[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]

"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

The Art of Atari ST Emulation

By Matthias Arndt


1 Introduction

I'm quite an Atari ST fan. It was the computer that introduced me to computing in the first place. It was a thrill that changed my life forever.

All those of you who prefer the Amiga, write your own article instead of claiming the ST was or is crap.

What? You don't know what the ST is? It's a late-80s, early-90s 16/32-bit home and semi-professional computer system manufactured by Atari. The ST still has many friends all over the world, the Atari ST community is very active on the web due to the fact of emulation. Just visit the Little Green Desktop ( or to see what I mean.

This article concentrates on Atari ST emulation on Linux, describing the available emulators and some useful information about ST emulation in general.

2 What is emulation?

Emulation tries to rebuild the behavior and performance of hardware components with software. Practically this means to make your PC think it is another computer with a different hardware architecture and in most cases another OS, enabling you to run a great amount of software written for the emulated system on your real box.

In our case, this means running software for the Atari ST on your Linux box.

3 Machine Facts

Anyone who is interested in emulation should at least know the hardware facts of the emulated system. Here we go:

(all data refers to the standard ST, not the TT, Falcon or clones)

  1. 320x200 pixels, 16 colours out of 512 (50 or 60Hz)
  2. 640x200 pixels, 4 colours out of 512 (50 or 60Hz)
  3. 640x400 monochrome running at 72Hz
The STE models had advanced sound and graphic capabilities.

Always keep in mind that this machine was introduced in the spring of 1985 and the masses were stunned. More capable than a Macintosh of that period and much cheaper at that time.

Just as a little overview of what an emulator has to emulate.

4 ST Emulation

The first attempt at emulating the ST was the Gemulator in 1994 or 1995. It was an emulator for DOS that needed a special hardware plug-in card. Nowadays, all ST emulators are software-only solutions.

The ST Emulation boom started in 1997 with the DOS based emulator PacifiST written by Frederic Gidouin.

Since then several other ST emulators have reached a very high niveau such as WinSTon or STEEM. This applies partly to ST Emulation on Linux as well. STEEM is now officially available for Linux, and STonX is getting better and better at each release.

5 ST Emulators for Linux

5.1 Things common to all emulators

All ST emulators have the following things in common:

5.2 STonX

The famed STonX was the first and for a long time the only ST emulator available for Unices. It now reached a really usable state, although still not wonderful to play games and run demos on it.

A few quick facts:

STonX may not be the emulator of choice for games or demos but it is definitely the emulator of choice for developing system-conformant (meaning GEM) applications. It runs pretty fast and smooth. And I couldn't make it crash in 6 months of operation (The emulated ST may still crash but not the emulator program itself).

Really annoying at the moment are:

But no program is perfect - STonX is definitely worth a try. It is better than one might expect.

STonX can be found at:

5.3 STEEM on Linux

This is a port of the STEEM emulator to Linux. It is not GPLed but freeware.

STEEM is much better suited for games, since it features even STE graphics and sound, overscan and raster effects included. It runs many demos and most games.

STEEM facts are:

STEEM is close to be perfect. Some features of the Windows version are still missing but it runs pretty good. And its main advantage over STonX: it runs games and demos!

STEEM can be found at:

5.4 Hatari

Hatari is a port of the WinSTon source code to Linux. It is still in early alpha phase and unusable at the moment.

Check for details.


As stated above the TOS is the Atari ST's default operating system. (You can run Minix, Mint and several other systems as well.)

Obviously, all ST emulators need a TOS ROM in order to work. It is not included with the emulators and always keep the copyright in mind. There are several places on the net to get TOS images, and there are programs available that allow you to extract the TOS ROM of your ST to a file.

7 Software for the ST

There is still a large amount of ST software around on the net. FTP sites carry public domain and freeware, and some sites have pirated ST games online. Finally, the ST community on the net is very supportive when looking for ST software.

8 Community

There is a large Atari community on the net, several IRC channels, bulletin boards and a hierarchy of Usenet news is available.

A few useful tips:

At the time of this writing, November 2001, the Little Green Desktop is still in a redesign phase but that may change by the time this article is online.

9 Conclusion

The Atari ST is still alive - and you can support this development on Linux. Join us by running an Atari ST emulator. Even if you never had an ST, it is worth a try.

Take me for example, I never had a C64, VCS2600 or ZX Spectrum, but I run emulators for all of them.

Always remember: Atari will never die!

Matthias Arndt

I'm a Linux enthusiast from northern Germany. I like plain old fifties rock'n'roll music, writing stories and publishing in the Linux Gazette, of course. Currently I'm studying computer science in conjunction with economics.

Copyright © 2001, Matthias Arndt.
Copying license
Published in Issue 73 of Linux Gazette, December 2001

[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]