My 8-Bit Atari Computers

I have been collecting 8-bit Atari computers for several years. I had a 400 growing up and spent a lot of time as a teenager coding on it and, of course, playing games on it. Atari’s 8-bit series of computers were incredible machines back in the day. All of these machines work and none of them are for sale. I have them on display, as you can see in the following picture, and take them out from time to time to play with them.

Atari 8-bit computers

The Atari 8-bit Computing Platform

The 8-bit Atari computers were based on the following chipset:

  • 6502 (MOS Technology) was an inexpensive 8-bit CPU used in several Atari machines, the Commodore 64, the Apple II, and the Nintendo NES.
  • ANTIC (Alpha Numeric Television Interface Chip) graphics chip The ANTIC chip Graphics
  • GTIA (Graphic Television Interface Adaptor) graphics chip that provided player/missile (sprite) graphics
  • POKEY (Pot Keyboard integrated chip) for sound and serial input/output, which interestingly was also used in many commercial arcade games

Atari 400

Although I first learned to program on cards on a PDP-8 in high school, and later on a Commodore Pet, the Atari 400 was my first home computer. It originally shipped in November 1979 along with the Atari 800, and I would have gotten one around late 1982 I think. The first release had 8K of memory (1K = 1024 bytes) and it eventually shipped maxed out at an incredible 16K of memory. And yes, I did in fact run out of memory coding on it many times.

Atari 400

I currently have two working 400 machines, one of which is in the picture above, and a replacement keyboard for the 400’s standard membrane keyboard which has not been installed. When I was a kid I had the replacement keyboard and it was significantly better than the membrane, although not as good as the 800’s keyboard.

Atari 800

Atari 800

The 800 shipped in November 1979 along with the Atari 400. I have a several 800s as this was always my favorite machine out of the entire 8-bit line. The keyboard is solid and the machine has 48K expandable to 64K with easily installed memory board (and I would love to get one). Although I didn’t have one as a kid, it was definitely the better of the two from the original 400/800 pair. If you’re a retro computer collector you want one of these.

Atari 800 and Sony Monitor

Here I have an Atari 800 attached to a Sony Trinitron 12″ tube monitor. I use this machine for games up at my cottage as I have an extensive cartridge collection. One of the great things about the Atari 8-bit computers was that they played great games. I always said that had Atari realized they were a game machine company, rather than a computer company, and had reworked the 800 into a game machine (which they did in the form of the Atari 5200 a few years later, far too late) then they would have never ceded the market to Nintendo and Sega.

Atari 600XL

The 600XL came out in the Fall of 1983 as a replacement for the 400. Although it looks nice, but I never really understood the market for it and not sure that Atari did either. I guess they were trying to compete with the Commodore Vic-20 at the time, but that would have been too little too late. I have it in my collection so as to have the full range, but I really don’t see why you want one unless you’re nostalgic for the 600XL because you had one back in the day.

Atari 600XL

Atari 800XL

Along with the 600XL this machine was released in the Fall of 1983 as a replacement for the 800 and the 1200XL (see below). In my mind this is a workhorse machine and my preferred one from the XL line. If you’re collecting classic home computers, consider getting one of these. If you want to play 8-bit Atari games on original hardware, this is the machine to get from an ease of use point of view. The cartridge slot is on the top so it’s easily accessible. The 130XE is likely the most robust of all the 8-bit machines from a cartridge support point of view, but the cartridge slot is in the back of the machine so it’s not as easy to get to.

Atari 800XL

Then again there’s the Atari 5200, which is a game machine albeit one that takes its own cartridges. I have one of those complete in box (CIB), although don’t include it in my computer display. Many of the 8-bit computer games were ported straight over to the 5200 and the play is pretty much the same from what I can tell.

Atari 1200 XL

This machine shipped in March 1983 and discontinued four months later in June 1983, making it a hard machine to get as there wasn’t many built. I’ve got one complete in box (CIB) that I picked up in the summer of 2020. I honestly never thought I’d get one in the box, and was expected to pay through the nose for any one that I did find. Luckily I ran into someone on Kijiji, similar to Craig’s List, that had found it when he was cleaning out his mother’s attic and was happy to sell it to me.

Atari 1200XL

To be blunt, the 1200XL was expensive junk that had significant compatibility problems. It shipped with 64K and was expandable to 128K. It was the first machine to be released with the new XL design, which I have grown to love over time although the 800 will always be #1 with me. I also think that it’s the best looking of all of the XL machines, mostly due to it being just a bit longer. The 1200XL looks impressive sitting on a desk.

I particularly the design of XL peripherals, but that’s another topic.

Atari 65 XE

The 65XE shipped in April 1985 with 64K of memory. I have never liked the look of the XE machines. The XE design was made to be similar to the Atari ST line, and perhaps Atari had fantasies about corporate sales at the time. As I mentioned earlier, a design mistake was to put the cartridge slot in the back of the machine. To be fair 5-1/4″ disks were common by then and it was a lot easier to ship software that way rather than to burn cartridge chips. And I have no doubt that Atari was trying to shake off the game machine stink too. So, in my mind, this is a classic great design idea at the time that proves to be unfortunate in the future – I would really like to be able to easily put a cartridge in the top of the machine, not the back. This machine effectively replaced the 600XL.

Atari 65XE

Atari 130XE

The 130XE shipped in April 1985 with 128K of memory. This machine effectively replaced the 800XL.

Atari 130XE

Atari XEGS

This is an interesting machine although to be honest I really didn’t like the color scheme. It shipped in 1987 and is effectively a repackaged 65XE with a removable keyboard, a feature that was common on IBM computers as well as the Commodore Amiga at the time. This is a solid game machine that is dressed up like a computer. And look, the cartridge slot is back on the top where it belongs. Design genius! I suspect that they shipped very few of these, particularly given how hard they are to find now, something I need to look into at some point.

Atari XEGS

What I’m Still Missing

I’m currently missing a 800XE, which is the European version of the 65XE. I’m not in a rush to get it, but I’m keeping my eye out. As I said earlier, I really don’t like the design of the XE computers so my goal is to fill out my collection.

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  • Will
    Posted January 11, 2024 9:15 pm 0Likes

    The 130XE (and 65XE) are the best looking of the machines to my eyes. I prefer the cartridge slot being at the back as well.

  • Joe
    Posted February 20, 2024 5:09 am 0Likes

    Ah yes,good old atari.loved my 130xe and my son still has it and uses it often.its a spruced up 130xe with extras 😉.I did start with the 400 then the 600xl then the 130xe.thanks for the memory.

  • Clinton Holder
    Posted March 2, 2024 4:14 pm 0Likes

    Still have a 800xl and 1200xl. I have the breakout interface which converts the Atari databus to printer, and pio along with the cassette peripheral and 2 floppy dusc drives. I had to directly contact Atari Engineering to get that bix since i couldn’t find it fir sale anywhere. Also a bunch of games, basic xl, database, word, spreadsheet, and assembler cartridges. Loved it in the day and wrote a lot of programs. Hooked a telephone modem up to it so I could work from home.

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