The Early Mac Clones

Atari ST with Magic Sac

You may not remember the Atari ST computers, a series based on the same 8 MHz Motorola 680x0 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.

The Atari ST line was created by Jack Tramiel, former head of Commodore, with the goal of creating the "next Commodore 64," probably the most popular computer of the late 80s. The 1040ST was the first 1 MB personal computer and 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.)

The Atari ST series was of interest to Mac lovers for one other reason: the Magic Sac, a cartridge developed by David Small, 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 512. 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.

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.)

And if you wanted a laptop Mac, the Atari Stacy ($1,495-1,995) offered it, complete with a 600x400 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, 520ST

Details, 1040ST

Details, 1040STe

Atari ST Resources

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