Software Review - RangerLink

Just to clear up any confusion before the review proper, RangerLink was previously called LexLink-C, as mentioned in Newlines Vol 4 No 6. LexLink-C has been renamed RangerLink, a name more suited to its wide appeal.

What we have here is a super PC-Link. Ranger were conscious of two main problems with the existing CCL PCLink II. Firstly, the program was slow in transferring files, mainly due to the cumbersome (although very reliable) transfer protocol, which effectively checks every single byte of the file during transfer. The other main complaint was that PCLink II can only handle individual files. Each filename has to be chosen from the menu, and that file must be transferred before the next file may be chosen, and so on. This makes backing up the entire contents of your Z88 (something which we all do regularly, of course) a very slow and laborious task.

Ranger had already developed a file transfer protocol for their RangerDisk disk drive system, which they knew was considerably faster (but just as reliable) as the protocol used by PCLink II. They had also been commisioned by the Ministry of Defence to write a file tranfer package from the Z88 to the LEX word processor, widely used in areas of the MoD.

When the LexLink package was finished, it became apparent to the happy Ranger crew that they had created a two-headed beast; what was happy masquerading as a program-specific MoD utility was also eminently suitable for general file transfer duties between the Z88 and PC. So was born RangerLink.

When you get your copy of RangerLink, it looks at first sight rather like the CCL PCLink package. This is not surprising, since it IS the normal PCLink II pack, but with some important Ranger additions. These are the fact that the EPROM contains TWO applications - LINK and RANGERLINK, (the former being the original PCLink II, included for compatibility reasons) and the floppy disk for your PC also contains the old PCLink II as well as RangerLink.

Approaching the package in this way, Ranger are giving the user the best of both worlds - the speed and ease of use of RangerLink, with PCLink II there for compatibility, and including the PCLink file conversion programs to and from WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3. As with the normal PCLink II package, it also comes with either an XT- or AT- compatible serial lead, and a comprehensive manual.

In contrast to PCLink II, where the entire file transfer operation is controlled from the PC end, with RangerLink control is passed to the Z88. When firing up the program, the user is presented with a simple instruction screen on the PC, and a full-screen display on the Z88 consisting of three windows. On the left are the RangerLink commands, in a Filer-like window. In the middle is the Z88 directory, and on the right the PC directory.

File transfer is accomplished very simply. Mark the file you wish to transfer by pressing ENTER, and select the transfer command from the command menu on the left-hand side. While the file is being transferred the progress is displayed in the right-hand window, counting up in 1k increments. To transfer more than one file is simply a matter of following the above procedure but marking any file after the first with TAB. The clever bit now. If you want to transfer a whole directory on either machine, <>ENTER will mark all the files in the window. This makes machine backup a breeze.

Unlike PCLink, which in my experience is sometimes a little difficult to start, (the PC and Z88 don't seem too friendly!), with RangerLink the communication is both ear-instantaneous and very tolerant. If you unplug either end of the link, or use other applications on either machine, the program sits there quite happily waiting for the connection to be re-established. The amazing thing is that you can even do this when the program is halfway through a file transfer, and it still copes without losing a byte!

Now the nitty gritty, does RangerLink accomplish its goals of speedier reliable transfer, allowing multiple file transfer easily? Yes, without any brickbats. The table below shows that RangerLink is considerably faster than PCLink II - the speed improvement increases with the file size.

File Size   PCLink II   RangerLink   Speed Improvement.
    1k         0:24        0:10           2.4x
   17k         3:00        0:40           4.5x
   64k        10:24        1:57           5.33x

In conclusion, if you need to transfer files to a PC environment, RangerLink is the state of the art at the moment. If you already use PCLink II to any degree, you will definitely save time and effort if you change to RangerLink. Highly recommended.

RangerLink is available from Ranger Computers Ltd of Northampton, price £49.50 + £2.50 postage + VAT. For existing users of PCLink II Ranger are offering an upgrade service for £30.00 + VAT. You need to send Ranger your PCLink II EPROM and the ORIGINAL floppy disk supplied with the package. Ranger will then add RangerLink to both the EPROM and floppy disk and return them to you. The existing PCLink II programs will still remain. Contact Ranger on 0604 791064 for more details.

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