Atari ST

Definition of Atari ST

The Atari ST is a personal computer series introduced by Atari Corporation in 1985. It is based on the Motorola 68000 CPU and was primarily known for its graphics capabilities, affordability, and built-in MIDI ports, making it popular for musicians and hobbyists. The “ST” in its name stands for “Sixteen/Thirty-two,” referring to its 16-bit external bus and 32-bit CPU architecture.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Atari ST” is: ə-ˈta-re ˈɛs ˈti

Key Takeaways

  1. The Atari ST was a 16/32-bit computer system, released in the mid-80s by Atari Corporation, featuring advanced graphics and sound capabilities for its time.
  2. It was popular for various professional applications, such as desktop publishing and music production, thanks to built-in MIDI ports and a user-friendly graphical interface, the GEM (Graphics Environment Manager).
  3. The Atari ST had a strong rivalry with the Commodore Amiga, leading to what was dubbed as the “16-bit computer wars,” helping to shape the evolution of personal computers in the late 20th century.

Importance of Atari ST

The Atari ST, released in 1985, is an essential technology term as it represents a significant turning point in the evolution of personal computers.

It played a critical role in making multimedia capabilities and graphical user interfaces more accessible and affordable to consumers.

The Atari ST was a pioneer in offering advanced graphics and sound capabilities, supporting MIDI connectivity, and running the pre-emptive multitasking GEM operating system.

These features made it popular among musicians, artists, and game enthusiasts, paving the way for subsequent milestones in the industry.

Furthermore, the Atari ST’s competitive pricing and extensive software library contributed to its success and influence on the next generation of personal computing advancements.


The Atari ST, released in the mid-1980s, served as a versatile and affordable home computer system mainly used for multimedia purposes. Large as well as small software houses utilized its capabilities for gaming, music production, and graphical arts. It gained notable popularity among musicians, as it represented one of the first computer systems to integrate built-in MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) support.

This allowed for seamless connection between the computer and various electronic musical instruments, enabling musicians to compose, sequence, and record their music using the Atari ST as a powerful workstation. Its remarkable audio capabilities and ease of use directly contributed to its widespread adoption in the music industry, particularly among the emerging electronic and dance music scenes of that era. Furthermore, the Atari ST served as a robust gaming platform.

It possessed a 16-bit Motorola processor that provided impressive processing capabilities for its time, enabling developers to create detailed graphics, smooth scrolling, and a rich gaming experience. Many popular titles, including “Dungeon Master,” “Lemmings,” and “Sim City,” saw their debut on the Atari ST. This platform played a significant role in shaping the golden era of video games, paving the way for the evolution of more advanced gaming consoles and personal computers.

Its user-friendly nature and diversified applications made it an essential piece of technology in both entertainment and creative industries during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

Examples of Atari ST

Music Production: The Atari ST was an early pioneer in the world of computer-based music production. It featured a built-in MIDI interface, which allowed the computer to communicate with a wide variety of musical instruments and synthesizers. The software, “Cubase,” was originally developed for the Atari ST and became a standard software suite used by musicians, producers, and composers to create and edit music. Bands like Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and Depeche Mode all used Atari ST computers in their studios for music production.

Desktop Publishing: The Atari ST was also popular for desktop publishing due to its high-resolution graphics, affordability, and specialized software programs. Applications such as “PageStream,” “Calamus,” and “Timeworks Publisher” made it possible for individuals and small businesses to design and print their projects, like magazines, brochures, and newsletters, with relative ease. At the time, this was typically done on more expensive systems, but the Atari ST made it accessible to a broader audience.

Gaming Industry: Atari ST was known for its contributions to the gaming industry during the 1980s and early 1990s. Thanks to its 16-bit architecture, the Atari ST provided gamers with better graphics and sounds than most of the 8-bit systems at that time. Popular games, such as “Dungeon Master,” “Lemmings,” and “Another World,” were first released on the Atari ST. Alongside gaming, the Atari ST also served as a vital platform for game development, as it offered programmers a more affordable alternative to other computers on the market.

Atari ST FAQ

What is the Atari ST?

The Atari ST is a line of personal computers developed by Atari Corporation in the 1980-1990s. It was popular for its graphical user interface and powerful processing capabilities, making it a popular choice for musicians, artists, and programmers.

What does the “ST” stand for in Atari ST?

The “ST” stands for “Sixteen/Thirty-two” which referred to the 16-bit external bus and the 32-bit CPU architecture used in the Atari ST series of computers.

When was the Atari ST released?

The Atari ST was released in June 1985 and discontinued in 1993, with new models and upgrades being released throughout its lifespan.

What operating systems did the Atari ST use?

The Atari ST primarily used its in-house operating system called TOS (The Operating System), along with the GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) for its graphical user interface. In addition, some Atari ST models could also run other operating systems like MinT, MagiC, and MultiTOS.

What type of software was available for the Atari ST?

A wide range of software was available for the Atari ST, including word processors, spreadsheets, graphics programs, music production, and programming tools. Aside from productivity software, the Atari ST also had a vast selection of video games and educational programs.

Why was the Atari ST popular among musicians?

The Atari ST gained popularity among musicians due to its built-in MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) support, a rarity in personal computers at the time. It enabled artists to easily connect synthesizers, samplers, and other electronic instruments directly to their Atari ST for music production and live performances.

Was the Atari ST compatible with other Atari models?

The Atari ST had limited compatibility with other Atari computers, like the Atari 8-bit family (400, 800, XL, and XE series) through the use of emulators. However, the Atari ST’s hardware and software were quite different from other Atari systems, making direct compatibility difficult.

Related Technology Terms

  • 16-bit home computer
  • TOS operating system
  • MIDI support
  • Floppy disk storage
  • Graphic User Interface (GUI)

Sources for More Information


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