Atari 8-bit family. 800 XL Game console. Based on the MOS Technology 6502 CPU running at 1.79 MHz. Made in 1984.

The Atari 8-bit family is a series of 8-bit home computers introduced by Atari, Inc. in 1979 with the Atari 400 and Atari 800. As the first home computer architecture with coprocessors, it has graphics and sound more advanced than most contemporary machines. Video games were a major appeal, and first-person space combat simulator Star Raiders is considered the platform’s killer app. The “Atari 8-bit family” label was not contemporaneous. Atari, Inc., used the term “Atari 800 [or 400] home computer system”, often combining the model names into “Atari 400/800” or “Atari home computers”.

The Atari 800 was packaged as a high-end model, and the 400 more affordable. The 400 has a pressure-sensitive, spillproof membrane keyboard and initially shipped with 8 KB of RAM. The 800 has a conventional keyboard, a second (rarely used) cartridge slot, and hidden slots that allow easy RAM upgrades to 48K. Each was based on the MOS Technology 6502 CPU at 1.79 MHz (1.77 MHz on PAL versions of the computers) and the same custom coprocessor chips. The plug-and-play peripherals use the Atari SIO serial bus, with one developer eventually also co-patenting USB. The core architecture of the Atari 8-bit family was reused in the 1982 Atari 5200 game console, but games for the two systems are incompatible.

Both models were replaced by the XL series in 1983, and the company was sold and reestablished as Atari Corporation, producing the XE series in 1985. The XL and XE are lighter in construction, have two joystick ports instead of four, and Atari BASIC is built-in. The 130XE has 128 KB of bank-switched RAM. The series was successively upgraded to the Atari 1200XL, Atari 600XL, Atari 800XL, Atari 65XE, Atari 130XE, Atari 800XE, and Atari XEGS, the last discontinued in 1992. In 1987, Atari Corporation repackaged the 65XE as a console, with an optional keyboard, as the Atari XEGS. It is backward compatible with computer software.

Two million Atari 8-bit computers were sold during its major production run between late 1979 and mid-1985. In 1984, Atari reported 4 million owners of its computers and its 5200 game console combined. The 8-bit family was sold both in computer stores and department stores such as Sears using an in-store demo to attract customers. The primary global competition came when the similarly equipped Commodore 64 was introduced in 1982. In 1992, Atari Corporation officially dropped all remaining support for the 8-bit line.

Read more: Computers and gadgets with Michael Kirsted ...