/|/ A T A R I: INFO Atari Computers: The ST Line

Here we go again...

While I certainly don't claim to be an Atari historian by any means, I have used Atari computers since the early eighties, and while not an expert, I am familiar with most of the models Atari produced, and have a great deal of personal experience with many of them as well. The information below is intended to be a simplified and brief rundown of the Atari computer line for those of you who might have missed out on all the fun. For more thorough and technical information, I would recommend you check out one of the Atari computer FAQs (but only after you've perused my site of course!):

Atari 8-bit FAQ

Atari ST QuickFAQ

And of course, visit the links section of Nurmix Web Central to find more Atari computer sites than you ever realized you could, including the excellent Atari Historical Society (a wealth of Atari information and technical details).

/|/ Atari

"We aren't selling home computers. We aren't selling business computers. We're selling personal computers. People can use them for whatever they want."

With those words, then Atari president Jack Tramiel launched the ST series and a new beginning for Atari...

The ST was first announced at the January 1985 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, and became widely available in the fall of 1985. The first model was the 520 ST (pictured). [ Picture: 520ST ]

It utilized the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, which is a 16/32 bit chip (32-bit internal bus communication, 16-bit external communication) running at 8MHz. Incidentally, the ST supposedly got it's name from this chip architecture: Sixteen-Thirty two. Still others say the name came from Jack Tramiel's son (and future Atari president) Sam Tramiel.

The 520 ST had 512k of RAM, and included an external single-sided, single-density 3 1/2" floppy drive. The 520 ST featured a number of ports on the back, including standard parallel and serial ports, a monitor port that accepted either Atari's monochrome or RGB color monitor, joystick, hard drive and mouse ports, a cartridge port, and two MIDI ports - something which would later prove to be a very smart decision on the part of the ST's designers.

[ Picture: ST LOW desktop ] The ST operated in three distinct resolutions, depending in part on which monitor was connected to it. With the SC1224 RGB color monitor, ST LOW (pictured) and ST MEDIUM resolutions offered 320x200x16 and 640x200x4 respectively (with a palette of 512 possible colors).

With the SM124 monochrome monitor connected, ST HIGH offered 600x400x2, and was extremely easy on the eyes due to the SM124's 70 hertz refresh rate and paper white display.

The 520 ST used a disk based operating system called TOS (which stood for either "The Operating System" or "Tramiel Operating System" - depending on who you asked). It combined Digital Research's CP/M-68K (Control Program / Microcomputers: 68000 version) and GEM (Graphics Enviornment Manager). [ Picture: GEM desktop ]

This combination offered a mouse-controlled, graphical user interface, with files and programs manipulated on a virtual desktop - much like the Apple Machintosh of the day. In fact, the ST was dubbed the "Jackintosh" by the press due to it's similarity to the Mac OS at that time.

The 520 ST was a hit, competing successfully with a new generation of powerful 16-bit computers like the Amiga and Machintosh. And this was long before Windows was even a glint in Bill Gate's eye!

With the success of the 520 ST Atari released the 1040 ST in various guises. The 1040 ST offered everything the 520 ST had, plus 1 megabyte (1024k) of RAM. It was quite unprecedented in those days to offer that much RAM at a below $1000 price, but Atari managed to do it. One of their ad slogans in those days was "Power Without The Price".

The various versions of the 1040 ST, which included the 1040STf, the 1040STm, and the 1040STfm (pictured), were in a new case that incorporated a built in floppy drive (hence the "f" in STf and STfm), TOS in ROM, as opposed to the earlier disk based version, and the RF modulator (the "m" in STm and STfm) which allowed connection to a standard television. [ Picture: 1040 ST ]

As the 1040 ST became more established, it began to shine more brightly in particular areas, especially the MIDI and music market - due in no small part to the ST's built in MIDI ports. In fact, many of today's well known MIDI software companies like Steinberg and Emagic got where they are today because they started out programming for the ST.

And many "big name" recording artists like Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, and Janet Jackson all used the ST for their music. The Atari ST became almost synonymous with MIDI and could be found in many major recording studios and on stages around the world.

Around this time, Atari also released the Mega ST (pictured) in 2 and 4 megabyte configurations (the Mega 2 and Mega 4 respectively). [ Picture: Mega ST ]

The Mega ST offered a separate keyboard, Blitter chip, and made expansion easier due to the added space inside. The Mega STs were a huge hit, both with musicians, as well as with desktop publishers - another area in which the ST excelled.

Coupling a Mega ST with a monochrome monitor, an Atari laser printer and desktop publishing software enabled the creation and printing of complex documents. High quality desktop publishing was now not only easy, but more affordable than ever.

As an example, at that time Atari ran a television commercial showing that a complete desktop publishing system - which included a Mega ST, Atari laser printer, hard drive, monochrome monitor and software - could be had for $1,000 less than their competitor's printer ALONE!

* Download an .AVI movie of the commercial now!

Following the Mega ST, Atari also released it's first "portable" ST model, the STacy (pictured). [ Picture: STacy ]

The STacy was quite successful, although there were some early battery life problems. It was essentially a 2 megabyte ST computer with a built in monochrome "flat-panel Supertwist LCD" display (with a second RGB port to connect an Atari color monitor if needed). It featured full-travel keys and a two button trak-ball instead of a mouse. A built in hard drive and floppy drive came standard, as did all the normal ST ports.

Despite it's rather hefty 12 pound weight, the STacy was a big hit with MIDI musicians, enabling them to use the same familiar Atari system on the road as they did in the studio.

And one of it's most famous "roles" was probably appearing center stage with the house band of the Arsenio Hall Show (a late night talk show in the USA), where it triggered the drum track and samples of the show's opening theme song.

Historical note:
A few years after the Stacy, Atari also released another portable known as the ST Book (pictured).

[ Picture: ST Book ]

The ST Book was much smaller and lighter than the STacy, and offered a longer battery life as well. Unfortunately for many reasons which included the perceived small market and problems with the ST Book design, Atari dropped the ST Book (and a "pen" controlled portable called the STylus) before it was ever widely released.

The evolution of Atari's ST line continued with the release of the enhanced STE (pictured). [ Picture: STE ]

The STE came in two models, the 520 STE and 1040 STE. The two models differed only in the amount of RAM they came with as standard. And while they shared the same case as the earlier ST models, they offered a number of enhancements (hence the "E" in STE).

These enhancements included stereo DMA sound - available from the two new RCA stereo audio outputs, a 4,096 color palette (as opposed to the earlier ST's 512 color palette), hardware scrolling, a Blitter chip, easily expandable RAM via standard SIMMS, improved TOS, and additional "analog" joystick ports.

Following hot on the heals of the successful STE was the Mega STE (pictured). [ Picture: Mega STE ]

The Mega STE came in a sleek new high-tech case, offering a similar separate keyboard / CPU layout to the original Mega ST. However, it included all the new enhancements of the STE, in addition to operating at a much speedier 16MHz.

An easily accessible hard drive was incorporated into the case design, as were two serial ports, and a LAN port. High density floppy drives were also available on later models. And like the STE, it made full use of Atari's new 14" stereo color monitor, the SC1435 (pictured on top of the Mega STE).

Around the same time, Atari released a much more powerful workstation known as the TT030 (pictured). [ Picture: TT030 ] The TT030 was in the same case as the Mega STE (although it was lighter in color), but inside was a completely different animal, utilizing the Motorola 68030 processor, a 68881 math coprocessor, separate "Fast TT RAM" (in addition to the standard ST RAM), a 32MHz clock speed, additional high speed serial ports, SCSI port, and the ability to use standard VGA and / or the Atari TTM194 two page monitor.

The TT030 offered much improved speed and graphic resolutions, and a hugely updated TOS. This computer excelled at CPU intensive operations like CAD and DTP, in part due to it's faster speed, but also due to the large amount of TT RAM that could be fitted (up to 128 megabytes).

Atari's final computer was released around 1993, and it was quite a bit different than it's predecessors. Atari's Falcon030 (pictured), once again used the classic ST type case (only darker in color this time). However, a closer look revealed major changes underneath the familiar exterior. [ Picture: Falcon030 A ]

Like the TT030, the Falcon030 used the Motorola 68030 processor, only in the Falcon it operated at 16MHz. However, the Falcon also contained a Motorola DSP 56001 chip, which enabled the Falcon to process audio and graphics data at very high speeds. Combined with the Falcon's much improved True Color graphic resolutions, built in IDE hard drive, high density floppy drive, SCSI II, and SVGA monitor output, such things as direct to disk digital audio recording were easily accomplished right "out of the box".

[ Picture: Falcon030 B ]

Of course the Falcon was also able to run almost all of the previous ST software, in addition to the many titles that took full advantage of it's new capabilities, particularly MIDI / music and graphics software.

Later, third party companies like C-LAB and Wizztronics manufactured their own versions of the Falcon, complete with new cases, built in SCSI drives, and extra audio and MIDI outputs - aimed primarily at the MIDI musician crowd.

The Falcon was ultimately a success, and plans were in the works for a Falcon040, and various other improved models. But unfortunately, due to many factors like poor marketing, limited funds, and an inability to compete in a Microsoft dominated world, the Atari computer saga (at least as far as Atari Corporation itself was concerned) ended here, with the Falcon030 being the final swan song of the Atari computer line.

Atari Corporation Today?

After the Falcon, Atari put all their remaining resources into the video game market with their 64-bit video game console, the Jaguar. They had limited success, but eventually dropped the Jaguar as well, merging with the now defunct hard drive manufacturer JTS Corporation, and finally selling the rights to their name and products to Hasbro Toys, now marketing new versions of classic video games under the Atari name.

TOS Computers Today?

The Atari ST and all of it's variants are still in wide use around the world. Third party hardware upgrades including accelerators, graphics cards, and hard drive interfaces have increased the performance of the standard ST beyond anything the engineers at Atari Corporation ever imagined possible. In fact, in many ways things are better now than they ever were when Atari was the only source.

The TOS computer (as "Atari ST compatible" computers have come to be known) is definitely alive and well today. New and advanced TOS based computers like the Milan and the Hades offer improved graphics, speed and flexibility. And continued software development keeps TOS computers humming, with completely new multi-tasking operating systems like MagiC, Geneva and Mint leading the way.

And TOS computers haven't been left behind in the Internet revolution either, with several web browsers, e-mail, FTP clients and newsgroup readers available. And while most of the major software houses [in the PC / MAC market] have abandoned the Atari, smaller companies and shareware programmers have taken up the slack, and in many ways surpassed the commercial offerings.

The used market is very active as well, and prices are more affordable than ever. Internet auction sites and USENET newsgroups like comp.sys.atari.st offer just about anything a user could need. And if that's not enough, a few dedicated Atari dealers continue to sell new and used stock throughout the world.

And of course, like the 8-bit Atari's, the ST lives on in emulation on PCs and MACs. Although, much like the 8-bits, it's not quite the same as the real thing.

Finally, please visit the links page here on Nurmix Web Central for many more sites related to Atari / TOS computers, including many of those mentioned here.

Thanks for reading!

This site is 100% Atari made!

This entire web site was created on the computer I use every day: a Nemesis enhanced Atari Falcon030.

The HTML was written using the text editor QED, the pictures were scanned with Scan-X, and processed with Positive Image 2, Image Copy 4, and PixArt 4 graphics software. Some graphics were also imported from CD ROM, made possible by ExtenDOS Gold. The CAB (web browser) was used to view and check the HTML code (made easier by OLGA), NEWSie was used to upload the HTML documents and pictures to my web server (both utilizing the STinG TCP/IP stack) all under the multitasking OS MagiC 5 (with NVDI 4 and the ICD Pro Hard Disk Driver).

* Paul Nurminen (Atari computer user since 1981)

Return to Nurmix Web Central now please...

HTML coded on an Atari Falcon by Paul Nurminen copyright ©1999.  Last updated October 26, 2003
Most pictures used on this site were scanned, created and modified by me. If you'd like to make use of them on another site, please ask me first.