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Graviscera @gravislizard
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so let me tell you how cursed collecting old computers can be
so, I wanted "an Atari ST." problem zero: that is minimally meaningful. the Atari ST line contains like 10 distinct models
here is an example of (as far as I know) a typical day-one Atari ST setup. This is a 520ST, meaning it has half a meg of RAM. you will notice problem one: half a meg of RAM.
this immediately requires a sidebar

== Which Vintage Computer Is Right For You? ==
- The Decision Is Weighty, The Outcome Irrelevant -
when selecting a vintage home computer, the first thing you need to remember is that you are going to make a really dumb decision in trying to acquire "the best." you want the maximum flexibility. you're probably wrong, but it's hard to know, so you're going to do it anyway
what you actually need to know is what you're likely to do with it and what you actually need to do those things, but that information is shockingly difficult to find online because - and this part is critical - almost nobody on the fucking forums uses the shit they buy
The Forums, as a singular entity that knows no beginning or end, are populated almost entirely by
1) incredibly clever people who make FPGA boards that solve intractable problems
2) hoarders
you never meet the latter personally, IMO. yes, many of us collect shit we rarely use, but the people on the forums are almost invariably a different breed that all seem to have a gigantic collection and use it all to run 1 program to brag that they have this shit
anyway, the geniuses are busy making useful shit and the hoarders are absolutely useless old men, so they will never answer any useful questions like "what programs actually need 1MB+ of RAM?" or they'll give conflicting answers despite this being a question of facts
in the case of a mac or (pretty sure) an ST, part of the problem is that these are systems sophisticated enough to have, if not multiple processes, then at least TSRs. things that take up RAM when you aren't doing anything with them. "drivers", "accessories", etc
so - what are you doing? are you going to power up your Mac and launch exactly one app at a time? or are you going to LARP living in 1996 and have a bunch of toolbars and helper apps and an mp3 player? this enormously affects what you need
you probably don't need to scrounge on ebay for months to get the best quadra and find enough RAM to fully populate the slots. and i suspect I didn't need an Atari 1040ST, but I wasn't really able to figure out what my options were, so that's what I bought.
something you have noticed about the 520ST pic: external floppy drive. so. so. the floppy drives that came with these were initially external single-sided drives, meaning they can do 360kb on a single disk. later they got double-sided 720kb drives. just like the IBM PC
they also later released the STf model, where f stands for floppy. here's the f, there's the floppy. built right in! check out that eject button! damn! stylin!
well, so, who wants to dick with floppies, right? and 720k ones at that. pain in the ass! lemme tell you! even formatting a 720k floppy is a pain in the ass. you have to tape over the little HD window and then use a special format command in windows, and they're sooooo slowwww
I bought my 1040stf two years ago. Used it for a bit. Had it on a shelf for a while because I blew the fuse in my step-up xformer and forgot to replace it for like a year. Finally did a few days ago and started loading up software again.
what a pain in the ass!! ugh!!! the native disk format for these can't be written from windows, at least with any kind of ease. i mean if it's doable I haven't figured it out. they're 800kb images and i know my USB floppy won't do more than 720.
So what I've been doing is extracting the contents of the disk images with a really miserable, tedious old app, then copying them out to formatted disks, which the ST will read. I have like. idk. 70% success rate? This isn't really how it's supposed to wokr and it's a pain
After a couple of days of this I happened across a disk I'd written back when I got this thing, and was surprised at how many programs were on it. I checked and found it's 1.44mb! what the fuck! well
see, those original drives die. so here's what almost all STs on ebay look like. hope you didn't love that unique design
that's what mine looks like too. has a bog-standard PC floppy drive in the side. now, those will read 360/720, but I figured the Atari OS was just, you know, willing to take whatever the drive reported, so 1.44 is fine
not too long after I discover this, I decide I'm sick to death of floppies. i want to use the ST images directly, I don't want to have to format and write each one out by hand or extract them, I just want to DO SHIT, not meta-shit. So I buy a Gotek.
see, this is what the other half of the STs on ebay look like. that's a device sold in the quadrillions by 35,000 chinese real-on-paper companies. they're intended to replace bad drives in MIDI pianos for fake-upscale sushi restaurants which explains everything I just said
the gotek uses a standard Shugart floppy interface and "drops right in" to the ST. so i bought one. it arrived, I hooked it up, tried to learn how to load ST images and immediately shit got really complicated and miserable
i could find no information on this at all. everyone will say they have "a gotek" in their atari, but when I tried to search for usage instructions everything was forum threads from people who were five steps further ahead than me. i needed, you know, STEP ZERO. HOW TO LOAD FILE
and nobody anywhere would explain this but everyone was talking about HxC and FlashFloppy, two replacement firmwares for the Gotek with explicit Atari support. I will not get into HxC but it costs money and the creator looks like a huge prick.
So I got the FlashFloppy FW and went through hell loading that on the gotek (long story - you need extra hardware to do it that nobody tells you about up front), hooked it up, and Great, It Doesn't Fucking Work
It has two modes, HxC Emulation and Normal, and neither work. The former hangs on boot and then shows me 11 bombs, the latter sorta kinda works, sometimes will give me a directory listing, but throws disk errors when I try to launch anything. To wit:
i've been discussing this with a friend the whole time and getting nowhere, and finally I mention a Golden Clue and he goes "wait, you could read 1.44s in that? that shouldn't be possible, the floppy controller in the machine doesn't support it"
"unless it was overclocked by a previous owner"
hell is real, and strong, and not my friend
did I mention this thing is from Germany? and I didn't make the connection, when I ordered it, that that means THE OS IS IN GERMAN AND THIS CANNOT BE CHANGED? and the keyboard is QWERTZ and this ALSO cannot be changed?
I mean, I can do it, but I have to replace all 6 ROM chips with NOS from ebay. OR, I could boot the machine (every time!!) off of a floppy image that loads english TOS into RAM and then reboots into it, but THAT eats up some RAM permanently
"can the RAM be upgraded" absolutely! here's what that looks like. that's a row of chips with jumper wires soldered over their tops. another approach has you soldering chips onto the back of other chips.
so let's talk about my options for making this machine tolerable
1) somehow restore the orig floppy controller. probably $50 if I can even find one; will be shocked if it "just works" and no other mods have been made
2) buy a $50 set of english ROMs
3) try to burn my own ROMs
4) try to install more memory

did i mention that all of the above have the potential to turn my working ST into e-waste?
oh if it isn't clear, the problem with the Gotek is *probably* that the "overclocked" aftermarket floppy controller is running out of spec for this machine, and the Gotek is running in-spec, and they aren't quite hitting on the same notes
This is just how shit is. You buy these old computers, they seem OK, but they've always been dicked with by someone or have other hidden pitfalls inside and you never know how until you try to do stuff that you found in a forum thread from 2005.
my beige powermac, which I need for certain things that my G4 can't do, is from an era when all the plastic used to make these machines turned to powder and dreams after a couple decades. so when this machine arrived, I poured half a pound of broken plastic standoffs out of it
it needed those! they weren't for show! i had to glue the floppy and CDROM in place. the power button requires a gentle touch and a careful angle or it won't impact the actual switch. the whole thing sucks to touch or do anything with.
I think there used to be a support bracket for the CPU and addon cards and it's long gone. so this whole machine is just waiting to fucking break and things like "plugging in a video card" might cook something because I can't secure the cards
Oh, the ST can also possibly be made more useful by buying an Ultrasatan, an incredibly-named HDD emulator that takes SD cards. Maybe. If the HDD interface hasn't been fucked with as well. It's also like $120.
Also the mouse sucks shit, the Atari ST mouse just sucks shit it just SUCKS SHIT IT'S SO BAD IT JUST SUCKS SO FUCKING BAD and it ALWAYS DID. Honestly pretty much every mouse on every system in history that wasn't a PC or Mac sucked shit.
They don't implement mouse acceleration, which you don't quite realize your PC is doing but it is and it has been your entire life. The mouse does not move at a consistent rate. This sucks so much that ST users bought software that added acceleration to the OS.
The mouse itself is also just horrible. In the last two days of using it, the left mouse button has become so unreliable that it now requires 5-6 hard presses before it'll register anything. So I need a replacement.
I can buy an adapter called a JERRY that lets me use a USB mouse with my Atari and implements hardware-level acceleration. great! so let's tally up
- ROMs: $50
- Ultrasatan: $120
- USB adapter: $50
- Candles: $36,000
Total to fix this piece of shit: $36,190

is this worth it?
==== BONUS ROUND ====
-- In Which --
Gravis Wonders If Any Of This Even Means Anything, Even If It "Works Out"
why do I give a shit about the Atari ST? well,
I had heard that in some countries it sort of served as an alternate universe macintosh. without getting deep into the comparison, i can kinda imagine this. and I heard there was CAD software, and I wanted to see that
the idea of some german dude designing a BMW part on an Atari tickled me and I wanted to see this software. so i finally took the time yesterday, after owning it for over a year, to try to find some.
i could only find mention, anywhere, of like 3 CAD programs that can do 3D, and almost 100% of the references you'll find are to an app called (surprise) 3D-CAD. I got it, and I think it sucks and it's basic and unusable.
there WERE a lot of apps for this platform and I'm going to take a look at a bunch more, but it was really disappointing to find out that this particular fantasy of mine seems to be unfulfilled.
maybe people used the 2d drafting apps that seem to be widely available but I was hoping to see some 3d, and 3D-CAD is the only serious offering I can find. I did see that someone made an enterprise with it, that's cool, but I have no idea how they managed. this app is *rough*
the outcome is far less irritating than I expected.
there are several ways to do the floppy drive mod in this machine. several of them use a plug-in daughterboard that replaces the stock FDD controller. that is what I have.
the big chip on top there is a WD1772, which is the stock FDD controller. It's still being used here, the mod board just supplements it with some circuitry to figure out what type of drive is connected and adjust the timing and shit like that
I'm not super sure how it gets the *OS* to accept this but, hey, whatever. It apparently works really well, just not for me. So I popped it out, then re-scavenged the WD1772
it's attached with two soldered leads so I can't just get rid of the board, I have to figure out what it's attached to and remove it. But the 1772 is now back home where it belongs
And I can run software from ST disk images. WOO
The job isn't completely done. I need to figure out where these wires go, and to that end the easiest approach is probably to figure out which mod this is. It's a manufactured PCB, it's gotta be documented online somewhere.
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