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1980s Computers Explanation of terms

The Falcon

Atari Falcon


Atari (US)


Falcon 030

Date Launched

Late 1992
It was early 1993 before it became generally available in the UK.


£599 with 1MB RAM
£999 with 4MB RAM and 65MB hard disk

Microprocessor type

Motorola 68030 @ 16 MHz (A faster version of the popular 68000 processor.)
Provision for a 68882 maths coprocessor.

ROM size

512 kilobytes

Standard RAM

1 or 4 megabytes

Maximum RAM

14 megabytes

Keyboard type

Typewriter style with separate numeric pad, cursor keys and function keys

Supplied language

Not known
An updated version of Atari's operating system, TOS 4.04, was built into the ROM and MultiTOS, a multitasking operating system, was supplied on disk.

Text resolution

40 x 25 or 80 x 25 characters

Graphics resolution

640 x 480 in 256 colours
640 x 400 in 2, 16 or 256 colours
640 x 200 in 2, 16 or 256 colours
320 x 400 in 2, 16 or 256 colours
320 x 200 in 2, 16, 256 or 32768 colours

Colours available

2, 16, 256 or 32768 colours onscreen (see above), chosen from a palette of 262144 colours.


Sound could be recorded and played back using Direct Memory Access in 8 tracks, sampled at 50kHz with 16 bit resolution (i.e. better than CD quality.)
Output was through an internal speaker or a stereo jack socket.
There was a stereo microphone socket.

Cassette load speed

Fitted with a 3½ inch 1.44MB floppy disk drive in the right hand side of the case.
Connectors for internal IDE hard drive and external SCSI2 drive.

Special features

Contained a DSP56001 Digital Signal Processor chip clocked at 32 MHz. This was a general purpose chip for manipulating digital data and ran independently of the main microprocessor.
Typical uses were said to be real-time adjustment of sound being passed through the Falcon, to act as a digital graphic equalizer, or for advanced animated graphics while leaving the 68030 free to do other things.
Genlock was supported, which allowed the Falcon's video display to be synchronised with and overlaid on an external television picture.
An internal expansion bus allowed fitting of an Intel 80386SX processor for PC emulation, though it seems this ability was never exploited.

Good points

Ran about 15 times faster than the previous Atari ST.
Retained the MIDI ports of the ST.
Much (but not all) software for the ST would also run on the Falcon.
Had an updated version of the GEM graphical user interface.

Bad points

Expensive compared to its main competitors, the Commodore Amiga and Atari's own STe, both of which cost around £250 to £300. To make full use of the Falcon's graphics potential really required a hard disk drive and 4MB or more of RAM, which put the price up to £1000.
Very little software was written specifically for the Falcon.
The use of the old Atari STe case meant the Falcon did not stand out as a new product.

How successful?

Sales of the Falcon were quite poor, totalling around 100,000. It was priced out of the games console market and by 1993 IBM PC compatibles were firmly established as the standard for business computers.
The lack of software for the Falcon meant there was little advantage in upgrading from an ST or Amiga, and the slow sales were no incentive for software houses to write programs...
The Falcon was Atari's last new desktop machine and production ceased in 1993, Atari then concentrating on the games console market.


The case of the Falcon was almost identical to that of the Atari STe but with dark grey keys instead of white.
The digital signal processor was certainly an interesting addition to a desktop computer but programmers seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with it.
There were still some niche markets for the Falcon such as low-cost desktop publishing and music recording but the PC standard, with its much larger market share, was seeing most of the software development.
There were plans to introduce a Falcon 040 featuring the much faster Motorola 68040 processor and internal expansion slots, but it never progressed beyond the prototype stage.

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