took home computing
to a new level with the 16-bit
ST range, at a time when existing 8-bit
computers were rapidly approaching their practical design limitations.
The most popular model, the 520STFM, offered the sort of advanced graphics and mouse-based user interface that was out of reach to everyone except Macintosh
owners, for the price you would have paid for the leading 8-bit machine only a few years before. This was no 'business only' computer though- In addition to the Mac-like 640x400 mode it also supported a 4 colour 640x200 mode and a 16-colour mode at 320x200.
The ST offered a full 512kb of RAM and 32kb of video memory. As a result of the (then) large amount of video RAM, the Atari could assign any of the 16 colours to any pixel without affecting neighbouring pixels, unlike the 8-bit computers which went before it. Another new feature was
that the 16 colours were no longer fixed, you could pick any 16 you wanted from a palette of 512.
This combination of groundbreaking graphics plus a fast 8MHz Motorola 68000
CPU gave programmers the flexibility they needed to create whole new genres of games and home-office applications. Seemingly overnight, it was possible to have full colour 3D flight simulators in filled
3D instead of wireframe, and the higher screen resolutions meant that WYSIWYG
word processing and DTP was practical on a home computer for the first time.
The ST range had a built-in MIDI
interface, making it popular with musicians on a budget. Sadly, however, the Yamaha sound synthesiser chip that the ST used was somewhat lacking, leaving it behind even the Commodore 64
in terms of audio quality.
When the ST's arch-rival, the Commodore Amiga
was released, the ST suffered slightly as it fell behind a little in technical terms (I guess the designers of the two computers learned from their mistakes, for a change), but as it retailed for around 25% less than the Amiga it continued to sell well and by this time it had already built up a strong fan base.
13th June 2002
points out that it's not only musicians on a budget that use Atari ST's: Madonna
, Tangerine Dream
, Phillip Glass
and Fatboy Slim
have all used them. Apparently, Fatboy Slim even bought a junk shop full of old Atari STs, so that he'll never be without one!