Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 5 / DECEMBER 1989


TT and STE Unveiled in Germany


From the moment that Atari first showed the ST in 1985, the TT was a gleam in the designers' eyes. Finally, after more than a year of rumors and hopes, Atari showed the TT to the world in Dusseldorf West Germany in August 1989. And as icing on the cake, they also showed the next generation ST the STE. Want to know more? Read on . . .

When the ST was first introduced in 1985, Atari stole a march on the computing world, producing a "next generation" computer at an amazing price. Atari broke the price/performance barrier with the 1040ST being the first computer that cost less than one dollar for each kilobyte of memory. But microprocessor speed and power have increased so much over the last four years that an 8-MHz 68000 machine-even at an attractive price-seems a bit anemic.

ST stands for Sixteen/Thirty-two (16/32)-the Motorola 68000 is a 32-bit processor and communicates through a 16-bit bus. Motorola's newer 68030 processor is also a 32-bit processor but it communicates through a 32-bit bus. Moreover, the clock speed of the 68030 is a minimum of 16 MegaHertz. And the 68030 is at the heart of Atari's new TT computers, a prototype of which was shown at the Dusseldorf computer show last August.

But the ST is not dead-far from it, as a matter of fact. Atari has decided to update the venerable 68000 machine into the STE with the E standing for Enhanced. Also shown at Dusseldorf, the STE is the next generation ST. It uses TOS (version 1.6, of course) and adds several new hardware features, plus expanding the available palette from the ST's current 512 colors to 4,096.

The Siamese TT
There are actually two TT models. One is the TT030/2, as it is currently known. The TT030/2 is designed as an upwardly-compatible machine to the ST. It runs TOS programs right out of the box, if the software programmers followed Atari's programming standards. The TT030/2 starts with two megabytes of memory and a 16-MHz clock speed and is expandable internally to eight megabytes. With 4-Mbit DRAM chips instead of 1-Mbit, the TT's expansion capacity rises to a phenomenal 26 megabytes!

The TT030/2 has room in the chassis for two rotating devices, such as one floppy disk and one hard drive. With a vast array of ports, including ACSI, SCSI and DMA ports, additional hard drives should be easy to add.

Other features include a built-in real-time clock, two 19.2-kb serial ports (expandable to four), stereo 8-bit PCM sound, MIDI in/out ports and a single VME-compatible Euro-card (A24, D16) expansion slot.

The second TT configuration is another animal altogether. Originally called the TTX internally by Atari, it was designed to be a low-cost UNIX workstation. Since UNIX is such a memory hog, the TTX will come with a reported six megabytes of memory, a 100-plus-Mb hard drive and room for expansion. (Editor's note: If you aren't familiar with UNIX, the standard operating system for the ''real world,'' see Dave Small's A Small Tour of UNIX, Part I in this issue.) At a price of, perhaps one-third to one-half the price of an equivalent Sun workstation, Atari could have a winner on its hands, depending upon its other specifications.

More Graphics and More Diskette Capacity
Both 68030 models will have the capability to expand the ST's graphics standards. The TT030/2 will run TOS programs in the familiar low, medium and high resolutions, but with the same expanded color palette available in the STE. While you can use an adjusted IBM VGA monitor with the TT030/2, it is said to perform better with a multisynch monitor. Atari plans to market its own compatible monitors.

The new graphics modes are set forth in the accompanying table. Most notable is that the resolution in monochrome has been doubled, from 640-by-480 pixels to 1,280-by-960 pixels, and that two new color modes have been added, one with 256 colors (selected from 4,096) on a 320-by-480 screen and the other a 16-color mode in the old monochrome resolution.

Atari may be following the IBM standard by adding high-density 3 1/2-inch disk drives, although this has not been confirmed. TT drives would be able to read and write 1.44 megabytes per disk-double-sided, of course.

Sound, Music and Math
Both of the TTs and the STE sport new sound capabilities. Where the ST has a Yamaha YM2 149 sound chip, the new machines have two 8-bit digital-to-analog sound convertors to provide realistic PCM stereo sound.

For those who need heavy-duty number crunching, the obvious answer is to add a 68881 or 68882 math coprocessor. Both of the 68030 machines have sockets for easy upgrade by simply plugging in the new chip. Word is that the workstation will have a 68881 or 68882 included in the purchase price. The STE will not have an 68881 socket.

Keyboards and Cases
The STE case will not be the same as the familiar 520/1040ST case (the need for stereo audio outputs alone will require different plastic). Atari was mum on whether the STE will be sold in a variation of the all-in-one case or will be in a CPU and detached keyboard configuration. The TT030/2, however, will be in a unique and striking new case, about the size of a Mega, but more rectangular. One of the best aspects of the TT030/2, however, will be that it will have the new high-quality Atari DIN-standard keyboard.

No one at Atari would commit on the record to a physical description of the TTX, but one description we heard was of a floor-sitting tower configuration like the ATW. Certainly, the larger system will require increased case size to contain up to six rotating devices, such as large hard disk drives, tape-backup units, optical drives, etc. Additionally, while the TT030/2 has only a single Eurocard-size VME expansion slot, the TTX is said to sport six slots for exceptional expandability.

More STE Goodies
In addition to the increased palette and stereo sound, the new STE line will also have hardware for fine scrolling and ports for analog joy-sticks, light guns and paddles. For graphics buffs, the STE will also be ''Genlock-ready,'' so that an external Genlock can be connected with no modifications.

The TT's can be expanded to a
phenomenal 26 megabytes!

Implications for the Future
With the release of the 1989 Atari line, we should see a new product alignment. The 1040STE shown in Dusseldorf will replace the I040ST and, with additional STE models coming with up to four megabytes of memory, the Mega line seems in danger of extinction, especially since the TT030/2 can do everything the Mega 2 can do-and more.

The 520ST has long been the entry-level computer for the ST line. The more sophisticated ST software available now makes such heavy demands on RAM that the 520ST is coming close to being too small. (Can all you old 400/800 owners believe it? 512 kB of RAM is too small? If Atari markets the long-rumored "ST game machine," i.e., 68000-powered keyboardless computer, whether ST-compatible or not, it could replace the 520ST, at least for gamers.

But the 520ST just may stay around. In some countries, the 520ST is the biggest-selling model, primarily because of price. If it continues in the United States, the new ST lineup will start with the 520ST and the 1040STE and extend to the TTX (and ATW). With the TT030/2, larger STEs and the STACY in the middle, Atari will have a powerful new line. And remember, the 68040 is compatible with the 68030.

Is this the end of "Power without the Price''? Well, it's not likely that the STE line will be much less expensive than the equivalent ST/Mega models, but those prices are still quite attractive. And if 1-Mb DRAM prices continue to decline, the ST/STE prices could drop, especially since RAM is the highest single cost component.

We've also heard amazing prices for the TT030/2: $1,495 or lower- that's right, a 68030 machine for less than $1,500! That's a price that could cause competing 68030 computer makers to have nightmares. And the TTX? That's projected for less than three times the price of the TT030/2 with a high-capacity hard drive and an external Megafile 44 cartridge tape unit for quick backups and easily expandable storage.

Atari officials have sworn that the TT030/2 will be available in this country before the end of the year. Given the number of models that Atari is planning to introduce before 1990, this will take some doing. Cross your fingers-with a four-month production/shipping lead time, the TTs had better be on their way here now as I write this in September-or 1990 will arrive before the TT.

The STE is being introduced in Europe in September with sales in the U.S. to begin in October, according to Atari President Sam Tramiel. This seems a violation of the promise that Tramiel made several times to U.S. Atarians that new products would be introduced here first. But one senior Atari employee who declined to be quoted on the record argued forcefully that it would be foolish for the international company to forego income derived offshore, just because FCC certification procedures cause unnecessary delays (Then again, if the products had been submitted to the FCC earlier, Atari could have kept Tramiel's promise.)

On-Screen Palette Resolution
16 512/4096 320 X 200
256 4096 320 X 480
4 512/4096 640 X 200
2 512 640 X 400
16 4096 640 X 480
Mono - 1280 X 960
Graphics Modes for the new TT. Of most significance are the expansion of the
base palette to 4,096 colors, the new VGA-like 256-color mode and the ultrahigh
resolution monochrome mode.

The Bottom Line
Overall, the new Atari line is a worthwhile revision. If you have an ST and need more speed and power for your TOS applications, the TT030/2 appears to be the way to go. If you've been shopping for a UNIX workstation, the TTX is an obvious choice. The STE sounds like a nice incremental improvement in the ST, but since it adds neither greater processing speed nor significantly expanded graphics capabilities, it's not a major enhancement. The new sound and graphics capabilities are nice, but current software will have to be rewritten to take advantage of them. Now, if Atari markets them aggressively, both in price and availability, they could gain a foothold. But the STE's success-indeed, the success of the entire new Atari line-depends more on advertising and dealer and product availability than on the product specifications themselves.