Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 6 / JANUARY 1989


The RIGHT System

by Andrew Reese
START Editor

There's little doubt that the ST/Mega line is the right computer for many different uses. Now that we've had three years of enjoyable ST use, the breadth of hardware and software available let the ST fulfill almost any role you may want. In this column, we'll explore some of the different ways you can use the ST-and the hardware you'll need for each.

There are several general observations to make first. All applications require a disk drive of some sort. While games and word processors, for example, are generally published on single-sided disks, a double-sided disk drive can lessen the disk swaps required for a complex program. And for the ultimate in speed and convenience, there's nothing like a hard disk drive.

If your needs run to word processing, desktop publishing and high resolution graphics (such as CAD), then you need a monochrome monitor. You can use the color monitor for many of these applications, but the mono monitor far outperforms it in day-to-day use. Graphics and games, however, cry out for color and a color monitor is imperative. If you are fortunate enough to have both monitors, then a monitor switch will save you time and trouble.

Word Processing and Desktop Publishing
Nearly every ST/Mega owner uses his or her machine for word processing. The system requirements for word processing are modest, but if this is your primary use, you can select hardware that will make the task a little easier.

If you use a simple word processing program such as STWriter; 512K of memory should be adequate. For a full-featured word processor like WordPerfect for the ST or Word Writer 2.0, you will need at least a megabyte of memory to take full advantage of all of the features. There's little need for more than one megabyte for word processing, unless you are writing a Dickensian novel and want it all in memory at once.

Finally, you need a printer. If high-quality output is important to you, you should look into a 24-pin NLQ printer, an ink jet printer or a laser printer. For draft quality work, an older 9-pin printer should be adequate.

For desktop publishing, sufficient memory is vital. For example, Calamus, the new DTP package from ISD, Inc., is about 500K in length-and that's just the program! To have the flexibility to lay out multiple pages at once, a megabyte of memory is the bare minimum. If you can afford a Mega 2 or Mega 4, so much the better, particularly if you use the Atari Laser Printer with it's high demands on memory. For high-quality DTP output, a laser printer is preferable to a dot matrix printer.

There are several peripherals that will make your DTP efforts more creative First is a scanner to bring hardcopy artwork into your ST. While there are several low-cost printer add-ons that do a creditable job, for the best quality there's really no substitute for a true scanner, such as Navarone's. An alternative would be a monochrome video digitizei camera and copy stand. Finally, a super monitor, such as the Moniterm Viking 19-inch pictured on last issue's cover, opens up new dimensions in page layout. You do need software that can display output on this monitor and you do need to spend as much for it as for a Mega 4, but for professional use, it's superb.

Since businesses primarily use computers for word processing, the above comments apply here too. But a business may also need to use an ST for accounting, billing etc. The ST and Mega, can handle such chores with ease, but heavy-duty output requires a heavy-duty printer designed to take the pounding of constant daily use. A business also needs reliable, high-speed output with 132-column capability for wide accounting forms. A business printer, therefore, will resemble a light-duty printer in function only.

Businesses may need two printers: one for spreadsheets and accounting forms and another letter-quality printer for correspondence. This brings up the whole area of printer switches, automatic printer switches, print buffers and the like. If you want to use an ST or Mega in business, see your dealer for the accessory devices available.

The term "graphics" encompasses both still and animated artwork. Paint programs are much less memory-intensive than animation programs. DEGAS Elite, for example, will give you two work-screens in a 520ST and up to eight in a 1040ST, while a minimum of one megabyte is required for the animation program Cyber Paint. And with animation, the more memory you have, the better.

To digitize images into your graphics program, you'll need a color digitizer and video camera. To obtain the highest available quality output for your VCR, you'll need an RGB-to-composite converter like Practical Solutions' Video Key. The ultimate graphics system must include a Mega 4 and JRI's Genlock to enable you to overlay computer images over other video signals.

The newest MIDI software is extremely powerful and demands a great deal of memory. With a Mega 4, you can have several programs in memory at once and switch between them as your needs arise. Typical of software offering this kind of flexibility is Dr. T's MPE (Multi-Programming Environment).

I won't go into MIDI music hardware itself; that's another whole column or three. But you should be aware that complex MIDI disk files are l-a-r-g-e and a hard drive (the bigger the better), is an absolute requirement. Also, most MIDI programs work in color or monochrome; the choice is yours between the crispness of monochrome or the pleasing hues of a color monitor.

Scoring programs require high quality printing capabilities and that usually means laser printing. But don't despair; you can produce quite acceptable printed scores with a dot-matrix printer.

Computer-Assisted Design and Drafting requires the very highest resolution monitor available and at this time, there's nothing higher than the Moniterm Viking. It quadruples the screen area of the Atari monochrome monitor.

Just as a bigger monitor is a plus, so, too, is more memory. The Viking can run only on a Mega and to use it and an Atari laser printer, you need the full memory of a Mega 4.

CADD output can take two forms, either printed or plotted. A plotter mechanically duplicates the strokes of a draftsman's pen to produce clear, straight lines with no dots to blur them. The best CADD packages can support a variety of plotters; which you choose is up to you (and your wallet).

It's often necessary in CADD to use a more accurate drawing device than a mouse. A digitizing tablet (also useful in graphics) enables you to use a stylus or puck to more accurately define points in a drawing. There are several ST graphics tablets to choose from.

Home Use and Entertainment
Other than the word processing requirements outlined above, home use and entertainment require the least equipment. A color monitor is usually required for games and most home programs can run on both color and monochrome monitors. If you're only buying one monitor for the home, buy color. Then all you'll need is a joystick or two and perhaps a Mouse Master from Practical Solutions to eliminate unplugging your mouse to play games.

If you have an application that hasn't been covered here, it will at least resemble one of the ones described. Choose your hardware accordingly. But no matter which ST hardware you have, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you own the best low-priced microcomputer on the market.


WordPerfect 4.1 for the ST, $329. WordPerfect Corp., 288 West Center Street, Orem, UT 84057, (801) 225-5000.

Word Writer 2.0, $79.95. Timeworks, Inc., 444 Lake Cook Road, Deerfield, IL, 60015, (312) 948-9200, (800) 535-9497.

Calamus, $299.95 and Calamus Plus, $449.95. ISD, Inc., 2651 John St., Unit 3, Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 2W5, (416) 479-1880.

Viking 1 19-inch monitor and board, tentative price $1,995; Viking 2400 24-inch monitor, tentative price $2,595. Moniterm, 5740 Green Circle Drive, Minnetonka, MN 55343, (612) 935-4151.

Video Key, $119.95; Mouse Master, $39.95. Practical Solutions, 1930 Grant Road, Tucson, AZ 85719, (602) 884-9612.

Genlock ST, approximate price $400. John Russel Innovations, P.O. Box 5277, Pittsburg, CA 94565.

Keyboard Controlled Sequencer (contains the Multi-Program Environment), $249. Dr. T's Music Software, 220 Boylston Street, Suite 300, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167, (617) 244-6954.

DEGAS Elite, $59.95. Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Drive, San Mateo, CA 94404, (415) 571-7171.

Cyber Paint ver. 2.0, $79.95. Antic Software, 544 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, (800) 234-7001.