Souping up your 520
by Charles Cherry
The classic 520 ST was once a red-hot machine that could leave anything else in its dust. But now there are bigger computers-faster computers-computers that can blow the old 520 right off the road. Has the 520 ST missed the turn on Dead Man's Curve? Longtime ST hacker Charles Cherry says no-and he'll show you how to turn your machine into the hottest thing on silicon all over again.
The 520 ST.
Three years ago, in the spring of 1985, it was a dream machine. There was fabulous power here: a 68000 processor running at 8 megahertz with half a megabyte of memory. By the end of the summer, a 520 ST cost less than $1,000, and for a lot of engineers and scientists, it was a dream come true. That much number-crunching power had never before been available for under $10,000.
It's easy to forget what a radical machine the 520 ST was. Remember, at that time a Macintosh had only 128K bytes of RAM. The Amiga had only 256K, and most IBM PC users got by with 256K, too. All these machines were slower than an ST-and at least twice as expensive.
Today, the 520 ST is no longer the hottest thing in town. Macs got big, Amigas got cheap and IBM clones spread everywhere. The blitter-equipped Mega is bigger and faster than its older cousin. Three years later, the most powerful personal computer you could buy in 1985 seems almost like a toy.
Should you give your 520 to the kids and upgrade to a Mega - or mortgage your house and get a Mac II? Maybe not. The 520 ST has proven itself to be a solid and reliable computer. Thousands of owners have had years of valuable service from their 520s, and they're not ready to trade them in yet. Fortunately there are a number of ways to soup up that old 520 into a state-of-the-art powerhouse.
4-BARREL CARBS & DUAL EXHAUSTS
When the 1040 ST was announced, it seemed more like a marketing ploy than a serious improvement. What would you ever do with a full meg of memory? Now of course, the 520 ST's "tiny" half meg is its biggest drawback. (There was a time when Apple thought that no one could ever use up the 128K in the Macintosh, and IBM thought the 640K limit of MS-DOS was ridiculously large; it proved to be ridiculously small.) As the saying goes, you can never be too rich or too thin-or have too much memory.
Although Atari didn't plan for memory expansion in the 520 ST, it's possible. Many owners have boosted their 520s 1 meg-and you don't need to stop there. You can use up to 4 megabytes with TOS, and I have personally seen a 520 ST expanded to 8 megs of RAM.
Doing It Yourself
Many 520 owners have gone the do-it-yourself route to memory expansion. Instructions are available on computer bulletin-board systems and from user groups, but the procedure requires detailed and painstaking work- definitely not recommended for novices. However, if you're competent with a soldering iron, have a free weekend and are willing to risk your computer, the results can be excellent. (This type of upgrade recently has been made easier by the introduction of piggyback sockets, specially designed for stacking chips on top of each other; they're available from most large electronic supply houses.)
If you're wary of tackling a project this complex alone, you'll often find people at your user group who can help you. But be careful-such do-it-yourselfers may prove to be great, or may hand you back a pile of smoke and ashes. Check out some other 520s they've upgraded - never let yours be the first. And don't be afraid to say no; if you're not sure they can do the job, don't let them. After all, it's your computer, and you will bear the loss, not them.
Fortunately almost all 520 owners can turn to an expert to do the dangerous stuff for them. Many Atari dealers and service centers offer memory upgrades. Most use the same piggyback technique as the do-it-yourselfers. It costs a little more, but the work is expert and it's guaranteed.
There's one more alternative, probably the best of all. Several commercial memory expansion boards are available for the 520. They're available in various sizes; with some, you can continue to add memory up to 4 megabytes. As I said, you'll always need more memory, so you should consider the larger, expandable boards.
Aerco makes the popular easieST RAM; they also manufacture the Solderless RAMboard that's sold by E. Arthur Brown Company. The EZRAM 520 from Terrific Peripherals has just been improved-the new EZRAM II will work with any 520 or 1040 ST. I also recommend the RAM Upgrade Board from Diverse Data Products.
All of these boards are relatively simple to install, requiring few or no solder connections. You can probably install one yourself; there's little chance of destroying your 520 ST. However, even opening the 520 and removing and replacing the RF shield is trickier than it looks. If you feel that discretion is the better part of valor, most dealers will install the board for you.
never be too rich
or too thin-or have
too much memory.
Another route to memory expansion is the Polydisk. This is not a true "inline" memory expansion; it's a 512K cartridge that can be used as RAMdisk and print spooler If you currently use software for either of these functions, Polydisk takes over and frees up your main memory. Personally I like RAM-disks; I only wish Polydisk were twice as big.
One of the earliest things you discover as an ST owner is that your computer is happier with two disk drives. The first time you try to copy a file with only one drive, you experience disk-swap mania. There must be a better way, you think.
The most obvious choice is a regular 31/2-inch disk drive. You can get either a single-sided drive such as the Atari SF354 or double-sided drives such as the Atari SF314 or the C-Systems Megadrive. I recommend double-sided, especially if your first drive is single-sided. A double-sided drive works fine with single-sided disks, but even today some programs and demos won't fit on a single-sided disk-and there will be more of them in the future.
A double-sided drive quickly pays for itself, too. Consider this: The Atari SF314 costs only about S100 more than a single-sided drive-that's about five boxes of disks. The C-Systems Megadrive is only $30 more-less than two boxes of disks. You'll buy fewer disks, save money and have less clutter on your desk.
Another (and cheaper) choice is a RAMdisk program. They're available almost ever where - from computer bulletin boards, user groups, and public-domain libraries. With a couple of megs of memory you can afford to set aside a large RAMdisk. Copying a file is less graceful than with two real drives, but it's much easier than with a single drive -just copy to the RAMdisk, swap disks, and copy back. Most other functions are faster and easier than with a two-drive system - and if a really huge program needs all your memory you can reboot without the RAMdisk and get by with a single drive.
If you hate reloading your RAMdisk every time you turn on the computer or all your memory is reserved for your laser printer, it's time to think about a hard disk. Hard disks aren't just for power users anymore. A hard disk only costs about twice as much as a regular ST disk drive-and it will change the way you use your ST. Have you ever wanted the computer to keep track of your disks for you? Just copy them onto your hard disk and it will. No more searching for the disk with that obscure graphics demo you wanted to show your visiting relatives-just boot the computer, open the folder and there it is. Hard disks are much faster than regular drives and make computing a real pleasure. A system with one regular drive and a hard disk makes a lot of sense.
Several ST hard disks are available The Atari SH204 is Atari's standard 20-megabyte hard disk. The Astra Systems HD + gives you a hard disk with a double-sided 31/2-inch drive built-in -perfect for a 520 with no built-in disk drive. The SupraDrive comes in three sizes (20, 30, and 60 megabytes), and the ICD ST Hard Drive Systems come in 20, 30, 40 and 60 megabyte configurations.
you try to copy
a file with one drive,
One of the most interesting ways to add an ST hard disk is a kit from Berkeley Microsystems. It's called the BMS 100K Kit, and it gives you the electronic interface between your ST and the hard drive; you supply an IBM-style hard drive, power supply and case. This gives you a wide choice of drives, and it can save you money-especially if you need a 30- or 40-meg (or larger) drive.
If you own an IBM PC or clone as well as a 520 ST, you may be interested in attaching a 5¼-inch drive to your ST. The ST can read and write MS-DOS disks; all you need to add is the hardware. Several are available, including the IB Drive from IB Computers and the Microbyte A and B drives from Paradox. You can also add the necessary cables and power supply to any IBM-style drive- that's made easier by the ST/PC Drive Cable from E. Arthur Brown Company.
There's another way of swapping disks with an IBM-compatible computer that's cheaper and may be smarter, too. Instead of adding a 51/4-inch drive to your ST, add a 31/2-inch drive to your IBM. Not only will you be able to exchange data between the IBM and ST, but your IBM will also be able to exchange data with IBM-compatible lap-tops and the new IBM PS/2 computers.
THE CLASSIC ST
Obsolete? Not a chance-the 520 ST is still a classic. Next issue, we'll look at some of the ways you can take the classic 520 well beyond its original capabilities!
If you'd like more articles like this, circle 210 on the Reader Service Card.
Charles Cherry is a regular contributor to Antic magazine and
a newsletter editor for the ABACUS users group in San Francisco.
easieST RAM, $189. Aerco, P.O. Box 18093, Austin, TX 78760, (512) 451-5874.
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Solderless RAMboard, $199.95. E. Arthur Brown Company, 3404 Pawnee
Drive. Alexandria, MN 56308, (612) 762-8847.
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EZRAM II, $139.95. Terrific Peripherals, 17 St. Mary's Court,
Brookline, MA 02416, (617) 232-2317.
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RAM Upgrade Board, $149.95. Diverse Data Products, 1805 NE 164th
St., North Miami Beach, FL 33162, (305) 940-0458.
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Polydisk, $199.95. Polyware_ST, 5715 Horning Rd., Kent, OH 44240,
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Atari SF354, $199.95. Atari SF314, $299.95. Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94088, (408) 745-2367.
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C-Systems Megadrive, $229. C-Systems, Box 333, West Jordan, UT
84084, (801) 350-8855.
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Atari SH204, $699.95. Atari Corp., 1196 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94088, (408) 745-2367.
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Astra System HD +, $995. Astra Systems, 2500 S. Fairview, Unit
L, Santa Ana, CA 92704, (714) 549-2141.
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SupraDrives, $699 to $1995. Supra Corp., 1133 Commercial Way,
Albany, OR 967-9075.
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ICD ST Hard Drive Systems, $699.95 to $1349.95. lCD, 1220 Rock
St., Rockford, IL 61101, (815) 968-2228.
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BMS 100K Kit, $250. Berkeley Microsystems, 360 Oakland Ave.,
Suite 5, Oakland, CA 94611, (415) 465-6956.
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lB Drive, $269.95. IB Computers, 1519 SW Marlow Ave., Portland, OR 97225, (503) 297-8425.
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Microbyte A, $235. Microbyte B, $245. Paradox Enterprises, Inc.,
150 S. Camino Seco, Suite #113, Tucson, AZ 85710, (602) 721-2023.
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ST/PC Drive Cable, $39.95. E. Arthur Brown Company 3404 Pawnee
Drive, Alexandria, MN 56308, (612) 762-8847.
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