A Quick History...

At the end of 1983, Jack Tramiel, the then president of Commodore, left the company, along with his sons, and set up Trameil Technology citing irreparable differences with Commodore Chairman Irving Gould. He then learned that Warner Communications wanted to sell Atari which in mid-1984 was losing a fortune and negotiated with Warner to buy the ailing company.

Commodore had started work in designing a 16-Bit machine and Tramiel, in his new role at Atari was determined that they wouldn't be left behind. New custom chips being worked on by an external company (Hi-Toro) contracted to Atari had found their way to Commodore after a major disagreement had resulted in development money paid to the company had been sent back to Atari and the agreement torn up.

Work started on a new Motorola 68000-based computer and the Tramiels poached key technical staff from Commodore to create an engineering team to complete the project.

Incredibly, with the knowledge and expertise of the mainly ex Commodore engineers, they designed and built the prototype Atari ST in just over a year - an amazing feat for such an advanced machine.

The prototype (the Atari 130ST) was shown to the public in January 1985. It was little more than a mock up with external power supply and disk drive, and a motherboard which didn't fit in the temporary case, but it could be seen that something special had arrived

Atari 520ST
The Atari 520ST was launched in June 1985 - it designed around the Motorola 68000 running at 8MHz, had 512K of RAM. The RF modulator, 3.5" floppy drive and power supply were all external units.

The operating system used low level code from CP/M, coupled with GEM (a Graphic Environment Manager developed by Digital Research) and was (unfortunately) known as TOS. It was loaded from disk on early models (using a massive 206K of the overall 512K of memory) , although a second revision on ROM followed quickly. Cleverly, ROM based TOS looked for a floppy drive before loading so upgrades were easy to roll out on disk. Games took advantage of this to bypass the OS and save valuable memory.

It was expensive at launch at £799 which certainly put off the gamers, but Atari worked hard to refine the production process and it didn't take long before it was possible to drop the price to £399 making it much more attractive. The difference in performance the 8-Bit and 16-Bit computers was immediately noticeable and games had vibrant, high resolution colour and detail. At its peak, the ST was the best selling games machine in Europe.

The ST was to conquered completely new markets too - with its midi ports as standard and superb sound, it was much loved by the music industry.

 It became their computer of choice with some 85% of all UK studios using an ST and Cubase (or similar software) set ups.

There were various versions of the Atari ST:

Atari 520ST (as described above)

Atari 260ST - a 256K version which only sold in Europe, but after the operating system overheads, there wasn't enough RAM left for much else so Atari upgraded it to 512K making it identical to the 520ST.

Atari 1040ST - identical to the 520ST, but with 1024K of RAM

Also, a prefixed letter after the number indicated further version changes - "M" (ie 520STM) indicated a built-in RF modulator so the machine could be used with a TV, "F" indicated a built-in floppy disk drive and combinations of the two such as Atari 520STFM which had both.

Atari 520STE, 1040STE and Mega STE
Released in 19898, the "E" indicated "Enhanced" models which had an advanced Blitter chip graphics co-processor, DMA sound, easily upgradable memory via SIMMS and PCM audio.

The Mega STE had a higher clocked processor, a networking port and TOS 2.0 in ROM - it was released in 1991.

The new enhancements came as too little too late however and by this time, Commodore's Amiga had overtaken the ST in performance. Software developers were now favouring the Amiga and often the ST was just left with ports of Amiga games.

Atari Falcon 030
Known mainly as the Atari Falcon, Atari's last attempt to halt the march of the Amiga was probably everything the STE should have been.

It had a more advanced 68030 CPU running at 16MHz, additional advanced DSP processor, DMA sound, Blitter chip, built-in SCSI ports, internal IDE port, a 1.44Mb floppy drive, VGA monitor support as standard, up to 1.4Mb of RAM and the most advanced version of TOS.

Probably the most impressive was the Motorola 56001 digital signal processor (DSP) operating at 32MHz and sampling audio with 24-Bit resolutions.

Although is was an immensely powerful machine, it didn't sell well - mainly due to the very high base price, the presence of the Amiga 1200 and the emergence of the PC.

© DataServe Retro 2004 -  2024