[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Atari Personal Computers

February 13th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Atari 400 and Atari 800 Personal Computer Ad - 1979More color. More sound. More overwrought plastic and aluminum enclosures.

If you haven't noticed by now, I love the Atari 800. It was my first computer platform. And the Atari 400, interestingly enough, was the first computer I ever "owned" — my father let me have a cast off 400 because my brother claimed the 800 as his domain. I couldn't do much but play Galaxian on it — hooked up to a fuzzy 10″ black and white TV — but I cherished it anyway.

So I've written about Atari's 8-bit computers a lot. I took an 800 apart for PC World a few years ago, and the platform has been the subject of numerous Retro Scans of the Week. But I just realized that I had never posted a scan of an original Atari 400 or Atari 800 advertisement. So here you go. This is an early ad that hails from the launch of the system in November 1979.

I thought an Atari scan would be appropriate since I am celebrating the 40th anniversary of Atari a little early.

[ From BYTE Magazine, November 1979, p.15 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an Atari 8-bit computer for anything other than games? Tell us about it.

11 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Atari Personal Computers”

  1. Donn Says:

    Nothing significant, but I did learn to program BASIC on the Atari 800. My dad used to write programs that drew ellipses on the screen - he worked as a satellite telemetry operator for the USAF and later Lockheed, and played around with calculating orbits in BASIC.

    But mainly, it was games. We didn't have any actual productivity software until the IBM AT came along.

  2. Matt Brady Says:

    I used to run a BBS on an Atari 800XL back in the late 80′s. Also used it to type up papers for school. But mostly games.

  3. Jay Says:

    My 130XE was my primary computer right up through 9th grade. Wrote a lot of papers on that venerable old machine with the First XLEnt Word Processor. Plus all the fun stuff that Print Shop could do. And learning to program. (Atari BASIC was a pretty capable language considering how small and unoptimized it was.)

  4. leftylimbo Says:

    I would have had an Atari 800 but waited until their XL series, in which case I received the 800XL, which was awesome.

    I still remember the signature sound of the disk drive start up and the cracked games that my mom's co-worker gave me on disk…sometimes with a cool interactive menu to autorun the games. Archon, Rescue on Fractalus, Jumpman, Lode Runner, Tales of Beta Lyrae, and Realms of Impossibility were some favs of mine.

    I learned BASIC on a TRS-80 but never really applied it to the 800XL…I did, however, try to type in the several hundred lines of code for Compute! Magazine's much-heralded "Lunar Lander" game (it was several pages long—do any of you remember that?). After hours and hours of coding it didn't work—I almost threw my Atari at the TV screen in frustration. Luck would have it that my friend successfully coded his, so he just saved it on disk and copied it for me.

  5. Donn Says:

    leftylimbo: I remember how excited I was when Dad came home one day with a disk containing Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer! I had been reading about them in my Bantha Tracks Star Wars fan club magazine, here were two computer games right from Lucasfilm. RoF was great fun; Ballblazer was cool, great soundtrack, but only fun if you had a friend to play with - I don't recall a computer-controlled opponent.

    Yes, many of those disks seemed to come with a boot menu for the games. I wonder if they had to be hard-coded, or if they simply read the disk for what games were present?

  6. Retrobits Says:

    I love the first Atari 8-bit computer systems. Nice scan, thanks for the memories! My 400 and 800 are safely tucked away just a few feet from where I'm typing this comment :-)

  7. Daniel Says:

    I remember seeing the Atari 600XL in the Sears catalog in the early 80s and wanting one so bad. The first computer I used however was a Commodore 64 in grade 2. I eventually got my hands on an Atari 600XL and it was a great little computer. Enjoyed playing Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Centipede on an actual Atari computer. The Atari 2600 version of those games paled in comparison.

  8. leftylimbo Says:

    LoL, that bar graph in the ad reminds me of how much I tried to convince my dad to get me the 800XL for its "productive" qualities—sure, helping me with math homework, geography and even family accounting. "The possibilities are endless, Dad!" ..in the long run, yup, it accomplished one thing—hours and hours of entertainment playing video games.

    One other game I left off …Robotron 2084 which was sold as a cartridge. Totally awesome, just like the arcade. The box came with a vacu-formed plastic tray which held two Atari joysticks in place so you could control your character just like in the arcade—one for directional movement and the other for 360-degree independent firepower. Man that game was intense!

  9. Jack Says:

    I sold both the 400 and the 800 (as well as Commodore, Sinclair/Timex & Franklin computers; Coleco, Atari, & Mattel consoles) in the early 80′s. I had to learn the capabilities of each and what they can do for the family. But, I spent many an hour on the 800 playing Star Raiders.

  10. Josh Renaud Says:

    I got my start in computers with an Atari 800 in the late 80s, early 90s. We started off with a tape drive. Later I graduated to a 130XE with a disk drive. My first major computer hardware purchase as a kid was a used Atari 825 printer. I also bought a 1030 modem and began calling BBSes using BobTerm. I flirted with the idea of tricking the machine out with a Black Box add-on from CSS (Computer Software Services), but instead I moved on to the ST/STe line. Man I loved my Atari 8-bits. Great games, learning to program BASIC. I remember my fourth grade teacher actually used Atari 8-bits in her class, and I was the only one who knew how to program them.

  11. The Doctor Says:

    Through most of high school, my primary machine was an Atari XEGS. I did everything from calling BBSes (rather a lot of that, actually) to typing term papers in a text editor that emulated 80 columns (I wish I could recall the name of that programme). It was not until shortly before college that I upgraded to an 80486 with eight megs of RAM.

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