/|/ A T A R I: INFO Atari Computers: The 8-bit Line

[ Click here to go to the ST line's history page ]

While I certainly don't claim to be an Atari historian by any means, I have used Atari computers since the early eighties, and while not an expert, I am familiar with most of the models Atari produced, and have a great deal of personal experience with many of them as well. The information below is intended to be a simplified and brief rundown of the Atari computer line for those of you who might have missed out on all the fun. For more thorough and technical information, I would recommend you check out one of the Atari computer FAQs (but only after you've perused my site of course!):

Atari 8-bit FAQ

Atari ST QuickFAQ

And of course, visit the links section of Nurmix Web Central to find more Atari computer sites than you ever realized you could, including the excellent Atari Historical Society (a wealth of Atari information and technical details).

/|/ Atari

Many people aren't aware of this, but Atari computers have been available since the late '70s here in the United States (and in the early '80s in Europe). The line started with the 8-bit computers; the 400 and 800 (pictured).[ Picture: Atari 800 ]

These computers were based on the 8-bit 6502 microprocessor (hence the computers being referred to as "8-bits"), and had anywhere from 8k of RAM to 48k - which in those days was quite a lot.

Successfully competing with the Commodore VIC 20 and 64, as well as the Apple II and early PC XTs, the Atari 400 and 800 featured crisp, colorful graphics and 4-part sound capability, made possible by their many custom chips.

Both computers could be connected to a standard television, while the 800 could also be used with a composite monitor. Either way, the Atari 8-bit's CPU was clocked at the lightning quick speed of 1.79MHz.

The 8-bit computers were capable of loading software programs via cartridge, cassette, or disk. The easiest and cheapest way for most people was to simply buy the software they wanted on a cartridge, since no extra hardware was needed to run the program. Next in popularity (certainly more because of the price than the performance!) was the 410 cassette drive (pictured). It allowed loading and saving of software on inexpensive and readily available cassette tapes. And in addition to being offered on cartridges and disks, many commercial software programs were also available on cassette as a more affordable alternative to those on a tight budget.

[ Picture: Atari 410 ] The main problem with the 410 (and later the 1010) was the slow loading speed, not to mention a lack of reliability! While it certainly was cheap and easy to load and save original BASIC programs with the 410, it could be a very long, tedious process to say the least, usually ending in an error of some kind.

Many 8-bit Atari users who initially started with a cassette drive quickly moved up to a floppy disk drive, despite the high price. [ Picture: Atari 810 ]

Originally, Atari themselves were the only source for drives, with their model 810 (pictured). The 810, much like all early 8-bit drives, was a single-sided, single-density drive, utilizing 5 1/4" floppy disks.

Later drives, both from Atari and third party vendors offered higher storage capacities and speed. Disk drives such as the Percom AT-88, Rana 1000, and Indus GT offered superior performance over the original 810, as well as Atari's second drive, the 1050.

Along with all these disk drive choices came many third party "drive enhancements" that among other things, made it easy to back up the copy-protected disks that most commercial software houses of the day used. And while most users also added interfaces such as the Atari 850 to allow connection of standard peripherals like modems and printers, few opted for the out of reach (price-wise) hard drives of the day - often close to $1000 for a measly 10 to 20 megabytes of storage!

The 8-bit Atari line continued production into the late '80s and early '90s with models like the 1200XL, 800XL, 600XL and later, the 65XE and 130XE. Atari computers had become quite successful by this time, despite having a reputation as a "game machine", due in part to Atari's earlier successes in the video game industry, but largely because of the Atari 8-bit's fantastic graphics and sound capabilities.

[ Picture: Atari 800XL ] The 800XL (pictured) offered 64k of RAM, built in BASIC and self-tests, and a sleek new case. And despite some early software incompatibilities (although not to the degree that the 1200XL suffered), was essentially the same as the Atari 800. The 800XL was Atari's biggest seller, and today probably the most modified of the 8-bit line, with hackers adding things like massive memory upgrades and OS enhancements.

The 65XE and 130XE (pictured) which followed the XL line, were once again re-cased (this time to match the new ST line from Atari), and offered 64k and 128k of RAM respectively, in addition to having all the features of the 800XL. [ Picture: Atari 130XE ]

The XE line wasn't in production as long as the XLs, and came near the end of Atari's 8-bit days. And despite it's clean, high tech look, improved keyboard, and extra RAM, it offered little in the way of performance improvements over previous Atari 8-bits - although the hard core 8-bitters still embraced it.

And it was about this time that Atari began phasing out the 8-bits, in favor of it's new 16-bit computer, the Atari ST, which came out about the same time as the first Apple Machintosh, and had similar features, including a graphical user interface, and often superior performance...

Continue with the history of the ST line

Atari 8-bits Today?

The Atari 8-bits continue on today, with many hard core users around the world. Web sites dedicated to the wonderful machines abound, and new software and hardware products are still being developed (visit the links page here on Nurmix Web Central for more on this).

Used 8-bit gear can be purchased very cheaply from thrift stores, garage sales, 8-bit retailers like B&C Computervisions and Best Electronics, and Internet auction sites and newsgroups like comp.sys.atari.8bit.

Emulators for the PC, MAC and later Atari 16/32 computers are available that let you run all your old favorite 8-bit titles on a modern computer. But that said, it's not quite the same as running it on the real thing...

Return to Nurmix Web Central now please...

HTML coded on an Atari Falcon by Paul Nurminen copyright ©2000.  Last updated October 26, 2003
Most pictures used on this site were scanned, created and modified by me. If you'd like to make use of them on another site, please ask me first.