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Atari ST

From Kick Off World of Soccer - wikickoff

The Atari 520ST
Image:Atari 1040STf.jpg
Atari 1040STF with SC1224 color monitor

The Atari ST is a home/personal computer that was commercially popular from 1985 to the early 1990s. It was released by Atari in 1985. The "ST" allegedly stands for "Sixteen/Thirty-two", which referred to the Motorola 68000's 16-bit external bus and 32-bit internals. According to some sources, the "ST" stands for "Sam Tramiel"Template:Fact, Jack Tramiel's eldest son.



The Atari ST was a notable home computer, based on the Motorola 68000 CPU, with 512 kB of RAM or more, and 3½" floppy disks as storage. It was similar to other contemporary machines which used the Motorola 68000, the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga. Although the Macintosh was the first widely available computer with a graphical user interface (GUI), it was however limited to a lower-resolution monochromatic display on a smaller built-in monitor. The Atari ST was the first computer with a fully bit-mapped color GUI. It had an innovative single-chip graphics subsystem (designed by Shiraz Shivji) which shared the full amount of system memory, in alternating clock cycles, with the processor, similar to the earlier BBC Micro and the Unified Memory systems that have become common today. It was also the first home computer with integral MIDI support.

The ST was primarily a competitor to the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga systems. This platform rivalry was often reflected by the owners and was most prominent in the Demo Scene. Where the Amiga had custom processors which gave it the edge in the games and video market, the ST was generally cheaper and had a high-resolution monochrome display, ideal for business and CAD. Thanks to its built-in MIDI ports it enjoyed success as a music sequencer and controller of musical instruments among amateurs and professionals alike, being used in concert by bands such as Tangerine Dream and 90's UK dance act 808 State. In some markets, particularly Germany, the machine gained a strong foothold as a small business machine for CAD and Desktop publishing work.

The ST was later superseded by the Atari TT and Falcon computers.

Since Atari pulled out of the computer market there has been a market for powerful TOS-based machines (clones). Like most "retro" computers the Atari enjoys support in the emulator scene.


Tramiel Technology

At Commodore International, an argument involving Commodore's chairman and largest shareholder Irving Gould, and Commodore founder Jack Tramiel ensued over development of a new 68000 system, resulting in Tramiel's immediate departure from Commodore in January of 1984.

Tramiel immediately formed a holding company, Tramel Technologies, Ltd., and brought in a number of ex-Commodore staff to continue his project to develop a new, high-performance home computer. While this team, led by Shiraz Shivji, worked on the design, Tramiel discovered that Warner Communications wanted to sell Atari Corp. Tramiel purchased Atari Corp, mainly for the overseas manufacturing and dealer network. The design team considered "one-upping" the Macintosh by using a full 32-bit chip, namely the NS32032, but in talks, National Semiconductor couldn't supply the chip in the numbers or price that the project needed. In retrospect this proved to be lucky, as a prototype built on the NS32032 benchmarked slower than the 16-bit 68000.

The basic hardware design quickly "gelled" into a form that was almost identical to the ST that eventually shipped. The design was a combination of custom chips and commonly available parts.

Amiga contract

Prior to the introduction of the ST, Atari had released two machines (the the Atari 2600 console and the Atari 8-bit home computers) using custom graphics and sound chips. These custom chips allowed the 2600 to create the home gaming market and the 8-bit computers to make history by being the first home computer with custom chips.

Jay Miner, one of the original designers for the custom chips found in the Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit machines, tried to convince Atari management to invest big money into creating a new chipset. When his idea was rejected, Miner left Atari to form a small think tank called Amiga in 1982 and set about designing this new chipset. He even made plans for using the chipset for a computer based on the more powerful 68000 CPU.

During development, Amiga had run out of venture capital and was desperate for a buyer, and the "Warner owned" Atari had paid Amiga to continue development work (see: "TOP SECRET: Confidential Atari-Amiga Agreement"). In return Atari was to get one-year exclusive use of the design. Atari had plans for a 68000 based machine, code named "Mickey", that would have used custom chips, but details were sparse.

By May, Tramiel had secured his funding, bought Atari from Warner (except AtariTel and the arcade division) for a very low price, and set about re-creating his empire. One of his first acts was to fire most of Atari's original engineering staff, and cancel almost all ongoing development. Tramiel also discovered the Amiga contract and decided not to assist Amiga with any additional funding.

The Amiga crew, having serious financial problems, entered discussions with Commodore that led to them purchasing Amiga and cancelling Atari's contract with Amiga. Tramiel was furious, and the resulting court case lasted for years. Eventually, it settled out of court, with a brief mention in the Wall Street Journal that Commodore settled for an undisclosed amount.

The operating system

With the hardware design nearing completion, the team started looking at solutions for the operating system. Soon after the buyout Microsoft approached Tramiel with the suggestion that they port Windows to the platform, but the delivery date was out about two years, far too long for their needs. Another possibility was Digital Research, who were working on a new GUI-based system then known as Crystal, soon to become GEM. Another option was to write a new operating system in-house, but this was eventually rejected due to risk.

Digital Research was fully committed to the Intel platform, so a team from Atari was sent to the Digital Research headquarters to do the ST port themselves. Instead of getting proper specifications and documentation, the Atari members were simply handed the latest versions of the Intel 8086 source code and would port it to the 68000, sometimes more than once as Digital Research would give revisions over and over. A version, running on top of CP/M-68K, was available just in time for the January 1985 Consumer Electronics Show, where the ST was introduced.

CP/M-68K was essentially a direct port of CP/M's original, mature operating system. By 1985, it was a much older design compared to MS-DOS and was getting more difficult to maintain and update. Digital Research was also in the process of building a new DOS-like operating system specifically for GEM, GEMDOS, and there was some discussion of whether or not a port of GEMDOS could be complete in time for product delivery in June. The decision was eventually taken to port it, resulting in a GEMDOS file system which became part of TOS (The Operating System). This was beneficial as it gave the ST a fast, hierarchical file system, essential for hard drive storage disks, plus programmers had function calls similar to the IBM PC DOS.

Debut of the ST

The design shipped in June 1985 as the 520ST. The machine had gone from concept to store shelves in a little under a year. Early models shipped with TOS on disk, but were designed with ROM sockets to make for easy upgrading to the future ROM based TOS. Upgrades, like built-in floppy drives and adding an RF modulator (for TV display), were made available with the 520STF and 520STFM.

Atari had originally intended to release versions with 128 kB and 256 kB of RAM as the 130ST and 260ST respectively. However, with the OS loaded from floppy into RAM, there would be little or no room left over for applications to run. The 260ST did make it way into Europe on a limited basis.

In 1986 the 1040STF (also written STF) shipped with 1 MB of RAM and featured an internal power supply and a double sided floppy-disk drive (although some 1040 STF models came with the single sided floppy drive, you could easily distinguish the two since the single sided drives had a large eject button under the slot whereas the double sided ones had a standard size eject button at the bottom right of the drive). The 1040ST was the first personal computer shipped with a base RAM configuration of 1 MB, and when the list price was reduced to $999 in the U.S. it became the first computer to break the $1000/MB price barrier, and was featured on the cover of Byte Magazine. However, the ST remained generally the same internally over the majority of its several-year lifespan. The choice of model numbers was inherited from the model-numbers of the XE series of the Atari 8-bit family of computers.



The 520ST was an all-in-one unit, similar to earlier home computers like the Commodore 64. However, by this time the market demanded a "full sized" keyboard, including cursor keys and a numeric keypad. For this reason the 520ST was fairly "boxy", generally oversized for a machine that one had to move around to adjust the keyboard position. Adding to this problem was the number of large cables needed to connect to the peripherals. This problem was addressed to some degree in the follow-on models which included a built-in floppy disk, though this addition resulted in a awkward placement of the mouse and joystick sockets to a cramped niche underneath the keyboard.

The case followed the Tramiel-Atari design of the era, being basically wedge shaped, with a series of grilles cut into the rear for airflow. The original 520ST design used an external floppy drive, the 1040ST-style case featured a built-in floppy drive. The power supply for the early 520ST was a large external brick while the 1040ST's was inside the machine. In addition the majority of the machines had keyboards with a very soft tactile feedback, not as good as those on the IBM PC, with unique and strange rhomboid function keys across the top edge.

Port connections

The ST featured a large number of ports mounted at the rear of the machine.

  • Standard ports:
  • ST specific ports:
    • Monitor port (13-pin DIN)
    • ACSI (similar to SCSI) DMA port (for hard disks and laser printers)
    • Floppy port (to add a second floppy drive)
    • ST cartridge port (128KB)

Because of its bi-directional design, the Centronics printer port could be used for joystick input and several games made use of available adaptors that plugged into the printer socket, providing two additional 9-pin joystick ports.

Atari initially used single-sided disk drives that could store up to 360 kB. Later drives were double-sided versions that stored 720 kB. Due to the early sales of so many of the single-sided drives, almost all software would ship on two single-sided disks instead of a single double-sided one, in fear of cutting off all the other owners. ST magazines wishing to cater for the entire audience whilst still supplying a large amount of material on a single cover disc had to adopt innovative custom formats to work around this problem. Another sticking point was that while the Atari double-sided drive could read IBM formatted disks, IBM PCs could not read Atari disks. This was a formatting issue that was later resolved by third-party software formatters and TOS upgrades (1.4 and higher).


Initial sales were strong, especially in Europe where Atari sold 75% of its computers. Germany became Atari's strongest market, with small business users using them for desktop publishing and CAD.

To address this growing market segment, Atari came up with the ST1. First debuted at Comdex, 1986, it was received favorably. Renamed the Mega, this new machine included a detached high-quality keyboard, stronger case (to support the weight of a monitor), and internal bus expansion connector. The upcoming SLM804 laser printer would not come with a processor or memory, reducing costs. It would attach to the Mega through the ST DMA port and have the Mega computer render the pages. Initially equipped with 2 or 4 MB (a 1MB version, the Mega 1 would later follow), the Mega machines would complement the Atari laser printer for a low-cost desktop publishing package.

A custom blitter co-processor was to be included to speed the performance of some graphics operations on the screen, but when it was eventually released it debuted on the Mega 2 and Mega 4 machines. As a result, even when the blitter eventually shipped, it was ignored by some developers because it was not present on all machines. However, properly written GEM programs could use the blitter seamlessly since the GEM API was a higher level interface to TOS.

Atari had originally intended to include GEM's GDOS (Graphical Device Operating System), which allowed programs to draw (display, print, etc.) graphics to external devices through GEM's VDI (Virtual Device Interface). This allowed developers to export high resolution graphics to printers, plotters and other peripherals. However GDOS was not ready at the time the ST started shipping. GDOS was supplied with applications that used VDI for drawing and fonts. Later versions of GDOS supported vector (outline) fonts.

On the plus side the ST was less expensive than most machines, including Macintosh Plus, and tended to be faster than most (external link: price comparison). Largely as a result of the price/performance factor, the ST would go on to be a fairly popular machine, notably in markets where the foreign exchange rates amplified prices. Indeed, the company's English advertising strapline of the era was 'power without the price'.

In fact, an Atari ST and terminal emulation software was much cheaper than a Digital VT220 terminal, which was normally needed by offices with central computers.

The enhanced STs

For about the first four years, nothing much had changed in the capabilities of the ST platform, except for new machines being released with greater RAM, and quietly introduced upgrades to the built-in TOS ROMs from version 1.00 of 1985 through to the 'final' (for non-STE or Mega models) and much improved version 1.04 Rainbow TOS of 1989.

In late 1989, Atari released the STE (also written STE) — a version of the ST with improvements to the multimedia hardware and operating system. The STE featured an increased colour palette of 4096 colours from the ST's 512 (though the maximum displayable palette of these without programming tricks was still limited to 16 in the lowest 320x200 resolution), Genlock support, and a graphics co-processor chip Blitter which could quickly move large blocks of data (most particularly, graphics sprites) around in RAM. It also included a new 2-channel digital sound-chip that could play 8-bit stereo samples in hardware at up to 50 kHz. Two analogue joystick-ports were added (two normal joysticks could be plugged into each port with an adaptor), with the new connectors placed in more easily accessed locations on the side of the case, and RAM was now much more simply upgradable via SIMMs. Despite all of this, it still ran at 8 MHz, and the enhanced hardware was clearly designed to catch up with the Amiga.

The STE models initially had software and hardware conflicts resulting in some applications and games written for the ST line being unstable or even completely unusable (sometimes, this could be solved by expanding the RAM). To make matters worse, the built in floppy disk drives could not read as many tracks on a floppy disk as the built in floppy disk drives on older models. While this was not a problem for most users, some games used the extra tracks as a crude form of copy protection and as a means of cramming more data on the disk, and formatting as many as 86 tracks on an '80 track' disc was a common space-expanding option in custom formatting utilities. Furthermore, even having a joystick plugged in would sometimes cause strange behaviour with a few applications (such as First Word Plus).

Very little use was made of the extra features of the STE: STE-enhanced and STE-only software was rare, generally being limited to serious art, CAD or music applications, with very few games taking advantage of the hardware as it was found on so few machines. Quality did, however, seem to substitute for quantity, as the coders who took advantage of the new abilities used them to their fullest.

Atari went on to release the Mega STE, an STE in a grey TT case that ran at a switchable 16 MHz, dual bus design (16-bit external, 32-bit internal), optional Motorola FPU, built-in 3-1/2 floppy disc drive, VME expansion slot, an AppleTalk network port and an optional built-in 3.5-inch hard drive. It also shipped with TOS 2.00 (better support for hard drives, enhanced desktop interface, memory test, 1.44MB floppy support, bug fixes).

At some time during the early '90s, the development of the ST-type computer line forked. On one branch was the high-end workstation-oriented TT (including the 32 MHz, 68030-based TT030), and on the other was the entertainment-oriented Falcon (also 68030-based, operating at 16 MHz, but with improved video modes and extensive custom chip provision, particularly high quality audio DSPs) — both of which were supposed to be ST compatible, but not particularly compatible with each other.

In 1993, Atari cancelled development on the ST computers to focus on the Jaguar.

Following the exit of Atari Corp from the computer market, Medusa Computer Systems manufactured some powerful 3rd-party Atari Falcon/TT-compatible machines that used 68040 and 68060 processors, based around multimedia (particularly audio, but also video), CAD and office uses.

Future of the platform

Despite the lack of a hardware supplier and commercial software vendors, there is a small active community dedicated to keeping the ST platform alive. There have been advancements in the operating system, software emulators (for Windows, Mac & Linux), and some hardware developments. There are accelerator cards, such as the CT60 & CT63, which is a 68060 based accelerator card for the Falcon, and there is the Atari Coldfire Project, which aims at developing an Atari-clone based on the Coldfire processor. Milan Computer of Germany also makes 68040 and 68060-based Atari clones that can run either Atari TOS 4.5 or Milan Computer's MultiOS operating system.


Music / Sound

The ST's low cost, built-in MIDI ports, and fast, low-latency response times made it a favorite with musicians.

The ST was the first home computer with built-in MIDI ports, and there was plenty of MIDI-related software for use professionally in music studios, or by amateur enthusiasts. The popular Windows/Macintosh application Cubase originated on the Atari ST.

Music tracker software was popular on the ST, such as the TCB Tracker, aiding the production of quality music from the Yamaha synthesizer ('chiptunes').

An innovative music composition program that combined the sample playing abilities of a tracker with conventional music notation (which was usually only found in MIDI software) was called Quartet (after its 4-note polyphonic tracker, which displayed one monophonic stave at a time on colour screens).

Due to the ST having comparatively large amounts of memory for the time, sound sampling packages became a realistic proposition. The Microdeal Replay Professional product featured a sound sampler that cleverly used the ST cartridge port to read in parallel from the cartridge port from the ADC. For output of digital sound, it used the on board frequency output, set it to 128 kHz(inaudible) and then modulated the amplitude of that.

In addition to the sound sampling functionalities, the availability of software packages with MIDI support for music composition and efficient sound analysis contributed to make the Atari ST a forerunner of later, computer-based, all-in-one studios.


Also popular on the ST was professional desktop publishing software, such as PageStream and Calamus; office tools such as word processors (WordPerfect, WordWriter ST and others), spreadsheets and database programs; and various CAD and CAM tools from amateur hobbyist to professional grade, all being largely targeted or even limited to high resolution monochrome-monitor owners.

Graphics programs such as NEOchrome, Degas & Degas Elite, Canvas, Deluxe Paint, and Cyber Paint featured advanced features such as 3D design, animation. One paint program, Spectrum 512, used palette switching tricks allowing the maximum number of colors to be displayed on-screen at once (up to 46 in each scan line - the STE never had a Spectrum4096, but other more minor applications filled this speciality niche, one even going so far as to trick the shifter into displaying a maximum 19200 colours).

3D computer graphics applications (like The Cyber Studio), brought 3D modelling, sculpting, scripting, and most important, computer animation (using delta-compression) to the desktop. Video capture and editing applications using special video capture 'dongles' connected using the cartridge port - low frame rate, mainly silent and monochrome, but progressing to sound and basic colour (in still frames) by the end of the machine's life.

Software development

The Atari ST had a wide variety of languages and tools for development. 68000 assemblers (MadMac from Atari Corp, HiSoft's Devpac), Pascal (OSS Personal Pascal), C compilers (like Alcyon C, Lattice C, Megamax C, Mark Williams C, GNU C, Aztec C), LISP, Prolog, Logo and many others.

The initial development kit from Atari included a computer and manuals. At $5,000, this discouraged many from developing software for the ST. Later, the Atari Developer's Kit consisted of software and manuals (no hardware) for $300. Included with the kit were a resource kit, C compiler (first Alcyon C, then Mark Williams C), debugger, and 68000 assembler (plus the non-disclosure agreement).

The ST came bundled with a system disk that contained ST BASIC, the first BASIC for the ST. However, due to its poor performance, users favored other BASICs, such as GFA BASIC, FaST BASIC (notable for being one of the few programs to actually be supplied as a ROM cartridge instead of on disc) and the relatively famous STOS, a cousin of AMOS on the Amiga, and powerful enough that it was used (with a compiler, opposed to its usual runtime interpreter) for the production of at least two commercial titles and an innumerable host of good quality shareware and public domain games.

Even novelty tools such as SEUCK were available.


The ST enjoyed success in gaming due to low cost, fast performance and colorful graphics.

Notable individuals who developed games on the ST include Peter Molyneux, Doug Bell, Jeff Minter, Jeremy San, James Hutchby, Dimitri Koveos and David Braben. The first real-time 3D role-playing computer game, Dungeon Master, was first developed and released on the ST, and was the best-selling software ever produced for the platform. Simulation games like Falcon and Flight Simulator II made use of the enhanced graphics found in the ST machines, as did many arcade ports. One game, MIDI Maze used the midi ports to connect with other machines for interactive networked play.

See List of Atari ST games and Category:Atari ST games.

Utilities / Misc

Utility software was available to drive hardware add-ons such as video digitisers. Office Productivity and graphics software was also bundled with the ST (HyperPaint II by Dimitri Koveos, HyperDraw by David Farmborough, 3D-Calc spreadsheet by Frank Schoonjans, and several others commissioned by Bob Katz, later of Electronic Arts).

There was a thriving output of public domain and shareware software which was distributed by, in the days long before public internet access, public domain software libraries that advertised in magazines and on popular dial-up Bulletin Board Systems.

Remarkably, a modest core fanbase for the system, supporting a dwindling number of good quality print magazines, survived to the mid 90s and the birth of the modern, publicly accessible internet as we know it. Despite the limited graphics, memory, and temporary hard storage capabilities of the system, several email, FTP, telnet, IRC, and even full-blown graphical world wide web browser applications are available and usable on the ST.


Image:ST Desktop.png Image:ST Neochrome.png Image:ST 1st Word.png Image:ST STZip.png
GEM (Desktop) Neochrome 1st Word STZip
Atari/Digital Research (1985) Dave Staugas (1985) GST (1985) Vincent Pomey (1994)
Image:ST Dungeon Master fight.png Image:ST Midi Maze.png Image:ST Populous.png Image:ST Xenon 2.png
Dungeon Master MIDI Maze Populous Xenon 2 Megablast
Mirrorsoft/FTL (1987) Hybrid Arts (1987) EA/Bullfrog (1989) Bitmap Brothers (1989)

More screenshots can be found on the Atari ST Games page.

Technical specifications

All ST's were made up of both custom and commercial chips:

  • Custom chips
    • ST Shifter "Video shift register chip" — Enabled bitmap graphics using 32KB of contiguous memory for all resolutions. Screen address had to be a multiple of 256.
    • ST GLU "Generalized Logic Unit" — Control logic for the system used to connect the ST's chips. Not part of the data path, but needed to bridge chips with each other.
    • ST MMU "Memory Management Unit" — Enabled physical memory access up to 4MB. Maps out the memory space in the ST.
    • ST DMA "Direct Memory Access" — Used for floppy and hard drive data transfers. Can directly access main memory in the ST.
  • Support chips
    • MC6850P ACIA "Asynchronous Common Interface Adapter" — Enabled the ST to directly communicate with MIDI devices and keyboard (2 chips used). 31.25 kBaud for MIDI, 7812.5 bps for keyboard.
    • MC68901 MFP "Multi Function Peripheral" — Used for interrupt generation/control, serial and parallel port. Atari TT030 had 2 MFP chips.
    • WD-1772-PH "Western Digital Floppy Disk Controller" — Floppy controller chip.
    • YM2149F PSG "Programmable Sound Generator" — Provided 3-voice sound synthesis, also used for floppy signalling and printer port control.
    • HD6301V1 "Hitachi keyboard processor" — Used for keyboard scanning and mouse/joystick ports.


As originally released in the 520ST:

  • CPU: Motorola 68000 @ 8 MHz. 16-bit data/32-bit address bus.
  • RAM: 512 kB
  • Display modes (60Hz NTSC, 50Hz PAL, 71.2Hz monochrome):
    • Low resolution - 320×200 (16 color), palette of 512 colors
    • Medium resolution - 640×200 (4 color), palette of 512 colors
    • High resolution - 640×400 (mono), monochrome
  • Sound: Yamaha YM2149 3-voice squarewave plus 1-voice white noise mono soundchip
  • Drive: Single-sided 3½" floppy disk drive, 360 kB capacity when formatted to standard 9 sector, 80 track layout.
  • Ports: TV out (on ST-M and ST-FM models, NTSC or PAL standard RF modulated), MIDI in/out (with 'out-thru'), RS-232 serial, Centronics parallel (printer), monitor (RGB or Composite Video colour and mono, 13-pin DIN), extra disk drive port (15 pin DIN), DMA port (ACSI port, Atari Computer System Interface) for hard disks and Atari Laser Printer (sharing RAM with computer system), joystick and mouse ports (9-pin MSX standard)
  • Operating System: TOS v1.00 (The Operating System) with the Graphical Environment Manager (GEM) WiMP (Windows, Mouse, Pointer) GUI

Very early machines included the OS on a floppy disk (bootstrapped from a very small core boot ROM), but this was quickly replaced with (expanded capacity) ROM versions of TOS 1.0 instead (this change also removed any possibility for memory specifications below 512 kB, as GEM loaded its entire 192 kB code into faster RAM when booting the desktop). Soon after this change, most production models became STFs, with an integrated single- (520STF/512 kB RAM) or double-sided (1040STF/1024 kB RAM) double density drive built-in, but no other changes. The next later models used an upgraded version of TOS - 1.02 (also known as TOS 1.2). Another early addition (after about 6 months) was an RF Modulator that allowed the machine to be hooked to a colour TV when run in its low or medium resolution (525/625 line 60/50 Hz interlace, even on RGB monitors) modes, greatly enhancing the machine's saleability and perceived value (no need to buy a prohibitively expensive, even if exceptionally crisp and clear, monitor). These models were known as the 520STM (or 520STM). Later F and FM models of the 520 had a built in double-sided disk drive instead of a single-sided one.


As originally released in the 520STE:

  • All of the features of the 520STFM
  • Drive: Double-sided 3½" floppy disk drive, 720 kB when formatted to standard 9-sector, 80-track parameters (over 900 kB with certain extended-sector and -track formats)
  • Built in RF Modulator
  • Extended palette of 4,096 available colours to choose from
  • BLiTTER chip for fast movement of large data blocks around memory
  • Hardware-support for horizontal and vertical fine scrolling (using BLiTTER)
  • Sound: Additional National LMC 1992 sound chip with 2-channel stereo 8-bit PCM sound at up to 50 kHz, with adjustable Bass and Treble EQ (output only).
  • Memory: 30-pin SIMM memory slots allowing upgrades up to 4 MB (allowable: 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 2.5 and 4.0 MB due to configuration restraints - later 3rd party upgrade kits allowing a maximum of 14mb, bypassing stock MMU)
  • Ability to synchronise the video-timings with an external device so that a video Genlock device can be used without having to make any modifications to computer's hardware
  • Additional ports: Stereo RCA jacks and two analogue joystick ports (with support for analogue devices such as paddles and light pens - no record of these ever being used! Two normal digital joysticks could be plugged into each analogue port with an adaptor).
  • TOS 1.06 (also known as TOS 1.6) on ROM.

Later STE models had TOS 1.62 that fixed some major backwards-compatibility bugs in TOS 1.6.


A number of machines were released in the ST family. Here they are, in rough chronological order after the original 520ST:

  • 520ST+ - Name for early 520STs with 1 MB of RAM, but without floppy disk
  • 260ST - European name for the 520ST with 512 kB. Used after the release of the 520ST+ to differentiate the cheaper 512 kB models from the 1 MB models
  • 520STM - a 520ST with a built-in modulator for TV output
  • 520STFM - a 520STM with a newly redesigned motherboard in a larger case with a built-in floppy disk drive
  • 1040STF - a 520STFM with 1 MB of RAM and a built-in double-sided floppy disk, but without modulator
  • 1040STFM - a 520STFM with 1 MB of RAM and a built-in double-sided floppy disk
  • Mega ST (MEGA2, MEGA4) - 1040 with 2 or 4 MB of RAM, respectively, in a much improved "pizza box" case with a detached keyboard. These models included the BLiTTER chip, but the OS ROM was not upgraded and the extra GEM functionality needed to be booted from disk.
  • 520STE and 1040STE - a 520STFM/1040STFM with enhanced sound, the BLiTTER chip, and a 4096-color palette, in the older 1040 style all-in-one case
  • Mega STE - same hardware as 1040STE except for a faster 16-MHz processor, in the TT case
  • STacy - A portable (but definitely not laptop) version of the ST. Originally designed to operate on 12 standard C cell flashlight batteries for portability, when Atari finally realized how quickly the machine would use up a set of batteries (especially when rechargeable batteries of the time supplied insufficient power compared to the intended alkalines), they simply glued the lid of the battery compartment shut, and soon discontinued the machine.
  • ST Book (later version portable ST), vastly more portable than the STacy, but sacrificing several features in order to achieve this - notably the backlight, and internal floppy disc drive. Files were meant to be stored on a small amount (1 MB - though you could fit a lot into 1 and a half floppies back then) of internal flash memory 'on the road' and transferred using serial or parallel links, memory flashcards or external (and externally powered) floppy disc to a 'real' desktop ST once back indoors. The screen is highly reflective for the time, but still hard to use indoors or in low light (the idea of a switchable green LED backlight seeming not to have inspired the Atari technical department as it did many wristwatch manufacturers), it is fixed to the 640x400 1-bit mono mode (not even greyscale emulation of colour in low res is offered), and no external video port was provided. For its limitations, it gained some popularity as being the most utterly portable 'real' computer of the day (slim, light, quiet, reliable, and with a long battery life, even by today's standards for all 5), particularly amongst musicians already used to using the original computer and perhaps having lugged a STacy or even a full ST + Monitor + accessories rig on tour.

Other models

  • Atari TT030 — new machine based on the Motorola 68030 processor running at 32 MHz, in yet another new case design with a detached keyboard. Capable of high screen resolutions with better colour palletes and addressing more memory, with optional onboard hard drive (slotting onto the base as a second, smaller box). Popular with CAD and DTP communities of the time for its sheer graphical capability (it's high resolution only recently having become a common size on modern PCs) and processing speed.
  • Atari Falcon 030 — another 68030 based (albeit only 16 MHz) machine like the TT, but in the 1040-style case (yet again) with further upgrades to the graphics and sound, a Motorola 56000 DSP for CD-quality sound recording and processing, multitasking OS (on disk) and a LocalTalk port for networking. Last computer made by Atari.
  • Medusa 040, Medusa 060, Hades 040, Hades 060 — 3rd-party Falcon/TT compatible machines manufactured by Medusa Computer Systems.

PC compatible

  • Atari PC-1 - IBM XT compatible but with more colors, RS-232 and printer port built-in. Only one expansion port. Too well-made, more expensive than other PC-clones.
  • Atari PC-5 - 386sx PC-compatible, but with less expensive components.
  • Atari N386SX - Laptop (rebranded from SOTEC). Built-in 40MB hard drive.
  • Atari Portfolio - Pocket-calculator sized PC XT (as seen being used by John Connor in the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and forerunner to modern PDAs. Designed to easily link up and transfer data with STs using a parallel cable and simple software.


  • Atari ABAQ, or Atari Transputer Workstation — A standalone machine containing modified ST hardware and up to 17 transputers capable of massively parallel operations for tasks such as ray tracing.

There were also some unreleased prototypes: Falcon 040 (external link) (based on a Motorola 68040, new case and slots), ST Pad (A4 (Letter paper) sized pen-operated portable ST computer, handheld and with an unlit monochrome LCD screen derived from the ST Book, forerunner of modern tablet PCs), and the STylus (Apple Newton-style palmtop).


  • SF354 - Single-sided double-density 3½ floppy drive (360K)
  • SF314 - Double-sided double-density 3½ floppy drive (720K)
  • SM124 - Monochrome monitor, 12" screen, 640x480 pixels
  • SM147 - Monochrome monitor, 14" screen, no speaker, replacement for SM124
  • SC1224 - Color monitor, 12" screen, 640x200 pixels plus speaker
  • SC1435 - Color monitor, 14" screen, stereo speakers, replacement for SC1224 (rebadged Magnavox 1CM135)
  • TT195 - Monochrome monitor, 19" screen for TT030
  • SH204 - External hard drive, 20MB
  • Megafile 20, 30, 60 - External hard drive, Mega ST matching case
  • Megafile 44 - Removable cartridge drive, Mega ST matching case
  • SLM804 - Laser printer, connected through ACSI DMA port, used ST's memory and processor to build pages for printing
  • SLM605 - Laser printer, connected through ACSI DMA port, smaller than SLM805


The standard 8x8 pixel graphical character set for the ST (the main in-ROM "font" for GEM, and text-mode TOS operations) contains, following all the standard numbers, letters, symbols and accented characters, four unusual characters. These can be placed together in a square, forming a basic but recognisable facsimile of the face of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, the supposed founder of the Church of the Subgenius.

Jack Tramiel chose to include the Hebrew alphabet with ST's ROM character set because of his Jewish heritage.

Russel Hobbes, the cartoon drummer of the band Gorillaz, has an Atari ST in his room on the Gorillaz website.

The Fatboy Slim album "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" has an Atari ST in the large foldout picture of Fatboy Slim's studio.

See also

External links



The machines

Free Emulators

(there are also commercial emulators)

Open Source Emulators



3rd-party manufacturers

Lists of links

Personal tools
Supported Websites