Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 6, NO. 1 / MAY 1987


Atari s New Computers

Triple-header at '87 Winter CES

Atari kicked off the new year by introducing this high-powered new hardware line-up at the January 1987 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:

  • The Mega ST series-detached-keyboard computers with a choice of 1Mb, 2Mb and 4Mb memory, starting at about $995.
  • A laser printer priced under $1,500, lowest cost in the market.
  • A videogame system that can be upgraded to an 8-bit XE computer with an add-on keyboard and disk drive.
  • The most affordable IBM PC compatible available- $699 with a high-resolution monochrome monitor, $499 with only a disk drive and 512K. All standard graphics formats and ports are built-in, so virtually no add-ons will be required.
"In 1987, we are declaring war on the computer business in the United States," said Atari president Sam Tramiel at the company's CES press conference. Atari Chairman Jack Tramiel added, "It seems that the customers want to buy the right product at the right price. 1986 was a fantastic year and 1987 will be much, much, much better."

(This article is based on information provided by Atari executives during the 1987 Winter CES. By the time you read this, certain features of these machines and their prices may have changed. Also, the new Atari hardware was announced for release in the second quarter of 1987. But in the volatile computer industry, product release dates-from any manufacturer-are often subject to delay. Finally, readers may rest assured that Antic will not normally devote editorial pages to coverage of Atari's new IBM-compatible computer-such information may easily be found in many PC magazines. We write here about the Atari PC'S introduction in some detail, simply because we believe that news concerning Atari's future is of general interest to our readers. -ANTIC ED)

The new Atari Mega ST computer


The new Mega STs are component systems resembling an IBM PC-but sleeker and less clunky-looking. A detached keyboard is connected by cable to a separate box housing the central processing unit (CPU) plus a built-in double-density 3-1/2 inch disk drive, a battery-powered real-time clock calendar and the long-awaited blitter chip for high-speed animation.

The new STs are designed as "open architecture" computers and use the new 1Mb RAM chips. Expansion devices such as add-on cards might be plugged into a peripheral box, which would then connect to the ST through the DMA port or bus expansion connector. In the future, such a box could easily handle dedicated chips, such as the new Motorola 68020 and the 68881 math co-processor, giving blinding speed to graphics processing, real-time animation and other memory-intensive, number-crunching functions.

A mouse port and joystick port are in the back of the ST keyboard unit, near the center. The keyboard itself is attached with a length of coiled cable, using standard phone jacks.

The usual ST ports (DMA, MIDI, etc.) are arranged in the back of the CPU box. The box also serves as a monitor platform. Atari's new 20-megabyte hard disk fits in the same "footprint" as the CPU and can be placed under the CPU, adding only another inch and a half to the "stack."


A second major announcement was the Atari ST Desktop Publishing System. An Atari ST "host" computer will serve as the front end for a laser printer "engine." You'll get near-typeset quality printing with 300 dots-per-inch resolution.

Conventional laser printers from other companies require hundreds of dollars of microprocessor and support electronics. But the ST's high-speed DMA port, coupled with the raw horsepower of the 68000 microprocessor, will let the ST drive the new laser printer via software containing any popular page description language such as Postscript, thereby lowering the printer's standalone price.

Atari stated they will sell a desktop publishing system featuring a 2Mb Mega ST and an Atari Laser Printer for less than $3,000. (The package is tentatively scheduled for release in late spring.) The printer will also be sold separately for under $1,500. For less than the price of a Macintosh Plus, you should be able to buy a Mega ST2, an Atari Laser Printer and the software to drive it.

The Atari XE game system, with add-on keyboard


Videogames, which launched the old Atari Inc. into billion-dollar annual sales and then sent it spiraling almost into oblivion, have re-emerged at Tramiel's Atari Corp. That world-famous Atari warhorse, the 2600 videogame system, has been given a facelift and is now selling for under $50.

An interesting repackaging of Atari 8-bit computers masquerading as a videogame is the XE System, a small, squarish box with sharp angles and round pastel buttons (RESET, OPTION, etc.) which give it an unusual, almost art-deco appearance. According to Sam Tramiel, it is fully expandable with a plug-in keyboard and disk drive, turning it into a standard 8-bit XE computer.

The new 7800 game system, which James Morgan introduced in those last terrible months before the Tramiel takeover, is heralded as the next generation of videogame. It includes a copy of Pole Position and will retail for under $90. The 7800 features better-than-XE-quality graphics and sound, and will accept the new "Supergame" cartridges from companies such as Broderbund, Epyx and Electronic Arts. The first titles to be released include Karateka, Choplifter, Summer Games, 1-On-1 Basketball and Skyfox.


The most surprising of Atari's new hardware announcements was the Atari IBM PC compatible. That's right- Atari jumped into the territory of Compaq, Leading Edge and Hyundai by announcing its own IBM PC-XT "clone" to retail for an amazing $499. The new Atari PC features an 8088 microprocessor with a switchable clock speed of 4.77 MHz or 8MHz, and it will accept an 8087 numeric co-processor. The PC comes with 512K standard RAM, expandable to 640K, plus 256K of dedicated screen RAM, which makes the entire 512K of system RAM available to developers. Atari expects to use its PC as a second front-end computer for its laser printer and says the PC will run thousands of pieces of IBM software.

The $499 version of the Atari PC has a detachable keyboard and CPU only, while a $699 version also includes an "EGA monochrome" monitor with a 720 x 348 high-resolution display. Both computers come with built-in parallel, serial and SCSI hard-disk ports, mouse ports and mouse. One 5-1/4 inch 360K disk drive is built into the CPU box and two external drives can be plugged in. Atari will also market an expansion box accommodating up to five AT-sized add-on boards.

The Atari PC comes with unheard-of graphics support built-in-EGA (enhanced graphics adaptor), CGA (color graphics adaptor), Hercules and IBM monochrome. With an EGA color monitor, the PC will support 640 x 350 pixels resolution. Most EGA monitors retail for over a thousand dollars, however sources at Atari indicate they are working on an extremely low-priced EGA color monitor. You can also hook up a standard ST 3-1/2 inch disk drive and read and write IBM laptop disks, making the transferral of text files in that format an easy task. (Note: This does not mean you can run ST software on the Atari PC.)

The Atari PC will be bundled with the GEM Desktop software from Digital Research and several other applications. It is rumored that Microsoft Windows might be bundled with the PC and also be made available for the ST. Unlike many other compatibles on the market, Atari manufactures the PC in its own factory-the 200,000 square-foot Taiwan plant where they make all Atari equipment.

Atari officials quickly dismissed concern that their PC indicated any abandonment of their ST line. John Skruch of Atari likened the situation to a software house manufacturing products for differing computers. Skruch emphasized Atari is an electronics company specializing in computers, and their PC is simply an entrance into another market.

"The significance of the Atari PC," said Sam Tramiel, "is that someone can take it home, open the box, and it's ready to run. You don't have to plug in cards or extra things; you have everything you need, right off the bat."

the Atari PC-the Mega ST


Jack Tramiel has always claimed Atari will be a major contender in the personal computer marketplace. With solid ST sales and now a very competitive IBM clone (for those so inclined) Atari stands to make 1987 exponentially more interesting than their efforts in 1986. Computer marketing analysts, who previously ignored anything not stamped with three familiar letters or a bitten apple logo, have begun finally to sit up and notice Jack Tramiel's Atari efforts.

The analysts have had to abandon their original litany of"... But how financially stable is Atari?" With Tramiel's November stock offering giving Atari a quick $50 million shot in the arm, plus decent profits and no further Warner debt, the wags have had to look at something else-specifically, Atari's product line. And, horror of horrors to the nay-sayers, Atari's product line is selling.