Atari 800

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While on vacation, I made certain to periodically check the Bay Area Craigslist, just in case some interesting hardware bubbled up in my absence.

Sure enough, a couple things surfaced. The first: a complete NeXTstation mono slab system (including the laser printer) - free for pickup. I was apparently too late to capitalize on that one though as my e-mail inquiry garnered no response.

The second was an Atari 800 (listed as a 1200XL), with 1050 diskette drive, manuals, programming books and software (original diskettes for Zork, Atari DOS, SynFile and PrintShop, with BASIC and AtariWriter on cartridge). I grabbed it just this morning from San Francisco (my second Atari system from that city), all for $25. I can honestly say I’m getting better at navigating around San Francisco. Scads of retro computing hardware seems to crop up there, so I’ve been getting a lot of practice!

Upon testing the machine, I only ran into a couple of minor snags. The system came with an old-school RF converter for video output, which isn’t really something I can use on anything modern. Vexingly, there are no Atari monitor cables on eBay at the moment.

Fortunately, the DIN to composite cable I’ve been using on my TI-99/4a also generates a usable picture on the Atari 800. The image quality should improve considerably if I can source a Atari DIN to S-Video cable. I’ve fired off an e-mail to a vendor that’s apparently offered them in the recent past. (Update: I’ve been informed they will have the cables back in stock the first week of September.)

After temporarily resolving the video problem, my first functional test was to boot up Zork from diskette as shown below:


It was at this point that I discovered the keyboard was largely unresponsive. I wound up exercising each key individually before they began to work reliably. It took a bit of time, but all the keys are now fully operational.

Here’s a shot of Atari DOS 2.0S - it reminds me a lot of the Apple ///’s SOS with a menu based approach rather than the “traditional” command line shell. From what I’ve been able to gather online, I apparently have an early 1050 drive which shipped with Atari DOS 2.0S instead of the newer 3.0 (or even 2.5) supplied with most 1050s.


I’d never really played extensively with an Atari 8-bit machine before. I find this to be one of the coolest aspects of retrocomputing - it affords me the opportunity to toy with hardware I’d only read about while growing up. I did have a childhood acquaintance (Aaron Osborne or Darryl Schroeder) who owned an Atari 400, but my somewhat fuzzy recollection is that he used it mostly as a cartridge based game system. I don’t recall him having a diskette drive, though he probably had cassette.

Coincidently, there was a recent Slashdot article on the early history of Atari which mentioned they’d fired “a young programmer named Bill Gates” who was apparently slow to produce a BASIC for this machine. Atari BASIC was ultimately produced by Shepardson Microsystems, Inc. (SMI) rather than Microsoft.


I’m looking forward to searching out interesting software for the 8-bit Atari and putting it through the paces. Earl Evans of the Retrobits Podcast had some glowing things to say about Star Raiders and the Atari 800 system in general, devoting podcasts to both (shows 11 and 82). I’ll need to put Star Raiders on the lookout list.

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This page contains a single entry by nekonoko published on August 23, 2008 6:16 PM.

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