Freedom of speech out of hand
Demonstrations in the land
If you complain a little more
What rights that you have left
Go flying out the door
Metal Church - "The Final Word"
HARDWARE REVIEW: "AT SPEED" BY SACK ELEKTRONIK
by Richard Karsmakers
A picture of a fish in a James Bond pose stares at you from the
United Software calendar, located on the wall against which are
located two desks on which, among others, an Atari Mega ST and a
load of paper and floppy disks is located. On the Mega ST is
located a small stone troll, bought at a souvenir shop at Oslo
airport. The screen displays the "1st Word Plus" processing
Turning the camera to the right reveals a battered acoustic
guitar with a dirty guitar pick stuck between some rusty strings,
followed by a view of the scenery outside. It is grey there,
caused by the failing light of dusk together with a drizzle.
Turning the camera further back to the left makes a Commodore
128 and an Yngwie Malmsteen tour poster pass your view, followed
by a CD collection that is no doubt the possession of a proud
owner. They are alphabetically-chronologically ordered, and there
are empty spaces for new albums of Becker, Friedman, Satriani,
Metallica and Living Colour, to come out later this year. Under
the collection of these silvery discs, some music videos are
present, as well as an empty bottle of Coke. Both are barely
revealed by the camera. Even slightly further to the left,
however, it allows you to catch a glimpse of a mantelpiece on
which a dog's skull, a bigger troll (bought in a souvenir shop in
Ørsta), a 20 cc bottle of Plantiac and the cage of a hamster
named Bilbo are located - among many other things that are of
The air is filled by the presence and vibrations of heavy metal
music - the kind that makes your neighbours want to donate money
to whoever invites you for a long weekend at some place far away.
The camera suddenly moves out of the way to allow someone to
move onto the chair located behind the Mega ST. The person, a
male Kaukasian in his early mid-twenties, doesn't sit down for
long, however. All he does is park the harddisk and reach out to
a switch located on a multi-plug, causing the entire system to be
"Are you coming?"
It's a female's voice that calls from somewhere behind the
"Yeah sure. I won't be a sec," the person in front of the camera
After a couple of seconds, the lights are switched off. Some
talking in the hall is audible after the room door is closed. The
muffled sounds of a front door opening and closing can be heard
after that, followed by the sound of a key being turned in the
The house is empty.
It takes about two minutes until a sound is discernible once
more. It is difficult to determine from where it comes. The
camera pans and turns, as if trying to catch whatever it is that
is making the sounds.
It's not the hamsters. They are both peacefully doing nothing
much that causes noise. It's not the sound of birds singing
outside, for there aren't any. It's not even the sound of the
gnat that had bothered the male Kaukasian all evening, for that
particular insect has been flattened against the wall with a TV
magazine, just to the left of the Yngwie Malmsteen tour poster.
The sound engineer turns up some knobs.
It can now be heard faintly. Someone, somewhere in this room, is
speaking. Rather agitatedly, as a matter of fact.
The sound engineer turns his special microphone around, trying
to establish where the sounds come from. With a shock he
realises: It comes from within the Mega ST - the very Mega ST on
which is located the little stone troll bought at Oslo airport.
The camera pans in, but there is no motion to be seen
whatsoever. The sound engineer turns the knobs around some more.
"God damn. Hellfire. This kind of shit always happens to me."
It is clear now. It's a voice. An agitated voice, coming from
somewhere on or within the computer. It's not the troll, for it
just sits looking at a spot behind the camera in a fashion it's
been used to for quite a while. It's as animate as it is ever
likely to be, i.e. not very.
It must be something within the computer.
"How could he DO this to me? How could he? He knows I hate the
likes of you. Hell, I even thought he hated your kind himself!"
It's a metallic kind of voice, talking high-pitched, at quite a
"Well, you think I like YOUR kind, eh? You self-centred piece of
shit! Just consider the way I feel. I'm not overly enthusiastic
about this arrangement myself, you know!"
The reply is given in a less metallic voice, talking at quite a
low pitch, and quite a lot slower. It seems as if the latter is
having problems not speaking with inverted syllables.
"But could he at least not have you plugged into the cartridge
port or something? Having you RIGHT ON TOP of me is just about
the worst torture inflictable on me!"
"What do you think of the psychological dilemma thrust upon ME,
dear colleague? I am all but supported by you - physically as
well as electronically!"
"Please refrain from calling me 'colleague', sir. I do not wish
to be equalled with any Intel...er...contraption."
"CONTRAPTION?! Excuse me, sir, but where I come from we have
rather the same viewpoint about Motorola...er...concoctions."
"Why, you filthy little 8-bit non-integrated piece of circuitry!
Mutant would-be 8 Mhz chipoid! Bloody Intel trash!"
The sound engineer starts to breathe again, turning down some
knobs. It's only an 68000 and an 80286 processor argueing. The
camera turns itself off.
Never would I have believed someone if he or she would have told
me that I would buy a PC (i.e. a 'computer' utilising an Intel
processor and the MS-DOS 'operating system') some day.
With some sadness in my voice I have to tell you that I have.
The only thing that speaks in favour of me is that it ain't a
true PC - rather, a neat bit of hardware that sits on top of the
centre of my MEGA ST, the Motorola 68000 CPU.
It's called "AT Speed", and it allows me to run all 80xx and
80286 software running under the MS-DOS operating system at
virtually the speed of an ordinary PC running at 8 Mhz.
Quite some time ago, the US company Avant Garde published a
program that allowed for the emulation of MS-DOS programs on the
ST - in other words, it was now possible to use programs written
on IBM PC's (and compatibles) on our own ST.
The major disadvantage was that it was very slow. There was no
hardware involved, and each MS-DOS machine code instruction had
to be changed into 68000 code before it could be executed.
This all changed when the first hardware MS-DOS emulator
appeared on the market. "Supercharger" was already announced back
in the end of 1986, and it appeared somewhere in 1989 as far as I
am able to recall. This was a shoe-box-sized thing that could be
plugged into the ST's expansion port. It had 1 Mb of RAM extra,
so that kinda justified the high price that was attached to it
(wasn't it something between 800 and 1000 Germany marks, or maybe
It was quite expensive and quite big. Not really a perfect
solution. It was also quite slow, as it emulated an XT (an XT is
a rather slow PC).
In 1990, lots of cheaper MS-DOS emulator started appearing. Some
of them are Sack Elektronik's "PC Speed", Vortex' "ATOnce" and
Sack Elektronik's "AT Speed". The latter two were AT emulators
(an AT is a faster PC, faster than an XT) with an 80286
processor on them.
These got massively successful. Hans Sack, owner and sole
designer of Sack Elektronik, earned a couple of million German
marks by selling "PC Speed" and "AT Speed". It was a good market.
The emulators were reliable, fast and relatively cheap.
At the beginning of this year, all the major PC emulator
companies came with 16 Mhz versions of their hardware thingies.
The only difference was that the CPU worked on 16 Mhz instead of
the usual 8 Mhz, which resulted in a performance speed increase
(though not near 50%!). Prices increased as well.
Lots of people considered this to be heaven on earth, however.
And thus the prices of the 'regular' AT emulators dropped.
So I could finally buy one. My boss at ACN got an offer at 300
Dutch guilders. I took my chance, bought one, had it installed
and became compatible at a thoroughly reduced price.
Why this urge to become compatible all of a sudden?
Being compatible means 'being compatible with the IBM PC'. The
trouble with IBM PC's is that they are literally everywhere. Any
product made on a PC will sell dozens of times more than on Atari
ST and Commodore Amiga put together, which is a strong commercial
reason to go PC.
Don't get me wrong, however. MS-DOS sucks. The Operating System
is worthless trash. However, there are some programs available on
MS-DOS that are nowhere near getting on the ST. I mean word
processing and text analysis systems that would make any word
processor freak drool from every pore (I am a WP freak, so I
It was first when "GfA Basic" became available on the PC that I
felt I had to get compatible. Now, it was possible to convert ST
programs to the PC relatively easy. As the shareware market (that
Stefan and myself wish to explore - see the "ST NEWS Projects"
article elsewhere in this issue) is a lot better and many times
bigger on the PC, this strengthened my conviction.
So now I am compatible. I have bought "GfA Basic" for MS-DOS.
Soon, MS-DOS users will not know what happened to them until it's
I hate long intros and beating around the bush, so let's get
down to some serious business, i.e. the actual review of "AT
Speed" which is the reason behind me writing this article in the
"AT Speed" is basically a little hardware print that is
slightly less in size than 4 by 4 inch (10 by 10 cm). It's got a
handful of chips on it, of which the major one is an Intel 80286
(the CPU). With this little bit of hardware installed, it is
possible for the 80286 to take over control of the ST so that MS-
DOS programs can be used. The others chips mainly function to
make sure everything works smoothly together with the ST hardware
(floppy controller, video chip, memory controller...and RAM
chips, of course).
The manual explains clearly how to build in the thing into
260/520 ST, 1040 STF and MEGA ST. No problems there.
Once that has been done, all you need to do is run a program on
the "AT Speed" system disk called "AT_SPEED.PRG". When this runs,
you've suddenly become compatible. You have an AT that requests
an MS-DOS system disk to be inserted.
(This system disk is essential, though not present in the
package. Sack Elektronik is not to blame here, as they don't own
the copyright. Tough shit. So one has to be imaginative and use
Some basic stuff about Pees Eaze
I am not an authority on the field of MS-DOS, so don't get angry
if I supply you with some wrong information here. I don't think,
however, that it's altogether bullshit so read it.
Principally, a PC is a housing with a load of chips in it that
can't do much. To transform this into a more powerful computer,
you have to make use of the slots in the PC housing. That's where
you plug in cards that do something. PC users have harddisks on
cards, graphic cards, and even modems on cards. If you wanna play
games, you need to have a joystick card (or, even better, a sound
card that has a joystick facility built in such as
The most important things are the graphic cards. These are for
example Herculus, CGA, EGA and VGA (from bad to best). Modern
PC's all have VGA cards, which are better than ST or Amiga.
Super-VGA is even better than that.
Just like monochrome and colour on the ST, the kind of graphics
card you've got installed in your PC is important. Some programs
support only one specific card, which you will need to use for
that specific program to run.
AT Speed (sequel)
"AT Speed" is very powerful. Apart from the fact that it is very
compatible, it also supports emulation of the following PC
HGC (Hercules Graphics Card)
Very common in the PC world. It has two resolutions: 720*350
(monochrome) graphics or 80*25 (monochrome) text. A special key
combination when using "AT Speed" allows you to scroll the
screen, as it is bigger than the ST screen!
CGA (Colour Graphics Adaptor)
Very popular with some of the older games. It has four
resolutions: 320*200 (4 colours) graphics, 640*200 (2 colours)
graphics, 80*25 (16 colours) text and 40*25 (16 colours) text.
These can all be emulated if you've got a colour monitor on your
ST. The Tandy 1000 modus of CGA (which is 320*200 graphics with
16 colours) can also be emulated. On a monochrome monitor, this
will work with grey tones.
EGA (Extended Graphics Adaptor)
This is a high resolution, with 640*350 pixels with two colours.
This even offers 640*480 pixels resolution with two colours.
Scrolling the screen to display the bit that doesn't fit on the
screen can again be done with special keys once running "AT
This is not a very popular graphic mode, but it is emulated by
"AT Speed" as it is quite identical to the ST resolutions. It has
two resolutions: 640*400 (2 colours) graphics and 80*25 (2
This basically means that you've got a massive eleven of the
more and less popular PC resolutions at your disposal, which
principally means you can run all programs as long as they don't
need VGA, MCGA or super-VGA with many colours and all that stuff
(which principally means you can't play those hot Sierra games).
"AT Speed" is very good, I think I can safely say.
Further abilities of "AT Speed" include the possibility to boot
from harddisk (has to be E:), use of the Atari mouse as a
MicroSoft compatible PC mouse (you need the driver, though) and
support of MS-DOS RAMdisks and Extended Memory (!). This means
that with "AT Speed" you have an extremely powerful PC system
built into your ST!
I think this is a perfect solution, especially at the 300 Dutch
guilders price I had to pay. Normally, the card costs anything
between 500 and 600 guilders, but even that means incredible
value for money.
Practical uses of "AT Speed"
I have worked with "AT Speed" for a couple of weeks now,
although I will only start using it a lot once I've got another
hard drive installed, soon (I have 60 Mb but I'll build in
another 48 Mb soon). "AT Speed" is perfect for all practical uses
except for playing modern games or using sophisticated sound or
graphics packages: You can't get anything that's better than the
ST with it, i.e. never more than 16 colours.
But for other serious applications its use is unlimited.
Personally, I intend to do some programming using "GfA Basic"
(together with Stefan), and I intend to analyse my writing by
means of the many text style analysis programs that are available
on the PC. For people who earn money by doing word processing,
the combination of "1st Word Plus", "1st Xtra" and a powerful MS-
DOS word processor is perfect.
"AT Speed" is a brilliant piece of hardware. It is extremely
compatible (any of the major programs will work, including "MS
Windows"), very flexible and quite fast. As long as you don't
want to play advanced new games, don't want to use any sound
cards and don't want to use more than 16 colours, "AT Speed" is
preferable to a real PC.
German distribution: Heim verlag
Heidelberger Landstr. 194
International distribution: Compo Software
P.O. Box 20
NL-6269 ZG Margraten
I'd like to thank Willem Hartog of ACN for enabling me to get my
hands on this remarkable piece of hardware as the reduced price.
Of course, thanks also need to go to Herman Muller who built in
"AT Speed" quickly and reliably.
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.