Atari ST

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Image:Atari-520ST.jpg Image:Atari 1040STf.jpg 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 stood for "Sixteen/Thirty-two", which referred to the Motorola 68000's 16-bit external bus and 32-bit internals.



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 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 hardware which gave it the edge in the games and videowork market, the ST was generally cheaper and slightly faster at basic operation. 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The ST was later superseded by the Atari TT and Falcon computers, and ST technology was used in the creation of the Atari Jaguar video game console.

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.


Atari's problems

Prior to the introduction of the ST, Atari had released two machines in the form of the Atari 2600 console (also known as VCS) and the various Atari 8-bit based home computers. Both of these were created around the 6502 CPU, and included a number of additional chips assisting this rather basic CPU in providing graphics and sound. In fact the 8-bit machines had originally intended to be the replacement for the 2600 games console, but they were later reengineered as home computers.

As Atari grew and the management was shuffled by Warner (their parent company), the creators of the 2600 and 8-bit machines eventually got fed up and left. A group of them led by Jay Miner formed a small think tank called Amiga in 1982 and set about creating the third generation machine, this time based on the much more powerful 68000 CPU.

During this time, the home computer market started to slow down, and the video game market underwent the great video game crash of 1983. Warner management decided to "get out" and started looking to sell Atari outright.

Tramiel Technology

Meanwhile many of the same issues were being addressed by 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 used off-the-shelf parts where possible. Disk drive support was provided by the WD1772, a standard Western Digital chip, and sound from a Yamaha YM2149. Serial, MIDI, and other I/O functions were provided by standard Motorola chips. The custom chips included a memory controller, the simple "Shifter" graphics chip, a DMA controller, and the "GLUE" interrupt handler.

At about the same time, Amiga were desperate for a buyer or investor, and the "Warner owned" Atari had paid Amiga for development work (see: "TOP SECRET: Confidential Atari-Amiga Agreement"). In return Atari was to get one-year exclusive use of the design. Atari was also working on a "high-end" 68000 based machine at the time, so it is not clear what their intentions for the Amiga design were.

By May Tramiel had secured his funding, bought the remains of Atari from Warner for a very low price, and set about re-creating his empire. One of his first acts was to fire practically all of Atari's highly respected engineering staff, and cancel almost all ongoing development. Both the internal 68k designs and Amiga's project were cut.

The Amiga crew was upset, and soon entered discussions with Commodore that led to them purchasing Amiga, and quickly cancelling Atari's license. Tramiel was furious, and the resulting court case lasted for years. Finally, it settled out of court, the details of which remain secret.

The design is finalized

Work thus continued with the design started at Tramiel Technology. With the basic design complete, 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. A final possibility was to write a new system in-house, but this was eventually rejected due to risk.

DR seemed generally uninterested in porting the system, so a team from Atari was sent to the DR Monterey headquarters to do it themselves. They were given the latest versions of the Intel 8086 code from their DR counterparts, and would port it to the 68000 as quickly as possible. A version, running on top of CP/M-68K, was available just in time for the January 1985 CES, where the ST was introduced.

Image:Atari TOS 1 0.pngCP/M-68K was essentially a direct port of CP/M's original, and very old, operating system. By 'modern' standards of 1985, it was rather outdated both in terms of command structure, and that it didn't support hierarchical file systems. DR 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 GEM/GEMDOS system Atari referred to as TOS (officially The Operating System, unofficially re-extrapolated as Tramiel Operating System by sceners). This was beneficial to the system, as it allowed the ST to read and write standard IBM PC disks.

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 their OS on disk, but this was quickly replaced by a ROM-based version when the OS was finally considered complete. Another minor upgrade followed, adding an RF modulator, which allowed the machines to be attached directly to a television for use in their low-resolution graphics mode.

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. Rapidly falling RAM prices also made this a moot point anyway, as the costs quickly fell to make lower price points difficult to achieve due to lower RAM content alone.

In 1986 the 1040STF (also written STF) shipped with 1 MiB of RAM and featured an integral 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 MiB, and when the list price was reduced to $999 in the U.S. it became the first computer to break the $1000/MiB 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 notoriously bad repositioning of the mouse and joystick sockets to a cramped niche underneath the keyboard.

Following most machines of the era, and thus differing greatly from earlier Atari designs, the ST used a large number of one-off ports mounted on the rear of the machine. In addition to power and monitor connections (plus TV-out where fitted), the ST included an RS-232 serial port, a Centronics printer port, two Atari-standard joystick/mouse ports, an ACSI (not SCSI) hard drive connector, the floppy disk connector (retained on later machines to allow a two-disc setup), a rarely-used cartridge port, and two MIDI ports. An interesting feature of the Centronics port as supplied was that it could also be used for joystick input (a distinctly off-spec alteration of the standard), and several games made use of available adaptors that plugged into the printer socket and provided two additional 9-pin joystick ports.

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. The design was much improved with the Mega ST series which included a detached high-quality keyboard, stronger case (to support the weight of a monitor), and internal bus expansion connector.

The custom "BLiTTER" was to be included to speed the performance of graphics operations on the screen, but when it was eventually released it debuted on the Mega ST machines and the enhanced STE models. As a result, even when the BLiTTER eventually shipped, it was ignored by game developers because it was not present on all machines. However, properly written GEM programs could use the BLiTTER seamlessly since the GEM API had always supported it.

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. The situation was complicated by the single sided drives somehow having their read/write head mounted on the opposite side as the "first head" of the double sided drives. 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).

Additionally, Atari had originally intended to include GEM's GDOS hardware abstraction layer, which allowed programs to draw (display, print, etc.) graphics to any supported device with no changes. This allowed developers to write a program for display to the screen, and get high quality printing "for free". However GDOS was not ready at the time the ST started shipping, and while Atari promised to include it as soon as possible, it was not released until much later, and then only under license as a disk-loadable module. This left printing support up to the developers, who had to create their own engines for every possible printer.

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'.

For this reason the ST was most popular in Europe, especially in Germany. Also, the famously crisp 70 Hz, 640 by 400 image on its black & white monitor made it popular for small-office applications. In fact, an Atari ST and reasonable 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 the basic v1.00 of 1985 through to the 'final' (for non-STE or Mega models) and much improved v1.04 '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), and a new graphics accelerator hardware 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, like the Amiga, 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, rather than improve upon the standard set by the Amiga.

The STE models initially had serious operating system and hardware addressing conflicts resulting in many 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, with extended video modes similar to some of those available on the TT or Falcon, high density (1.44 MB) floppy disc drive, and an optional built-in 3.5-inch hard disc. It also shipped with TOS v2.06, that offered some basic cosmetic tweaks to the desktop environment that seemed mainly in order to show off the new capabilities (coloured window elements, program icons as well as drives being placable on the desktop, desktop backgrounds, speed switch), no doubt with a good deal of less obvious tweaking to solve continuing compatibility issues.

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 classic 32 MHz, 68030-based TT030 and the newer, less popular 40 MHz TT040), and on the other was the entertainment-oriented Falcon (also 68030-based, operating at only 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. By then, the Atari ST platform was dying and neither of these two machines took off in anything like the quantities that were hoped. Atari's legendarily bad development and marketing strategies did little to help matters, effectively condemning numerous very technically accomplished but commercially stillborn computers to a premature demise.

Following the implosion of Atari Corp and its dissolution as a going concern in the hardware manufacturing field, 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. Similar to Amiga, various hardware revivals along similar lines have been mooted, since by other manufacturers, then abandoned.

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.



Music / Sound

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 both surprisingly high quality music from the Yamaha synthesizer ('chiptunes') and Amiga-aping (if scratchy-sounding on non-STEs) 'module'-type sample driven pieces.

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).


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 Neopaint, Degas & Degas Elite, Canvas, Deluxe Paint, and Cyberpaint featured surprisingly advanced features such as 3D design, animation. One paint program, Spectrum512, 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 applications (like The Cyber Studio), brought 3D modelling, sculpting, scripting, and most important, 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), Pascal (OSS Personal Pascal), C compilers (Alcyon C, Lattice C, Megamax C, Mark Williams C, GNU C, etc), 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 roughly $300. Included with the kit were a resource kit, C compiler (first Alcyon C, then Mark Williams C), debugger, and 68000 assembler.

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 was one of the leading platforms for computer games from 1986 to 1988, inclusive, and continued as a mainstay of the scene for many years later, until succumbing to the greater success of the Amiga, and the rise of consoles and IBM PCs in the early-mid 90s, with some of the very best games not being released until 1992 or 1993.

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. In the early 1990s the software houses gradually stopped producing ST versions of their games as demand dried up, and the games' technical requirements increasingly outpaced what even a master programmer could achieve with the system . The final 'big' game which was reputedly in development but didn't quite make it to publication was a port of 'Monkey Island II - LeChuck's Revenge' from LucasArts. An Amiga version had already made it to market, so an almost straight translation should have been easy from this existing 68000 code - however the small potential market must not have seemed worth the amount of work down-converting a (then-) record-breaking (and expensive to manufacture) seven floppy discs' worth of graphics, animation, sound and custom chip code would have represented. 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


As originally released in the 520ST:

  • CPU: Motorola 68000 @ 8 MHz
  • RAM: 512 kB to a maximum of 4 MiB (depending on system purchased - later 3rd party upgrades extended this to 14 MiB by replacing the original limited capability MMU)
  • Display modes: 320×200 (16 colour), 640×200 (4 colour), 640×400 (mono), palette of 512 colours (all resolutions and palettes extendible to some extent with software tricks)
  • Sound: Yamaha YM2149 3-voice squarewave plus 1-voice white noise mono soundchip (4-bit sample capable with software tricks)
  • 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/'Tramiel 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 it's 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 (1040STF / 1024 kB RAM) sided 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 MiB (allowable: 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 2.5 and 4.0 MiB 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 MiB 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 MiB 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 MiB of RAM and a built-in double-sided floppy disk, but without modulator
  • 1040STFM - a 520STFM with 1 MiB of RAM and a built-in double-sided floppy disk
  • Mega ST (MEGA2, MEGA4) - 1040 with 2 or 4 MiB 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 MiB - 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.
  • Medusa 040, Medusa 060, Hades 040, Hades 060 — 3rd-party Falcon/TT compatible machines manufactured by Medusa Computer Systems.
  • 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.
  • Atari Portfolio, a 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.

(Also: several Atari PCs - though there was talk of it, none were released with dual PC and ST operating capability onboard, possibly because the ST would have embarrassed the outdated hardware Atari chose to put in their budget IBM clones)

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).


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)



3rd-party manufacturers

Lists of links

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