[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Atari 1200XL

February 22nd, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Atari 1200XL Ad - 1983Atari's best 8-bit keyboard?

The Atari 1200XL (1982) is something of a cult favorite among Atari 8-bit computer fans due to its keyboard, which probably has the nicest feel of the entire 8-bit line. 1980s critics, while appreciating the unit's keyboard, simultaneously derided the 1200XL for minor incompatibilities with existing software created for the earlier Atari 400/800 computers. I personally don't like its recessed cartridge slot, but if you have an AtariMax MaxFlash multi-cart, you don't need to change cartridges very often.

Over the past decade, I've often used my Atari 1200XL as an ideal machine for Atari text adventure games. Whenever I encounter software incompatibilities, I just break out the Atari 800XL or 130XE. Each Atari model has a flavor of its own, and it's a pleasure to use most of them — if you choose the right machine for the right task (hint: don't try to write a term paper on an Atari 400′s membrane keyboard).

[ From Interface Age, May 1983, p.14-15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite model in the Atari 8-bit computer series? To recap, you've got the Atari 400, 800, 1200XL, 600XL, 800XL, 65XE, 130XE, and XEGS.



11 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Atari 1200XL”

  1. SirPaul Says:

    My favorite Atari 8-bit has to be the one I first used; the 800XL. I have heard good things about the original 800, but I don't know.. it just doesn't "look" right.

  2. Moondog Says:

    My first pc was a used Atari 400 with a cassette drive, and I bought an aftermarket keyboard right away to replace the membrane keyboard. I also picked up a 64k memory card (48k with 16k banked.) I didn't buy much software for it, other than bargain bin and closeout sales. I didn't know anyone else who had one. Two years later I picked up a C-64 and it seemed like everybody had one.

  3. Donn Says:

    My favorite is the Atari 800, with Disk Drive, because it was my first and I still own it. More accurately, it was my dad's, but I learned BASIC on it, thrilled to Star Raiders and Zork on it, Mr. Robot, Cohen's Towers, Rescue on Fractalus, (and many more) and it's a cherished piece of my past.

  4. Eagles409 Says:

    Some friends of ours bought an Atari 800 as a gift for the whole family for Christmas. I can remember being at there house and the dad proudly proclaiming that he would never have to buy another computer. This computer did everything and it was an investment that would last for years. I think I remember him saying he paid $1500 for it.

  5. lotonah Says:

    Although I wanted one since I first saw the Atari 400 in 1979, I didn't get my first Atari computer until 1987. I was 17 years old by then (but looked older)… some real estate guys were giving them away if you took a tour of a new condo development. Took the tour, got a free 600XL.

    Yeah, I know it wasn't the most honest way to get one. Nevertheless, at least it got used… I'd bet 95% of the 600XL machines they gave away became instant doorstops.

    Now I own every North American Atari computer model, minus a Falcon, 65XE and TT030. I still use them almost every day.

    P.S. For the record, my favorite keyboard is the original 800, followed by the 800XL. I wish the detachable keyboard on the XEGM was a good one, if it were that'd become my system of choice.

  6. Matt Says:

    I begged and pleaded to get the 1200XL for Christmas in 1982, and so I did because I was spoiled and would have nothing to do with the less-expensive, more robust C64. It was a bad decision sure, but I loved my 1200XL. My buddy got the 800XL the following year, and I still liked mine better. I had tons of bootlegged disks with multiple games on each side (I used to cut out the side of the floppies to make them double-sided.)

    I also used to write programs that played around with the graphics and sound, and I remember spending hours copying the programs they used to publish in Atari Connection. Good times.

  7. synchead Says:

    I had the atari 800. it was my second computer. my first was a commodore pet old rom with the chicklet keyboard and the tape drive embedded in the case. A buddy of mine had an Apple II which I could not afford. Even though you could end up spending just as much for an atari 800 you could buy the base model for a few hundred less and then add memory and other accessories along the way. Once I bought it, I never looked back. For it's time, it has to be one of the finest designed machines that does not get alot of noteriety. It wasn't the Apple II, but it was an excellent alternative. it is a shame what happened to Atari once it was sold. The images of Atari logos in the movie "Bladerunner" were unfortunately not a sign of things to come.

  8. guy Says:

    I have a XEGS, and it's my favorite Atari 8-bit computer. It is what the 5200 console should have been. But it was ridiculous for Atari to try to market it against the NES, which they actually tried to do at first.

  9. Steve Says:

    I recently started to collect Atari 8bit hardware. So far I have purchased an 800, 410, 810, 1200xl, 1050, XEGS and an sio2pc cable. All of the systems needed a thorough cleaning and some repair. I have one simple rule on collecting vintage computers, no ebay unless I have exhausted all possibilities. Craigslist, 2nd hand stores, and local flea markets have become my best sources for finding vintage systems. Though I love the feel and shape of the 800, the 1200xl has quickly become my favorite out of the collection. I found the 1200xl at a flea market for $15.00 including the 1050 and sio cable last week. Growing up with an Apple II Plus in the house has always made me partial to vintage Apple II computers despite their inferior capabilities. However, my new found experiences with the Atari 8bit line has rapidly changed my feelings as to what my favorite vintage computers are out of my total collection.

  10. Scott Says:

    My favorite 8-bit was the 1200XL. It had the best keyboard - SOLID. The downside was it - like all the XLs - had minor incompatibilities… at least until the Translator discs came out.

    My LEAST favorite was the Atari 800, and only because Atari chose to ship it with 48K instead of 64K. This lesser memory installation base doomed future Atari owners to purchasing games which "required 48K RAM", while the Commodore 64 games used all their 64K ram of course. Ah well.

    I cut my programming teeth on the 1200XL, but I could really have learned a lot more had I got into Action! language, or had Atari bundled in a version of BASIC which didn't suck. I never realized how bad Atari Basic was until I tried the freeware Turbo Basic.. and by that time, I'd moved onto the Atari ST (which also had a crappy, underperforming BASIC).

    Now I use Ubuntu Linux, and really it feels closest to Atari in terms of "this is YOUR system… you can play around with it, or you can create and learn on it".

  11. James Says:

    While I own an 800 and a 130XE, my favorite computer is probably the 400. The simple reason is that I was able to hop it up so it was more like a hobby computer than just a appliance. I put the Inhome keyboard in it and the Moasic 64K bank select memory. It wasn't the best of keyboards, but quite a few papers were written on it.

    When the 1200XL came out, I wasn't quite ready to upgrade as I couldn't give up the 4 joystick ports which is required to play M.U.L.E. of course.

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