Atari ST - JLG FAQ

last modified 28/04/2006 20:17


Désolé pas de version Française pour le moment

The Atari ST - JLG Quick FAQ

Why did I decide to update/rewrite the Atari ST Quick FAQ files?
The reason is that I found a lot of interesting information in the original Quick FAQ files, but unfortunately most links were broken and a lot of topics were outdated (document has not been updated since January 1999!)! Therefore reading the original ST Quick FAQ turned into a rather frustrating experience.

This FAQ is based on The Atari ST Quick FAQ - Version 2.8a - 1999-01-22  (French online version) last updated by Nicholas Bales. There is also a text version of V2.9a of the FAQ and some older documents FAQ1, FAQ2, FAQ3

The Atari ST - JLG FAQ V0.5  - 2006-04-28


Table of Content (TOC)


INTRODUCTION


WHAT'S THIS FAQ ALL ABOUT ?

As you probably know FAQ stands for 'Frequently Asked Questions'. ;-) (and that's a smiley!)
The intent of this FAQ is to provide introductory level information for someone starting with an Atari. However if you are looking to more in-depth  information this FAQ provides a lot of links to either external references or to internal references on several subjects that I have covered in depth. Again this FAQ is based on the original ST Quick FAQ from  Nicholas Bales and for several subjects for which I do not have specific knowledge or interest the original text has been kept unchanged.

At the time the original FAQ was written, information among "Atarians" was widely exchange through newsgroup related to the Atari. Apparently the Atari newsgroup are gone from the Usenet distribution (at least I could not find any on my provider's news server) but seems to be available from Google Groups. Newsgroups have been replaced by forums and there are plenty of Atari Forums.

DISCLAIMER JUST IN CASE...

I cannot be held responsible of any data loss, hardware damage, warranty voids, or thermonuclear warfare resulting in the application of anything described here. Nobody else can be blamed for any misuse but yourself. Any action that is described here may only be done at your own risks and perils. Whatever happens, it's not my fault.

CREDITS

Helpful criticism, corrections and additions in helping Nicholas Bales to create the original document came from: Richard Davey - Tom Derrick - Eric Hays - Tom Hopper - John Kormylo - Ken Macdonald - Ashley SeabrookMartin-Eric Racine - Peter - Rottengatter - Terry Ross - Neil Roughley - Hallvard Tangeraas - Jo Vandeweghe and of course Nicholas Bales.

Many thanks to all of these people.
Jean Louis-Guerin (remove _REMOVE_NO_SPAM_)


GENERAL INFORMATION


What is this an Atari ST ?

The Atari ST is a 16/32 bit Motorola 68000 based personal computer range launched in the mid 80's which has evolved over the years from the ST (Sixteen bits data bus, Thirty two bits address bus) to the STF, STFM, Mega ST, STE, Mega STE, and into more modern computers like the TT030 or Falcon030.
There are even some extremely powerful Atari-compatible clones around like the Swiss 68060 based Hades or the German Milan, and clone projects like the French Phoenix or the American Wizztronics machine.

All these computers run various flavors of an operating system called TOS (The Operating System), which includes a graphical user interface called GEM (Graphical Environment Manager) from Digital Research.

If you are interested in the fate of Atari, and the company's history, you might want to consult the link page

What kind of monitor can I use with Atari systems ?

Atari Graphic resolution

The Atari ST have 3 screen resolutions:

  • 640x400 monochrome resolution referred as the High resolution (Hi-res) mode,

  • 640x200 4 colors resolution referred as  Medium resolutions (Med-res) mode,

  • 320x200 16 colors resolution referred as the Low resolution (Low-res) mode.

The original  STF/STFM have of 512 color palette, but starting with the STE this palette has been increased to 4096. Definition/selection of the 4 or 16 colors from the 512/4096 color's palette is done with the control panel accessory and for monochrome resolution the same panel accessory can be sed to select either black on white (the default) or white on black mode.

Switching between Mid/Low-res is done in the set preference dialog box of the option menu and switching to Hi-res requires either to connect a monochrome monitor's cable or to use a video switcher. In all cases switching between any of the resolution modes reset the Atari.

Connecting to a TV Set

STFM and some later models were equipped with an RF Modulator allowing them to be connected to a TV's antenna connector. You then need to tune into the correct channel on the TV to get the ST picture.
In some countries, Atari shipped machines with a SCART/Peritel cable that plugs into the monitor port instead of the RF Modulator. In this case you need the adequate cable and a SCART/Peritel equipped TV set. No tuning is required, and the RGB picture is better quality than RF. These cables might still be available from some Atari dealers, but it is also quite easy to build one. As a TV connection act exactly like an Atari Color Monitor it will only display low or medium resolution modes (see above).

Atari monitors

Depending on the graphic resolution you need to connect two different types of Atari monitors:

  • Hi-res monochrome (640x400) requires the SM124 Atari high resolution monitors. These monitors have a very stable, although small, display.
  • Med-res (640x200/4 colors) and Low-res (320x200/16 colors) requires the SC1224 Atari color monitors.

It is important to note that the SM124 monochrome monitor can only display Hi-resolution images, and that the SC1224 color monitor (or TV for that matter) can only display Mid-resolution and Low-resolution images. As most games require Med/Low-res color and most application programs require Hi-res monochrome the choice of your monitor is important and this is also why many people ended up having both. Note that If you have both monitors you normally have to plug and unplug video cable each time you need to switch from one to the other unless you buy an Atari monitor switcher that allow you to switch back and forth between the two monitors at the toggle of a switch!

It is also important to know that monitors from Atari includes an audio amplifier, with a volume control knob, and a speaker for hearing Atari sound. On the STF/STFM models the only connector to provide the sound output is the one that connect to the monitors. On the STE there are two extra RCA connectors to output stereo sound. Note that well designed SCART/Peritel cable carry the sound to the TV set.

These two monitors cannot be connected to an Atari TT, as this machine requires a VGA monitor.

VGA/SVGA or Multisync monitors

In order to connect a VGA/SVGA/Multisync monitor to an Atari it need to supports RGB signals, and the following refresh rates for the horizontal and vertical synchronization signals (Note the second part of the table contains the measurements I made on an European Atari STE):
 
Original Values ST High ST Low/Medium   My measurements ST High ST Low/Medium
Vertical refresh rate 72 Hz 50 or 60 Hz   Vertical refresh rate 71 Hz 50 Hz
Horizontal refresh rate 31.5 KHz 15.75 KHz   Horizontal refresh rate 35.8 KHz 15.7 KHz
ST High-resolution: Only a "modern" VGA/SVGA or most Multisync monitor can handle the ST monochrome Horizontal frequencies. To use a VGA/SVGA monitor for Hi-res monochrome you need to build a cable that connect the ST mono out to the red, green and blue inputs of the monitor, as well as the H-sync and V-sync signals. You have to connect the mono-detect pin to the ground pin.

ST Low/Medium resolution: Here on the contrary only very old CGA monitor can handle such a low Horizontal frequency! A modern VGA monitor don't accept an HSync below 30KHz (the lowest VGA freq). And therefore in order to display Low/Med-res you need an old monitor (e.g. a Multisync monitor) that can handle the above display rates. In this case you will need to build a simple cable that connects the red, green and blue outs, as well as the H and V sync signals from the ST monitor output to the display unit's and leave the mono-detect pin disconnected.

Follow these links to better understand the Video standards or to find out about your monitor capability. It is also possible to convert CGA video to VGA with this kind of converter, and it you want to better understand video conversion you can look here or here

The nicest solution is to have an old Multisync monitors that handle perfectly the three resolutions (for example a NEC Multisync 2). In order to switch your Multisync monitor between Hi-res and Med/low-res you need to build a special cable with a switch.

Also remember that usually standard monitors do not have an audio circuit and therefore you need to connect the audio output of the Atari to an external sound system (this is covered in Atari Monitor Connector page).

Falcon video

The Falcon is equally happy with a VGA/SVGA/etc. monitor or an old ST/STE type monitor (though resolution will be limited to 640x400 interlaced on these).
Whatever the display you choose, the Falcon requires an external video adapter, either for ST type monitors or for VGA screens. There are also third party adapters that can switch between the two displays. A text file about Multisync/VGA/ST-res adaptors for Falcon is here.

How do I boot up my Atari ?

Booting without a disk

First of all, most Atari computers have TOS in ROM and therefore don't need a boot disk. If you do not have a correctly formatted double density disk to boot from, just wait a few minutes for the GEM desktop to come up on it's own, then format a blank double density disk using the menu option. Having a formatted disk (even an empty disk) in the drive dramatically shortens the boot up time. If the desktop screen doesn't come up after more than 5 minutes, either your ST is broken or you have an ST without TOS in ROM.

Getting started without a manual

If you have never used an ST and don't have a manual on hand, there is little you need to know to use the GEM desktop. here are the basics:
  • Main file types:
    • PRG and APP files are executable programs, using the GEM graphic environment.
    • TOS are executable programs, that run under TOS (text mode).
    • GTPs and TTPs are executable programs (GEM or TOS respectively) needing parameters, added by the user when running from a command line, or asked by the program when running under GEM.
    • ACC files are desk accessories. These go in the boot disk's root directory, and always accessible from the desk menu bar. There is a limit of 6 desk accessories per boot.
    • CPXs are Control Panel Extension modules, special desk accessories for use with XCONTROL.ACC
    • RSCs are program resource files. These contain GEM objects (icons, dialog boxes, menus, icons...) used by the program.
    • INF and SYS are system information files or program options or preferences, or drivers.
    • PRG files that are placed in a folder named AUTO, in the disk's root directory, will be launched at boot up. Some will remain resident. Not all PRGs can be used this way.
    • ZIP, LZH, ARC, ZOO, MSA files are various compressed archive formats. You need special de-archivers to use these. You can find them on most FTP sites
  • File operations:
    • To open a file, a folder or a disk, or to launch a program, double click on the icon, or select it and go to File -> Open in the menu bar.
    • To copy a file, select it, and drag it onto a disk or folder icon,
    • To delete a file, select it and drag it onto the trash icon (on the ST, trashed files are permanently deleted, unlike on a Mac or PC)
    • To rename a file or to view it's properties, select it and then go to File -> Information
    • To format a blank disk, select the disk icon and go to File -> Format
    • To save your desktop configuration, use the save desktop option in the Options menu bar. This will create a DESKTOP.INF or NEWDESK.INF file, depending on your TOS version. Like accessory programs, this file is read at boot time.
  • Tips:
    • To make multiple selections, hold SHIFT down while selecting
    • To refresh a disk window, press ESC
    • Just play around with the options to find out what they do.
    • Remember you cannot cause any damage to the OS as it is in ROM.
    • If your mouse does not work you can use the Alt+Arrow keys tricks: Alt+Shift+Arrow keys for pixel scale movement, Alt+Clr/Home for left click, and Alt+Insert for right click

Once you have got the hang of this, the rest is pretty straight forward. This is for all TOS versions. Newer versions of TOS have additional features.

Atari language disks

Depending on the ST version you have, a language disk was supplied with some basic software, mainly:
  • CONTROL.ACC or XCONTROL.ACC: Control panel desk accessory
  • STBASIC or STLOGO: Programming languages (very buggy and not very useful)
  • Omikron Basic: A quite good Basic language (commercial).
  • VT-52 terminal emulator Accessory
  • Printer/modem configuration Accessories or CPXs
  • Various TOS patches
Very few of the programs supplied on these disks were of much use. If your system disks have been lost, it is no big deal. Better public domain or shareware equivalents can be found on most FTP servers

Software supplied with the Falcon included several commercial programs such as MultiTOS, Atari Works or SpeedoGDOS. These are not freely available.

How do I know what TOS version I have

One way to find out which version of TOS you are running is to check out the latest copyright date in the Desk, Information box.
1985: TOS 1.00 (ST/STF) - original ROM version
1986: TOS 1.02 (Mega ST) - added blitter support
1989: TOS 1.04 (STF/Mega ST) - colored Atari logo (The rainbow TOS), better disk I/O, many bug fixes, faster.
1990: TOS 1.06 (STE) - STE hardware support
1991: TOS 1.62 (STE) - bug fixed version of above
1990: TOS 2.05 (Mega STE) - new desktop, customizable icons, HD disk support
1991: TOS 2.06 (Mega STE) - bug fixed version of above, support for future hardware.
In addition to these, a Falcon will be running TOS 4.02 or 4.04 and a TT030 will have TOS 3.01, 3.05 or 3.06. The new Milan computer runs a licensed TOS 5.0.

To obtain a full report on your hardware (RAM, TOS, disks, etc...), you should run a program such as Sysinfo.
Look a this nice document or a quick list of the main TOS versions to get interesting information on TOS versions and follow the TOS links list

Emulators

The term Emulator is overloaded especially for the Atari. Originally the term was used to indicate a program to emulate a terminal for example a VT52 Emulator. But here we talk about the more recent usage of the term emulator that designates a program to emulate an older machine (computers or game consoles) running on a recent and powerfull computer

How can I get Atari ST software to run on a PC, Mac, or Unix box ?

You need a program ("an ST emulator") that will fool your computer into running Atari ST programs. There are a lot of sites dedicated to the subject of Atari emulation and I will therefore point you to a list of links on the subject.

Where can I get those TOS ROM images ?

TOS is the ST operating system. It was supplied on ROM chips with most Atari machines. Most emulators need an image of these ROMs in order to run. However, TOS is still copyrighted software and the distribution rights belong to Atari. Atari has not stated that any version of TOS can be freely distributed and used. Owners of a real ST can use a program called Romimage to make a TOS image for their own use. This is considered legal as long as the image is not distributed and you own a legal copy of the program (ie: the ROMs).
However most version of the TOS in many languages can be found at the Pangaelin Willow AtariTOS ROM

What are .ST files and what can I do with them ?

Emulators often have problems reading original ST floppy disks, mainly because of hardware issues on the emulating machine. A common workaround is to convert all the data contained on a disk (including special formatting, boot sectors, hidden tracks, etc...) into a disk image file. The most common format for this is the .ST file format from PaCifiST as well as the older .MSA format. The emulator then mounts these files as if they were real disks.
Please refer to the different emulator links for more information on creating/finding disk images.

SOFTWARE


Software General Information

This section of the FAQ has drastically changed from the original one because the situation of the Atari software is quite different today. Most of the Atari programs are still copyrighted and therefore copying or distributing them is illegal. However nowadays it is becoming almost impossible to find shops that still sell these programs which are 10 to 20 years old. Your best bet now if you want to be 100% clean is either to look for remaining shops, or to look for people selling old stuff on places like eBay, or to find freeware and public domain programs in FTP sites or other places, or specialized site like music site. A special thanks to authors of programs that have generously "donated" (removed protection and made public domain) their programs. You can also sometimes find programs published by Magazines. Beyond that it is possible to find a lot of disk images of games and other programs on the Net and specially in the P2P networks.

Star programs for Atari

This section list some of the most famous software available at the time for Atari. You may need to find them in order to be able to read some specific data file (word processor, graphics, music, etc...)

  • Home Productivity Software: There is no integrated "MS Office"-like package for Atari, except maybe the defunct Atari Works. The latest supported office programs are:
    • Word processor : Papyrus, Protext, Sting, 1ST Word, Le Redacteur
    • Spreadsheet : Texel, XXL
    • Database : Twist
  • Graphics and DTP packages: Ever since Atari launched the first laser printer under US$2000, DTP and graphics have been one of the platform's major strengths. Although some of these program will run on an 8Mhz ST, they are usually designed for more powerful machines.
    • DTP : Calamus SL (Invers), ST Publisher
    • Raytracing : Neon, POV
    • Graphics : Positive Image, Photoline
  • Sequencers and Music Software: Because the Atari has had built-in Midi ports since it's earliest days, it has been used in studios and on stages all over the world as a professional system for music.
    • Sequencing : Dr.T's, Notator (Emagic), Logic (Emagic), Cubase (Steinberg)
    • Direct To Disk : Logic Audio (Emagic), Cubase Audio (Steinberg), Devil Studio (Softjee)
    • Sampling : Zero-X (Copson Data), Studio Son (Centek), Expand (Softjee)
  • Internet and Communication Software: this topic is covered later in the the Communication section of this FAQ.

Can I upgrade my operating system ?

The ST's operating system TOS (see the list here), is on ROM chips on most STs. Upgrading your TOS means replacing the old ROMs with new ROM or EPROM chips. It should be extremely difficult to find those ROMs now. Currently your best solution is to use the SELTOS freeware program that allow  you to load a different TOS image from a floppy disk.
There are also third party replacement operating systems such as MagiC and Geneva (TOS-like multitasking systems) or MiNT and Linux-68K (UNIX-like systems).
For more information on TOS follow the TOS links

How do I backup my original program ?

In most country it is legal to make one backup copy of your original software for safety reason. Most commercial programs on Atari are protected either by a key that plug into the cartridge port or by incorporating protection mechanism in the original floppy disk. For software with a key (e.g. most Steinberg programs) you can make as many copy of the original disk with any standard copy program. The second protection mechanism works by placing specific "defects" on the floppy disk (e.g. CRC errors, weak sector, holes, ...) that prohibit a normal copy program to work. In the early days it was easy to circumvent the protection by using specially design copy programs, but as protection mechanisms were perfected you had to use some specially designed hardware to make copy of the original disk. The most famous HW for copying protected programs are the Blitz cable (specially design cable connected to the ASCI and Floppy connectors of the Atari and requires an external floppy drive) and the Discovery Cartridge from Happy Computers (that plug into the cartridge and floppy disk connectors). There is also the preservation of Atari software project that allow to create disk image of virtually any original protected programs but it does not allow to make backup copy and therefore only works for emulators.


HARDWARE


How can I upgrade memory on my Atari ?

I also provide more in depth information on Atari's Memory.

Expanding SIMM equipped models

If your ST is equipped with SIMM memory, you can easily upgrade your memory to 1, 2 or 4Mb by just taking out the old SIMMs and popping in the new ones.
The correct memory type is 30 pin SIMMs, with or without parity, capacity being either 256Kb or 1Mb. The minimum speed of 256Kb SIMMs is 150ns and 120ns for 1Mb SIMMs. It is best not to mix different SIMM types. They must be installed by pairs in slots 1 and 3, then 2 and 4 (from back to front).
Atari STEs are originally equipped with either 2 (520STE) or 4 (1040STE) 256Kb SIMMs that can be replaced by 2 or 4 x 1Mb SIMMs.
Because of a bug in TOS, STEs will not recognize a 2.5Mb configuration (2x256Kb + 2x1Mb) without a small bootup program like silkboot2e or simmfix. These can be found on most FTP sites but are quite unreliable.

Expanding DRAM equipped models

On DRAM memory models, the memory chips are soldered directly to the computer's motherboard. This makes memory expansion a lot more tricky.
A way to avoid the soldering and memory limitations is to use a special memory expansion board that replaces the original memory banks with standard SIMM sockets. There are several such solutions available like the Marpet Xtra Ram board or the Aixit 10Mb expansion board, or the JRI-RAM+ board.

DIY conversions require serious soldering skills, and are not for the faint hearted. Descriptions of such modifications can be found below:

4Mb, the Final Frontier

On ST, STF and STE computers, the MMU (Memory Management Unit) has a hardware limit of 4Mb.
However recent developments have seen third party expansion boards that allow going beyond this limit. The Magnum-ST board from Woller+Link in Germany allows up to 16Mb on a plain ST/STF (not STE). TOS versions below 2.06 will not deal with more than 4Mb, so either a TOS upgrade or MagiC is necessary.

Falcon boards

The step forward from DRAM to SIMMs on the STE series became a step back to a proprietary memory board system on the Falcon. The falcon was pre- equipped with 3 memory board models: 1, 4 or 14Mb. Upgrading a Falcon means scrapping the original memory and replacing it with either a new proprietary memory board or a third party SIMM board. There are many of these available and can sometimes be combined with a CPU accelerator board.

How can I connect a hard disk drive to my ST ?

ACSI Hard drives (Atari Megafile and SH series).

ACSI is Atari's proprietary hard drive connector. It is similar to SCSI which was standardized later, but not directly compatible. ACSI drives were the Atari Megafile and SH series that ranged from 20 to 60Mb capacities. Supra, and maybe some other manufacturers also made some ACSI drives at one point, but these are quite rare.
These are the only hard drives that are directly "plug'n'play" compatible with the Atari ACSI/DMA port on stock STs.
Atari SH drives have the advantage of being made up of an ACSI to SCSI host adapter connected to an Adaptec 4000 SCSI to MFM adapter that is attached to the drive. It is therefore sometimes possible to adapt these drive to use SCSI drive mechanisms. This is not the case for Megafile drives.

SCSI hard drives

In order to use SCSI peripherals, and unless you have an internal Atari interface (Mega ST, Mega STe) you need a SCSI host adapter that connects the SCSI drive to the ACSI hard drive port on the Atari. There are several models available depending on whether or not you need parity, whether or not they are for external or internal drives. The 2 most common SCSI host adapters are the Link II from ICD and Link'97 from WB Systemtechnik
Don't forget also that there is not much room for a 3.5" hard drive inside an original ST case. You will need either to put the whole system into a PC type tower case, or to find an external housing and power supply for your hard drive. The Mega STE internal SCSI interface does not support parity.

IDE hard drives

The Upgrade Shop, a UK based company sells an internal IDE host adapter for STE only, It plugs into the processor socket and requires 4 wires to be soldered to the board. It is mainly aimed at connecting 2.5" IDE drives internally, but 3.5" drives can be attached to it if the computer is tower-mounted. Instructions to build your own DIY interface also exist, but should only be performed by people with a solid knowledge in electronics, soldering and programming GAL chips.
The Falcon has an internal IDE slot for internal 2.5" IDE drives. Some Falcon users have managed to fit a replacement 3.5" drive after cutting parts of the metallic shielding.
Just a general note: You can partition IDE drives as much as you like, but do not format them. Some of them will not recover from a "low level" format.

ZIPs, CDROMs, Syquest drives, anything else non-SCSI

Using a parallel ZIP drive on any Atari computer's parallel port is impossible because of the lack of several signals in Atari's implementation of the parallel port. You should use a SCSI ZIP drive. There is however a parallel port interface that plugs into the cartridge port of Atari computers, available from Woller+Link (Germany). See the Zip Drive FAQ
SCSI versions of ZIPs and CD-ROMS are recommended, so that you can use a SCSI host adapter. Be aware also that CD ROMS and ZIP drives use parity, so you must have a parity enabled SCSI adapter.

Hard disk driver software

In order to get TOS to recognize the drive, a HD driver package will be needed. Here are some of the more popular packages:
  • AHDI (V3, V4, V5, V6) is Atari's Hard Disk Driver. However, it appears that it is not as capable and efficient as some 3rd party driver software.
  • ICD Tools: adSCSCI V6.5.5 SW provided with ICD host adapters. Quite efficient and easy to install but has a few compatibility problems with advanced setups (alternative operating systems etc).
  • HDDriver: Probably the best commercial driver available. It can be bundled with some host adapters, and it also includes support for removable media, such as ZIP or JAZ drives.
  • CBHD: another freeware driver, probably not as good as the two commercial ones, but certainly better than AHDI. Only german docs are provided, so setup might be a bit tricky.
It also seems that some drivers are more suited to one type of drive whereas they can have problems with other drives. A good idea might be to ask in forums or the software vendor for any compatibility issues before buying.

Floppy Drives ?

Replacing a floppy drive

The disk drives used by Atari ST computers are industry standard 360K (single sided) or 720K (double sided) double-density DD floppy drives.
PC drives can be used as replacement drives, only nowadays it is difficult to find 720K drives. You can however use just about any 1.44Mb HD drive as these will perform perfectly well in DD 720K mode. Nevertheless, you have to be aware of the following:
  • You need to be able to change the ID number of the drive to 0 instead of the default 1 for PCs. Usually there is a jumper to do this, but it tends to disappear on modern drives, making this rather tricky. It now often involves connecting a solder pad on the drive's PCB.
  • You need to connect the cable upside down on the drive. This can mean cutting a little plastic part that is designed to make this impossible.
  • You need to set the Media Change Detect jumper, or else, under certain circumstances, your disks might end up scrambled. This jumper no longer exists on most modern drives, but you can work around the problem by using the Force Media Change program.
  • Most modern HD drives can no longer read single sided 360K disks.
  • Force Media Change

Upgrading to a HD drive

Using a high density drive in high density mode on an ST, is feasible, but requires a few hardware hacks, both on the ST and on the drive. Ready made HD kits are available at several places, and a few DIY text files describe (sometimes contradictory) modifications too on several FTP servers.
Then there is the issue of the controller chip. The WD-1772 is not designed for handling the faster frequency needed to use HD mode, although some people have had one running for years with no problem so an 'Ajax' chip is highly recommended. Most STEs seem to have an Ajax chip fitted as standard.
Lots of information on the subject can be found at the Atari Hardware Hack Page

What about printers ?

What kinds of printers can I connect ?

All Atari computers have a standard bidirectional printer port, which means that basically any printer that connects to a PC parallel port should work with an ST, with the same cable.
A problem lies, however, with the recent appearance of cheap printers "Optimized for Windows 95". These units actually lack hardware, making them rely on require Windows95 to run. They will also not work with a Mac or Unix box, so be careful when you buy.
Atari became famous in the DTP for offering the first cheap laser printers. This was done by using the computer's RAM instead of having built-in memory. The SLM laser printers therefore require at least 2Mb of RAM to run. They also attach to the ACSI/DMA port, which means that they cannot be connected to a Falcon. A Falcon/SLM adapter, called the Heatseaker, did exist but never got to the market.

Where do I get a driver for my printer ?

The issue of printer drivers is mainly an application problem. The part of TOS originally devoted to printing and graphic output, called GDOS, was not included in ROM, therefore some applications bypassed it and developed their own printing routines. This sort of application will require it's own proper drivers to be written.
Properly written programs will use the GDOS standard, allowing use of proportional fonts and standard drivers.
To run GDOS on your computer, there are several solutions. FontGDOS is the latest freeware GDOS implementation from Atari, but is slow and handles only bitmap fonts. SpeedoGDOS and NVDI are both commercially available and fully maintained, and handle both bitmap and proportional fonts. NVDI is also a very efficient screen accelerator. Basically, if you plan on using a printer, you should consider obtaining NVDI.

Mice, mouse

The Atari mouse was quite poor, and very few remain in good working condition after the years. When it finally needs replacing, these mice are very hard to find. Try contacting an Atari dealer in your area, as most of them carry some sort of Atari compatible mouse.

A PC serial mouse can be connected directly to the serial (modem) port. There are two drawbacks to this. Firstly, on a machine with only one serial port it prevents from connecting anything else (modem, extra midi ports...). Secondly, you will need to load a serial mouse driver at each boot. Genmouse or Mouse25 are such drivers and can be found on your favorite FTP sites. The problem is that, being auto folder programs, they will obviously not run with auto booting programs such as games.
A PC mouse can be attached to the Atari mouse connector, but this needs a complicated adapter board, such as:  DIY PC to Atari mouse adapter.
Some Amiga mice have a little Amiga/ST switch allowing them to be used on an Atari. There is reportedly a means of converting an amiga mouse to an ST mouse by inverting two wires, but I could not not find the instructions.
Erratic mouse behavior is sometimes caused by a faulty connector. The mouse port connections under the keyboard, are subject to stress when there is continuous plugging and unplugging of the mouse (to connect a joystick for example). A remedy for this is to take apart the ST and touch the solder joints that connect the mouse connector to the keyboard PCB with a soldering iron, just to reestablish a good contact by slightly melting the solder.

If all else fails, you can always use the Alt + Arrow keys trick (Alt + Shift + Arrow keys for pixel scale movement, Alt+Clr/Home for left click, and Alt+Insert for right click) as a lifesaver, but that's hardly a practical solution in the long run.

The Universal 4 Inch Drop Fix (tm).

A common problem on Atari ST computers is socketed chip connections coming loose. The symptoms are erratic behavior, sudden resets, unexpected bombs, blank screen (white), disk errors, etc... This is the result of the PCB aging, heating, dilating, warping, slowly easing the chips out of there sockets.
A common, and quick fix to this is the famous 4 inch drop, and it goes like this:
  • Switch off the machine,
  • Lift it horizontally about 4 inches (10 cm) above the desktop,
  • Drop it.
As silly as it may sound, this sometimes works, reseating the chips and solving the problem. The result is not 100% guaranteed however. If the problem still occurs you probably have a more serious problem.
Of course, another (more professional) option is to take apart the machine and reseat all the chips by hand.

Schematics and Connector Pinouts.

When your computer breaks and there is no Atari Service Center in your neighborhood to repair it for you, you'll want to see if you can do it yourself, or get someone else to fix it. Chances are that you will need some schematics of the machine. You can find most of these at The Atari Hardware Hack Page

Many people ask for information about the Atari proprietary connectors and cables.
This page has pinout information for just about any connector in the electronics industry, including all the Atari connectors, standard VGA connectors and SCART/Peritel sockets.


COMMUNICATION


How can I transfer files between an ST and other computers ?

Exchanging TOS and MS-DOS disks

Disk exchange between MS-DOS and TOS is absolutely possible, if you follow these rules:
  • TOS versions from 1.04 onwards are 100% compatible with MS-DOS.
  • If using TOS 1.02 or earlier, you must either format the disk on a PC, use preformatted PC disks, or use a DOS compatible formatter on the ST.
  • Choose a PC format compatible with the Atari drive, i.e.: 720K for double sided drives and 1.44M for HD drives.
  • The internal drives of some older 520STF and SF354 units were limited to single-sided 360K disks that modern PCs can no longer read or write.
  • Microsoft Windows uses long filenames that can sometimes corrupt TOS disks, so be sure to use the good old 8+3 filename format. The same goes for directories.
  • Do not use HD disks formatted in DD mode (i.e. with sticky tape over the HD hole). This sometimes works momentarily, but is very unreliable, as the magnetic coating of HD disks is not the same as with DD disks.
As a summary, it is usually best to format a DD 720K floppy on the PC before using it to transfer files.

Exchanging TOS and Macintosh disks

TOS is not compatible with the Mac's HFS disk format, but MacOS versions from 7.5 onwards are supplied with PC Exchange, that allows reading and writing of MS-DOS disks, which are compatible with TOS as explained above. PC Exchange is also sold separately by Apple dealers.
An old ST program called DCFormat can reportedly format HFS and MFS disks.

Serial/parallel port file transfer

Another way of exchanging files between ST and PC is to connect the two computers through serial or parallel links. Here we are talking about file transfer not real network setups which are covered in the section below
  • Using a serial null modem (DB25F-DB25F or DB25F-DB9F):
    • Ghostlink: the PC drives are mounted on the Atari desktop, just like ST drives, but it suffers several limitations, of which speed of transfer, the need to run it under DOS (not a DOS session under windows) on the PC, and it's inability to launch programs from the remote drive.
      In the following link there is a solution to the problem with Windows XP and MS-DOS applications such as ghostlink.
    • Zmodem is a standard for terminal and file transfer connections. Zmodem programs can be found on practically any platform, including Atari, Mac PC, Unix, etc... but transfer are quite slow
  • Using a specially made parallel cable (standard null parallel printer cable do not work)
    • PARCP: This is definitively my favorite program. Transfer are extremely fast and it has an excellent interface.
    • Paralink 2000 (could not find any living link to this solution)
    • HDD Daemon

LAN Networking

If you plan on integrating your Atari into a real heterogeneous network with other computers, then you will probably have to setup some kind of Local Area Network. Beware, as this is not for the faint-hearted. Issues related to LAN networks and Ethernet are best dealt with on the following web page.
The best general purpose TCP/IP stack around on Atari platform is STiNG, which has drivers for nearly all the ports available on Atari machines, including the very rare Riebl Ethernet cards or the Falcon/TT030 LAN ports. There is still no NFS auto-mounting client though.
The other networking solution is MiNTnet, and extension to MiNT, which offers unix-like connectivity to the Atari platform. Here are some instructions for setting up a serial NFS connection with a PC.

MIDI file transfer

MIDI is one of the main activities on Atari computers. The issue of transferring MIDI files, other than through the means described above, can be solved by recording the MIDI data directly with MIDI cables.
  • Connect the Atari MIDI OUT cable to the other computer's MIDI IN with usual MIDI cables.
  • Fire up sequencer programs on both machines. Load the MIDI file into the Atari sequencer.
  • Set the PC sequencer sync to the external MIDI source. Hit record.
  • Hit play on the Atari.

File conversion issues

Just because a file has been transferred does not make it readable by the software. Here are some file types that come up often.
  • Midi: Midifiles are platform independent, so there should be no problem transferring them to or from any midi capable computer.
  • Text: The shareware word processor Marcel can read and write 1stWord, 1stWord Plus, WordPerfect, WordWriter, STWriter and the universal RTF format. TWP28 can translate between WordPlus ThatsWrite and WordPerfect. In other cases it is probably easier to export/import plain ASCII text.
  • Pictures: You can use Gemview to convert just about any graphic format to GIF or JPG formats. Paint Shop Pro on the PC can read IMG and GEM files.
  • Sound: FiveToFive (525) can convert many sample formats, including .WAV and .AIF.
All of these programs are shareware and can be found on your favorite ST archive If you no longer have an ST to run these conversion programs, you might try using an ST emulator

How can I get on the Internet ?

This section is here for historical reason as I doubt anyone want to use an Atari to connect to Internet through an ADSL connection?
The ST can be used to send and receive email, read usenet newsgroups, download from FTP archives, and surf the web, chat on IRC, basically all you'll want to do on the Internet. For this you need :
  • a modem : note that machines up to STE included are limited to 19200bps, unless modified.
  • a subscription to an Internet access provider, who must provide SLIP or (preferably) PPP,
  • a TCP/IP layer : STiK (SLIP only) or STinG, or MiNT with MiNTnet, or CAB 2.x (PPP but commercial) or WENsuite (commercial) or Draconis (beta), (
  • a Web browser : CAB 1.5 (freeware), Draconis, CAB 2.x or WENsuite (all commercial) or Chimaera and Lynx under MiNTnet.
  • a News/Mail reader : Newsie, Okami or Oasis

 

Rev 0.5 - Last updated 06-04-28 - Revision history


Copyright and Fair Use Notice
This web site contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to help in the understanding of the Atari Computers. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material. The material on this site is accessible without profit and is presented here with the only goal to disseminate knowledge about Atari computers. Consistent with this notice you are welcome to make 'fair use' of anything you find on this web site. However, all persons reproducing, redistributing, or making commercial use of this information are expected to adhere to the terms and conditions asserted by the copyright holder. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use notice as defined in the copyright laws requires the permission of the copyright owners.

e-mail to Jean Louis-Guerin This page is maintained by DrCoolZic (Jean Louis-Guerin).
If you have any comments please send me an e-mail (remove _REMOVE_)