back to article Atari 400 makes a comeback in miniature form

Judges pondering contenders for the title of “World’s Worst PC Keyboard, Ever”, seldom look too far beyond Sinclair’s ZX80, which offered a membrane that caused attached screens to flicker with every keystroke. But a year before the ZX80’s 1980 debut, Atari produced a contender: the Atari 400. And in March you’ll be able to …

  1. may_i

    The flickering screen

    The ZX80's flickering screen had nothing to do with the keyboard. It was caused by the fact that the screen was driven by the Z80 processor, if it was servicing a keystroke, it could not update the screen at the same time. It was an architectural and software limitation, not anything to do with the keyboard per se.

    1. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: The flickering screen

      Exactly what I thought when I read the article.

    2. Repne Scasb

      Re: The flickering screen

      You could also have ZX80 "classic mode" for flicker as you type if you put the ZX81 in FAST mode, but as you say, nothing to do with the keyboard.

    3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: The flickering screen

      The flicker was actually useful for providing feedback, so you knew your keypress had registered.

    4. munnoch Bronze badge

      Re: The flickering screen

      Yep, came here to say just that.

      The ZX-80 was an amazing achievement at its price point but really no more than a POC. After trying the one my friend's dad built from the kit I was very pleased to hear that there was a better one about to be launched that didn't have the annoying flicker. The ZX-81 of course, which I demanded for my birthday, but it turned up about 3 months late.

      And the rest, as they say, is history... 43 years later I'm still coding...

      Never had much exposure to the Atari 400/800. The weren't at all popular in the UK being much more expensive that the Sinclair offerings. Lusted after the hardware sprites though...

  2. may_i

    The bulge

    "Both machines featured a bulbous rear that concealed a slot for software cartridges."

    Not true in the case of the ZX80. The bulge was there for the heat sink for the linear regulator which provided the 5V supply. If the author of the article had even studied the ZX80, they would know that there were no "software cartridges" and that all software was loaded from a cassette tape. While there was an IO expansion slot at the rear of the machine, this was for connecting an expanded memory module which, rather than being held within the case of the machine, stuck out the back and resulted in the machine locking up if the expansion module was even nudged slightly.

    1. lybad

      Re: The bulge

      Both machines being the 2 Atari machines - the 400 and 800.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: The bulge

      The back of the ZX80 was for supporting the milk carton that was an essential add-on due to the poor heat sink!

    3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: If the author of the article had even studied the ZX80

      Oh, the irony. Something about people, glass houses, stones...?

  3. Sartori

    Retro

    Never had an Atari, my retro history was a Vic20 then a Spectrum+ 48k before going to a PC. I do remember the sheer delights though of playing on a friends VCS/2600 as a kid, even though it was ridiculously simple by todays standard, or even a Vic20's standards, I was blown away as it was the first time I had ever played on a computer/console.

    Loving this series of articles, thanks for bringing back some fond memories :)

    1. simonlb Silver badge

      Re: Retro

      I must admit I did initially covet my mates Atari 2600 but found the joysticks awful to use, which limited the length of time I could play on the thing. It's good to see these being resurrected though, and I hope they have more success than the previous Spectrum reboots that had lunatics running the companies.

    2. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: Retro

      I had an 800XL, twin external floppy disks (one took 5 mins of warm up before it started) and a 256k ram pack on the rear.

      A 80 (I think) column green screen monitor most of the time, and a simple "office" program with a WP and a 20x20(!) spreadsheet.

      Sold the lot for a decent price to get my first PC (IBM Model 30) just before the market crashed, about the only time I have ever got my timing right.

      Had the ZX81 before that and loved doing machine code programming on both but the 6502 in the atari was a joy to drive

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Retro

      "I was blown away as it was the first time I had ever played on a computer/console."

      That's the exact bit that so many people talking about "retro" and the mistakes made, the shitty designs etc. For almost everyone, it was their first time owning a computer. It was mind blowing for most of them, including me. And then there was the pace of development. No matter what you bought, no matter how much or how little you spent, by the time it arrived, there was something better, faster, cheaper, more colourful just announced in the plethora of the new computing magazines. You really had to live through it to appreciate just what was being produced and how fast things were moving.

  4. rockpile99

    Gibberish

    "both packing a 6502 processor and plenty the fastest graphics chips of the era"

    Even by the new (merry can) El Reg English standards this makes no sense - did you mean "probably the fastest" or "plenty of"?

  5. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Atari 400

    A friend of mine at the Atari 400 and we loved writing programs on it. I had a VIC-20 at the time. We both wanted to be programmers (we were 12 years old at the time). I ended up more in a support role and my friend is still a programmer now. I can't remember much about the Atari other than thinking that the keyboard was better than the ZX81's because at least each key had a little ridge around it so it sort of felt like... something.

    1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      Re: Atari 400

      Despite being an 800XL and 130XE owner (*), I've never actually used an Atari 400, but I've heard similar comments about the ridges on its keys making it (marginally) more pleasant to use than the ZX81's.

      However, it's important to note that the Atari 400 was envisaged primarily as a gaming console and- if this comment at AtariAge is correct- they didn't even originally intend to include a keyboard at all.

      Apparently, it was only after they saw Star Raiders which they guessed- correctly- would be a killer app that they changed their minds, since it required a keyboard to play (and would otherwise only have been usable on the far more expensive Atari 800).

      The 400's keyboard makes a lot more sense in that context.

      (*) Later incarnations/repackagings of the same 400/800 series.

  6. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
    Meh

    By the mid-1980s IBM had defined a de facto desktop standard and Apple carved out its niche. No manufacturer of proprietary PCs survived the resulting market crunch.

    I think the author is missing 10 years here (too much fun at the time?).

    In the *home* computer market, the Amiga and Atari ST were mostly dominant until ~ the mid 90s, and the Amstrad versions of the Speccy (+2 & +3) which came out in the late 80s weren't uncommon either. The biege boxes weren't really affordable (or desirable) in the home until then. I personally got my first PC-Compatible in the late 19990s.

    1. GreggS

      I think he's also missing the BBC Model B, a staple of many a school's computing department.

      1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: BBC B

        True, but pretty rare in homes due to the high cost, even in affluent middle-class Woking when I was growing up. I think I knew of one BBC in amongst all the Spectrums and C64s. I was proudly in a gang of two with our Dragon-32s, a far superior machine.

        GJC

        1. Pete Sdev Bronze badge

          Re: BBC B

          Agreed, the only person I knew with access to a BBC B at home had a dad who was a teacher. Did see the odd Electron though.

          In school, it was all BBC/Acorns (including an Archimedes) all the way to at least 89. Biege boxes only appeared at school when I started secondary at the beginning of the 90s, and I suspect my prior junior school kept the BBC Micros for a while after.

          The article author could well be antipodean, so maybe things were different in Oz.

          1. Dr. G. Freeman

            Re: BBC B

            "In school, it was all BBC/Acorns (including an Archimedes) all the way to at least 89. "

            My secondary school, in the wilds of Eastern Scotland, still used BBC/Acorn/Archimedes up until 1998 in the computing, and technical departments (The Archy was bolted to a bench in the woodwork classroom)- think the BBC's still going in the science department as a pH meter.

        2. Robigus

          Re: BBC B

          I blagged a Dragon32 from the local college. My dad's mate "over-ordered" by 1 and I got to use it for the year.

          Keyboard was very good.

        3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: BBC B

          True, but pretty rare in homes due to the high cost, even in affluent middle-class Woking when I was growing up

          I had one (BBC B, Watford ADFS ROM, twin floppy drives, sideways ROM/RAM card). Mostly bought on the premise that "it will help me with college" (it didn't)

          I did type up my Dads small book on it though using a word processor ROM that I got from Almac bulletin board and (eventually) burnt to an EPROM.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            sideways ROM

            So named because it was mounted eerrrr... upside down.

          2. TonyJ

            Re: BBC B

            Yeah I had a BBC B as well with the (I think it was) Opus floppy drive. The FDD was an unusual beast there in it had a built in RAM and you could copy the floppy into it - super quick loading once the copy was done. I remember benefiting from using it for Elite an awful lot back in the day

            My home path was Atari 800XL that was returned to Dixons because it was faulty and replaced with an Acorn Electron then I saved my pocket money for a long time to buy a (then) relatively cheap BBC B.

            Happy memories.

            1. TonyJ

              Re: BBC B

              What an incredibly odd thing to downvote.

        4. Tron Silver badge

          Re: BBC B

          Only the rich kids had BBC micros. Schools had chalk-encrusted PETs and then BBCs. I had to set up my old school's first BBC with its FDDs, despite never having used one. I had a Speccy. Thankfully manuals were quite good then. For younger readers, a manual was an instruction book that came with a product.

          First generation 'Computer Studies' kids were using their far more powerful micros at home, whilst the rest of the class were coping with exercise books and 5 mins on a PET. For homework once, I did a speed test on a program in BASIC on my Speccy, again after compiling it, and then on a PDP I happened to have the phone number of. Of course you never bothered with an 'END' command on a Speccy...

          Have any of you geeks ever benefited from school computing lessons, or were/are we all self-taught beyond anything the comprehensive system could offer?

          1. RobDog

            Re: BBC B

            We had RML 380Z, one with 2 disk drives and one with tape, as well as a Beeb and a teletype to the Tech college’s PDP/11

          2. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

            Re: Computing lessons

            We didn't have any on the curriculum at secondary school, despite having an RM380Z, a BBC B, and a ZX-81 towards the end of my time there. I did do the first year of a Computer Science A Level at technical college, but it bored me rigid, which meant I was in constant trouble with the two lecturers for being a smart-arse (only partially deserved, mostly they were extremely poor teachers and the course material was very bad, plus the Prime 550 the college had was riddled with security holes - what's a chap to do?).

            I recall one day about half-way through that year, we sat an exam that was supposedly to A-level final exam standard. I turned up drunk, finished the three hour paper in about 45 minutes, and scored 100%. I was accused of cheating, but I hadn't, it was just *really* simple questions, mostly things like binary and hex arithmetic that I could do in my head almost instantly after four years of assembler programming at home, plus a bit of really simple basic and assembler debugging.

            So at the end of the first year I dropped out, and got a job as a programmer. Haven't looked back since, just about to notch up my fortieth full-time year in the industry next year, still completely devoid of any formal education or qualifications.

            GJC

    2. JoeCool Bronze badge

      not really

      Sure there was competition and innovation for a while, once the IBM PC came out, that was a turning point.

      The corporate sales is what drove the eventual near universal adoption.

    3. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      US-centricity and the significantly different UK and European markets of the 80s and early 90s

      As far as I'm aware, that was more the case in the US, where PC compatibles were already popular by the mid 80s and the NES rapidly displaced the C64 (i.e. the main home computer there) for gaming at the low end.

      However, the markets in the US and UK (*) were far more different back then, and the article is a bit US-centric and misleadingly undifferentiated for my taste. (**)

      To be honest, I'm tired of the general trend towards unthinking US-centric revisionism when it comes to that era. The time when, too many articles would have us believe, *everyone* was playing on their 8-bit NESes.

      I mean, yeah, the NES might have been a huge deal in the US where- from everything I've read- it knocked the C64 off its perch and utterly dominated video gaming during the late 80s.

      But it was *never* that big a success in Europe, nor in particular the UK, where it was outsold by the Sega Master System. Neither console came close to taking over a market that remained dominated by the 8-bit home computers, then latterly by the ST and Amiga until well into the 1990s.

      Yeah, you saw the occasional NES or Game-and-Watch, but I don't recall Nintendo being culturally prominent until the original Game Boy was launched- to huge success- in the early 90s.

      The PC compatibles didn't really start to become significant until Amstrad launched the affordable PC-1512 and later models in the mid-to-late 1980s, and even then they were still too expensive (and unimpressive) for gaming compared to the Amiga 500 and Atari ST.

      It wasn't until circa 1992-93 that the Amiga was knocked off its perch by the rise of the 16-bit consoles (i.e. the Sega Mega Drive (AKA Genesis) and later the SNES) at the lower end and by the rapidly improving price/performance of the PCs at the upper end.

      Then, and only then, did the UK and Western European market finally start to resemble the US's more closely.

      (*) And the situation was no doubt different elsewhere again, especially outside Western Europe.

      (**) Though in its defence, it *was* discussing a format that was always bigger in the US. (Er, not to mention, of course, that since the quiet move to a ".com" domain while everyone was distracted with Covid in mid-2020, The Register is now aimed more obviously at a US readership...!)

      1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

        Re: US-centricity and the significantly different UK and European markets of the 80s and early 90s

        Yes, Europe was very different, largely due to timing. Nintendo launched NES to the USA first in mid-to-late 1985, but European sales were a phased roll-out from late 1986 to 1987. That’s a long time in the technology of the mid-1980s.

        In terms of console competition, Sega’s Master System launched a year later than Nintendo in the USA, but pretty much at the same time as NES in Europe. But the real competition wasn’t other consoles. Europe also had a stronger 8-bit gaming market than the USA, and the popular 8-bit home computers had their development costs paid by 1987, which meant they could compete strongly with the consoles on purchase price. Consoles also suffered in two other ways: first, a computer was a far easier sell to parents than a system designed entirely for games; and second, cost of software. Even if you didn’t copy your friends’ game tapes, computers had much cheaper games. By the latter half of the 1980s, a top-tier computer release was £10-12, but there were many budget games titles available to buy at around £2, while console cartridges ran to £25-35.

        That trend continued into the 16-bit era, with Amiga and Atari ST sales in Europe dwarfing those in the USA, again because European consumers wanted a single device that their kids could use for games and other, more educationally-worthy, purposes too: parents would rather spend more on an Amiga than buy their kids the much cheaper SNES or MegaDrive. Of my teenage friends who played video games back in the late 1980s, I don’t think any one of them had a console.

        1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

          Mostly true, but the Mega Drive and SNES definitely did well in the UK

          > parents would rather spend more on an Amiga than buy their kids the much cheaper SNES or MegaDrive

          Agree with most of what you said up to this point, and it might have been true of the 8/16-bit computers versus the NES.

          However- at least in the UK- the Mega Drive in particular, along with the later SNES definitely were very successful and (as I mentioned above) helped knock the Amiga off its perch as the desirable platform du jour.

          Yes, the ST and Amiga *did* enjoy a period of popularity in Europe, but it was immediately prior to that (i.e. mid-to-late 80s to early 90s).

          I bought an Amiga in late 1991 when- with the benefit of hindsight- it was effectively at its peak. (*) By the end of the following year you could tell that it was no longer the cool machine, and that the cultural focus (e.g. at school and in the media) was already shifting away from it towards the Mega Drive/SNES and PCs.

          Even the improved Amiga 1200 in late 1992 was more of a catching-up than regaining of the Amiga's former technological superiority, and it was effectively over when Commodore went bankrupt in 1994. (**)

          (*) Something I was interested to find out was apparently mirrored by sales figures peaking around then.

          (**) Though at the time I held out hope until- as predicted- the rights to the Amiga were bought in mid-1995, and they announced that the A1200 would go back on sale... with the same dated three-year-old spec and for £100 *more* than a year prior. Aaaaand... yeah. It was obviously over. There was no chance in hell anyone except diehard Amiga fans were going to pay that for yesterday's computer by then- it couldn't even run Doom properly.

          1. GraXXoR

            Re: Mostly true, but the Mega Drive and SNES definitely did well in the UK

            In the latter half of the 80s, basically every one of my friends in the UK had an 8 bit "micro" (Amstrad 464 or 6128, Speccy+ somthing or other, C64 and a couple of BBC-Bs) and nearly everyone moved up to an Amiga or Atari ST by the end of the 80s. Only three of us, as I recall made a move to a PC in 1990 or thereabouts before starting uni. The three machines had Hercules, CGA (mine) and one had EGA graphics and the games were far less advanced than those on the Amiga. Us three with PCs were more into programming than gaming by that point and just went over to our mates' place to play games in any case.

            My gf's dad used to have a Sega Master system in the mid 80s, as I recall, but they are Japanese and PCs never really took off over here at all.

            I recall that only our dads and some of the younger lads at school had Segas and usually only a couple to half a dozen games that they would swap with each other because they were so damn expensive.

            1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

              Re: Mostly true, but the Mega Drive and SNES definitely did well in the UK

              That doesn't really contradict, what I said though, since I was talking about later on, 1992-93 onwards, when that situation started to change.

              1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

                Re: Mostly true, but the Mega Drive and SNES definitely did well in the UK

                Edit; sorry, just realised that (a) I wasn't replying to OP, Kristian Walsh and (b) I don't think you were disputing what I said regardless.

      2. munnoch Bronze badge

        Re: US-centricity and the significantly different UK and European markets of the 80s and early 90s

        Agree, I have no recollection at all of the NES in the UK in the 1980's and I was pretty tuned into the gaming scene albeit from the Sinclair perspective.

        My wife on the other hand has very fond memories of her "Fami-con". She grew up in Yokohama....

      3. MarkTheMorose
        Unhappy

        Re: US-centricity and the significantly different UK and European markets of the 80s and early 90s

        I was just reading the article about Elite on the BBC Micro. Apparently the very English co-creator of Elite, Ian Bell, said 'math' twice, and spelt optimisation with a 'z'. I fondly recall Reg's article headlines used to say 'bloke' instead of 'guy'.

  7. J I
    Thumb Up

    Excellent games

    As a teenager I had a Saturday job in a computer shop at the height of the 80s home computer boom, so we had all the possible models and plenty of games to play on them. The Atari 400/800 was one of my favourites because it had some excellent games (Miner 2049er was the one I played most), but the keyboard on the 400 truly was a joke for the price it was sold at. The 800 was much nicer, but even more pricy, and since all the games were imported from the US they were expensive too, so it wasn't a very big seller.

    1. tedjerome

      Re: Excellent games

      Yet the 400 was the only computer for sale in the US for under $600, so I bought it in 1982. Instantly recognize the limitations of the keyboard, of course, so I bought a commercial mechanical keyboard and figured out the interface with the 400 and then I (mostly) had my own 800 for about $300 less! Added a 32 MB (MB! Not GB lol) card to (as I remember) bring the total to 48 MB. I had learned the rudiments of BASIC while at high school (class of 1971), but it was on this machine that I really dove into it, and happily took advantage of the amazing graphics capabilities. Made a rude mechanical digitizer with an optical sensor to read photographs and turn them into VERY blocky graphic approximations. By 1985, I put that little project on my resume when I applied to a digital mapping company (later bought by TeleAtlas and then TomTom), and that was the clincher for the job!

      Stupidly sold this wonderful 400 on eBay and so this ersatz 400 intrigues me! Also loved to play Star Raiders II; heh.

      Cheers!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Excellent games

        Not even MB - definitely KB back then.

    2. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      Re: Excellent games

      > since all the games were imported from the US they were expensive too, so it wasn't a very big seller

      It's worth remembering that US Gold- one of the largest games publishers in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s- was so-called because their original business model was as a UK distributor/publisher for US games which had previously only been available as expensive imports like that. (Mainly Atari 400/800 and C64 ones from what I've seen).

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Excellent games

      "The 800 was much nicer, but even more pricy, and since all the games were imported from the US they were expensive too, so it wasn't a very big seller."

      I used to help run a local computer club. One guy, ONE!, had an Atari 800. He'd spent over £1000 in 1980's pounds for it and a couple of add-ons (not sure which now) while everyone else had Video Genies, ZX-81's, Vic-20's and a few others I don't recall, none especially pricy compared to that solitary Atari 800. It was nice though :-)

  8. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Terminator

    (64bit >> 3) Computer

    I watch way too much 8-bit repair videos on Adrian's Digital Basement and Noel's Retro Lab YouTube channels. Fascinating stuff, to be sure. But I cannot imagine ever having to use one of those machines again in my life, especially if your relic employs a custom chip and will be rendered useless if you cannot replace the part from an ever shrinking pool of stock and ever increasing supply of fake parts. The details on that Atari remake are sketchy, to say the least. It's probably just a Raspberry Pi running an emulator, so what's the point of owning one of these? You might as well just run MAME or something like that.

    1. Wonderdog

      Re: (64bit >> 3) Computer

      Yeh, its just an ARM based mini emulator device with a modern UI and some licenced games preinstalled.

      It's a low cost, turnkey solution for the many folks who dont have the knowledge or interest in setting up an RPI etc, and just want something that plugs into the TV and works for a bit of nostalgia.

      The 400 is a bit of an odd choice since they didn't sell many of them (comparitive to the alternatives) in the UK, but maybe they're aiming for the US market. I suspect the board inside is the same design as the recent A500 / C64 mini's, just running an Atari emulator on the backend - so it probably didn't cost a lot in development time to get it out of the door, so maybe worth the risk of it not appealing to the same size of audience as the C64 etc.

  9. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    I remember, as a kid, playing with these in a local store. Never had one (or any Atari hardware apart from a trackball).

    As my parents owned a shop, they had access to a cash and carry called "Makro". For those who don't know, Makro is a trade only cash and carry, and (in the 80s at least), each branch usually consisted of the cash and carry (which sold food, confectionary and drinks in wholesale packaging) and a department store (which sold normal department store things, but was only open to members)

    My local Makro had probably the best AV department I'd ever seen. They had all the then new technologies (VCRS, Picture In Picture, NICAM etc) and a wide range.

    The AV department also included a computer shop selling probably the widest range of platforms I've seen. You could buy everything from the Sinclairs to the Osborne 1, including the Acorn machines, Commodore machines, Atari machines, Aquarius, TI99/4A and various other ranges. They also had one of each machine set up that you could play with, and they had consoles from all the major suppliers as well, including Atari, Coleco and Mattel.

    As a young geek, I could spent hours in that department, and could probably have bankrupted the family if given free rein to buy what I wanted..

    1. andy gibson

      Towards the end of its life, MAKRO sold Atari 2600 games for 99p. Space Shuttle and Pitfall 2 were my best computer purchases ever.

  10. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    WTF?

    > The company arguably never recovered.

    Atari ST: Am I a joke to you?

    1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      That might reflect a slightly US-centric perspective, given that the US is where Atari was probably biggest and most successful at its peak (i.e. during the VCS/2600-era peak of the early 1980s), but also where it fell furthest after the 1983 North American videogame crash and where the ST was never particularly successful.

      That said, while the ST did better in Europe for a while (and the VCS had never enjoyed quite as massive a level of popularity to fall from there), I don't think it's unfair to say they never recovered their former glory.

      Also worth remembering that the ST-era "Atari" wasn't quite the same beast- or company- as that of the early 80s.

      After the disastrous collapse of the market turned huge profits into huge ongoing losses, Warners were desperate to offload Atari and sold off the home computer and console division to Jack Tramiel (who had recently left Commodore acrimoniously). (*)

      That formed the basis of Atari Corp. (Tramiel's company), and while he continued the manufacture of the console and 8-bit computer lines, he got rid of most of the existing engineering staff. Unlike the original Atari Inc., Tramiel's Atari Corp was very much a product of his "Power without the Price" cost-slashing approach, and the ST was a product of that.

      Indeed, it's probably fair to say that the Amiga (developed independently but later bought by Commodore) was far more the spiritual heir to the 400/800 (and in turn the VCS line) than the ST was, given its similar approach of using expensive but state-of-the-art custom chips (and similarly expensive price when first launched), the general architectural design and many of those actually involved in designing it.

      (*) The remaining arcade division- Atari Games- was later sold off separately.

      1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

        Jay Miner designed the video hardware for both the Atari 400/800 and the Amiga. The Amiga chipset was originally developed with the aim of licensing the design back to Atari for a re-entry into the home gaming market. Atari (under Warners) had had a loose agreement with Amiga Technologies for first-dibs on the results of their work, but with the collapse of that Atari, Amiga found themselves in desperate need of a customer... and they found Commodore. After a lawsuit or two, the whole thing was settled out of court, with much bad blood.

        The origin as a console chipset explains the odd clock-rate of the Amiga’s CPU: it was chosen so that the video clock could be exactly divided down to the NTSC colour signal time-period, thus ensuring stable colour reproduction when attached to a domestic TV. And even the famous HAM mode of Amiga was actually a quick RGB repurposing of a what was originally a component-video mode allowing the luminance signal to be adjusted halfway through a TV a colour-pixel (in composite video, the colour signal has exactly half the bandwidth of the luminance signal).

        You’re absolutely right that spiritually Atari and Commodore exchanged places in 1984; Commodore, despite the C64, was a company that had traditionally targeted the business market, and they initially pushed Amiga as a workstation (the A1000). Atari, on the other hand, was entirely home-focused until the ST, especially in its hi-res monochrome monitor configuration, drew them into professional sales (especially in Europe). Meanwhile, once developers unearthed the gaming power of the Amiga’s chipset, the centre of Commodore’s business was pulled firmly into the home. Yes, Amigas were used for video production work in the 1980s, but there were more STs being used for “work” than Amigas.

  11. Robigus
    Pint

    You had assembly? Luxury!

    Being a peasant, I couldn't afford the games to go with a bequeathed Atari. I wrote my own in (hand assembled) assembler (Hello girls!). The sprites were the full height of the screen, as I recall, and had to be painted in sections. It was a while ago, but it seemed surprisingly quick. Lateral movement was faster than vertical repaints.

    The tape decks were ruinously expensive for this quarter of Four Yorkshiremen, so I soldered cables to the motherboard and ran a household tape deck that I'd been using on my ZX-81.

    My cousin, on the other hand, was to The Manor born and had games-a-plenty, which were quite impressive. Wretched keyboard aside, a good machine, I felt.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: a bequeathed Atari.

      Heh. Never used an Atari, but I started on a bequeathed ZX81. Still, a start's a start.

  12. Sparkus

    Pengo

    I want Pengo........

  13. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

    Lords of Midnight/Doomdarks Revenge

    These two classics from Mike Singleton's still alive and well.

    You can get the smaller LOM/DDR from https://icemark.com/ while the much larger LOM/DDR (DDR still in development) from https://www.frozenempire.net/ - but with much more improved graphics etc than the "smaller" games.

    Interestingly enough, Game of Thrones, especially north of the wall gives one the impression of being in LOM/DDR.

    All Hail Mike Singleton. May his memory never fade.

  14. Wonderdog

    Fun but not likely to be a big seller in the UK/Europe.

    It is indeed an ARM based emulator inside a miniature recreation case, in the same vein as their recent C64 or A500 mini's.

    It's intended as a plug and play way to nostalgicly play games of the era from Atari's 8 bit home computer lineup (and the ill-fated 5200 which utilised the same chipset as the micro computers rather than the VCS hardware branch used in the 2600 and later 7800).

    It's bundled with 25 licenced classics, and the manufacturers (RetroGames Ltd) are smart enough to realise that these platforms are generally hacked immediately to add extra games, and instead of trying to block this (like nintendo etc did with their mini consoles) they embrace it and support sideloading via USB as they did with thier earlier devices - probably helping them sell more devices overall and keeping the nerdier end of the buyer spectrum a bit happier.

    The 400 is maybe a bit of a wierd choice from a UK perspective, as they didn't sell many here (Spectrums, C64's, Amstrad CPC's, Dragons and BBC's/Electrons all comfortably outselling them) nor in the Europe, but they sold about 3m of the various Atari 8-bit's in the states, so there's probably a bigger nostalgia market for these mini machines over there.

    Inerestingly, Retro Games' lawyers sent a legal C&D to a Polish company recently, who had announced a full size Atari 800XL "inspired" machine. So I wouldnt be surprised to see a full size Atari 800XL appear (similiar to the C64 Maxi) in due course running the same ARM guts and software as this 400.

    What I (and I suspect many others) really want though is a bloody Amiga A500/A600/A1200 maxi, with a decent, fully working keyboard etc. I suspect we'd get an A600 or A1200 if we did, as they were a lot smaller than the massive Amiga 500.

    Give this relationship with Atari (which doesnt overlap with neu-Atari's first party 2600+ and similiar devices) I wonder though if we'll see an AtariST Mini (or maxi).

    1. ThomH

      Re: Fun but not likely to be a big seller in the UK/Europe.

      > What I (and I suspect many others) really want though is a bloody Amiga A500/A600/A1200 maxi, with a decent, fully working keyboard etc. I suspect we'd get an A600 or A1200 if we did, as they were a lot smaller than the massive Amiga 500.

      They've announced one of those, albeit unspecifically. A fairly generic trailer video, which I can find only as redistributed and commented upon by others so won't bother linking, announced:

      * Q1 2024: new mini console launched (presumably this one);

      * Q3 2024: new accessory launched;

      * Q4 2024: new full size Amiga console launched;

      * Q1 2025: new full size console launched;

      * Q3 2025: another new full size console launched.

      So probably in Q4, unless plans change.

  15. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Why?

    Why would anyone buy a retro machine? I mean, I owned an Atari 600XL myself in the early 80's and learned some programming on it, but I don't feel the urge to buy another one with today's Ghz processors and Gigabytes / Terabytes of memory and hard disk storage.

    It was a fun era, but people move on.

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      More or less for nostalgia.

      Technically, I could probably poke around and find a working Amiga 1200 or 2000, but I have no room and no time to noodle around on one anymore.

      I have a Picade sitting on a desk; it's cute, but it hardly gets used.

    2. RobDog

      Re: Why?

      Check out The 8-Bit Guy on YT. He’s done as far as personally ‘invested’ a load of his cash on developing a new 16-bit version of an 8-bit computer that never existed - basically, his mid-80s wet dream computer. I sort of admire his efforts but can’t see it selling in decent numbers, so many commenters stating the truth - that people like me, (but not me) that is mid-50s aged blokes who enjoyed micros the first time round and who are still misty eyed and nostalgic for them will buy one and show them to their kids expecting them to be fascinated - which will never ever happen. Don’t get me wrong, I have 2 C64s which in ever ever use. I should just sell them really and emulate when I have the urge.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Why does anyone ride a horse, now that we have cars? Why does anyone do anything?

      It is possible that some people are not you.

  16. Luiz Abdala
    Boffin

    Side question: Why does the Atari 2600 have the cartridge slot built like at an angle like that?

    It makes no sense whatsoever building that slot in an angle, on something you are meant to exert some physical force to put a cartridge in.

    Every single console after that had the cartridge slot flat against a well paded PCB where you can shove said cartridge with confidence... except, again, for NES itself that you were meant to input sideways AND twist it down.

    What was the point of that angle? I know at least one cloned ATARI machine that had the cartridge slot built flat, with a vertical insertion, like the Sega Genesis, Master System, Nintendo 64....

    https://cdn.awsli.com.br/800x800/17/17021/produto/3797680/fa449296fd.jpg

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Side question: Why does the Atari 2600 have the cartridge slot built like at an angle like that?

      The reason was simple: design and ergonomics. The 2600 was expected to be mounted either on top of the family TV, or on a shelf below it. A vertical cartridge slot made it harder to insert or remove cartridges - especially in the “shelf under the TV” situation. The NES has flat-loading cartridges for same reason - being able to access them easily when the unit is stacked under a TV.

      But the socket is not “built at an angle”. It’s mounted directly on the PCB, and then that PCB is tilted at an angle of 30º inside the case! (iFixit did a retrospective teardown of a 1980 2600 here.. https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Atari+2600+Teardown/3541 )

      Later Atari reissues of the 2600 had the cartridge opening pointing straight up, because the boards were mounted flat in the case.

      1. Luiz Abdala
        Pint

        Re: Side question: Why does the Atari 2600 have the cartridge slot built like at an angle like that?

        The PCB being tilted I was kinda expecting. (Still there is nothing ergonomic about having no leverage to slam the cartridge in.)

        Yeah, I never did that, I always had my consoles top view unobstructed, exactly because cartridges.

        Fascinating teardown. Apple would have a seizure seeing something so accessible and easy to repair! I'll drink to that.

  17. Morten Bjoernsvik

    shelf porn

    Love the aged patina white color. But the missis would be raged to see this on our bragging shelf.

    I have the atari50 for ps4 so I have no need whatsoever to buy this, except for the bulky retro feeling of having it on the shelf.

    1. Marty McFly Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: shelf porn

      Ugh, yuck. That was my first reaction too. For the reincarnation they color sampled an aged & yellowed Atari 400.

      1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        Re: shelf porn

        I mean, my own 800XL has sadly turned from its original light beige to that horrid shade of murky yellow due to light/age-related damage over the years. But I sure as hell wouldn't want it to look like that given the choice, let alone if I was buying a "reborn" clone that was supposed to resemble the original model.

  18. Tron Silver badge

    We could recycle the vibe.

    The original 8-bit style case, PC-style keyboard, TV or VGA out, USB and Ethernet. new generation of BASIC interpreter (think what you could do with the speed and memory we have now), multiple memory card slots, joystick ports (obviously). You could capture a video stream with one line of BASIC. :)

    You can actually connect anything (including an 8-bit micro) to the net. You just have to translate the screen display and I/O as the browser would receive and send it, for the model. The whole thing could go in a small plug-in box between the micro and the modem/router and be programmed on a Pi. Output could be RS232 or Centronics serial. The rest of the protocols would be handled by the Pi. Facebook on a Spectrum!

    1. RobDog

      Re: We could recycle the vibe.

      You can buy a ‘wifi modem’ for a C64 that plugs into the user port edge connector and can allow your 64 to connect BBS on the web. Old meets new.

  19. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    What's with that stupid "The 400" name on the case?

    I really hate the fact they've plastered "The 400" on the case instead of "Atari 400". Why?

    Is it supposed to be for consistency with their other revivals, "The 64" and "The A500"?

    I assumed the only reason they did *that* in the first place and didn't mention "Commodore" *or* "Amiga" anywhere (*) was because the rights to Commodore's former brands and technologies are such a mess (**) that they'd have had to license those brands separately and were unable- or unwilling- to do so.

    As far as I'm aware, this isn't a major problem with Atari, so there was no need here. And, indeed, it still says "Atari" on the box and features the "Fuji" logo on the case anyway.

    "The 400", urgh.

    (*) No, really. Look at them- The A500 Mini has "The A500" embossed on the case where the original said "Amiga" and a newly-created logo (obviously based on the "checkered ball" associated with early Amiga demos) where the Commodore "chickenhead" used to go. Ditto "The 64" which doesn't mention Commodore anywhere either and even has "The 64" in place of the "Commdore logo" key.

    (**) Cut a long story short, over the decades since Commodore's demise, their various brands and technologies have been split up, sold off separately, sublicensed and disputed to the extent that the rights and ownership are a confusing mess leading to situations like a "Commodore"-less and "Amiga"-less revival of the Commodore Amiga A500.

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: What's with that stupid "The 400" name on the case?

      The logo they replaced was the Amiga “rainbow check-mark”, not the Commodore chicken-head.

      1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        Re: What's with that stupid "The 400" name on the case?

        I might be wrong, but I don't think that the "coloured checkmark" appeared anywhere on the original A500s. Perhaps you're thinking of the original A1000, which *did* have a square badge featuring the rainbow checkmark.

        While the original A500 also had a square badge at the right hand side (just above the keyboard), that featured the Commodore "chickenhead" logo, not the checkmark, and *that's* what the "checkered ball" logo replaced on "The A500 Mini".

        I thought that I *did* recall some of the earlier Amiga keyboards having a *monochrome* version of the checkmark instead of a stylised "A" on either the left or right "Amiga" key. However, I can't find any examples of that, and I'm not sure if that was ever the case with the A500 specifically.

        At any rate, the later A500s (and my A500 Plus) definitely did have a stylised "A" on both keys so that- at least- is authentic enough.

        1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

          Re: What's with that stupid "The 400" name on the case?

          Image-search says you’re right. It was A1000s that had the tick. Early A500’s had the chickenhead alone, and later ones had a different case pattern with a rectangular, rather than square, sticker that read “C= Commodore”.

  20. captain veg Silver badge

    the point being...

    I don't get it.

    These are not recreations of the original hardware except in the most superficial terms of scaled down appearance. Why not just run the emulation software on the hardware you already own? Or, failing that, just get a Pi for the purpose? Maybe you could get an original (but internally defunct) case off the internets to put it in.

    -A.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: the point being...

      Primarily, it's because, as others have mentioned, nostalgia. It's just not quite the same running an emulator of any of the old computers on a PC keyboard and trying to remember which keys are mapped to the "special" keys on the emulated device, or even when the correct keys exist on the modern keyboard, that they are in different places [*]. Oh, and 'it's a separate "plug'b'play" device, no setup, no messing about.

      * iT can be weird playing a game on an emulator that relies on the cursor keys when they are all in the inverted T shape we get now and they were in all sorts of different combinations on the older kit. The old TRS-80 layout, IMO, was great for games. up/down on the left of the keyboard, left/right on the right of the keyboard, so two fingers of each hand, and then either or both thumbs for space bar/fire and joysticks were not yet that common back then! Think Space Invaders or Asteroids, buttons only :-)

      1. captain veg Silver badge

        Re: the point being...

        So there's a market for retro keyboards.

        Feel free.

        -A.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Atari shipped the Atari 400 with 8K not 4K

    It moved up to shipping with 16K after a couple of years (in the States), and always shipped in the European region with 16K (although it was released a couple of years later than in the States). See the Wikipedia article "Atari 8-bit family" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_8-bit_family - or Google for the Atari FAQ.

    The Atari 400 was actually my first computer, and it wasn't a bad machine. The membrane keyboard was just something you learnt to put up with (a friend had his 400 upgraded to a mechanical type keyboard, but it was a bit "meh"). Bigger bug-bears would be (slowly) saving programs to cassette (floppy disk drives were crazy fast, but crazy expensive), and having to upgrade the memory (to 32K or 48K) via a 3rd party upgrade (the 800 could be upgraded by plugging in extra memory cards, the 400 you had to open up the case and start swapping things out, etc.).

    Trying to compare late 70's computer kit with current equipment is a bit like the Austin Powers ransom scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRAkobf-tVI

    Progress is, yeah, scary.

    1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      Fellow nitpicking Atari owner here!

      This is correct; apparently the original plan *was* to ship the 400 with 4K and the 800 with 8K- hence the names- but the price of RAM was falling so fast that the 400 ended up shipping with 8K anyway.

      And yes, the Atari cassette deck interface was *horribly* slow, even compared to later 8-bit formats. This was a bigger problem later on when memory grew and games using 48K and even 64K were common, some taking over 15 minutes to load. I still can't view that aspect through rose-tinted glasses...!

      I suspect it wasn't such a big issue originally because nothing that fitted in 8K would have taken long to load, and by the time the XL series came out, the US market was increasingly disk-driven anyway. (I did have a disk drive myself, but in the UK a lot of budget games only came on cassette, and I didn't get a disk transfer utility until much later).

      Also, while we're nitpicking the article(!):-

      > Retro Games claims the machine is an utterly faithful replica of the 400, so it should include ATARI BASIC.

      Wellll ackchyually.... while the later models (800XL, 600XL and the XE series) had BASIC onboard, the original 400 and 800 (and the ill-fated 1200XL) didn't- it came on a separate cartridge.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Fellow nitpicking Atari owner here!

        "And yes, the Atari cassette deck interface was *horribly* slow, even compared to later 8-bit formats."

        On the other hand, the Atari SIO port was the USB of it's day. You could plug all sorts of different devices in, most coming with pass-through ports to daisy chain tape desk, disk drives, printers etc all down one serial bus :-)

        I had an 800XL for a while, with floppy disk and the 3rd party disk "upgrade ROM", HappyROM(?) or something so it could use speed loaders like Alpha Menu etc.

  22. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    > the Atari SIO port was the USB of it's day

    Interestingly, one of the designers of USB, Joe Decuir, worked on both and apparently credits his work on SIO as the basis of USB.

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