Visit Atarimax Store

Free-Net Logo
The Atari SIG Historical Archive
Created and hosted by:

Article #213 (376 is last):
From: aa400@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Phillip M. Chow)
Subject: A Peek at the new STe _ by Derek Mihocka  / 0390AR
Date: Mon Mar 26 03:31:25 1990

A peek at the new STe    What to expect from the latest Atari
             by Derek Mihocka

   What can I say? I like it, I like it!  This is the first
significant upgrade to the Atari ST line since the inroduc-
tion of of Mega ST more than two years ago, and it has several
new bells and whistles.  The only drawbacks about the machine
right now is that there is no software yet available to make
use of the new features, and when such software does appear
it will be incompatible with other models of the ST.
   At a street price of $899 in Canadian dollars, or less than
$800 in U.S. dollars, the STe is almost as cheap as a regular
ST.  The price around Christmas time was even lower!  However,
there are a few bugs with the computer that still have to be
dealt with, and at the time this article is being written
(mid-February) the STe is still not available to the general
public in the U.S.
   The machine I bought is the 1040STe.  It is almost identical
in appearance to a 1040STfm, except for three changes.  There
are two extra joystick ports on te left of the keyboard which
also support paddles and light pens, two RCA audio jacks in the
rear of te machine and a tiny letter E on the logo in place of
the letters FM.  Unfortunately, the original joystick/mouse
ports are still buried underneath the keyboard and are hard to
   Some of the new features include a 4096 color display, hard-
ware supported fine scrolling, stereo digitized sound, a built-
in blitter chip, plug-in memory modules, 6 joystick ports, an
RF-modulator, and a new version of TOS.  Screen resolution, disk
capacity, and CPU speed remain unchanged.  The computer is com-
patible with most, but not all, software currently available for
the Atari ST and Mega ST computers.

       The Hardware
   So far, I have had the chance to rip apart two STes.  Both
were identical in every way, including some small patches to 
the circuit board.  When I flipped my machine over, I was sur-
prised to find that there were no approval stickers on the back.
My 520STfm for example, has an FCC ID number along with the usual
"Certified to comply with..." text, and also a UL logo.  My 
1040ST, which doesn't seem to have FCC approval, has a CSA
(Canada Standards Association) label.  The 1040STe, which is la-
beled on the back as "1040STE US" has neither.  This could explain
why the machine is not yet available in the US, but it does not
explain how it is available in Canada without CSA approval.
   Internally, the changes are numerous.  There is now a blitter
chip, a new version of TOS (1.6), SIMMs (Single Inline Memory
Modules) instead of standard memory chips, 1 Megabit EPROMs instead
of 256kbit ROM chips, a lack of sockets and some new chip packages
including a 68000 which now comes in a square 68 pin package.  More
on that later.
   Most users who wish to upgrade their memory will appreciate the
use of SIMMs, a small plug-in memory module that replaces the
previously used soldered memory chips.  This makes it extremely
easy to add or remove memory from a machine.
   When the top cover and keyboard are removed from the computer,
it revelas a slightly modified shield.  There is a panel between
the power supply and the disk drive, which when removed, exposes
the SIMMs.  No desoldering or removal of the metal shield is 
required.  My one megabyte machine came with 4 256K SIMMs.  To
upgrade to 4 megabytes, all I have to do is unplug the 4 SIMMs
and plug in 4 1-Megabyte SIMMs.  One dealer quoted me a price
of $150 per SIMM, so a 4 Meg upgrade only costs about $600 
Canadian.  And since the SIMMs are plug-in, any user can easily
upgrade their ram in about 5 minutes.  When the metal shield is
removed, the entire motherboard is exposed.  The first thing I
noticed is that there's no longer a small metal cage around the
shifter chip.  The next thing I noticed is the extremely small
size of the RF modulator.  It is barely an inch square and has 
only 3 terminals on it.  I would suspect that this means it's
not possible to perform a Hyperscreen upgrade on the STe (Hyper-
screen is a hardware modification from Germany that increases
the resolution of the ST).
   At this time, there are no joysticks available to plug into
the new joystick ports.  The reason is that the ports use DB-15
connectors instead of the usual DB-9 connectors found on all
previous STs, 8-bit ataris, and Atari video game units.  The
extra pins support paddles and light pens, as well as two joy-
sticks per port.  That means in total, an STe can have 6 joy-
sticks connected to it.  The documentation that came with the
machine does give a pinout of the joystick ports, but that will
be of little comfort to most STe users.  I assume that Atari will
make new joysticks available soon, maybe even before new STe games
are out.
   The RCA jacks on the back are a welcomed feature.  Just like the
old Atari 800, it is now possible to connect the STe directly to an
amplifier.  Unlike the Atari 800, the STe has true stereo sound
output, thanks to the addition of stereo digitized chips.  The
original 3 sound channels are in mono, appearing on both the left
and right outputs.  The stereo sound adds two new sound channels,
left and right.
   I'm not quite sure how many chips are involved with the stereo
sound, but I did find two D/A chips and the LMC1992 volume/tone
control chip.  The DMA chip feeds the D/A converters with digitized
sound samples from memory, and the resulting analog signals are fed
through the 1992 chip.  Each channel has individual bass, treble,
and volume controls.  Since the stereo sound sampling is done using
DMA, it takes no time away from the 68000.  This means that it is
possible to have digitized sound playing in the background while a
program is running, without the usual compromise between sound
quality and program speed.
   TOS 1.6 is on two 1 megabit EPROM chips.  This is a blessing,
since it will be easy for dealers to burn an updated version of
TOS 1.6, hopefully with the bugs fixed.
   (Editor's note:  Atari US has indicated that US TOS 1.6 chipsets
will incorporate fixes for some bugs noticed in the Canadian and
European versions of TOS 1.6.)
   Most of the standard ICs, such as the old sound chip, the floppy
controller, the DMA controller, and the ACIAs, are soldered directly
to the circuit board.  On earlier models, some of these chips were
socketed.  Although this does help to slightly reduce the cost of
manufacturing the computer, it will make it more difficult for
people to replace bad chips.
   As mentioned earlier, the 68000 microprocessor now comes in a
square 68 pin package.  Because this configuration is completely
different from the 68000 used in 520s, 1040s and Megas, current
PC emulators and accelerator boards that plug in or clip on the
68000 will not work.  However, Atari has left the square 68000
socketed and as a result, MichTron has announced the release of
PC Speed STe and Jim Allen has stated that he will have an STe
version of Turbo 16 available shortly.

       The Software
   The first question that will probably come to most people's
minds is "What doesn't run on the STe?"  That is a valid question,
considering the compatibility problems some software had with TOS
1.2 and TOS 1.4.  Well, TOS 1.6 has its share of problems.  Some
are simply bugs which will hopefully get fixed, while other pro-
blems are due to programs which 'break the rules.'
   Atari's policy is that programs that are written properly to
follow the rules will work on the STe, and those that don't follow
the rules, well, tough.  TOS 1.6 has a number of significant
changes, so programs that made it pass the TOS 1.4 hurdle may
trip on TOS 1.6.
   The first and most important change is that TOS 1.6 is at a dif-
ferent memory location than earlier versions of TOS.  It now occu-
pies the 256K of space starting at $E00000, and the old memory
space starting at $FC0000 is now empty.  There are quite a few
programs, mainly  utilities such as UIS II, Hotwire, DC ShowIt,
and Neodesk, that make certain assumptions, and either crash or
don't work on the STe.  I'm told that UIS III fixes this problem,
and I have found a one byte patch that makes Neodesk work just
fine.  Codehead and Double Click have also made the appropriate
changes in their products.  Oddly enough, one of the first pro-
grams out for the ST, ST Writer, does not run on the STe.  No
word on what the problem is with it.
   A larger program lies with video games.  Many video games
are heavily copy protected, so it is almost impossible to patch
them.  Unless the software companies are still in business, we
may never see fixed up version of some games.  One dealer
that I spoke to acutally gives a copy of the original TOS 1.0
on disk to customers who have problems running video games on
the STe.  It is not an ideal solution, but may be the only one.
   The second change in TOS is that it is now 256K in size, in-
stead of 192K.  This means that some of the space saving measures
of earlier versions of TOS (such as Line F calls) have been
removed, and replaced with slightly larger and faster code.
According to Quick Index tests I performed, TOS 1.6 runs at the
same speed as TOS 1.4, except for a minor speed increase in GEM.
Of course, if you turn the blitter on, it gives another small
speed increase.
   TOS 1.6 doesn't completely fill up the 256K.  Only about 200K
is used, and the remainder is empty for now.  Since TOS 1.6 is on
EPROM, this opens up a whole new set of possibilities, such as
customized versions of TOS with an additional 50K worth of built
in utilities.
   Unfortunately, with all the added space, GDOS is still not
built in.  It was my understanding that the reason that GDOS
is still not built in.  It was my understanding that the reason
that GDOS was on disk in the first place was because it didn't
fit into the early 192K versions of TOS.  Now with a 256K TOS,
that should be possible - hopefully in future versions of TOS.
   The third major change in TOS 1.6 is that it supports the
68020/68030 chips.  I don't know if this means that a 68030 can
just be dropped in.  Probably not, but I have already talked to
one German developer who has installed a 68020 in his STe.
   There are several bugs in the new TOS.  The first one is that
when using a color monitor, the computer will always boot up in
low resolution, even if the desktop was saved from medium resolu-
tion.  Atari released a fix for this problem in January, and it
consists of a small program which is placed in the AUTO folder.
   (Editor's Note:  To be fixed in the US chipset.)
   Another bug, which is also present in TOS 1.4, is that once
in a while when a program is double clicked on the desktop, the
Show Print Cancel box comes up.  I find that this happens with
some programs more than others, and may be related to the size of
the file name - it happens more with files that have an odd number
of characters, such as "MAC.PRG" or "FLASH.PRG".  Unfortunately,
there is no bug fix for this yet.
   A less bothersome bug concerns the file-counter indicating
one less than the acutal number - when copying two files, the
dialog indicates one, both are copied though.
   That's about it for my tour of the STe.  The STe is a machine
with a lot of untapped potential, much like the 520ST of 1985.
Let's hope it stays around as long.  Next month I will cover
some programming information on the STe.

Taken from ST Informer : Issue #33 : March 1990

Used here with permission.


Visit Atarimax Store