The Atari 800 computer- front view. Atari's home computers were manufactured from 1979 to 1992. All are based on the MOS Technology 6502 CPU and were the first home computers designed with custom coprocessor chips.
The Atari 800 computer with the cartridge slot open to reveal the Left and Right cart slots for games and programs. Design of the 8-bit computers started as soon as the Atari 2600 games console was released in late 1977. The engineering team from Atari's Grass Valley Research Center felt that the 2600 would have about a 3 year lifespan before becoming obsolete.
Close-up of the Atari 800's cartridge slots. Ray Kassar, the then-new CEO of Atari from Warner Communications, wanted the new chips to be used in a home computer to challenge Apple. In order to adapt the machine to this role, it would need to support character graphics, include some form of expansion for peripherals, and run the then-universal BASIC programming language.
Close-up of the Atari 800's cartridge slots. Atari had originally intended to port Microsoft BASIC to the machine, as had most other vendors, intending to supply it on an 8 KB ROM cartridge. However the existing 6502 version from Microsoft was 12 KB, and all of Atari's attempts to pare it down to 8 KB failed. They finally created their own Atari BASIC.
The Atari 800 computer: left-front side. Atari identified two advantages for the new computers, a low-end version known as Candy, and a higher-end machine known as Colleen (named after two secretaries at Atari). The primary difference between the two models was marketing. Colleen was marketed as a computer, and Candy as a game machine (or hybrid game console). Colleen would include slots for RAM and ROM, a second 8 KB cartridge slot, monitor output and a full keyboard, while Candy used a plastic "membrane keyboard" and internal slots for memory (not user upgradeable).
The Atari 800 computer: right-front side. Atari computers had TV circuitry inside them, and were subject to FCC rule and needed to be heavily shielded. Both the 400 and 800 were built around very strong cast aluminum shields forming a partial Faraday cage, with the various components screwed down onto the internal framework. This had the advantage of producing an extremely sturdy computer, although at the disadvantage of being expensive and complex.
The Atari 800 computer: rear. Originally announced in late 1978 as the 400 and 800, Atari's computers were named by the amount of memory, 4 KB RAM in the 400 and 8 KB in the 800. By the time they were released the prices on RAM had started to fall, so the machines were both released with 8 KB.
The Atari 800 computer: covered. The Atari 400, despite its membrane keyboard and single internal ROM cartridge slot, outsold the more feature rich Atari 800. Because of this, developers were didn't want to use the 800-only right cartridge slot.
The Atari 800 computer set up with joystick and games. The 400 and 800 were complex and expensive machines to build, consisting of multiple circuit boards mostly enclosed by massive die-cast aluminum shielding. Additionally, the machine was designed to add RAM only through cards, though it soon shipped fully expanded right from the factory. Overall, the Atari 8-bit computer line was a commercial success, selling two million units through 1985.
The Atari 800 computer is compatible with the Atari 2600 joysticks.
The Atari 800 computer set up with a game inserted in LEFT slot. This was the default slot for most 800 games. The right-slot was not included on the Atari 400 and made developers leery of using it for cross compatibility.
Atari 800 Ports and Connections
The Atari 800 computer: side ports: (left to right) Monitor port, Peripheral (printer, etc...) port, Channel 2 - 3 switch, power switch and A/C power port.
The Atari 800 computer: Four 2600-compatible joystick ports.
The Atari 800 computer: joystick ports: Left: Players 1 and 2.
The Atari 800 computer: joystick ports: Right: Players 3 and 4.
Atari 800 Game Cartridges
The Atari 800 game cartridges.
The Atari 800 game cartridges stacked.
The Atari 800 game cartridge edge connectors.
Boxed version of Star Raiders for the Atari 400/800 computer.
Atari 800 Accessories
Diskette cutting tool used to create a notch on the side of a 5 ¼" single-sided floppy disk, making both sides writable.
Another view of the diskette cutting tool for 5 ¼" single-sided floppy disks.
Side view of the diskette cutting tool for 5 ¼" single-sided floppy disks.
Close up, showing the cutting blade, of the diskette cutting tool for 5 ¼" single-sided floppy disks.
The Atari 800 computer power supply box.
Atari Computer Promotional Items
Parker Brothers ad 1984 - "You're into computers? So are we."
This ad was promoting the Atari Computer's ability to better replicate your favorite arcade games from Parker Brothers, like Frogger, Popeye and Q*Bert.