Missing the Atari Mega STe
In 1991 I added an external hard drive to my 1040ST, but after doing so I was really starting to hit the ceiling of the 1 MB of RAM. Because my 1040ST already had the pc-ditto II board in it there was no way for me to also install a RAM upgrade.
By the summer of 1992 I had decided I really needed an upgrade.
By this point there was no Atari dealer in Maine, so I was again going to have to purchase something
online via mail order. I decided to go with Toad Computers because they had great ad, good prices and I enjoyed Dave Troy’s columns in Current Notes.
So at the end of August in 1992 I ordered a 2MB 1040STe for $469. I figured I’d be able to sell my current 1040ST for at least $200 to help offset the cost.
I don’t remember what I actually ended up selling my old 1040ST for, but with the pc-ditto II board in it I do recall getting a very good price. I think it was $300+.
When it arrived I just had to unplug everything from my old 1040ST and plug it into the STE. I used it for just a week or so before I realized that there just wasn’t enough new with the 1040STE. I had the extra RAM (and Blitter), which was nice and I’d be able to eventually upgrade it to 4MB because it used SIMMs, but everything else was pretty much the same. It had the exact same keyboard, was the same speed, same 720K floppy. It did have nicer audio outputs, but that was about it. It just didn’t feel like a new computer.
So I decided to move up to something even better: The Mega STE. Toad agreed to take back my newly purchased 1040STE and apply it as a “trade-up” to a 2MB Mega STE. In addition, they agreed to install my existing hard drive inside the Mega STE (after removing it from its external case, of course).
So for another $380 (total $849) I ordered the Mega STE in September and sent the 1040STE and my external hard drive to Toad.
When it arrived, the Mega STE was a revelation. It had a wonderful external keyboard! It ran at 16Mhz (instead of 8Mhz)! It had a built-in 1.4MB floppy drive. The hard drive was now internal, saving space on my desk. The case design was unique and stylish.
I loved everything about it. It really was a great computer. I continued to use it while at university for lots of programming assignments and for writing papers.
I also had a modem which I used with it to connect to the university Unix computers to access my account and submit assignments. The university also provided access to the fledgling internet. I remember I could use telnet and ftp to other sites with ease.
Over time I upgraded it to its full 4MB RAM and eventually also picked up a used color monitor (SC1224) so that I could more easily play games. I especially loved playing the original Civilization which ran great off the hard drive and at 16Mhz. Populous was another favorite.
I created and released my first shareware program on this computer. It provided a way to connect to online networks (Delphi and GEnie) and download stuff (email, files, forum discussions) overnight to read offline. It could also upload replies and files in a batch. I sold it for $15 and it was surprisingly popular. I remember I was so excite the first time I got a check in the mail (yes, people sent checks back then for shareware). Each time I got a check, I would create a custom build (with their name in it) and send back a 3.5” floppy. That was a pain and cut into my profits a bit, I’m sure, but it’s what everyone did back then.
I called this program Oracle (a play on Oracle of Delphi), completely ignorant of the fact that there was a rather large database company with that name. They never contacted me, though. :)
When I got my first professional programming job in 1994, I was working on a PC with Windows 3, 4MB RAM and mostly used DOS. My Mega STE was still better in most regards.
But by 1995, after using a PC for about a year, I started to feel the Mega STE was no longer good enough. In particular, 486 speeds were getting pretty fast (66Mhz!), SVGA graphics were much better than ST graphics, the Pentium had just been announced and there was a new game I wanted: Doom.
So in the spring of 1995 I bought a PC, an AT&T Pentium 60 model (the one with the infamous floating-point bug) and sold my Mega STE to help fund it. The PC cost about $1700, if memory serves.
I believe I sold my Mega STE for around $600, so it was good value for the less than 3 years I used it.
I still miss that Mega STE and would love to find another. I do regularly search eBay, but they are incredibly rare and when they do appear sell for more money than I can justify paying (usually $1200+).
As a side note, around 2005 or so I got the Atari bug again and purchased both a Falcon030 and a TT/030 on eBay for cheap. Alas, I sold both of those two after a while, which I now greatly regret.
Edit (Sep 5, 2022): For more about the Mega STe, be sure to read Mega STe Love by Shiuming Lai
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I lived in walking distance of Toad Computers when I was in high school, and spent a lot of time in the shop with Dave and Sam.
I previously bought a MegaST4 in a Gaithersburg, MD store for $2700 in 1987 and a 100MB (two 50MB HDs in an ICD external SCSI enclosure) along with a color and mono monitor. That said, Dave and Sam later installed an internal 100MB hard drive inside my ST with an internal ICD SCSI adapter, upgraded me to Rainbow TOS, and installed a 16MHz upgrade with an external cache toggle switch (which made my ST run faster).
I still have my computer exactly as it was when I graduated college in 94. WordPerfect, PageStream, LDW Power, an alternate NeoDesk Desktop, terminal emulation software, etc. I ran a BBS with a 2400 baud modem and ExpressBBS for a time in 87-88. I got so much use out of this computer (and I was totally into the Atari 8-bit scene from 83-87 before that).
I also have the software MagicSac (couldn’t afford the hardware) that loads into memory to run MacOS and apps like Adobe Illustrator.
Dave (lived in Severna Park) and Sam (lived in Arnold) were a great resource and I’m glad they opened that store.