Atari ST, Magic Sac, Spectre 128, and Spectre GCR

You may not remember the Atari ST family, a series of computers based on the same 8 MHz Motorola 680×0 CPUs as the early Macs. They never really carved out a niche in the US, although they were moderately popular in Europe. The STs offered PC compatible floppy drives, a DOS-compatible filing system, and GEM, a Mac-like GUI.

Atari 1040STfThe Atari ST line was created by Jack Tramiel, former head of Commodore, with the goal of creating the “next Commodore 64,” the most popular computer of the late 80s and the best selling personal computer ever.

The 1040ST (right) was the first personal computer to ship with 1 MB of memory, making it a real temptation to those who wanted a Mac or Amiga but didn’t have enough money. (I wish I still had my mid-80s issues of Byte and Compute! for more details. At the time, a lot of us believed these would become the next C-64.)

Magic Sac and Spectre 128/GCR

The Atari ST series was of interest to Mac lovers for one other reason: the Magic Sac, a cartridge developed by David Small that allowed an Atari ST to emulate a Macintosh. All you needed was an Atari ST, the Magic Sac cartridge, and ROMs pulled from a Mac 128 or 512K. With a device called Transporter One, it could read and write 800K Mac disks. The ST was cheaper than the Mac, making this a viable option for some.

The biggest problem with the original Magic Sac was that it only supported 64 KB ROMs from the earliest Macs. In 1986, Apple had moved to 128 KB ROMs in the Mac Plus and 512Ke. – and Apple soon stopped supporting 64 KB ROMs, making the Magic Sac less useful going forward.

David Small later developed the Spectre 128 and 128/GCR. These allowed the Atari ST to use Mac Plus ROMs. The GCR version included support for Mac floppies, making Transporter One unnecessary. (See Spectre GCR and Other Gadgets Small for more information on the Spectre.)

Atari Stacy portableAnd if you wanted a laptop Mac, the Atari STacy ($1,495-1,995) offered it, complete with a 600 x 400 pixel backlit supertwist LCD display. The fifteen pound weight was comparable to the faster $6,500 Macintosh Portable, which was released at about the same time. (Details on Stacy from MacUser, October 1989.)

Details, Atari 520ST

  • announced 1985.01 at US$800 with monochrome monitor, reached market third quarter
  • CPU: 8 MHz 68000
  • ROM: 192 KB
  • RAM: 512 KB
  • built-in video, supports 640 x 400 at 1-bit, 640 x 200 at 2-bit and 320 x 200 at 4-bit, palette supports 512 colors
  • 360 KB 3.5″ floppy drive
  • hard disk DMA port supports 10 Mbps
  • parallel printer port
  • RS-232 serial port

Details, Atari 1040ST

  • introduced 1986:01 at US$1,000 with monochrome monitor
  • CPU: 8 MHz 68000
  • ROM: 192 KB
  • RAM: 1 MB in 1040ST
  • built-in video, supports 640 x 400 at 1-bit, 640 x 200 at 2-bit and 320 x 200 at 4-bit, palette supports 512 colors
  • 720 KB 3.5″ double-sided floppy drive
  • hard disk DMA port supports 10 Mbps
  • parallel printer port
  • RS-232 serial port

Details, Atari 1040STe

  • introduced 1990
  • CPU: 8 MHz 68000
  • ROM: 256 KB
  • RAM: 1 MB in 1040ST
  • built-in video, supports 640 x 400 at 1-bit, 640 x 200 at 2-bit and 320 x 200 at 4-bit, palette supports 4,096 colors
  • 720 KB 3.5″ double-sided floppy drive
  • hard disk DMA port supports 10 Mbps
  • parallel printer port
  • RS-232 serial port

Atari ST Resources

Keywords: #atarist #magicsac #macclone #spectre128 #spectregcr

Short link: http://goo.gl/a5oVUP

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