Fun & Games

Atari STE update, now with UltraSatan!

Now that I’ve settled in with my “new” Atari STE I wanted to get the mass storage issue resolved so I went the route of the UltraSatan device which emulates an Atari compatible external Hard Disk but supports storage sizes limited only by the SD cards you use. I chose to order one through Lotharek in Poland whom I previously purchased a similar device for my Atari 8bit machines – I really like the build quality of his products and that it was bundled with everything (cable and prepared SD card) except the charger as any existing mobile one with a micro USB cable would suffice. The device itself is incredibly unobtrusive – you could safely tuck it away and no one would notice it at all which is a nice bonus. The metal casing also makes it very sturdy too. I really liked the fact that with everything in the package I could simply plug it in and it all worked immediately. Before I knew it the ST’s desktop appeared with a bunch of new drive icons, each full of games. It really is a great way to start and demonstrate the immediate value of the product.

The UltraSatan (left) with an Atari ST mouse (right) for comparison.

Additionally I also picked up Peter Putnik’s Hard Disk driver to run it all. A demo version of his driver came with the UltraSatan but it was size limited to 256Mb partitions which while good for earlier STs would not take advantage of the sizes that newer machines could address. The full version of the driver also supported the second card slot too which is handy for setting one up for those STE specific large sized drives. Additionally Peter is well known for his hard disk adaptions of ST games so that they can run nicely off the UltraSatan and similar products. Historically most ST games expect to be running from a floppy disk and can’t simply be copied over and be expected to run. So buying his driver seemed like a good way to also support all the extra work he’s done over the years. He’s also developed a virtual floppy driver that lets STs run the disk images used by emulators which opens up even more software to use without the need to replace the internal floppy drive with a GoTek. I’ll try that out soon enough. 🙂

When I first launched the STE with the UltraSatan plugged in, I copied the new driver into the AUTO folder (for apps you want running on start) and made a backup of the originals in a temp folder. It was here I discovered that there were a few issues with the keyboard with some buttons not registering. I didn’t notice it earlier because I was testing games and most only needed a space bar and not much else. So the machine got opened up again and for the first time I pulled apart the keyboard to take a look. Thanks to a few YouTube videos I knew in advance what to expect on opening it – lots of screws and just as many rubber key cups – and it looked like the motherboard’s contacts could do with a wipe as the key cups tended to make it grimy over the years. A thorough clean of the contacts with isopropyl alcohol and careful reassembly and I think I got it back working better than before.

Even though I had been familiar with these modern gadgets for classic computers I’d been thinking it might have been less beneficial on the ST as its design seemed less inclined to help this kind of device, especially seeing how many games relied on a floppy disk drive. This is why the GoTek has usually been considered the main solution for the platform – the computer still thinks it’s a floppy, just playing virtual disk images. But the Atari community found a way past that and I’m really impressed with how well the combination of UltraSatan and adapted games work. The integration works well and really does make it feel like a part of the system.

I tried out a few games and apart from a couple with possible TOS compatibility issues they ran smoothly. I had to check out Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a good test of a multiple disk game (see pic)… ironically it was one of the few games in my collection that worked perfectly fine copied to an original Atari hard disk. The hard disk adaptions often come with perks like an exit button (no need for a reset) or other tweaks often associated with cracked games. The load screens using scans of the game boxes is a really nice touch too. Finally, not having to worry about that clicky, crunchy sound the drive makes whenever a disk is first inserted does reduce some of the stress of loading games again!

Devices like this are what help keep these old computers relevant and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Being able to just switch it on and be in a game within a short time is incredible and it’s been fun seeing my son look at some of these old games and say to me “that doesn’t look too bad… can I play?”. Maybe the old Atari has a bit more life in it. 🙂

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