 32K or 64K. If the machine had only 4K or 16K, it would be less. (Basically, MEMSIZE – START OF BASIC PROGRAM). And then it’s also off by by one byte for some reason (4094 on a 4K machine, 16382 on a 16K machine, and 32766 on a 32K machine). I’ll have to look in to this. Maybe I’m the one who is off…

NOTE about BASIC Memory: You may note I just said a 32K and 64K CoCo will show the same location for the end of BASIC memory. This is because reasons. See this article for a discussion about getting the most memory for BASIC, or just read this excerpt:

64K NOTE: The reason BASIC memory is the same for 32K and 64K is due to legacy designs. The 6809 processor can only address 16-bits of memory space (64K). The BASIC ROMs started in memory at $8000 (32768, the 32K halfway mark). This allowed the first 32K to be RAM for programs, and the upper 32K was for BASIC ROM, Extended BASIC ROM, Disk BASIC ROM and Program Pak ROMs. Early CoCo hackers figured out how to piggy-pack 32K RAM chips to get 64K RAM in a CoCo, but by default that RAM was “hidden” under the ROM address space. In assembly language, you could map out the ROMs and access the full 64K of RAM. But, since a BASIC program needed the BASIC ROMs, only the first 32K was available.

this article

VARTAB: Start of Variables – 27/28 (&H1B/&H1C)

This location represents where the variable table begins.

PRINT PEEK(27)*256+PEEK(28)

Variables are stored directly after the BASIC program, so subtracting the value here from the value at 25/26 will give you the size of your program:

PRINT (PEEK(27)*256+PEEK(28))-(PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(26))

Note the use of parenthesis around each calculation. I was originally not using them, and was getting bad results because I made, as William Astle noted, “an elementary arithmetic error.”

Math is hard. Just ask Barbie.

Variable Table

The variable table is a series of 7 byte entries. The first two bytes are the variable name.

  • Variable Name (bytes 1 and 2) – If a variable is “LN”, the first two bytes would be “LN”. But, if the variable is a string such as LN$, the first byte would be “L” and the second byte would be the value of “L” + 128 (high bit set).
  • Variable Value (bytes 3-7) or String Descriptor (bytes 3, and 5-6)
    • If the variable is a number, the next five bytes are a floating point representation of the value.
    • If the variable is a string (high bit of the second name byte is set), the five bytes will be a string descriptor entry that contains the size and location of the string data bytes. A string descriptor only uses three of those five bytes. The first byte will be the length of the string (0-255), the next byte is unused, then the third and fourth bytes are the address of the string data in memory (located in reserved string space, to be discussed later in this article).
VARIABLE TABLE ENTRY
----------------------
[L][N][x][x][x][x][x] - numeric variable "LN"

Here is a short program that will print out all the variables. The variables MUST be declared before this code runs. If any new variables are created inside the FOR/NEXT loop, it will not work as expected since the table will have been changed.

0 ' SHOWVARS.BAS
5 DIM VS,VE,L,VN$
10 VS=PEEK(27)*256+PEEK(28)
20 VE=PEEK(29)*256+PEEK(30)
30 FOR L=VS TO VE-5 STEP 7
40 VN$=CHR$(PEEK(L))+CHR$(PEEK(L+1) AND 127)
50 IF PEEK(L+1) AND 128 THEN VN$=VN$+"$"
60 PRINT VN$;
70 FOR I=0 TO 4
80 PRINT TAB(5*I+6);PEEK(L+2+I);
90 NEXT:PRINT
100 NEXT

Running this will show a list of all the variables in use, and the five bytes after the name.

Above, the VN$ entry shows that it is a 3 byte string located in memory at location 127*256+236 (32748). More on this later in the article.

You can test this code further by declaring more variables before line 10, such as with the DIM statement, or just adding declarations like A=42 or ZZ$=”TOP”.

6 DIM A,B,C,D,A$,B$,AB$,ZZ$
7 AB$="ABBA":ZZ$="TOP"

ARYTAB: Start of Arrays – 29/30 (&H1D/&H1E)

This location represents where arrays will be stored.

PRINT PEEK(29)*256+PEEK(30)

And if we know the start…

ARYEND: End of Arrays (+1) – 31/32 (&H&1F/&H20)

And this location represents where arrays end (though it returns one byte past the last entry of the arrays).

PRINT PEEK(31)*256+PEEK(32)

Arrays

This part gets a bit complicated and messy, so unless you plan on doing stuff with arrays, feel free to skip this section completely… :)

Arrays get stored in their own block of memory. Each array entry starts with a 5-byte header that contains the name of the array (2-bytes), the length of the array (2-bytes) and how many dimensions the array is (1-byte). It looks like this:

ARRAY TABLE ENTRY HEADER (5 bytes)
--------------------
[  ][  ][  ][  ][  ] - numeric array "NM"
  N   M  AB  CD  #D  - ABCD = memory used (header to end)
                       #D = number of dimension
                            DIM(X)=1 DIM(X,Y)=2

This is followed by one or more 2-byte entries that contain the dimension size for each dimension. A one dimensional array such as DIM X(10) would have two bytes representing 11. Remember that in BASIC, DIMensions are base 0. DIM X(10) gives you X(0) through X(10) for a total of 11 entries.

Since an array has to have at least one entry, the header will really always have at least 7 bytes. Here is an example for a two dimension array like DIM X(10,20)

ARRAY TABLE ENTRY HEADER (5 bytes + at 2 bytes per each dimension)
------------------------------------
[  ][  ][  ][  ][  ][  ][  ][  ][  ]- numeric array "LN"
  N   M  AB  CD  #D  D1  D1  D2  D2 - ABCD = memory used
                                    - #D = number of dimensions
                                    - D1D1 = number of dimension 1 entries
                                    - D2D2 = number of dimension 1 entries

And, dimensions are backwards from how they are entered in BASIC. If you had this:

DIM AB(1,2,3,4)

You would have an array table entry that would be 15 bytes and look like this:

[65][66] [xx][xx] [4] [0][5] [0][4] [0][3] [0][2] [0][1]

[65][66] - name "AB"
        [xx][xx] - total bytes used from header to end
                [4] - four dimensions
                   [0][5] - DIM (x,x,x,4)
                         [0][4] - DIM (x,x,3,x)
                               [0][3] - DIM (x,2,x,x)
                                     [0][2] - DIM (1,x,x,x)

After each header are a series of 5-byte entries (one for each element in the array) in the same format as variables – either 5-bytes representing a floating point number, or 5-bytes that make up the string descriptor (size and location of string data).

The blocks of entries are in the order listed in the array table. i.e, if you have DIM(1,2) you will first have 3 5-byte entries for the second dimension DIM(x,2) followed by 2 5-byte entries for the first dimension DIM(1,x).

I think.

Here is a program that shows the Array Table:

0 ' SHOWARRAYS.BAS
5 DIM SA,EA,L,AN$,I,AL
6 DIM X(1),Y(10),XY(2,3),ZZ(10,15,20),A$(10),UL$(10,3)

10 SA=PEEK(29)*256+PEEK(30)
20 EA=PEEK(31)*256+PEEK(32)
30 IF SA=EA THEN PRINT "NO ARRAYS":END
40 PRINT "ARRAYS FROM";SA;"TO";EA
45 PRINT "NAME TSIZE DIM ..  ..  ..  .."
50 L=SA
60 AN$=CHR$(PEEK(L))+CHR$(PEEK(L+1) AND 127)
70 IF PEEK(L+1) AND 128 THEN AN$=AN$+"$"
80 PRINT AN$;
90 AL=PEEK(L+2)*256+PEEK(L+3)
100 PRINT TAB(4);AL;
110 PRINT TAB(11);PEEK(L+4);
120 FOR I=0 TO PEEK(L+4)-1
130 PRINT TAB(14+I*4);PEEK(L+5+I*2)*256+PEEK(L+5+I*2+1);
140 NEXT:PRINT
150 L=L+AL:IF L<EA THEN 60

And, with a bit of work, a program could be written to dump the 5-byte entrees for each array. I’ll add that to my “TODO” list…

FRETOP: Start of String Storage – 33/34 (&H21/&H22)

This location represents where reserved string memory begins. String space is reserved using the CLEAR command, with 200 bytes allocated by default. Strings are stored at the top of memory. Thus, on startup, this should print 200 bytes less than the end of BASIC memory:

PRINT PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34)

If you change the amount of reserved string space, this number will change accordingly. Here we start out with 200 bytes reserved for strings, then change that to 0 bytes, then to 500 bytes:

If you wanted to know how much room is available for a BASIC program plus variables, you could take this value and subtract the start of BASIC location:

PRINT (PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34))-(PEEK(25)*256+PEEK(26))

However, there is still some extra overhead so this value won’t match with what PRINT MEM shows. I guess it’s better to just PRINT MEM:

Maybe we’ll figure out what those “missing” 17 bytes are being used for.

STRTAB: Start of String Variables – 35/36 (&H22/&H24)

This location represents where the next string will be stored. Sorta.

PRINT PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36)

Didn’t we just cover this? Not exactly. FRETOP shows where the string memory starts, but strings are actually stored from the top of memory, and grow downward. Meaning, if you have 200 bytes reserved, and place a ten byte string there (A$=”1234567890″), it will be located at the END of that 200 bytes, not at the start. This value points to where strings are stored within the reserved area.

If string memory were set to 16 bytes by using CLEAR 16, string memory would look like this:

FRETOP
 |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.]
                                              |
                                           STRTAB

If we created a 5 byte string like A$=”12345″, it would then look like this:

FRETOP
 |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][1][2][3][4][5]
                               |
                            STRTAB

If we wanted to know how much string space is available, we could subtract FRETOP from STRTAB:

PRINT (PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36))-(PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34))

If we added another string of ten byte string like B$=”ABCDEFGHIJ”, it would look like:

FRETOP
 |
[.][A][B][C][D][E][F][G][H][I][J][1][2][3][4][5]
 |
STRTAB

At this point, we could add another one byte string, but anything longer would result in an ?OS ERROR (out of string space).

Here is a test program (and notice we are adding +”” to the end of each string. If that isn’t done, the string will be stored inside the BASIC program itself, and not in string memory.)

10 ' STRTAB.BAS
20 CLEAR 16
30 GOSUB 110
40 PRINT "ADDING 5 BYTE STRING"
50 A$="12345"+"":GOSUB 110
60 PRINT "ADDING 10 BYTE STRING"
70 B$="ABCDEFGHIJ"+"":GOSUB 110
80 PRINT "ADDING 2 BYTE STRING"
90 C$="??"+"":GOSUB 110
100 END
110 PRINT PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34);
120 PRINT TAB(6);PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36);
130 PRINT TAB(20);"FREE:";(PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36))-(PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34))
140 RETURN

Which leaves us with one final location…

MEMSIZ: Top of String Space – 39/40 (&H27/&H28)

This location represents where the end of string storage is, which will also be the end of RAM available to BASIC.

PRINT PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40)

Using our diagram from STRTAB, let’s add MEMSIZ:

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.][.]
                                              |
                                           STRTAB

MEMSIZE should never move, as it is the highest memory location available to BASIC. FRETOP will move, depending on how many bytes are reserved for strings using the CLEAR command.

After the two strings in the previous example were added, it would look like this:

FRETOP                                     MEMSIZ
 |                                            |
[.][A][B][C][D][E][F][G][H][I][J][1][2][3][4][5]
 |
STRTAB

This means we should be able to subtract STRTAB from MEMSIZ and know how many bytes of string space we are actually using:

PRINT (PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40))-(PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36))

Modifying the previous test program, we can print used/total string space at each step:

10 ' MEMSIZ.BAS
20 CLEAR 16
30 GOSUB 110
40 PRINT "ADDING 5 BYTE STRING"
50 A$="12345"+"":GOSUB 110
60 PRINT "ADDING 10 BYTE STRING"
70 B$="ABCDEFGHIJ"+"":GOSUB 110
80 PRINT "ADDING 2 BYTE STRING"
90 C$="??"+"":GOSUB 110
100 END
110 PRINT PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34);
120 PRINT TAB(6);PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36);
130 PRINT TAB(14);(PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40))-(PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36));
140 PRINT ;"/";
150 PRINT (PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40))-(PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34));
160 PRINT "USED"
170 RETURN

Yes … but what’s the point?

With these memory locations, we can determine how large a BASIC program is. We can detect how much string space is reserved, and calculate how much is being used or is free. We can figure out how much variable storage is being used, as well as array storage.

Most of these locations are never meant to be set by a program, but there is one exception. The CLEAR command can also be used to prevent BASIC from growing past a certain memory location. If you use a second parameter such as CLEAR 200,16000, it changes the MEMSIZ to that value.

10 ' CLEARIT.BAS
20 GOSUB 200
30 PRINT "CLEAR TO 16000"
40 CLEAR 200,16000
50 GOSUB 200
60 PRINT "CLEAR TO 10000"
70 CLEAR 200,10000
80 GOSUB 200
90 PRINT "CLEAR TO 32767"
100 CLEAR 200,32767
110 GOSUB 200
120 END
200 PRINT PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40)
210 RETURN

The CLEAR command erases all variables, so there would be nothing for BASIC to relocate. Instead, this just changes MEMSIZE and adjusts the string values FRETOP and STRTOP and accordingly.

10 ' CLEARIT2.BAS
15 PRINT "FRETOP";TAB(10);"STRTAB";TAB(20);"MEMSIZ"
20 GOSUB 200
30 PRINT "CLEAR TO 16000"
40 CLEAR 200,16000
50 GOSUB 200
60 PRINT "CLEAR TO 10000"
70 CLEAR 200,10000
80 GOSUB 200
90 PRINT "CLEAR TO 32767"
100 CLEAR 200,32767
110 GOSUB 200
120 END
200 PRINT PEEK(33)*256+PEEK(34);
210 PRINT TAB(10);PEEK(35)*256+PEEK(36);
220 PRINT TAB(20);PEEK(39)*256+PEEK(40)
230 RETURN

While it would be possible to manually POKE those six values and accomplish the same thing, there could always be unintended consequences. (But for fun, a BASIC program could be written that moves the string memory somewhere else, then POKEs the values to update it so BASIC keeps running.)

Conclusion

There might be some interesting things one could do by monitoring string space closely… Perhaps all the research I did for this article may be leading somewhere…

Until then…


BONUS CONTENT

Here is the program I used to calculate the tables in this article.

0 ' MEMINFO.BAS

10 GOSUB 1500
20 ZL=0:ZS=1024:ZD$="ROM USE":GOSUB 1000
30 ZS=512:ZD$="TEXT SCREEN":GOSUB 1000
40 ZS=0:ZD$="BASIC PROGRAM":GOSUB 1000
50 GOSUB 2000

60 GOSUB 1500
70 ZL=0:ZS=1024:ZD$="ROM USE":GOSUB 1000
80 ZS=512:ZD$="TEXT SCREEN":GOSUB 1000
85 ZS=6144:ZD$="HI RES GFX":GOSUB 1000
90 ZS=0:ZD$="BASIC PROGRAM":GOSUB 1000
100 GOSUB 2000

110 GOSUB 1500
120 ZL=0:ZS=1024:ZD$="ROM USE":GOSUB 1000
130 ZS=512:ZD$="TEXT SCREEN":GOSUB 1000
135 ZS=2048:ZD$="DISK ROM USE":GOSUB 1000
140 ZS=6144:ZD$="HI RES GFX":GOSUB 1000
150 ZS=0:ZD$="BASIC PROGRAM":GOSUB 1000
160 GOSUB 2000

999 GOTO 999
1000 ' PRINT MEM INFO
1001 ' ZL=START LOCATION
1002 ' ZS=SIZE
1010 IF ZS=0 THEN ZS=32768-ZL
1020 PRINT USING("##### ##### ##### ");ZL;ZL+ZS-1;ZS;
1030 PRINT ZD$
1040 ZL=ZL+ZS:RETURN

1500 ' PRINT MEM INFO HEADER
1510 PRINT "STRT   END  SIZE  DESC"
1520 PRINT "----- ----- ----- -------------"
1530 RETURN

2000 ' WAIT FOR KEY
2010 IF INKEY$="" THEN 2010
2020 RETURN

Color BASIC and string concatenation

The C programming language has a few standard library functions that deal with strings, namely strcpy() (string copy) and strcat() (string concatenate).

Microsoft BASIC has similar string manipulation features built in to the language. For example, to copy an 8 character “string” in to a buffer (array of chars):

char buffer1[80];

strcpy(buffer1, "12345678");

printf("%s\n", buffer1);

In BASIC, you do not need to allocate space for individual strings. Color BASIC allows doing whatever you want with a string provided it is 255 characters or less, and provided the total string space is large enough. By default, Color BASIC reserves 200 bytes for string storage. If you wanted to strcpy() “12345678” to a string variable, you would just do:

BUFFER1$="12345678"

Yes, that’s legal, but Color BASIC only recognizes the first two characters of a string name, so in reality, that is just like doing:

BU$="12345678"

If you need more than the default 200 bytes, the CLEAR command will reserve more string storage. For example, “CLEAR 500” or “CLEAR 10000”.

“CLEAR 500” would let you have five 100 character strings, or 500 one character strings.

And, keep in mind, strings stored in PROGRAM MEMORY do not use this space. For example, if you reduced string space to only 9 bytes, then tried to make a 10 byte string direct from BASIC:

CLEAR 9
A$="1234567890"
?OS ERROR

The wonderful “?OS ERROR” (Out of String Space).

BUT, if strings are declared inside PROGRAM data, BASIC references them from within your program instead of string memory:

5 CLEAR 9
10 A$="1234567890"
20 B$="1234567890"
30 C$="1234567890"
40 D$="1234567890"
50 E$="1234567890"

Yes, that actually works. If you would like to know more, please see my String Theory series.

But I digress…

The other common C string function is strcat(), which appends a string at the end of another:

char buffer1[80];

strcpy(buffer1, "12345678");
strcat(buffer1, "plus this");

printf("%s\n", buffer1);

That code would COPY “12345678” in to the buffer1 memory, then concatenate “plus this” to the end of it, printing out “12345678plus this”.

In BASIC, string concatenation is done by adding the strings together, such as:

A$="12345678"
A$=A$+"plus this"

PRINT A$

Color BASIC allows for strings to be up to 255 characters long, and no more:

The wonderful “?LS ERROR” (Length of String).

Make it Bigger!

In something I am writing, I started out with an 8 character string, and wanted to duplicate it until it was 64 characters long. I did it like this:

10 A$="12345678"
20 A$=A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$

In C, if you tried to strcat() a buffer on top of the buffer, it would not work like that.

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv)
{
    char buffer1[80];
    
    // buffer1$ = "12345678"
    strcpy(buffer1, "12345678");
    // Result: buffer1="12345678"
    printf ("%s\n", buffer1);
    
    // buffer1$ = buffer1$ + buffer1$
    strcat(buffer1, buffer1);
    // Result: buffer1$="1234567812345678"
    printf ("%s\n", buffer1);

    // buffer1$ = buffer1$ + buffer1$    
    strcat(buffer1, buffer1);
    // Result: buffer1$="12345678123456781234567812345678"
    printf ("%s\n", buffer1);

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

As you can see, each strcat() copies all of the previous buffer to the end of the buffer, doubling the size each time.

The same thing happens if you do it step by step in BASIC:

A$="12345678"
REM RESULT: A$="12345678"

A$=A$+A$
REM RESULT: A$="1234567812345678"

A$=A$+A$
REM RESULT: A$="12345678123456781234567812345678"

But, saying “A$=A$+A$+A$+A$” is not the same as saying “A$=A$+A$ followed by A$=A$+A$”

For example, if you add two strings three times, you get a doubling of string size at each step:

5 CLEAR 500
10 A$="12345678"
20 A$=A$+A$
30 A$=A$+A$
40 A$=A$+A$
50 PRINT A$

Above creates a 64 character string (8 added to 8 to make 16, then 16 added to 16 to make 32, then 32 added to 32 to make 64).

BUT, if you had done the six adds on one line:

5 CLEAR 500
10 A$="12345678"
20 A$=A$+A$ + A$+A$ + A$+A$
50 PRINT A$

…you would get a 48 character string (8 characters, added 6 times).

In C, using strcat(buffer, buffer) with the same buffer has a doubling effect each time, just like A$=A$+A$ does in BASIC each time.

And, adding a bunch of strings together like…

A$=A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$ '64 characters

…could also be done in three doubling steps like this:

A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$ ' 64 characters

Two different ways to concatenate strings together to make a longer string. Which one should we use?

Must … Benchmark …

In my code, I just added my 8 character A$ up 8 times to make a 64 character string. Then I started thinking about it. And here we go…

Using my standard benchmark program, we will declare an 8 character string then add it together 8 times to make a 64 character string. Over and over and over, and time the results.

0 REM strcat1.BAS
5 DIM TE,TM,B,A,TT
10 FORA=0TO3:TIMER=0:TM=TIMER
20 FORB=0TO1000
30 A$="12345678"
40 A$=A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$
70 NEXT
80 TE=TIMER-TM:PRINTA,TE
90 TT=TT+TE:NEXT:PRINTTT/A:END

This produces an average of 1235.

Now we switch to the doubling three times approach:

0 REM strcat2.BAS
5 DIM TE,TM,B,A,TT
10 FORA=0TO3:TIMER=0:TM=TIMER
20 FORB=0TO1000
30 A$="12345678"
40 A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$
70 NEXT
80 TE=TIMER-TM:PRINTA,TE
90 TT=TT+TE:NEXT:PRINTTT/A:END

This drops the time down to 888!

Adding separately three times versus add together eight times is a significant speed improvement.

Based on what I learned when exploring string theory (and being shocked when I realized how MID$, LEFT$ and RIGHT$ worked), I believe every time you do a string add, there is a new string created:

“A$=A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$+A$” creates eight strings along the way.

“A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$:A$=A$+A$” creates six.

No wonder it is faster.

Looks like I need to go rewrite my experiment.

Until next time…