Inside the Atari 1040STf (25th Anniversary)

March 18th, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Inside the Atari 1040STf on PC World

Atari Corporation premiered the first member of its ST series, the Atari 520ST, at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show 25 years ago this January. After the 520ST shipped mid-1985, Atari released an upgraded model in 1986 called the Atari 1040STf — variations of which remained best sellers throughout the ST’s run.

In honor of the Atari ST series’ 25th anniversary, I’ve dissected the popular Atari 1040STf in my usual style for PC World, making this the ninth entry in my “workbench series” of tech autopsies. I think it turned out very well, and I hope you enjoy it.

Benj Plays Gauntlet on the Atari 1040STfI have fond memories of the 1040STf because my father bought one for the family back in 1986. Games like Phantasie, SunDog, Exodus, and Gauntlet always come to mind when I think of Atari’s GUI-based wonder.

Is anybody else out there a fan of the Atari ST series? If so, tell us about it. What ST model(s) did/do you have? What are your favorite ST games? Bonus points to anyone who can provide a picture of themselves using an Atari ST before 1990!

Here are my previous workbench teardowns, if you’re interested: Atari 800, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

19 Responses to “Inside the Atari 1040STf (25th Anniversary)”

  1. lilimist Says:

    Oh, I loved the 1040ST! With its built in MIDI port it was great for sequencing using either Notator or Cubase. Back in the 90s almost every muso I knew had one of these!

  2. lilimist Says:

    Also, just out of curiosity, where did you get TOS standing for Total Operating System from? I’ve heard Tramiel Operating System (from the initial ST manuals) and The Operating System (from later ones) but never Total Operating System.

  3. Jurgi Says:

    It would be nice to note, that – thanks to excellent midi hard&soft – ST was used by Jean Michelle Jarre. Even now some musicians still use Atari ST.

  4. Kaz Says:

    Nice picture! I can’t provide pic with me playing ST BEFORE 1990, because I bought my ST in 1991 or 1992 but this is from around 1994:

  5. lotonah Says:

    Not only did I love it, I traded a full Amiga 500 system for one. I hated it for programming, though… until HiSoft Professional BASIC and GFA BASIC hit the scene.

    I still have two of them, one is about 15 feet away from me. I wish I still had a working hard drive for it, though!

  6. Mal7921 Says:

    I’ve one of every model line from the ST series, including the very rare ST Book and Stacy laptops. The TT030 is still the fastest official Atari machine, but there are some great accelerators for the Falcon.

    Still the best series of computers for MIDI after all these years.

  7. Benj Edwards Says:

    Re: lilimist

    If “Total Operating System” is in there, it’s the work of my editor, not me. Looking back on my manuscript, I neglected to define TOS, since it’s a nebulous term anyway. My editor (who did an excellent job overall) must have filled it in with the first thing he found on the Net. My personal vote, from everything I’ve read, is for “Tramiel Operating System.”

  8. Donovan Says:

    The Atari ST and Falcon series computers are still largely popular for MIDI music production – even after 25 years. After all, it was the Atari platform where Cubase and Logic first started! Additionally, younger generations of musicians are using the Atari’s internal YM2149 8-bit sound chip for lo-fi techno. To learn more, check out the Atari Music Network

  9. Marakatti Says:

    Nice, article. Got my first ST in 1990 and I’m on that road still. Sadly no fotos but those were the days.
    Still using one along with Falcon030 every week for our software preservation project, take a look for some nice memories 🙂

    Long live Atari ST and also have a look at some ST / STe celebration demos:

  10. Josh Renaud Says:

    Very nice tear-down. We used a 520ST which my dad had received from my uncle. I later purchased a 1040STe on my own.

    We owned all our Ataris several years after they had debuted, so we were a bit behind the times. But I loved (and still love) those machines a lot. Too bad Atari couldn’t make more of a dent in the U.S. market.

    I stuck with my Atari until around 2001 or so.

  11. Josh Renaud Says:

    Re: TOS

    Wikipedia’s ST entry also says “Total Operating System” (though there is no supporting reference for it). Perhaps an editor looked it up there?

    What’s funny to me is that several of the source documents the Wikipedia article does cite say that TOS = “The Operating System.”

  12. 8bitjeff Says:

    We had a 520 in 1987 and then a 1040 in 1988. Those were awesome machines with great games that were light years ahead of the Atari 800 / c=64 (Although the Atari 800 is my second favorite retro computer). We had to get a PC in 1992 to do school work. The games were terrible and did not get to / surpass ST quality until Wolf 3D and Dune II.

  13. kickback999 Says:

    Well the ST could have a happily handled Dune 2 or Wolf 3D.
    It took until Doom for the PC to beat the ST.
    But the Falcon could have handled doom.
    Pity ID and Westwood are both shit programmers and lazy as fuck.

  14. Andy Says:

    25 years already??!!
    I don’t have my 1040ST anymore but I do still have (for some odd reason) a dongle-like device called Spectre 128 which would let me emulate a Mac… so I could run GO for the Macintosh, and some circuit simulator software.

    On native ST my favorite game was Star Fleet I, where you got to fight the Krellans and Zaldrons.

    Maybe there’s an ST emulator out there somewhere?

  15. Gozar Says:

    The article also states that the ST could only read, not write ms-dos disks, which is untrue. If the disk was formatted in a pc you could use the disks tow read/write in both systems. If it was formatted on the st, than the pc could read it. There were programs for the st to let you format disks that worked under ms-dos.

    I still have my ST hooked up, along with my MegaSTe, Falcon 030, and my ST Book. I wish I had some pictures of me using it back then, but I don’t know of any. 🙁

  16. 8bitjeff Says:

    Wow, the 520 ST and the 1040 STFM were my two favorite computers from the 80’s. We had to buy the 520 in 1987 from the back of a guy’s truck in a parking lot in Orange County California. In 1988 we purchased a the 1040 from a Federated Group in the Old Town Mall in Torrance California. My favorite games were Megaroids (yes, the free game with Megamax C), Oids, Anco Kick Off 2, Anco Player Manager, Phantasie I II III, Wizards Crown, Arknaod 2, Foundations Waste, and many many more. What a great little arcade machine!

  17. xdr Says:

    Owned a 1040 STe in 1990, sold it, and now i own a 1040 STfm. Love the machine.
    Check out the game: FRED!

  18. nick Says:

    1986 was the yeat our family got a 520STFM, upgraded to 1040 spec.
    worst part of the ST design was the mouse/joystick ports underneath the computer, which got cracked at the motherboard twice due to me and my brother wanting to plug the joystick in to play games and having to go for repairs, then we found short port extensions which sorted that out. I remember cutting my finger on those rough rf sheild lugs, installing a tweety board onto the yamaha sound chip which gave a split 3 channel out and then having to make even more rf sheilding to cover the hack. loved the atari and still got it, though no.4 key got smashed off, also remember TOS stood for tramiel operating system and ST stood for Sam Tramiel who Jacks son. very fond memorys of this great machine

  19. Frank Says:

    I got my 1040STf in 1987. In those days it was well ahead of the XT’s and early AT’s, and there was some serious software for it. I used the following software:
    GfA basic – without all the lines numbers. I used GfA statistical software, in those days nowhere else to be found.
    Fortran 77. Used during my studies.
    C-Lab creator & Notator software. I worked with a pop group in the late eighties, making arrangements with C-lab software on the Atari 1040STf. Its MIDI interface was a real winner! And its hard disk of 60 Mb was big for those days. Unfortunately it was very noisy as well.
    The sharp and crisp black-and-white screen was a winner as well; it stoud out from the amber and green screens of those days.
    I still have it, it still works, and I had days and days of fun on the machine.
    I actually wanted to buy a TT, saw one on a computer show but the model was not for sale. Unfortunately it never went on sale. I also tried to find a ‘stacey’, the laptop version of the STf, but to no avail.
    Anyhow – wonderful memories of a splendid machine.

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