UltraSatan: The Man Behind the Smallest Atari Hard Drive Ever

Atari Jookie UltraSatan SatanDisk ST STe STF STFM MEGA SD MMCAMN Interviews "Jookie" (Miroslav NOHAJ), Developer of the Smallest Atari Hard Drive Ever!

What inspired you to make products such as the SatanDisk and UltraSatan for an ancient 20 year old computer?

Jookie: For different reasons. Since I was a little Atari user, I always wanted to have a hard-drive for my Atari ST, but in those days they were selling 20 MB and 40 MB ASCI hard disks for a lot of money which I didn't have because I was only 10 years old. Even back then, I was doing some little electrical projects and envisioned that some day I'd build my own hard disk or IDE/ASCI host-adapter.  But being so young, I didn't have enough knowledge for such a project and the available components were not as evolved as nowadays (they had too little power and were too big).

When I got older and had more knowledge about electronics and programming, I tried to develop an Atari IDE-to-ACSI interface called the IDE Devil, but the development was going slowly and the IDE (ATA) interface soon became obsolete, replaced by SATA.  So then I thought about a similar concept for memory cards and thus SatanDisk was born. The UltraSatan was an upgrade to the SatanDisk - faster, smarter, and better.

AMN: What has it been like designing the UltraSatan? How long will you continue to manufacture this device?

Jookie: I'm not sure how many I could sell. What I can say though, is that manufacturing is very boring and tough work - it is, in fact, the opposite of the development. The development is a fun part of the work - you learn new things, think and plan about what you need to do next, and solve problems.  When I find a solution it makes makes me happy (for a very short while). I also like the feeling of announcing news and updates to the crowd and hearing their happiness and eagerness to get one.

But then comes the manufacturing, which is boring and exhausting - although my friend MiKRO helped with the ordering and manufacturing of the first batch.  I'm always having to answer the questions of potential buyers over and over again even though I've posted those answers on the web somewhere.  Then there's making orders for electrical components and getting phone calls from the distributors while I'm at work asking me stupid questions like "what are you manufacturing?" or "who are you and for whom are you working?". I also have to solve issues like dealing with unavailable parts which can't be delivered until four months yet I've already promised that the devices will be manufactured and shipped in three.  Sometimes things can go wrong when manufacturing the PCBs.

When the manufacturing is done, I want to have a good feeling that many people are using my baby although that can easily become negatively impacted by the unexpected issues and the constant user-support.  Much of the money made from this project covers my development costs; the rest is used for buying more measuring equipment which I need for my hobby hardware development.

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AMN: What were some of the biggest challenges making the UltraSatan?  What are the most important differences between the SatanDisk and UltraSatan?

Jookie: The biggest challenge designing UltraSatan was to make a working and stable ACSI interface in software without any digital measurement equipment - you know, to catch all the signals, edges, etc. The other challenge was just a matter of free time and energy to do the development. As I said, the really hard part was in the manufacturing (several days of soldering, packaging, testing) and not in development.

Here are the most important features that between UltraSatan has over SatanDisk:

  • Up to x8 faster, depending on the type of card used, operating system, and driver.
  • 2 slots for SD/SDHC/MMC cards, thus replacing the equivalent of 2 SatanDisks attached to 1 computer
  • All cards are hot-pluggable (i.e. you don't need to power off and on the UltraSatan when you change the cards).
  • Uses a battery protected Real Time Clock (RTC).
  • Up to 4 different firmwares can be uploaded from the computer without the need for a hardware flash programmer. There is also 1 base (non-overwritable) firmware, so if something goes wrong during the update process, the device won't become unusable.
  • Is compatible with ICD PRO (free) and HDDRIVER (commercial) harddrive drivers
  • The schematics, firmare, and sources are open-source. You can build your own!

AMN: What do you love about Atari?

Jookie: This is hard to answer because I don't know! The Atari 800XE was my first computer Since then, Atari is one of those things I love irrationally. Even when I got my Atari ST, the love remained. Atari ST is the first computer on which I first learned to program in basic and assembly code - that alone supports the love for the machine. And now that I'm thinking about it, there is one rational reason why I love Atari - it lacks so much modern hardware that developing hardware for it makes sense; whereas it doesn't make any sense to develop new hardware for PC because basically everything already exists on it and it performs well for a cheap price - that is the hardest kind of competition.

AMN: Do you have other Atari hardware or software projects planned?  Are you involved with the Coldari (Atari Coldfire Project) in any way?

Jookie: Yes, I'm trying to start a new hardware project for Atari, but I don't want to say anything more about it right now. I've found that it's not good to talk about a project before it reaches the final working stage because people will get too excited about it and it may give them false hope if the project will not get finished or will not work differently than expected.

I'm slightly involved in the ACP (Atari Coldfire Project) in the way that they may use my sources and schematics freely and they may ask me anything they want ;) Unfortunately, I don't have spare time for that project as I only have a little time for my own projects.  I don't want to promise something that I won't do.

Visit the official UltraSatan website for more information.