"Contrariwise", continued Tweedledee, "If it was so, it might
be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it isn't.
ST NEWS COMPARATIVE HARDWARE REVIEW: THE ST BOOK
ST Book review bit by ACN - rest by Richard Karsmakers
The ST Book review bit was originally published in the Dutch ST
magazine "Atari ST Nieuws". They have granted permission for us
to translate and use it in ST NEWS, for which we are of course
deep in their debt. Thanks, guys!
The ST Book
All well known manufacturers of MS-DOS machines nowadays also
release their machines in a so-called notebook version.
Fortunately, Atari also decided this was an OK thing to do in
case of the Atari ST. Over a year ago this notebook variant was
first shown at the German CeBIT in Hannover, but now the thing
can finally be bought (or at least it should). Especially for
business users this may be an excellent alternative to the
standard ST. Musicians will also be interested, as the STacy was
a bit of a flop so the ST Book might be able to do some good
Basically, the ST Book is a compressed Atari ST. Its measures
are 30 by 21 cm, which just about equals a DIN A4 piece of paper.
The thing is 3.7 cm in height, and weighs only 2 kilos. It looks
a bit like a suitcase of which the lid can be flapped open to
reveal an LCD screen on the inside with two little lights and a
power switch. The 'inside' of that actual suitcase contains the
keyboard and a vector pad - but more about that later.
The screen has the same dimensions as the bit that's normally
visible on an SM124 monochrome monitor, and the resolution is
equal, too - 640x400 pixels, high resolution.
At the front of the ST Book one can find a contrast controller
so that you can determine the contrast to be proper from any
particular viewing angle.
The ST Book keyboard contains 84 keys. Their size equals that of
a normal ST keyboard, but the numeric-and cursor-keypads have
been integrated in the same, big cluster.
Because of the compact design of the whole thing, there was no
space to build in a track ball (as was the case with the STacy).
Therefore, Atari opted for something they called a vector pad or
joypad. This is kindof a hollowed button with which the mouse
cursor can be controlled. The more you push the vector pad, the
quicker the mouse cursor moves. This may not sound all too
comfortable, but once you've gotten used to it it's just as good
as an ordinary mouse to work with. In case you find it difficult
regardless, you may connect an ordinary mouse at the right side.
The ST Book keyboard, by the way, uses keyclick switches - the
same that may be found in the keyboards of the MEGA STe and TT
To the left bottom of the screen you will find a round button
with which the ST Book can be switched on and off. To the right
of that you will notice two buttons within the housing. These are
the sleep and reset buttons. Below those you will see two LEDs:
One will light up during hard disk activity, and the other one is
the power on indicator.
When the sleep button is activated, it will stick out of the
housing. This will cause the machine to switch itself off when
the 'suitcase' is closed - without data being lost, contrary to
many notebook machines. When you switch the machine on
afterwards, you will see that you can continue where you left off
(this may be compared with the 'off' state in case of the
When you see the ST Book for the first time you really get down
to wondering how Atari's people have succeeded in stuffing so
much electronics into such a small case. Therefore, we could not
resist the temptation to unscrew the machine and check it out
from the inside.
After removing the keyboard one encounters an SMD print (SMD
stands for Service Mounted Device). Every square millimetre is
used here. At the left one finds an 8 Mhz CMOS version of the
Motorola 68000 CPU. To the right of that there's one large chip -
that is the custom chip named Combo, that combines a new MMU
(Memory Management Unit) with a blitter.
To the left of the 120-pin expansion bus one finds de TOS
Operating System chip. This is burned in a PLCC-EPROM with a
capacity of 512 Kbyte. Half of this is used for TOS, and the
other half is used as EPROM disk. The built-in harddisk may be
found under the cover to the left of the vector pad.
The ST Book can get power from three different sources. First,
it can work on 7 batteries of the AA type. Of course, the machine
can also be connected to your mains, whereas a separate battery
pack is also available. The power supply you get with the ST Book
contains a fast recharger that can recharge the internal battery
within 1.5 hours. About 10 hours of work can be done with a
totally charged battery pack, which is quite long in comparison
with other notebook computers (and the STacy, for that matter).
Atari has used some high tech solutions to accomplish this long
operating time. The LCD screen, for example, switches itself off
after a particular time that can be determined by the user. The
hard disk also switches itself off after a certain time of non-
use. The internal components have all been selected with low
energy consumption in mind. This can be concluded from the fact
that a CMOS version of the CPU was used, as well as pseudo-static
RAM chips (which consume less power than regular RAM chips). The
ST Book also uses a normal LCD screen instead of a backlit one.
This is no disadvantage in picture quality, as the screen is
Just like the ST itself, the ST Book has been richly supplied
with connections to the outside world. Most of them are at the
back, and these are concealed by a cover.
Starting at the left side we find the mains plug, two MIDI ports
(IN and OUT), a DMA port, an RS-232 port and a Centronics port.
Both the DMA-and the MIDI-connectors are smaller than the regular
ST ones but offer equal compatibility.
By means of a separately available DMA adapter, all existing DMA
devices can be connected. Similar adapters are available for the
MIDI ports. As the ST Book does not have a floppy drive built in
(indeed, not even a floppy controller), an optional external disk
drive needs to be connected through the mini DMA port. Atari will
soon market a High Density (1.44 Mb) disk drive to this effect.
Price and availability are not yet known.
Hidden below the vector pad there's some empty space left for
later addition of an optional fax-or modem-card.
The computer does not have a ROM port. Instead of that it has a
120-pin connector that, among other things, contains all
standard ROM port signals. The lack of the standard ROM port
may cause problems with people who want to use MIDI software
which often uses a dongle on the ROM port for its copy protection
- most of these companies are now working on a version that fits
on the printer port as well.
The ST Book has a built-in Connors 2.5" 40 Mb harddisk. This
does not have an SCSI interface but an AT interface that is
highly common in the PC world. The average access time of the
Connors hard disk is 19 milliseconds. Its transfer speed is high.
The ST Book uses a ROM disk (drive P) that standard has a
communication package on it (and more as well - see further
below). With this it is possible to quickly transfer data from
and to an Atari ST or TT by means of an RS232 or Centronics cable
with speeds of up to 140 Kb per minute.
The ST Book has TOS 2.06 built in (system date October 15th
1991). This is also often called "STe TOS". With this TOS it is
for example possible to start applications from the desktop or to
drag a text file icon across a word processor icon which will
then result in the word processor automatically loading that
file. The new modular CPX control panel is also present. A
newly included module allows the user to determine the time after
which the LCD screen should turn itself off.
After testing the ST Book with software such as "1st Word Plus",
"GfA Basic", "Omikron Basic" and "STAD" it can be said that it is
fully compatible with other ST models.
Some software is built in the ST Book. This includes a
scientific calculator and an electronic diary that you can use to
store telephone numbers, addresses and appointments. Telephone
numbers can even be dialled by keeping the horn close to the ST
Book's internal speaker in case you have a modern telephone
Also, the ST Book contains an integrated package that has within
it a word processor, spreadsheet and communication package. All
program parts are complete and give the mobile user everything he
may want. At home, you can quickly transfer data to a standard ST
The ST Book is a compact and handy computer that is comfortable
to work with. Screen and keyboard are just about equal in size to
the ST, but the joypad requires getting used to. The lack of an
internal disk drive is a disadvantage, of course, but there are
solutions (or there will be soon).
It's a fine computer for the business user. If you have an ST
Book and, for example, a small Canon BJ10ex Bubble-jet printer,
you will have a complete portable office. You could draw up
contracts and print them out in laserprint-quality without a
power socket in sight! The financially well-off ST user can now
also work with his favourite machine in an airplane or train.
The ST Book is available in two forms. The standard package
contains a 40 Mb hard disk and 1 Mb of memory; the more powerful
version has an 80 Mb harddisk and 4 Mb of memory. Check it out!
Now that's something to get excited about!
The standard version will cost about 4300 Dutch guilders (i.e.
about £1300, DM 4000, US$2400). The more extensive one has a
price tag on it that nobody seems to know (including the Atari
The Cambridge Computer Z88
At less than £300, Cambridge Computer's Z88 seems to offer more
value for money (full review of this machine in the ST NEWS Final
Compendium). If we take a quick glance at what the Z88 can do, we
see that it's got a Z80 processor built in, working at 1 Mhz.
Standard it comes with a mere 32 Kb of RAM, and half meg
expansions are available at over £200. It has no harddisk built
in, and its screen is only 80x5 characters. It's got very decent
organising and word processing software on ROM (and BBC basic),
and uses RAMdisks and EPROM cartridges as storage medium. It can
operate about 20 hours on 4 AA type batteries, whereas it can
store all RAM when not in use for up to a year (all data
applicable to 32 Kb RAM version). It's a fairly powerful machine
that is exactly one DIN A4 page in size and weighs in kilogram.
External power supply, EPROM cartridges, EPROM eraser (which
you'll need to use EPROM cartridges again after they're full),
and communication cable are optional. The communication cable is
necessary to port data from and to another computer (like an ST
For most applications, the Z88 will do nicely. On-location word
processing and appointment organising is powerful and easy. No
need to buy another 'notebook' type computer then. It can work a
very long time on one set of batteries (though rechargable ones
do not supply quite enough and generally don't survive an hour).
It is relatively cheap, can work for a long time and it quite
The Macintosh PowerBook
Now this is the real stuff. About half a year ago Apple released
this little gem and it's truly one of its kind - though only of
interest to those who have quite a lot of dosh at hand!
Just like the ST Book and unlike the Z88, the PowerBook comes as
a suitcase-like thing with an LCD screen on the inside of the
cover. The various types of PowerBook can have backlit
supertwist LCD (9" or 10") or backlit active-matrix LCD (10")
screens with a resolution of 640x400. Designs is more ergonomic
(with little thingies at the back that raise it so you don't
frustrate your wrists when typing), and a SuperDrive 1.4 Mb 3.5"
disk drive is supplied as standard (though with the cheapest it's
external). Do note that this SuperDisk, unlike standard Macintosh
disks, are compatible with Macintosh, OS/2 and MS-DOS (and
therefore Atari ST)! Harddisks are also built in - either 20 or
40 Mb. Memory is 2 Mb at least, expandable to 8 Mb. Ports are
available for connection of SCSI devices, AppleNet, modem and
more RAM. They all have a rechargable battery built in, with an
external recharger supplied within the price (as is the standard
mains adaptor). They weigh somewhat more than the ST Book - from
2.3 to 3.1 kilos. They can work for about 2.5 - 4 hours once
fully recharged and are, of course, totally Macintosh
The cheapest model (PowerBook 100 with external disk drive, 9"
LCD screen, 20 Mb harddisk, 2 Mb RAM, 16 Mhz 68000 processor)
costs about £1800. The most expensive model (Powerbook 170 with
internal disk drive, 10" active matrix LCD screen, 40 Mb
harddisk, 4 Mb RAM, 25 Mhz 68030 processor and 68882 mathematical
co-processor, sound in port, built in fax/data modem) costs about
twice as much, i.e. £3600. Quite an enormous load of money but
you get a truly gorgeous machine for it! The middle model
(PowerBook 140, internal disk drive, 10" supertwist LCD screen,
20 or 40 Mb harddisk, 2 Mb RAM, 16 Mhz 68030 processor, sound in
port) costs about £2300 or £2600 depending on the harddisk
Obviously the PowerBook scores very high everywhere - except for
the increased price, of course, and the fact that the harddisk
capacities are not quite top of the bill. But the PowerBook 170
is a portable office even in a more literal sense than the ST
Book could ever be - you can simply plug in a telephone jack and
you can fax and all, and of course you've got a bloomin' 25 Mhz
68030 processor plus the 68882 co-processor there. We're speaking
TT power here (drool, drool)!
If you have loads of money, think seriously about the PowerBook.
if you only need to do word processing and organising when you're
away from your desktop ST, then the Z88 is surely a good
alternative - even though the total price is still not too low
altogether. In other cases, the ST Book seems a brilliant
machine, though still somewhat pricey.
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.