My adventures with the Atari 520ST began in August of 1986. At the time, I owned an Atari 130XE that I had been using for about a year. While I still enjoyed the computer, there was little if any new software being written for it. I wanted to have a computer that I could use for a serious purpose. The Atari 130XE was a great computer for it's time but basically it was mostly a game machine. So I needed something more powerful.
At the time, the Apple Macintosh and an IBM PC were available but they were expensive and pretty much out of my price range (The MAC was about $2600 and the PC was like $1500 or so). The Atari 520ST was under $800 but there was a slight catch. I had to order it mail order. There were some shops (mostly music stores) that had the Atari 520ST available but they were a bit more expensive plus they were in New York which meant I had to pay New York sales tax (8.25% at the time if my memory serves). The lowest price that I was able to find was from a company that was based in Ohio. I had never ordered anything via mail order up to that time and I was worried about getting ripped off where I would send them the money and not get anything back in return. My uncle offered to allow me to use his credit card to make the purchase of the computer since this would protect me if something went wrong so long as I paid him in advance of the charge (which I did). Luckily the company was legitimate and I got my computer in perfect order in about 5 business days after ordering it.
The Atari 520ST was sold in 2 versions when it first appeared. There was a monochrome version which was about $150-200 less expensive and the color version. You couldn't just buy the color version and expect programs written for the monochrome version to work. I decided to buy the color version. As luck would have it, it was a good choice because a few years later, someone wrote a emulator program for the color version that allowed people to use software written for the monochrome version on their color system.
The Atari 520ST was first sold in Germany about 6 months prior to it's release in the United States. It sold really well because unlike the rest of the world at the time, Germany was not fixated with the IBM PC. They loved the fact that the Atari 520ST was a powerful computer and had similarities to the Apple Macintosh at about 1/3 of the price. One of the reasons for the similarities was the fact that the ST used a graphic shell called GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) that was created by Digital, a really big computer company at the time. In addition, the ST series was based on the Motorola 68000 which was the exact same chip that powered the Apple Macintosh. Because of this, a gentleman by the name of Dave Small was able to create a series of emulators which allowed people to use Mac software on their STs. Basically the emulator consisted of a cartridge which required someone to buy an actual Apple chip from a authorized Apple dealer and install the chip into the cartridge and then install the software. Once this was done, you were able to use software written for the Macintosh on an Atari ST.
So ability to work with programs written for other systems was used as a selling point. When you bought the Atari ST, you were buying a computer that could run both ST software and Mac software on the very same machine. Later a company wrote a program called PC-Ditto which allowed people to run PC based software on the ST. There was also a hardware add-on created at roughly the same time. Basically a circuit board was placed inside the Atari ST that was faster than the software emulation provided by the PC-Ditto program.
The Atari ST was also extremely popular in the music world. In fact, it is still used today as I remember seeing a CNET computer show about a month ago where a gentleman from Australia was still using it to create music. The reason why it was so popular in the music world was the fact that it was the first computer with built in MIDI capability. MIDI I believe stands for Musical Instrument Device Interface. Basically it allows someone to connect sophisticated musical instruments to a computer and have the computer control them. This would for example allow someone to play a piece of music and have the computer record it perfectly so that it could be replicated without having the artist there to replay it. It could also be used to mix different instruments and have them play in perfect synth to each other.
It was because of that fact that the Atari ST was so popular in the music world that I came into contact with my favorite musical band, Tangerine Dream. They were mentioned in one of the articles from one of the ST series of computer magazines that I subscribed to at the time and I remembered the name of the group. Since their music was released in CD format and since I did not have a CD player until a few years ago, I was not able to listen to their music until just recently. I remembered the name one time when I happened to be visiting a music shop and decided to see what kind of music they produced. I figured that I would buy one CD and that was going to be it. The one CD that I bought was titled "The Private Music of Tangerine Dream". Little did I know that I would love the music and then I started to seek out more of their CDs. I currently own about 25 of them and I am always on the lookout for a new CD that I don't have. Since they are a german band, some of their CDs are hard to find except via the Internet. Anyway I am getting off the topic.
The Atari ST was also popular in the Chess world. Some of you chess fans may wonder why. Gary Kasparov was the reason why. For those who don't follow chess, Gary Kasparov is the current world chess champion. At the time, there was a tournament that was being held that very much wanted Gary to participate in it. Gary mentioned that he would participate in the tournament if there were certain conditions met first. One was that he would receive an Atari ST computer and it would include a chess database. From this origin, Chessbase was created. Chessbase is the premier program used by a lot of chess masters even today. Even regular players like myself use it. So you chess fans should be thank full that the ST series of computers were created because otherwise there would not have been Chessbase today. That is also why Chessbase is written by a company in Germany because as I mentioned before, the ST was a very popular computer in Germany.
The ST was a great computer and it was kind of a shame that it never caught on in the United States as it did in other parts of the world. Ever since the early 90s everything has been PC based and I feel that there is very little innovation made in the computer world. Basically the only thing that you see nowadays is a faster clock and a few new instructions on some Intel chips. Otherwise it is pretty much the same. Hopefully things will change soon and we can have some of that pioneer spirit that made up the world of Atari and what made the Atari series of computers so special to so many people.
Oh by the way, those of you with sharp eyes you made have noticed that the picture that is at the top of the page is not an actual 520ST computer but in fact is a picture of the 130ST which was never actually released but since the 130ST had a similar look to a 520ST except for the label on the right hand side, I thought that I would include the picture and see if anyone would notice.
Thanks again for visiting my web
page and I hope that I brought back some wonderful memories to those of
you who have owned Atari series of computers over the years. I hope
to see you again soon. :)
to Remembering Atari
Back to Main Page