THE MEGA ST TESTED by Eli Maas (Courtesy of the SAG)
The MEGA ST - announced at numerous exhibits and now finally made
available for dealers and for the press. And, thus, also for the
SAG, although something like that always happens on a more or
less unsuitable moment: Our test version arrived at the first day
of my holiday - but let's not talk about the 1987 summer.
Whoever thinks that we're just talking about an ST with more
memory capacity is wrong.
The MEGA looks like a real PC: Seperate keyboard, cable, a
seperate system case and a seperate monitor (the SM 124
monochrome high res monitor).
By disconnecting the keyboard from the actual computer, the plugs
for joystick and mouse are now located on the back of the
keyboard and thus on a much more accessable place than those on
the 1040 ST.
The designers have succeeded in delivering a swell looking design
- a little minus point is the unhandy position of the RESET
button so you'll have to get your hands out of your sleeves
several times (more about this later).
The MEGA will be launched in a 2 Mb and a 4 Mb version - the
latter was tested by us.
The attention of people looking at the inside of the MEGA ST will
be drawn by several things, that we'll go through one by one.
All connections are now conveniently arranged at the backside of
A ventilator is now also mounted on the print with power adapter;
when working with the computer, one'll immediately note that the
speed of the ventilator drops when read/write operations are
performed with the disk drive. Especially when you're working in
quiet surroundings, this can be quite annoying for some of us.
The power adapter here clearly shows some problems.
On the location where you'd expect the notorious blitter chip is
but an empty IC pod - the blitter chip is not yet built in, and
at Atari Benelux I was told the following: "The first MEGAs that
will become available are supplied without blitter (these will be
delivered without any additional costs later on - so not after
paying an additional amount of money like once happened with the
ST earlier). On a later stage, MEGA STs will be sold with
blitter. About two months after that has happened, we will start
sending the other blitters that still have to be placed in
machines that are already sold."
But now for the rest of the inside of the MEGA: The DMA port is
now supplied with a second slot, that can be used for an
expansion print if necessary.
By removing a little valve at the rear end of the computer, you
can see another possibility of the MEGA, which is the system bus.
On this system bus, all pins are done in a 1 to 1 fashion. This
is located right next to the processor and this opens a total new
range of possibilities: Just think about the possibilities of
connecting a floating-point processor 68881, that would speed up
all calculations if proper software would be written for it.
All programs that use VDI and/or Line A now automatically use the
Blitter chip (and are thus executed a lot faster).
How the blitter functions and what he does can be read in another
article in this issue of ST NEWS, in an article about this
amazing chip written by Wilfred Kilwinger from Atari Benelux.
Many other thinkable expansions can be plugged into the MEGA ST
in the future - just think about the Rhotron bussystem (see ST
NEWS Volume 2 Issue 1) that is quite an extensive thing to do on
a regular ST (soldering a plug on the processor).
The disk drive has also found a place in the system case. Not to
the right of the computer like with the 1040 ST but at the front,
so that the user now looks right at the disk drive.
This drive is a double sided device that stores 720 Kb (just like
an SF 314).
Memory exists of 32 Megabit-chips with a 120 nanosecond refresh
Also a new gag on this computer is the internal battery-backed
clock. The upper side of the computer therefore reveals a valve
under which two penlight batteries should be found. A thing that
attracted my attention is that, when unpacking the ST, I didn't
find any of these penlight batteries. Just that you know it when
you're getting settled to start and then find out that you
haven't got any batteries.
Also, I had rather seen that Atari would have used another IC for
the clock - the MC 146818. The advantages above the current IC
are that time is processed in a more decent way, it is more easy
to be programmed and also has an alarm timer built in. Further,
it gives off interrupts and has a 50 byte backup memory.
The print of the MEGA ST looks well taken care of and is
segmented nicely, but you have to take quite a lot apart to be
able to actually reach it. Everything is seperated by metal (also
under and next to the disk drive) and you'll have to take that
apart as well. But we were used to that already.
The new TOS, being the third OS.
The MEGA contains the long expected new operating system. To get
rid of one big misunderstanding, one thing:
With the old TOS, a part was written in assembler and one part
in C language. For all clearness: VDI and TOS are assembler, AES
is C. It is very probable that this is still the fact, but it is
a fact that the Line A routines have been completely rewritten
and now execute a lot faster.
But let's start with some changed from the new TOS to the old
* It was impossible to display graphics lower than a small number
of degrees. This is now possible.
* The RS232 handler has been completely rewritten so that RTS
(Request to Send) and CTS (Clear to send) now work properly
(some printers had difficulties with this). Handswitching now
* When using the VT-52 emulator, the ESC key now functions.
* The boot-up routine is made faster, and is adapted so that it
can now be used with a larger RAM capacity like the 4 Mb.
* Save Desktop now gives an alert box, just like the print
option. If you try to print without printer, the computer still
cannot be used for the well known 30 seconds.
* The ROM Cartridge handler is rewritten so that it now also is
possible to execute TOS and TTP files from cartridge.
* By pressing the left mouse button, it is now possible to scroll
through a window. This is very useful when using a
wordprocessor or diskmonitor because you now don't have to
click the mouse all the time.
* The DMA is rewritten so that you can now boot from more than
* Using the underscore (_) in the select box is now also allowed
* The disk read/verify is now better.
* The options to use the blitter can be turned on/off by use of
If no blitter is present in the computer, this option is not
* Printing documents to screen or printer with a code above 127
is now also possible.
There is a larger buffer for the SHOW option, and SHOW is now
default instead of CANCEL in the alert box.
* There is now a bigger buffer (12 Kb) for copying with a disk
drive. The extra verify is also removed so that copying is now
100% faster (when testing, this took off half of the
* The mouseclick handler is now changed so that single clicks
stay that way.
* BIOS function 3 now writes Bconout single character to devices
a lot faster.
* The disk formatting routine from the desktop is replaced by a
faster 40/80 tracks 9 SPT formatter (not really stunningly
* Several system variables that were officially undocumented (see
more about these in the article about undocumented variables in
an article elsewhere in this issue of ST NEWS) and thus really
were forbidden territory for programmers are now removed or
Some software packages will therefore now not work 100% on the
MEGA ST (for example GfA's breakkeys (ALT-CONTRL-SHIFT) and
compiled GfA - more about that later)
* Alert boxes are thinner. Watch this when programming! This is a
disadvantage with existing programs.
* The double check for drive "B" at "Cancel" to find the
directory is now discarded.
* All FILL functions are now a lot faster, and so are the setup
of windows. This is especially noticeable with drawing
programs. When the blitter is installed, this will be even
* One can now safely use more than 40 folders.
Problems with the new TOS.
Because some software developers used forbidden terrain (read:
Used illegal addresses), some programs do now not work on the
MEGA STs. These are mainly copy programs, monitors, accessories
and programs with less decent meanings, for example to crack
programs (I didn't know these existed, ED).
Further, programs that use protection checksums from memory do
now not work, since the checksums are now different and this
results in two bombs.
Also, if the programmer hasn't taken into account that (in the
case of a MEGA ST 4) screen memory will be 3 Mb higher, things
can go wrong.
But what happens of you place the MEGA ST operating system in a
regular ST, of vice versa? Or maybe it's an idea to load the TOS
from disk? I have tried these possibilities with some other Atari
users, and my experiences were the following.
When using a disk TOS with the MEGA ST, all advantages of the new
TOS were unusable, of course. There was not one program that
didn't function with the new TOS that would now function
Further, if one inserted the new TOS in a regular ST, it turned
out that more programs didn't work or function properly than on
the MEGA ST itself.
For example, "Signum!" worked on the MEGA ST, but not on an ST
with the MEGA TOS. A message appeared on the screen, stating that
you'd have to contact Heidelberg. All software packages I tested
As the test proceeded, one could almost foretell if a program
would work or not judging from the company name. Due to the large
number of available software, it was not possible to test all
programs extensively - so it can easily be that some more
programs do not work (which is also the case with the ALT-SHFT-
CTRL break key combination at GfA Basic).
With "Monostar +", the zoom function appears not to work - but
time will give advise here, I suppose. It's very sad with regard
to games. I think about 20 percent of all games don't function
properly; I know it's the fault of the software developers but it
is the user that now has to watch out not to buy a program that
doesn't work on his MEGA ST.
Now for a list of software that didn't work when I tested it. If
you watch the titles closely, you can draw your own conclusions:
MTV-Demo, Star Trek, K-Switch, Platine ST, The Music Studio,
Fleet Street Editor, Arkanoid, World Games, Warzone, Leaderboard,
Time Bandits, Championship Wrestling, Inetrnational Karate, Super
Huey (Ooooof! ED), ST NEWS (Tut tut, Richard) (ST NEWS works fine
on MEGA STs, Mr. Maas - it just mentioned that you had a MEGA
ST!, ED), Tonic Tile, GfA Draft, 68000 Tutor, Vegas, Grafic
Artist, Jewels of Darkness, Silicon Dreams, Breaking II, Strikey,
ST Karate, Typhoon, Lands of Havoc (Hey Wim!) and Xevious. And
there were some titles of which good old Wim Denie remarked that
it was a BLESSING that they DIDN'T work on the MEGA ST.
I think, by now, that this list is quite long enough. I have to
say that users that will want a blitter in their ST (for which
you'll also need the new TOS) will now turn out to beat the dust
when they find out that so many titles don't work properly.
The biggest faults lie at the sides of the programmers - they use
illegal addresses, or intend to make seperate ST and MEGA ST
versions. If I'm right, I already saw an advertisement of a
software company with the following slogan: Soon coming an ST,
MEGA ST and AMIGA version.
Using the MEGA.
But let's return to the MEGA ST itself. Working with the machine
was a nice experience for me. Especially the keyboard has been
improved significantly and has the same characteristics as a PC
The computer itself works faster than the ST, a disadvantage just
is the position of the disk drive. When you're using a plain MEGA
on a table or desk, changing the disk is not really handy due to
the keyboard that most probably stands in front of it. When the
harddisk becomes available, I'd place him under the MEGA.
This harddisk has the same dimensions as the MEGA, so it will be
risen for about 10 centimetres and the disk drive will then tower
above the keyboard.
Another negative point was the position of the RESET button. This
one is on the back of the computer instead of on the keyboard.
Because of this position (the computer is about a DIN A4 sheet
of paper in size) you'll have to stretch out regularly.
Further, I'd really loved to see a second connector for a
monitor, with the possibility to switch from one monitor to the
other (color to monochrome and back). Every ST owner will know
what I mean now.
I think this new branch on the Atari tree will surely find its
way to the right usergroup.
The MEGA ST, together with the new Laser Printer, will be a
wanted combination for use in business life.
If you add the prices and look at the available software, the
choice doesn't seem difficult to me.
But if this computer is on the wishing list of the hobby-computer
user remains to be seen. With a retail price of 3999 Dutch
Guilders for a MEGA ST 4 and 2999 Dutch Guilders for the 2 Mb
version, this appears to be just a little too much for most of
Add to that the fact that a part of the present software doesn't
function properly, and it seems more advisable to check the
possibilities for upgrading an existing ST to 4 Mb.
But if you look back to the introduction price of the ST and
compare it with the current price........yes, a hobby user just
has to be patient then for a while.
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.