Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 6 / OCTOBER 1986



Atari 20Mb, SupraDrive and HabaDisk 10Mb


Hard Disk for the ST

This review will discuss all three hard disk drives available for Atari ST computers as we go to press. The Atari Hard Disk offers 20 megabytes (20Mb) for $799, the SupraDrive ($549) and the HabaDisk 10 ($599) are both 10Mb hard disks. Today at Antic ST workstations, you can find two Atari Hard Disks, two SupraDrives and one HabaDisk. These power-packed peripherals have already proven themselves reliable and virtually indispensible in our office.

Physically, all three 5 1/4 inch hard disks look pretty much alike -gray metal cases about the size of small shoe-boxes, with cooling fans and cables in the rear. Antic had to use two of these hard disks with annoyingly short 10-inch cables connecting to the ST. But the manufacturers say that the final marketed versions will have handier 18-inch cables-so you won't need to set up the hard disk sideways to your ST.

All three hard disks install themselves as drive C:. However, when you format the disk you have the option of "partitioning" the drives into two or more logical drives, each with its own drive letter. For example, a single drive partitioned into two logical drives would be accessed as drives C: and D:. All three drives allow up to four partitions


At $799 for 20 million bytes of information storage, the Atari hard disk clearly delivers more "power without the price" than its competitors. However, if rock-bottom cost is more important to you than an additional 10Mb capacity, the Supra or Haba should suit you very well.

At this writing, Atari Hard Disks were just beginning to show up in the stores. Antic owns the slightly plainer developer's version, which had previously been sold directly by Atari in limited quantities. Our Atari Hard Disks are almost featureless in front, with the only visible object a red busy light that glows whenever the drive is accessed.

The light is a good idea, because this drive is the quietest hard disk in the office. No more than a tiny "ca-click, ca-click" noise can be heard above the very quiet Atari fan when the hard disk is busy reading or writing.

As with most hard disk systems on the market, the Atari Hard Disk is largely packaged from existing components-rather than being manufactured from scratch. Generally only the interface circuit board is actually an original design from the packager. According to Atari, their hard disk system includes the highly regarded Seagate ST225 drive mechanism and Adaptek controller.


Supra's 10Mb hard disk was their only model available for Antic to test in time for this issue. But Supra plans to have a full line of ST hard disks ready for sale by the end of the year. A 20Mb disk will be $799, 30Mb will be $999 and 60Mb will be $1,999-all three of these forthcoming hard drives are to be in 3 1/2 inch disk size, which is supposed to be faster than the current 5 1/4 inch hard disks.

Supra also plans 1986 release of a streaming-tape hard disk backup system, and high-density floppy backups are under development. Right now, though, the only way to back up files from any ST hard disk is with a regular floppy disk.

The SupraDrive hard disk has script lettering on the front, along with an illuminated power switch and a red busy light. While this drive isn't as quiet as the Atari, the Supra's "bweep-bweep" sounds are reassuring. At least you can hear that the drive is working.

Supra technician Willie Brown describes the SupraDrive hard disks as sensitive, but not fragile. "Slow movement while it's on won't hurt it, but abrupt movement can kill it. If you knock it a good rap while it's running, it could be bye-bye baby. But when my 20-megger isn't running, I throw it in my briefcase. Also, fluctuation in power won't affect it much. The power supply can usually fall under 90 volts without dropout."

Brown says that Supra's hard disks for the Atari 8-bit computers are bought mostly by bulletin board operators-in fact, this is the huge majority. ST hard disks are bought by serious software developers, bulletin board operators and people who do a great deal of work at home.


Costing between $599 and $699 retail, the HabaDisk 10 is Haba's only hard disk and it works with only the ST. Gerry Humphrey, ST product development manager at Haba Systems Inc., says, "The HabaDisk 10 is in limited production now because of the 20-meg disks from Supra and Atari. We're not discontinuing our hard disk, but we're not going all out until we see what direction the market takes."

The HabaDisk 10 sports a black strip on the front panel, along with a red busy light. And it makes a noise somewhere between the quiet clicks of the Atari and the bweeps of the Supra.

Humphrey says that Haba's 10Mb disk can withstand most normal transportation. "I treat mine really badly I carry it by the cables and it still works fine. And power fluctuations don't affect it much either. Our building has really bad power, but we've had no problems with the disk during fluctuations or even during brief power failures-although the disk loses its place."

Humphrey says, "Originally our hard disks were bought by product developers because 10Mb was what was available. Now they're bought by BBS owners and operators and people who are enthusiastic about Ataris in general. We're trying to encourage people to use our hard disks for product development on the ST."


We performed two different tests on the hard disks to see how fast they operate- obtaining radically different results on each hard disk unit in the office. What we learned was that the more files and folders are present on a hard disk, the slower it accesses individual files. Still, even our fullest hard disks were significantly faster and more convenient than floppy disk drives.

We tried to get standardized speeds by re-running our tests off the root (first) directory, but this didn't make a significant difference. And nobody at Antic was willing to let us erase all their hard disk files just for a test. Also we couldn't find a clear-cut ratio between the amount of bytes in use and the amount of speed drop-off. The types and arrangements of files and folders on the hard disk seemed to have something to do with it.

However, we did manage to run the tests on an otherwise empty SupraDrive, and the increased speed was startling.

Our first test consisted of a program that reads and writes a DEGAS picture to the hard disk 10 times. The "clean" SupraDrive did it in 14.5 seconds, or 44.2K per second (640,680/14.5)- three times faster than our fastest hard disk operating with a normal amount of files.

As for our hard disks with substatial files, the fastest in this test was an Atari Hard Disk which read and wrote a DEGAS picture 10 times in 48 seconds, for a transfer speed of (640,680/48)13.3K bytes per second. However, Antic's second Atari Hard Disk took one minute and 38 seconds, or (640,680/98) 6.5K bytes per second.

The second fastest drive was a SupraDrive with files, which took one minute and three seconds, or (640,680/63)10.2K bytes per second. Slowest was the HabaDisk 10, which required two minutes and 35 seconds to perform all 10 read/writes, for an average of (640,680/15 5) 4.1K bytes per second.


Our second test requires no programming and could be reproduced by any ST hard disk owner. For this test we wanted to see how fast the DEGAS SHOPIC slide-showing program would flash pictures to the screen.

Normally, running SHOPIC from a floppy disk will present one picture about every four seconds, for an average speed of (32K/4) 8K bytes per second.

Our results here had me scratching my head. SHOPIC displayed pictures at slightly faster than two frames per second (fps) on the empty SupraDrive, the SupraDrive with files and the Atari Hard Disk. This means they're moving nearly 64K bytes per second (2*32K). But our HabaDisk ran at half that speed-a little less than one fps-and we're still not sure why.


Every ST bard disk is supplied with at least four utility programs. Each manufacturer has slightly different programs, but they all do much the same job:

1. Format the hard disk. This program acts much like the format disk program for the floppy disks. Like the floppies, a hard disk is born blank, and needs to be told how and where to store information on itself. You may divide one "physical" hard disk into as many as four "logical" hard disks, each with its own drive letter identifier-C, D, E, etc.

2. Boot the hard disk. This program, when placed inside an AUTO folder, teaches the Atari ST how to communicate with the hard disk when powered up. It may also be used outside the AUTO folder, after the Atari ST is up and running.

3. Clear directories. Formatting a hard disk can take as long as 10 minutes. A faster way to "erase" a hard disk is just to re-format the disk directories. In effect, the disk "forgets" where everything is stored on the disk and pretends the disk is blank, but formatted. This operation takes only seconds to perform.

4. Park the Read/Write head. This means running a program which locks the R/W head in a safe position (usually above the innermost track) where it won't be jostled against data track surfaces if the hard disk is moved or bumped. Better safe than sorry. Try to get in the habit of parking the R/W head whenever you shut off the disk.


Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94088
(408) 745-2000

Supra Corp.
1133 Commercial Way
Albany, OR 97321
(503) 967-9075

Haba Systems, Inc.
6711 Valjean Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 91406
(818) 901-8828
$599- 10Mb


Always make sure you turn on your hard drive and let it run for 30 seconds or more before you turn on your Atari ST. A hard disk is relativly heavy-as you noticed when you picked it up- and needs a bit of time to come up to proper operation speed. Conversely, always turn your hard drive off last, first making sure you've parked the R/W head.

Now, with the disk running at speed, start your Atari ST with your hard disk boot program inside an AUTO folder on your boot disk. If this is the first time you've booted with the hard disk, you may need to "install" the required disk icon on the GEM desktop before you can access that disk.

Do this by clicking once on any disk icon showing, which highlights the icon, then moving the mouse pointer up to the Options Menu selection. The Options Menu will drop down, and the Install Disk Drive option will be active. Click once on this, and a dialog box appears, allowing you to type in a drive letter plus text for the bottom of the icon. Select the letter for the drive you want to activate, and click on Install. When the dialog box disappears, the new disk icon should show on the desktop. If you can't see it, try dragging one of the existing icons out of the way. Your new icon may be sitting underneath it.

With the hard disk icon on your desktop, double-click on it. At this point you may use your hard disk pretty much as you would use other disk drives. There are some exceptions, such as programs that use copy-protection which require the original disk to be in disk drive A.

Some people leave their hard disks running all the time, never letting them spin down. We talked with drive manufacturers who told us this was not at all unusual, and that they expected a hard drive running all the time to go an average of over two years without failure. So they should last even longer running just part of the time, right?

In a nutshell, treat the hard disk gently, don't drop it, and you should get many years of service. But don't forget to back up all your important files onto floppies-just in case.


Should you get a hard disk for your ST? Absolutely, if you can afford the price and are regularly dealing with large amounts of data. Which should you buy? Well, all three of Antic's hard disks are almost identical in operation and performance. Our Atari hard drives have given us the least amount of trouble. But the initial trouble we had in setting up the Supra and Haba hard drives was traced to a problem in our early production ST, not to the hard drives themselves.

Until Read/Write CD ROM optical disks are cheap and available, any ST hard disk seems to be a good way to go.