Finding a Mega STe
I got one!
I’ve used most of the various computers in the ST line. In the late 80s and early 90s I owned a 1040ST, a 1040STe for a week or so and then a Mega STe. My Dad had a Mega ST2, which I would often use to play games since he had the SC1224 RGB color monitor (I only had the monochrome SM124). Later in the mid-2000s, I acquired a Falcon030 and a TT/030 that I kept for maybe a year. Really the only model I’ve never used was the original 520ST.
Out of all those computers my favorite is easily the Mega STe. I love its integrated case design and detachable keyboard. I love that it can run at 16Mhz (for the most part), making it faster than all other STs1. I love that it has great compatibility with most software, unlike the TT and Falcon, both of which used the 68030 and more substantially changed versions of TOS.
Last year I wrote about Missing the Mega STe and now I’m happy to report that I now again a proud owner of a Mega STe! I was chatting on Mastodon with Randy Kindig (of Antic the Atari Podcast) about a Mega STe he had recently purchased from Germany and I decided to think about that more.
I had been watching for Mega STes to show up on eBay, but systems from the US are far and few between and always sold for much more than I wanted to spend. But after talking with Randy, he convinced me that the Mega STe is actually a reasonable one to consider purchasing from overseas.
The big reason is that the Mega STe has a switchable power supply. So one from Europe with its 220 volt grid can also work here on our 110 volt grid without needing a converter. More importantly, it can often be easier and cheaper to find a Mega STe in Europe (especially Germany), where Atari ST computers (especially late-model ones such as the Mega STe) were much more popular than they were here in the US.
Since I’m going to be in London at the end of April, I first thought I could maybe find one in the UK and bring it back with me. I did find one in the UK for about $1000, but its condition was not great. I also realized that trying to bring back such a large computer with my luggage was not really a great plan.
So I gave up on that idea. But then a few days later I was scouring eBay and came across listings for two Atari Mega STes from Germany. Both were about the same price, $600, but one had an Atari TT top case. Although the one with the TT case appeared to have a better HD, I decided I wanted the one that was all Mega STe2.
After confirming with the seller that they would ship to the US, I clicked “Buy It Now”. Amazingly, it only took 5 days for it to arrive here3. I ordered it on a Sunday and it arrived on Friday (last Friday, March 31)!
After an inspection, it appears it was not damaged during shipment.
The unit is slightly discolored as most Atari STs are, but is otherwise in very good condition. Some of the keyboard keys are more discolored than the rest.
The RAM size was not mentioned in the auction, but it turns out it has the full 4MB of RAM, which is great.
The auction listing did say it came with a hard drive, but it was not specific on the size. It turns out it came with a 50MB ST157N drive (probably the original one that came with in 1991 or so). Surprisingly it actually worked as it booted from it on the first try and it had some (all German) software on it.
It also came with TOS 2.05 (German version), which I quickly replaced with TOS 2.06, US version (that I had previously ordered). This was simple to do as the ROM chips are easily accessible from the hard drive bay.
I have an UltraSatan SD-card hard drive emulator that I’ve been using with my 1040ST. When I moved it over to the Mega STe and turned things on, the Mega STe no longer booted. After some research it seems likely that both the UltraSatan and the internal HD were set with the same ID (probably 0). I decided to just remove the internal drive, although I could have changed the ID on the UltraSatan. Although the old HD had some German software on it, it was loud and noisy and the space insignificant compared to the almost 2GB I have with the UltraSatan.
For now I’m running the UltraSatan in its case attached to the ACSI port, but it would be nice to perhaps install it internally in the hard drive bay. It looks like there are adapters to allow that, which I may investigate.
Although the keyboard is in good condition it has two issues: some keys are discolored and it is the German layout. That means it has at least one extra key (next to the left shift key) and has several characters that are labeled differently or in the wrong place now that I have put the US TOS in it. In theory I should be able to pop off some keys to swap them, but they don’t seem to come off easily so I’m waiting on that for now.
A quick test indicates the keys all are working, which is great news. Unfortunately, this keyboard is not the most reliable and if the internal membrane starts to fail, there is no fix as membranes are no longer seem to be available. I’ll be typing gently.
The Mega STe has an RF out, which means it also has composite out that I can extract using my Monitor Master, which should simplify my monitor situation some.
Currently I have a tiny desk in my office with my 1040ST and (at times) my 130XE on it. I also have two displays: an old LCD TV with S-Video inputs for the 130XE and an SC1224 RGB color monitor for the ST. I don’t really like using the SC1224 for anything but games, but I don’t have room for three monitors.
So for now I’ve decided to change things up and use the monochrome SM124 monitor with the Mega STe and use the composite output to the LCD TV for when I want to play color games. However, because this is a European ST, the composite output does not quite work. Well, it does work, but it only outputs a monochrome signal.
Apparently there is a way around this. The computer came with a cable to go from the Atari monitor port to a SCART lead. I can get an adapter to convert SCART to composite and then connect that to the TV. The adapter was only a $4 on eBay, so I’ve ordered one to try. It has not arrived yet, but I’ll write about it when it does.
If I don’t like this setup, I’ll start looking around for a monitor that can also do 15Khz (with help from this site and eBay) to see if I can find something that will run all three things (monochrome, RGB and S-Video). I can then use another adapter I bought to allow a VGA cable to connect to the ST. Initial research indicates that finding such a monitor will be difficult, but I’m in no rush.
The only other negative of this Mega STe, which became obvious when it had TOS 2.05, was that it does not have a 1.4MB HD floppy. It has the regular 720K DD floppy.
After opening it up, I was able to confirm that is does not have the updated AJAX chip needed for 1.4MB floppy support. This is not really a big deal as I don’t use floppies a lot4, but it would have been cool.
The built-in battery-backed real-time clock is also dead (of course), but since the UtraSatan has its own RTC this does not matter.
Lastly, the Mega STe is noisier than I remember. The power supply has a built-in fan and it is rather loud. It’s not as bad as the “wind tunnel” PowerMac from 2002, but it’s close. I did use some compress air to clean all the dust out of the power supply which helped a bit with the sound, but it’s still loud. After some research, it turns out replacing the fan with something quieter is not difficult, so I’ve ordered a replacement.
Why did I need a Mega STE so badly? I suppose I didn’t, but a plain, old 1040ST is pretty slow and the keyboard is terrible. The Mega STE adds a Blitter, the 16Mhz speed and a much cooler design that fits better in my office. Also, nostalgia.
Somewhat ironically, before ordering this Mega STe, I found someone that was going to sell me a 1040STe and SC1224 monitor for $750 including shipping), but they never got back to me to complete the deal. I’m so happy that deal fell through as the Mega STe is what I really wanted all along!
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It’s certainly not faster than the TT or Falcon, though.
The TT top case had a TT/030 label, but more importantly was TT-white rather than Atari ST gray.
After I posted about that when I received it, I got a note from Randy Kindig that the one he ordered (earlier than I did) still had not arrived yet. Apparently my super-fast shipping from Europe was an anomaly.
I was using floppies to copy things from my PC/Mac over to the ST, but with the UltraSatan I can now just use SD cards for that which is much faster and easier.