Retro Computers - Atari ST - Retro computer

Atari ST

Atari ST
Let the battle of the 16-bit heavyweights commence!

The Atari ST was a classic home computer that was commercially available from 1985 into the early 1990s. Released by Atari, this 16-bit machine was designed to supercede their 8-bit XL range, and supercede them it did.

The 'ST' officialy stood for 'Sixteen/Thirty two' which referred to the CPU (a Motorola 68000 which had a 16-bit external bus and 32-bit internals). But let's not get too technical here, the Atari ST was a fine games machine, and it, along with the Commodore Amiga really pushed the envelope of computer gaming - with both becoming classic games machines (with some good conversions of arcade games).

The machine came installed with 512KB of RAM (more could be installed if you so desired), and 3½" floppy disks as storage. It was similar to other contemporary machines of the era which utilised the Motorola 68000 as the engine, (such as the Apple Mac and the Commodore Amiga). Although the Macintosh was the first widely available computer with a GUI, it was limited to a monochromatic display on a smaller built-in monitor, and people wanted colour and zingy graphics.

The ST preceded the Amiga's commercial release by almost two months, giving it a head start in the 16-bit battle that was to ensue. Atari's machine was the first computer to come with a fully bit-mapped color GUI (Graphical User Interface) using a version of Digital Research's GEM released in February of 1985. It was also the first home computer with integrated MIDI support.

Platform rivalry (between Atari and Commodore) 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 arcade games and video market, the ST was generally cheaper, had a slightly faster CPU, (and had a high-resolution monochrome display mode), which was ideal for business and CAD.

Thanks to its built-in MIDI ports it enjoyed alot of success as a music sequencer and as a controller of musical instruments among amateurs and professionals alike. Bands such as Tangerine Dream and Fatboy Slim used the ST when making music.

In some markets, particularly in Germany the machine gained a strong foothold as a small business machine for CAD and Desktop publishing work.

So, the ST was highly versatile, and was appealing to a broad range of users. At this point alot of home geeks (like yours truly) were leaving behind their beloved 8-bit machines and moving into the more powerful 16-bit market. The ST did well (once the price of one dropped), and became a popular choice for home enthusiasts, musicians, artists and arcade games players. It should be noted that an ST cost an incredible £749 when first released.

A lot of people wandered into their local Dixons, looked at the price, collapsed, stood up, checked the label to make sure their eyes weren't playing tricks on them, then went home sobbing. It would be worth waiting a year for the price to come down into mere mortal territory.

A large library of classic games was available for the ST (many games being improved versions of older 8-bit games such as Elite), and of course loading them in from a floppy disk as opposed to a cassette was a delight. The ZX Spectrum / Commodore 64 rivaly now shifted and became the Atari ST / Commodore Amiga rivaly, with playground arguments breaking out up and down the land.

The rivalry lasted for a few years as both companies released newer versions of their respective machines, such as the ST+ which now came installed with a mighty 1MB of RAM - how could that amount of memory ever be filled eh?

To be honest, it is probably fair to say that Commodores machine had the edge when it came to computer gaming. Most of the time, games were released on both formats, but the Amiga version usually had the edge. But is was a fine edge, a thinly veiled edge that could not be calculated, weighed or measured. The Amigas' graphics were usually better, sometimes the ST had a slight edge with sound. We could go on, but we won't.

Just remember a great machine that helped to usher in the era of powerful machines in the home. All hail Atari's 16-bit beaut - a fine Retro computer.

We recommend trying to pick up one of these machines.
Look at computers for sale online or even locally.

If you don't want to get hold of the real hardware then try and download an emulator and download those classic games. Alternatively you could try and play them online.

MACHINE TYPE: Home Computer (classic games machine)
KEYBOARD: Full-stroke keyboard with numeric and editing keypads
CPU: Motorola MC68000
SPEED: 8 mHz
CO-PROCESSOR: 'Shifter' and 'Glue' custom chips
RAM: 512 KB (520 ST/STM), 1 MB (520 ST+)
ROM: 192 KB
TEXT MODES: 40 or 80 columns x 25 lines
GRAPHIC MODES: 320 x 200 / 640 x 200 / 640 x 400 dots
COLORS: 16 among 512 (320 x 200) / 4 among 512 (640 x 200) / monochrome (640 x 400) this last mode required a special monitor for i to be displayed
SOUND: 3 voices over 8 octaves
SIZE / WEIGHT: 47 (W) x 24 (D) x 6 (H) cm
I/O PORTS: RGB, TV modulator (520STm), Cardridge, Midi (in/out), Centronics, RS232c, Hard Disk, Floppy Disk, Joystick, Mouse
BUILT IN MEDIA: External 3.5'' 360 KB disk-drive (option)
POWER SUPPLY: External power supply unit
PRICE: £749 (1985 - UK) dropping to a more realistic £399 (1986 - UK)

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