After Hours

Dinosaur Sightings: Atari ST

Atari 520STFM - Logo

Photo credit: David Johnston

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

49 comments
dougd2
dougd2

had GFA basic for machine; interpreter and compiler. This was a great machine and a fantastic language. Did it all..

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I saved for a few years to buy a full Atari ST system even thought they were no longer made. The only thing was by then PC computers had become less costly. So biz-wise I went PC but I still regret that choice. Looking back, Emotionally it was hard but going down the PC road became a better choice, but not a happy one at the time. Wonder what a Atari computer would be like these days if Atari had survived those bad investments. But you know what bad investments can do. It you do not look at the word survival. It would be nice to here your ideas on this topic. Please express you ideas and dreams of Atari in the 21st Century with the powers they had in the Early 80's.

skirs
skirs

still got mine + printer + colour monitor + external drive that took a large floppy type disc in cardboard sleeve! Are they worth cash? (as well as the sentimental value!)

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

I was there when the Atari ST series was introduced for the first time--the June 1985 CES in Chicago. Jack Trameil showed off the 512ST and the never-released Model 256ST. The Atari ST series had a VERY strange creation story that resulted in a rather quirky computer, the so-called "Jackintosh."

mario.vasquez
mario.vasquez

Jeez! What is the dust vintage too? Take a $4 can of air and spray that thing before you post pics..I started sneezing just looking at them

sparky75
sparky75

This was actually a "post Atari" product. All the real Atari products were shelved after the company was sold in 1983 or 1984. Jack Tramiel from Commodore took over, fired everybody that was left, brought in his family to run the company, dropped the entire line that Atari was famous for and released this junk. It was a dinosaur when it hit the market.

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

I had a 520, a 1040 and then an ST MEGA 2. At one point I had a games and software collection that took up over 1,700 floppy disks, all numbered, catalogued and cross-referenced. I would get many of them from a guy that had contacts in Europe who would send him copies of games that I would play and finish before the US Atari magazines even had a chance to review them. (No internet to speed things up back then.) A lot of them never got released in the states and I had a few that weren't even in English. I sure wish I would have kept that collection now!! I held on to my ST and shunned the PC gaming world for as long as I could. But, once I saw and played Ultima Underworld for the first time on a 386... *sigh* And the rest is history. :)

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Then upgraded to an Amiga 1200 complete with Internal Hard Drive. At last, Kick Off 2 had nets in the goals.

garymander
garymander

Whatever happened to real keyboards? Looking at the first few photographs made me think of when I used to have a VIC20 and a Commodore 64. Just the thought of typing on those clunky keyboards,with that satisfying click, brings back a wave of nostalgia!

mandms7
mandms7

I was a big time Atari fan boy during the 80's and even held on until about '94. I had one of these as well and loved gaming on it. Ah memories!

leonir.silva
leonir.silva

I had the chnce to play on this atari when i was young, thanks by photos, it bring me back to the past, good memories!!!!!!

Akais1
Akais1

The G in LG stands for Goldstar, the L stands for Lucky. The Goldstar chips are probably for the video system.

inorbital
inorbital

I wonder how toxic the interior of that is... heavy metals...pcb... FUN! I had one, but a different model.

JCitizen
JCitizen

what I got to play with. I never had the money to purchase computers until years later. I still love playing the old Atari games on new PCs. HA! =D

dwalker
dwalker

And all of the related componets.

blarman
blarman

There were two cool programs we had for it: NeoChrome Gold: an image editor, and Silent Service: a WWII submarine game. NeoChrome Gold was great not only because you had a palette of like 12 custom colors (64000+ colors were available), but because you could make part of the palette ROTATE! By the clever use of the rotating palette, we could create basic animations! Waterfalls were my favorite. It was no Photoshop, but for the day it was top-of-the-line. Silent Service was an awesome game where you could either do a scenario or just go on a tour of the ocean, hunting for enemy vessels. If you were tricky you could outwit the depth charge attacks or even sink the destroyers coming after you. The 1040 ST used a floppy to boot, but was also one of the first computers to sport an internal hard drive.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I played my friends an neighbors Atari's and cut my programing teeth on a TI-99, but never bought a PC until 1985. By then I had to fork over the money, because I couldn't survive my case load without it. Afterward, I was so successful at my office automation job, I resigned and announced that the PC had taken my place. Going to college was way more interesting anyway. Too bad I didn't pick computer science as my degree.

fixmypcltd
fixmypcltd

First computer was an Atari 400 back in '81, upgraded to a 128XE, then finally a 520STe with memory upgrade to 2 MB. Had both mono and colour monitors - yes you had one monitor for colour and another for monochrome ! Bought a Mac emulator and could run Mac software faster then the Mac Classic at the time. When the Falcon came out I finally switched to a 486 PC...sigh..

frank.williams
frank.williams

The dollar or pound/performance ratio on the Atari ST series was 2nd to none. NOTHING in the PC or MAC world could come close. Atari had a business model and target market already in mind, if it was junk it would not have sold. It brought cheap, powerful computing to the millions and helped no end of hard up European businesses and families get into the world of personal computing. What was a dinosaur by this point was the 2600, that's what the old Atari was still pushing and new Atari put on the back burner to save the company using it's new Atari ST series. If it wasn't for the ST, Atari would have died in the early 80's. I'll be the first to admit that the Tramiels were basically useless after the initial trump card of the ST...I'll never forgive them for abandoning the Falcon 030 :-(

pespinosa7
pespinosa7

I still have a 520 and a 1040. Although Atari was and remains known for games, my 1040 w/ external 20 MB hard drive was the first desktop PC used in a public legal office (to my knowledge) in Tucson AZ when I brought it in and used it for drafting documents, keeping a searchable phone log, and remote "BBS" legal research. Both machines still work, including ancient small monitors, although haven't fired up either one in years.

charlb
charlb

You should post a video clip of you working on the atari system have never seen one in working order

howard_davis
howard_davis

those keyboards would just never die. you could drop a half full coke, eat powder donuts, and even get peanut butter on them and they would never die (i swear i am not speaking from personal experience)

risely
risely

Could replicate fancy word headings on my 520. Can't seem to do that today on any cheap DTP prog.

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

I also have my Atari 2600 as well as my OLD TEXAS INSTRUMENT TI499A (or so) Can't wait to open the storage box after all these years and show my son and daughter who are only 1 year old what mommy and daddy grew up playing video games on!!!!

JCitizen
JCitizen

that was more my speed, when I was a young pup!

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

Back then wanting a ST but could not afford, all it seemed I saw was articles proclaiming the MAC's power. Every time there was a big leap with MAC all needed to say is the ST does in already and in Color and on a 19" or 21" screen. And if it did not wait a few months and It would get cloned for a PC. So you'd get the clone and plug in the DOS software and you had a Atari version. And at half or less than the Apple software cost. The only thing the ST did not have was the ISA buss or the Hard Disks as low priced. But Atari still ruled (my personal not the real economic facts)

dibthree
dibthree

And kicked the Commode Door 64s butt! Still have mine too...boxed up

iansavell
iansavell

I was surprised many years ago to find a German customer's office entirely kitted out with these systems, long after the PC became dominant in the UK. They had a superior performance to most PCs and were a lot smaller. My father-in-law used one for years as his main music composition system, only moving to a PC when the ST finally died. Those built in midi ports were linked to his keyboards so he could compose at the piano.

dleippe
dleippe

I still have, and enjoy using my 1040ST, Mega St, Atari TT030, and the Falcon 030. The company was very advanced in computer engineering, lousy at marketing. They created the ASCI port which became the SCSI port. They created many features we take for granted. One of their engineers created the USB port. The 1040 had a floppy, but it booted from ROM chips. The Mega ST had an external hard drive. The Atari TT030 was the first to have an internal hard drive. The Falcon had a DSP built in and could capture audio sampled for making CDDA(Red Book audio CD's). The Atari was used by many bands to run their performances. The Atari ST/TT's all had MIDI ports built in. The keyboard with a floppy built in was the whole computer. What a novel idea... It took longer to warmup the monitor than it took to boot TOS from rom. Why can't windows boot from rom chips?

terry.floyd
terry.floyd

The Atari 1040ST was my very first computer. I paid $999 for it and financed the purchase over 3 years. I had an Atari 400 game system before that, but I never considered that to be a real computer. I used the 1040ST for writing (absolutely loved STWrite), BBSing, and paid $80 for a DOS Emulator application so I could do contract word processing using WordStar (some of my clients insisted I submit their files in WordStar's proprietary format). I can still read my old STWrite files on my Ubuntu and Windows 7 systems today, but cannot do anything with WordStar files. I even did some rather impressive desktop publishing on the 1040ST, and the machine paid for itself after a few years. I regularly attended the local ST User group meetings in Berkeley and was a real Atari fanboy until I inherited a discarded Everex 286 from a dumpster in about 1994, upgraded the motherboard to a 486 and installed OS/2 Warp 3 on it. By this time, Atari was abandoning the PC market and going back to being a game company, so there didn't seem to be much of a future for the ST platform. I then plunged into the PC world with OS/2, Windows, Linux, and Novell NetWare, and never went back. I think I threw away the old ST when the monitor died on it. Now, I kind of wish I'd kept it. Thanks for these memories. The 1040ST was a remarkable machine for its time.

yooper
yooper

As per the last picture in the series, the electrolytic caps are toast and in most electronics are the first things to go rendering a piece of equipment useless unless changed. The dielectric in the caps eventually leak out, similar to what happens to transformers up on power poles execpt when the soulution dries up and it goes phase to phase the effect is quite dramatic!! I wish I had a Ti99a someone gave me with all the bells and whistles and I had somewhere I could setup a workstation to work on these old beasts.

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I use to do TV repair years ago, As soon as LCD screens for the PC got cheaper than Tube ones I switched. Bet a Atari ST on a 22" wide screen monitor would have the look of pure beauty. That is if you can convert the screen from 4:3 to 16:10 format, All you'd need is to author new Display List codes for the ST Antic chip. The other upgrade is a new faster 68000 chip since they were in DIP sockets. And that could make upgrading the RAM memory chips also. And printing with an ST was WYSIWYG. Also known as DTP.

ctinco
ctinco

Show a bit of debris in the keyboards and surrounding areas, including the interior. A bit of a cleanup could be in order. Just saying....

JCitizen
JCitizen

Texas Instruments TI-199/A4? I cut my PC teeth on one of those I borrowed from a friend. At the time I didn't have a need for a computer, but they were VERY fun to play with. I used it to take my first BASIC class and made incredible voice files with it. The artificial voice programmer in that machine sounded almost a realistic as today's digital voice programs; as long as you put the right inflections in - that is! :x

JCitizen
JCitizen

I would have been looking at Atari when I finally did make the jump, but unfortunately my needs were a Xerox compatible communication typewriter, and a laptop that had huge storage capability without all the space problems of clumsy floppy disks. Having internal storage capability was not an important factor; portability was. Zenith had a pretty good model out at the time, but the IRS was buying everyone of them that came off the line. Toshiba was coming out with a superior design to everyone but would only arrive on the market too late for my needs. Oh well!!

khansen
khansen

Complete w/ drives, bunch of cartridges, an d a big stack of books and mags from Compute! (Remember that mag, it was fantastic!)

ssshelton
ssshelton

I still have mine as well. Falcon030, MegaSTE and others. This is where I started

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

The Atari ST series was little more than a quick, cheap copy of the Amiga--literally. Whem the Trameils couldn't buy the Amiga in time to keep it away from Commodore, their spies at the Trameils' old company tried to steal the design plans. When that failed (they were caught re-handed smuggling the documents out of Commodore's HQ facility), they designed a 68000 PC with almost entirely off-the-shelf parts, including parts originally developed for a Z80-based PC series that Microsoft had helped design (the "MPC" series). One of those chips contained a MIDI interface in hardware, so it went in. It's somewhat ironic that the Atari ST was designed by the same guy that had designed the Commodore 64 (Shivaz Shiraj, I think)--and the Amiga was largely designed by the guy that had designed the Atari 400/800 series (Jay Miner). Like the Amiga, the original boot ROM resided in RAM, loaded from a floppy. In order to save as much RAM as possible, a 68000 programming trick called "exceptions" was used. Still, the boot code was over 175K in RAM, which was why the Atari 260ST was never released, and why the 68000 processor couldn't be upgraded to a 68010, since it handled exceptions differently. This also slowed the original-version ST series down quite a bit. The GEM operating system had originally been developed to run on top of CPM-86 (later DR-DOS) on the Intel 8086 and 8088 chips. When Northern Telecom was developing a PBX controller in the early '80s, they used the Motorola 68000 chip as it's "brain." One of the executives REALLY liked GEM, so the project was undertaken to port the pair to the 68000. After over a year, the project STILL wasn't done, so they dropped it. With only minor tweaks, the unfinished GEM-68K became TOS (Trameil Operating System). It did become somewhat more finished over time.

bamyclouse
bamyclouse

Our first computer was an Apple //e, with which, using AppleWriter II & Beagle Brothers font & formatting software, I was able to create documents with multiple fonts & up to 4 columns (for newsletters requiring clipart, though, I had to make space for something, draw or find a picture I wanted, tape it on, & make a photocopy). Almost 10 yr ago, my husband took a computer course in a community college. The text indicates that publishing with multiple columns & fonts was impossible before the PC came out-I think it was the XT they cited. I believe they also cited the same errors I've seen in some kids' schoolbooks these days, ignoring such flops as the PC Jr., & even saying Microsoft invented the first computer for home use (completely ignoring the Altair, for example, & not mentioning Apple AT ALL in some texts). Don'tcha love how history is always written by the victors? Maybe as Apple reasserts its genius, they'll get a chance to rectify things. Let's just hope they're honest enough to include ALL computers from around 1979 on, instead of just theirs (like MS does). I can't help but think: The Boomer generation of tech lovers are probably the only ones who bother to show their kids the lies in modern computer courses. The rest of the world doesn't know how Microsoft re-wrote early computer history for kids from preschool through post-grad.

yooper
yooper

I meant for that post to be part of the main thread, not a reply to the previous comment.

pfarrjam
pfarrjam

Got the 1 meg upgrade, 20 gig HD, CRT, and dot matrix printer with a bunch of software and disks. I keep threatening to open it up to let the kids play with it. Any ideas how much this would go for on eBay?

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

From an Atari Magazine article, I forget which one most like;y Compute. They state that GEM was based on the public domain user interface that Xerox labs started creating back in 1965 by a guy who jumped off the IBM big blue boat. But Xerox Labs did invent the point & click GUI interface that most Operating systems use today. Just think how rich those guys would be if they got patents on the mouse or the point & click GUI, but in ways we can all thank them for placing the concepts in public domain. Even tho later users of the concepts have patterned their work on the ideas.

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

The Atari ST OS (TOS) was, in fact, based on Digital Research's GEM OS (GEM was NOT a Xerox product). I know this because I know one of the programmers that spent nearly a year porting GEM from the IBM-PC x86 environment to the MC68000 used in the ST series. It had virtually NOTHING to do with Unix or BSD except the small pieces that CP/M-86, like MS-DOS, lifted from Unix to make them into "real" operating systems (mostly related to directory structures). ~~ ScienceMikey

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

Way Atari ST's OS not based on the Xerox GEM system that was basically a pretty UNIX GUI interface And is not Windows an advanced fancy fface for CP/M or MS DOS. I suprised I do not recall any big news on UNIX for the Atari ST, i remember BSD and Linix but no IBM or DEC clones for UNIX. But missing the news would be easy. If you were not PC or MAC you were not worth printing on TP. And that the bathroom kind.

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

The partially-Microsoft-designed 8-bit PCs were the "MSX" series, not "MPC". They sold moderately well in Asia, but barely made a dent in the US market--a few Yamaha-branded MSX PCs were sold in professional music stores as programmable MIDI controllers using the same General Instrument sound chip as the Atari ST. The Northern Telecom PBX system was called the "Meridian". ~~ ScienceMikey

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I had a Atari 2600 in 1976 (X-mas present), got and Atari 800 in 1980. And Desktop publishing for my dad's company in 1986. The software package that my dad's computer used was Ability, had Word processing (Wordstar), VisaCalc clone, Desktop Publishing (B&W only but color was in the thousands back then), dBase 2 and all the software could exchange data. Half of that data exchange was DOS 6.3. I could turn out pages that their printing company wanted big bucks to do. Wished I could have talked them into an Atari ST (ST1040) but no local brick and Mortor places sold them. And it would have cost half or less than the 3G's they forked out for their 8086 PC clone. Color would have been another $1500. And then only EGA.