My First Modem – The Atari 1030

The Atari 1030 Modem, Atari Inc., 1983

The Atari 1030 Modem, Atari Inc., 1983

Released in 1983, and designed to match the newly launched Atari 1200XL, the Atari 1030 modem was an interesting piece of hardware.  The modem’s device-driver was burned into ROM, enabling it work with any Atari 8-bit computer without additional software.  Also, a very simple telecommunications software program, called ModemLink, was also included on the ROM.  Barely more than a glorified phone dialer, ModemLink lacked features for performing downloads or uploads.  In fact, the software was so locked-down for file transfers, that ModemLink would not work if you had a floppy disk drive turned on and connected to the Atari.

"Your portal to the wonderful world of telecommunications"

“Your portal to the wonderful world of telecommunications”

What we have in the Atari 1030 is – probably – the most important piece of electronics I have ever purchased, and my life would be very different had I not.  In mid-1984, it was summer-time and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket.  With a drivers license still mostly fresh from the printers, I headed out to my local Atari Store.  Do you remember that?  Different little hole-in-the-wall stores specializing in Atari, or Commodore, or Apple computers.  And the Atari 1030 with the “New Atari 1030 Software Package” was on sale at my local Atari shop.  Ever since I had seen the film WarGames, I’d wanted a modem.  It was going to be tight, but still within my budget.  So, I had to have it. Even today I still love the design.  The 1030 is just the perfect size for sitting under the five pound Ma Bell touch-tone phone left-over from the late 70’s my folks let me use.

Photo from the 1030 user manual - showing the Atari 1030, an 800XL computer, and a 1025 printer.

Photo from the 1030 user manual – showing the Atari 1030, an 800XL computer, and a 1025 dot-matrix printer.

The Atari 1030 modem was simple to set up and use for quick-dialing into Bulletin Board Systems.  But, the build-in ModemLink software lacked even simple features like busy-signal detection and automatic redialing.  In the pre-Internet days, when trying to dial-in to a BBS – generally only with one dedicated phone line – redial was kind of an important thing to have.  Fortunately, my 1030 bundle came with slightly more sophisticated telecomm software, Atari AModem, developed by Jim Steinbrecher.  AModem finally included the ability for users to upload and download via the XModem protocol, as well as redial.  I used AModem a ton, thanks Jim!

"Welcome to the fascinating world of telecommunications."

“Welcome to the fascinating world of telecommunications.”

The “New” 1030 software package also included a utility called TScope.  As it was specific for use with CompuServe,  and I was not a member, so I never actually used TScope.  Lastly, a strange telecommunications program called DiskLink was added too.  I remember trying to use DiskLink a few times, and it was very slow and, if I recall right, not terribly stable.  Essentially, it was an attempt at a Macintosh-style windowed system for telecommunications.  For navigation through menus, etc, you needed to use an Atari Joystick.  It was not a user-friendly experience, but, certainly interesting.

As a piece of hardware, the Atari 1030 Modem was rather unimpressive.  Maximum speed of 300 baud, or 300 bps, and fairly spartan software.  But, for me, it opened up an entirely new world – computer telecommunications.  I was fortunately enough to live in an area with a very active BBS community, and very early on – probably 5-6 BBSes in a city of about 70,000 people.  In the early going, the majority of people with modems were older, and, as a teenager, being involved in discussions about history, politics, science, economics, etc., really helped spur on my intellectual curiosity.  Even if I could read faster than 300 baud would transmit words.

Atari 1030 Modem, rear view.

Atari 1030 Modem, rear view.

It is this early, eye-and-mind-opening experience, has carried my through my adult life.  Ever since then, a modem was an essential part of my computing experience, and – until broadband Internet connections  – I always had one.  A 1200-baud Anchor that would over heat and generally had to run at 600 bps.  A SupraModem 2400 – the DC3 of external serial modems.  And, of course, the US Robotics Sportster 14.4.  After it, I owned a series of no-name, computer-show-purchased 28.8s, through 56k’s.  I loved each and every one of them.  But none like I loved my Atari 10301.  You never forget a first.

References   [ + ]

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Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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2 Responses

  1. Jim Steinbrecher says:

    Glad you liked my Amodem.

    • I’m having a bit of a fan-boy moment. =) I did indeed, Jim. AModem was an important part of introducing me to the wonderful world of computer telecommunications. Thanks again!

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