the Tramiels restructuring the new Atari, top of their
agenda was to re-launch the 8-bit line of Atari systems to
compete with Commodores extremely popular Vic-20 and C64
models, and raise much need cash for R&D projects.
It meant tweaking the existing XL line of systems and
ensuring they were manufactured as cost effectively as
the UK at the time, the popular Spectrum series from Sinclair, which was soon to be
purchased by Amstrad (Alan Michael Sugar Trading), was head to head with the Commodore
systems and the BBC Micro (which was built by Acorn) being successfully pushed into the
educational segment. Other home computers competing for shelf space in the early to
mid eighties were the Dragon 32 and 64, the Lynx from Spectravision, the Sword M-5, the
Memotech MTX-500, the Sharp MZ-711, the Oric-1, the Texas TI-99/4A and from Japan the MSX
series. It was a tricky proposition to stand tall in such a crowded market place..
Atari Launched the 65XE (64Kb Ram -
less exp. bus) and the 130XE (128Kb Ram) in 1985. A wide range of peripherals were
advertised, most of them actually made it to market - a trade mark of the Tramiel run
Atari was announcing products which either (a) never saw the light of day or (b) usually
came to market much later.
The XE was a continuation of the
Warner XL line of 8-bit systems, with re-styled casing and cost-effective components,
ensuring competitive price points. The XE line also comprised of the XEGS, which was
part computer and part games console. It had a detachable keyboard and enabled Atari to sell the system in two different retail
packages and market segments.
After 1984, and the
ugliness of the great console crash, the early eighties brought with it some interesting
developments in the industry. Sales of IBM's "PC" line were increasing
(only to see it collapse in 1986 and 1987 to competitors) and Apple were on the crest of a
wave with their latest computer called simply the "Mac". Commodore was
having internal difficulties, especially at board room level, and it was a dispute which
would see Jack Tramiel leave the company he founded many years before (1958).
Tramiel is a business case all to himself - a survivor of the concentration camps at Lodz,
Poland - he entered the U.S. in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen. His philosophy
"business is war" has earned him some harsh critics, and although he was
influential in making Atari a profitable organisation once again, he is also cited with
bringing the electronics pioneer to it's knees. But let's talk about the positive
sides to the Tramiels business acumen - After leaving Commodore (then facing financial
ruin also), he started TTL (Tramiel Technology Ltd.). This was a transition year for
Jack and his business partners; Jack was looking around for a company he could
"slot" into and market a new line of computer systems - thus, hearing the vibes
coming from Warner in 1984, Jack was able to purchase Atari in July of 1984.
Tramiels, as we have already mentioned, made huge changes to the ex-Warner owned
company. Jack and his team, many ex-commodore, went about "streamlining",
cutting whole departments and cancelling
projects - even projects at completion
stages. Such casualties were the XL and the VCS 5200/7800* line. Existing
projects, such as the 8-bit computer line, were enhanced and repackaged - Jacks team
ensuring that any new systems were built as cost-effectively as possible. *(The 7800 would
eventually be re-launched from it's moth-balled state by Atari in 1986).
Before Atari Inc. was sold,
Atari were working towards
the launch of a new computer - based around the Amiga chipset.
Amiga Inc. were desperate for a buyer or investor at the time, and the
"Warner owned" Atari had paid Amiga Inc. for development work, which
Amiga Inc. still had in it's possession. When Jack took over the
company, he realised that contracts had been signed with Amiga and Atari
Inc. in November 1983, and tried to leverage this and take ownership of
the Amiga properties.
Right under the noses of Atari, and at the
11th hour for Amiga Inc, Jack's old company purchased Amiga Inc. lock, stock, and
barrel. Jack was furious, and the court case lasted for years to come. But
Atari had to move quickly on its original designs which it had been
working on prior to this, the "building blocks" for a
new 16-bit computer, before Commodore released an Amiga based system and
stole the limelight from Atari.
system, designed and built in record time - was the Atari 130ST. Atari announced
the 130ST, 260ST and 520ST. The 130ST and 260ST were shelved as memory prices
dropped (although the 260ST did see a limited production run) and a decision was made to launch with 512k memory. The 520ST
(Sixteen/Thirty Two or possibly "Sam Tramiel"?) was officially launched in 1985 -
People were genuinely amazed at the new system - it was more advanced than an Apple Mac,
and much more cost effective than the PC. Dubbed the "Jackintosh" because
of it's high-resolution mono-screen option, the system soon became headline computer news
The 520ST was launched
in 1985 - it was a revolution in home computing. Although hastily
brought to market, in it's 7 year history it sold well in excess of 4 million units world-wide, most of these went
into the European market where the machine was better supported. At it's launch, it
had an external 3.5" single sided, double density disk drive, mono and colour screen
options (a TV RF was built into configurations in 1986, with the STF systems) and the STM1
mouse. interestingly, since it's inception, the Atari mouse never changed shape
The 520STFM was heavily advertised
in Europe. Atari really took the lead from Commodore with it's software bundles -
from games, educational and music bundles, these helped sales during Christmas and the
quieter summer periods.
While Commodore were
making moves to become the worlds number one manufacturer of PC
compatible systems, Atari too saw potential to earn some extra revenue
in this expanding market segment.