SAM TRAMIEL AT THE ATARI MEETING AT SMAU FAIR IN MILANO AND
INTERVIEW WITH SHIRAZ SHIVJI by Gerardo Greco
In late June, while talking with Atari Italia sales manager Marco
Veronesi, I got in large advance the rumour that at the opening
day of SMAU, the biggest Italian fair for office technology and
furniture, there was the possibility to meet Mr Tramiel. At that
very moment I knew I would've been there, I could't have missed
that occasion. So, when back from summer holidays, I started
thinking of how to get ready for that meeting, gathering
informations about Atari history and others.
But most of all I tried to put together voices about future
plans still secret to most of us, but not at all, thanks to the
incredible predictions of Personal Computer World (UK) columnist
Guy Kewney (Newsprint section): Moles inside Atari Corp.
(Sunnyvale) had revealed to him before May that there was a big
new project going on involving a new architecture, parallel
processing, and a new CPU, neither Motorola nor Intel, but the
Inmos T800, better known as Transputer. These new plans were made
possible by the large amount of cash collected when Atari entered
American Exchange (AMEX) Stock and by earnings from positive
So it seemed that September was the right time to make big
announcements, although being Italy in the past the tail lamp in
Atari plans, I had many doubts it would have happened here.
Let's jump to Milano, the 16th of September, where I reached
SMAU large buildings at noon; Atari stand was a nice one and of
course attracted plenty of young fellows, but not only them; many
businessmen were attracted by the apparent confusion made by
Atari logo put on laser printers, PC compatibles and large memory
machines with MacIntosh-like environment on a larger and crisper
b/w monitors that worked also in colours. In fact all the new
models were on show: the Laser printer, the Atari PC, the Mega
ST, together with older 1040 ST, 520 STm, 520 STfm and 8 bit
computers and video games machines, including the new hybrid XE
System. Not many news about software, apart from the translation
in Italian of many existing titles, games (from Infogrames and
others) and applications. The laser printer gave prints of very
high quality, of no difference to me compared to Canon or Apple
laser printers pages; it is very small and looks definitely
professional. The Mega 4 had the improvements listed by our
friend Ruud van de Kruisweg in ST NEWS Issue 5 (at least the more
evident ones) and so was faster in window movements and resizing
and in scrolling (with 1st Word Plus); it was very small but
there was no application that really used the extra memory, yet.
While I was moving around in and out of the Atari stand, in
the crowd I recognised them: Sam Tramiel and Shiraz Shivji coming
to my direction; after a few minutes of their walking around with
Atari Italia executives and controlling that everything in the
stand was all right, I managed to stop Mr Shiraz Shivji; for
those who don't know him yet, well, he's a Computer Sciences
doctor (from Stanford University) and since 1984 he's the
Research and Development vicepresident at Atari Corp., Sunnyvale,
CA, and the chief of ST project team. To him I showed the tricks
of Tex demos (larger screen and many colours) and the issue 5 of
ST NEWS; he was impressed by the border tricks of Tex and
explained how to achieve such things to Sam Tramiel, Atari Corp.
President and son of the glorious Jack, that meanwhile came
curious to see what was going on between Mr Shivji and me, and
both enjoyed the idea of ST NEWS as a PD magazine-on-a-disk,
apart from being surprised when I activated the colourful and
fast appearing picture included, but since the actual press
meeting was nearly due, a polite thanks and goodbye closed this
At around 5.30 pm I reached the place where the meeting took
place; I was there as a journalist for the Italian magazine
MCmicrocomputer where I have a regular survey for ST users and so
I went to and from Milano at their expenses, since I live in
Naples; we (the journalists) were given a folder full with
details about the new products, about Atari Corp., and relevant
pictures. After a few minutes Atari Italia president, Mr Marco
Guerra, also president of Atari (Schweiz) AG, introduced Sam
Tramiel and Shiraz Shivji and the conference took place.
Mr Tramiel started remembering the day, July 2nd, 1984, when
Tramiel's group bought Atari (consumer videogames machines and
computers) from Warner Bros for 30 million dollars, although in
previous negotiations the price had settled to 240 millions $. At
that time Atari was loosing 1 million $ a day while now it earns
1 million $ a week; with the money raised, around 150 millions $
in banks now, it has started a big project: Enter strongly US
market. The ways to achieve this are mainly two; Atari has bought
a chain stores group that sells electronics products and will
soon open a new factory in USA for making the chips, apart from
deals with third party factories like Inmos for special chips, in
order to " make the chips, then the computers and sell them
through own stores". This fact is very important for the rest of
us since growing as a US computers brand means more software,
a stronger prospective of bigger success and a larger Atari users
base. Today 2/3 of Atari products are for non-US market.
At this point came the time for new products announcements:
the first to be mentioned was a new game machine based on the
68000 for '88, but no other details were given; at COMDEX Atari
will unveil an 80286 PC AT compatible without expansion slots but
with VGA graphics standard (the one adopted in IBM PS/2 50, 60
and 80, based on the Inmos Colour Lookup Table chip) and the new
o/s from Microsoft. But Mr Tramiel insisted on the fact that they
are not proud of the Atari PC's, but since the market still
They prefer the ST line: it's faster, has better graphics
and is more flexible: the Mega ST's are intended for the pro
market or as better ST and the software is flooding now. Another
aim is to collaborate in better ways with software houses: in
October Microsoft Word, the first title from Microsoft for ST,
will be released; there will also be a new DTP packet from
another house, comparable to Compugraphic packet.
At this point Mr Tramiel made the biggest announcement and
left the technical details to be explained by Mr Shivji. The
future top line from Atari will be a new computer, "a VAX on your
desktop": as Mr Shivji explained, the new machine will be based
on the Inmos T800 Transputer and will have a parallel processing
architecture so that it will be possible to plug up to 12 or 13
Transputers and reach 150 Millions of Instructions per Second
(MIPS) and achieve, among others, a completely new level of
graphics capability. Apart from this, another machine was started
a couple of weeks ago: It's a 68030 "number cruncher" expansion
that will run UNIX. It seems that now that most of other consumer
electronics (computers) brands have been merged by larger and
non-consumer ones, Atari will remain the main independent name to
rule this market, brave enough to dare to upper and innovative
After such announcements, a cocktail followed and among
champagne glasses I was able to stop Mr Shivji again; I was
holding a folder full with details about Transputer and possible
graphic features I wrongly had attributed to the Transputer
Q: Mr Shivji, hi again; would you give me more details about
the transputer based machine?
A: The Atari Transputer computer will be a very fast one,
with incredible graphic capability and it will be expandable. It
will be basically a computer with 5 mega RAM, 1 of which
dedicated to video tasks; it will have 4 graphics modes with 32,
16, 8 and 4 bit per pixel, 8 bit for each colour beam (R, G and
B), an 8 bit tag and 256,000 colours to choose from, thanks to
the Inmos Colour Lookup Table chip with a new blitter; you will
be allowed to plug 12 extra Transputer to get more speed.
Transputer hardware environment is called Perihelion and is a
project by AmigaDos indipendent author Tim King from Cambridge;
the new machine will run, apart from Occam, Transputer own
language, C language and will have GEM environment.
Q: You said before that the "number cruncher" is a new
project and it is no more based on 68020 but on the 68030.
A: The fact is that we wanted to expand within the Motorola
family and we had chosen the 68020 with math co-processor and
Memory Management Unit (MMU) to get hardware protected multitask-
ing in order to safely run UNIX; but Motorola delayed the
availability of such MMU and so a couple of weeks ago we have
started the project again with 68030 that has MMU on chip and is
actually available to us in some samples; it will be a 4 MIPS
box with expansion slots and connection via DMA ports to existing
Q: What about the Enhanced ST?
A: This is a 68000 machine and is almost ready. Actually I'm
waiting for the video chip and I can only tell you that its video
resolution will go from 1280 x 960 in b/w to 640 x 480 in 16 cols
and 640 x 240 in 256 cols, though this numbers may slightly
change when production begins. Present Mega ST will not be
upgradeable to EST specifications, due to larger video bus.
Q: The Mega ST has an "open" architecture; what are the
expansions for its slot?
A: Mainly memory expansions and a math co-processor; a LAN
board is also planned. Actually it also depends on the fantasy of
third party projects.
Q: Some say you've had problems with Mega ST blitter chip,
also with Commodore.
A: In the past we have sued Commodore for rights about Amiga
video chip that, according to us, was developed also for
Tramiel's group and we have settled when Commodore has payed us a
certain amount of money; Commodore has no right on our blitter
chip that, by the way, is now made in Italy by Sgs since the
first shipment from Taiwan was of poor quality.
Q: And the promised CD-ROM?
A: You'll have to wait 'till the end of the year when Atari
will release a 500 $ CD-ROM Drive with audio output, too. Later
we will also show a 500 $ Laser printer that will differ from the
SLM 804 from being only slower, with around 4 or 5 pages per
minute, but still faster than average dot matrix printer. There
will also be bigger hard disk, possibly with 60 and 80 mega
capacity and tape backup.
Q: When will all these things be available?
A: The Atari AT in January, the Transputer machine in March-
April, the others at the end of 88.
Q: Is the AMY project still alive?
A: Yes, it is. We have spent 2 millions $ on that chip but
since a lot of people have put their hands on it, the problems
that have raised when we went silicon are more complicated than
what we first thought; for this reason we don't give any
availability time now but we confirm that we are still working on
it; when it is ready, it will still be a truly innovative chip.
In the meantime Atari will soon compete with Yamaha, Roland and
Ensoniq with a musical keyboard of its own thanks to a deal with
a US chip brand, but details are still top secret. And talking
about music applications, you may be interested to know that I
have suggested to Nilford Laboratories that makes the ADAP
Soundrack to start using cheap CD serial DAC chips in order to
keep performance high to CD standard and at the same time lower
the ADAP's price.
Q: What do you think about Acorn Archimedes RISC machine?
A: It is a not truly expandable machine with severe address
space limits. Most of all, our Transputer machine has a parallel
processing architecture from the basic version and can rival
really professional workstations like VAX.
Q: Will there be any new big title in ST software?
A: We already talked about the new DTP professional packet
and Microsoft Word; a new DBase III clone is coming out and it
will be completely compatible; Borland has a project of a new
Turbo Pascal for the ST and from Germany a version of Smalltalk
for the Mega ST will be soon released.
At the end of this answer a girl reminded us that everybody
had to leave the room since it was too late and, before leaving,
I gave a copy of ST NEWS issue 5 to Mr Shivji (I had already
shown it before to him); he really appreciated this gift and
promised to communicate his comment about this effort of jumping
above national boundaries with a truly international magazine,
our ST NEWS.
'till next time,
ST NEWS correspondent from southern Europe,
Editorial remark: Another article in this issue of ST NEWS also
mentions something about Shivji talking about Future Atari
projects - "The Atari Messe". Since that article was largely
ready by the time that Gerardo's article dropped in, I decided to
keep both articles 100% intact. So please do not start
complaining about things being done in an un-economical way...
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.