Articles - Main Menu

Atari ST - 15th Anniversary

It has come and gone, but I didn't want the year 2000 passing by without some formal tribute to the Atari ST range.  From its debut in January 1985 at the Comdex show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Atari ST was a stunning new computer system at the time.

After only owning Atari since the 2nd of July 1984, Jack Tramiel and his team needed a next generation computer to catapult the beleaguered Atari into the good times again.  legal wrangling with his former company Commodore, and the loss of Amiga Technologies to them as well had certainly made the new Atari's task to design, build, test and manufacture working models of a totally new computer system a tough challenge.

The main architect of the original Atari ST was Vice President of research and development, Shiraz Shivji.  Under his leadership, a team at Atari designed a new computer system.  Design work was started in July 1984 and completed (including all custom I.C's) in December of the same year.  Most of the initial bug testing was complete and Atari's team based at Sunnyvale and at the Digital Research HQ were working flat out to ensure a fully working OS was fine tuned for the forthcoming Comdex show in January 1985, the maiden public flight of the new Atari computer.

Picture above: shows Billboards in Vegas on route to Comdex, 1985.  Courtesy of Hans-Martin Krober at the Atari and Commodore Museum (

The show was a success.  The Atari ST was launched with much praise, and it became one of the most popular computers in Germany during the mid-late eighties, something a lot of American PC manufacturers have still failed to do.  In fact, Europe was Atari's most successful  market, in contrast to the U.S. market with its tougher competition, was always a strain on Atari, its dealers and ultimately its end users.

But the ST did change the face of computing, although it gets little recognition for that today.  Atari did a lot of things right, and had  its fair share of "challenges" along the way, including a global recession, competition especially from MS Windows, FCC problems, a late entry back into the video game business and a lack of strong advertising and support to its dealer network.

The Atari ST was particularly strong in the music industry, with the inclusion of MIDI ports being one of the clever design aspects of the machine. Atari also paved a niche into the DTP market with its low cost laser printer and high end DTP software.  Unfortunately, these were never sustained markets for varying reasons and the ST became a "niche computer" and a popular games machine in Europe.

The ST also suffered from a lack of continued development, the Mega ST which followed the standard "all-in-one" product, was nothing more than a redesigned box with the famous "blitter" graphics chip and a separate keyboard.  The STE (Enhanced) that followed 2 years later was a minor upgrade that increased the colour palette, reduced chip count and included stereo sound, among the more noticeable but lacklustre enhancements.

When the MegaSTE was released in 1990, it was another step forward for the range, introducing a new case design "borrowed" from its bigger brother, the Atari TT, it had a 16Mhz 68000 and a built-in hard drive.  But this would be the last development of the ST, a computer that served thousands in its Seven year life-span. (Estimated world-wide installed base was approx. 1.6 Million).

The ST brought true "Power without the price", but it didn't deliver this to the business market.  It was a popular "home" computer, although accepted as a more respectable machine in Germany. Ultimately, the PC would kill off these advanced machines, along with the exciting "home" market.  The battle between Commodore, Atari and Apple would result in one winner in the dedicated non-wintel market place, and although Apple had just scraped through, it managed to survive.  Atari left the computer market in 1993 and tried its hand at video gaming one more time...

Although its all over, we should be thankful  that the ST was developed and released - it changed computing in the 80's, and introduced new and exciting possibilities for the consumer.  The Atari ST is a piece of computing history, just as ground-breaking as any Apple or IBM PC of the era and one of the many historic products of Atari Corporation.

 Inside Atari Games
 Nolan Bushnell
 Jack Tramiel
 Business Week
 Bob Gleadow
 Atari ST Anniversary
 The Trouble with Robots
 The Tramiels
 Atari in Ireland
 News Clippings
 Press Releases
 Go to the Forums