In late 1989, Atari released the 520STE and 1040STE, enhanced version of the STs with improvements to the multimedia hardware and operating system. It features an increased color palette of 4,096 colors from the original 512, Genlock support, and a blitter co-processor (stylized as "BLiTTER") which can quickly move large blocks of data (most particularly, graphics data) around in RAM.The STEs were the first Atari with PCM audio; using a new chip, it added the ability to play back 8-bit (signed) samples at 6258 Hz, 12517 Hz, 25033 Hz and even 50066 Hz, via DMA (Direct Memory Access).
Two enhanced joystick ports were added (two normal joysticks can be plugged into each port with an adapter), with the new connectors placed in more easily accessed locations on the side of the case. The enhanced joystick ports were re-used in Atari's Jaguar console and are compatible.
The STE models initially had software and hardware conflicts resulting in some applications and video games written for the ST line being unstable or even completely unusable, primarily caused by programming direct hardware calls which bypassed the operating system. Furthermore, even having a joystick plugged in would sometimes cause strange behavior with a few applications. Very little use was made of the extra features of the STE: STE-enhanced and STE-only software was rare.
Atari ST - Brief History
At the Winter Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show of 1985, the Atari 130ST was introduced. ST stands for Sixteen bit data-bus and Thirty-two address-bus. Atari, after it was bought by Jack Tramiel, originally had contracted the Amiga Corporation to manufacture a 16-bit computer, but the contract was dissolved due to legal issues. Atari then rushed to get a machine out to compete with the release of the Comodore Amiga.
The Atari ST line came with many new features over previous Atari computers:
- 16 bit processor, 68000 CPU
- Midi Interface
- Graphical User Interface OS
- High graphics resulution in color
The new ST systems came with several dedicated coprocessors that enabled enhanced sound, graphics and memory management:
- MFP 68901 - Interrupt handler
- Yamaha YM 2149 - Programable Sound Generator (AY-3-8910 compatible)
- Shifter - Custom video processor
- GLUE - Custom Memory Manager (MMU)
The Atari130 was a demonstration only prototype, and never released. Due to it's small memory size, the OS did not function properly and the machine was quickly replaced with the Atari 260ST. This computer came with 512KByte of memory, but due to the large need of the OS (192KByte) and the memory need of the enhanced graphics, only 64KByte of free RAM was left.
The new operating system was called TOS, the Tramiel Operating System. The OS was basically a port of CP/M for the 68000 processor. Also interesting is that the high level TOS calls, called GemDOS, were all compatible with the DOS calls for the PC (DOS INT21h calls).
The GUI was called GEM, which stands for Graphical Environment Mamnager. The OS was provided on disk for the early ST models, which limited the free RAM left, and later it was baked into 6 32KByte ROM chips when the OS was fully finished.