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A range of amazingly capable machines that suffered due to Atari’s poor pricing policy. In the UK, the original 800 and 400 didn’t stand a snowball’s chance against the far cheaper British machines.

Games carried premium pricing as well. The Ataris were only ever minority computers in the UK, so most software was imported from the US where games players were prepared to spend far more for their latest blast. An additional problem was that British users, weaned on the Spectrum or ZX81 were used to using cassettes as data storage and resented paying out extra for disc drives, meaning that many UK Atari owners missed out on some of the more impressive games from the US.

The Games

Star Raiders

(link coming soon)
Doug Neubauer’s classic space combat game originated on the Atari 400/800, with later conversions to a variety of Atari consoles and computers.

People

Jeff Minter/Llamasoft

(link coming soon)
Although he’s more associated with the 16-bit Atari, Jeff Minter released a number of titles for the 8-bit machines.

Major events

1981
UK launch prices:
Atari 400 £300
Atari 800 £600

1982
UK price cuts:
Atari 400 £200
Atari 800 £400

1985
UK 130XE launch price: £169.99

1987
Atari XE £120

Emulators

Mac OS X

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iOS

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OUYA/Android

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Features

Atari 400/800

16K RAM (Atari 400) or 48K RAM (Atari 800)
1.8 Mhz 6502 processor
Graphics: 11 text/graphics modes. 255 colours (maximum of 16 on-screen at any one time)
4 joystick ports
2 cartridge ports (one for BASIC cartridge)
Sound: 4 voices, 3 other parameters, 5 octaves
The Atari 400 featured a touch sensitive keyboard, while the 800 proudly sported a really rather lovely ‘real’ keyboard.

Atari XL range

The XL range was Atari’s first attempt at updating their ageing 8-bit range. The first computer in the series, the 1200XL, was never released in Europe and the underpowered 600XL only a limited impact in the crowded British computer market.

The 800XL, however, had more success. The computer was far more capable than the earlier Ataris, and although it never sold anywhere near as many units as the Spectrum, Commodore 64 or BBC, the 800XL was well respected by the gaming elite.

2 joystick ports
Built-in BASIC
1 cartridge port

Atari 130XE

The 130XE was the final hurrah of the Atari 8bit line. In an ST style case, and with a ‘softer’ style keyboard, the 128k 130XE was an impressive machine, but as it was released at the time when games players were eagerly counting their pennies in anticipation of the new 16bit machines, reaction was muted.

2 joystick ports
Built-in BASIC
1 cartridge port
The 65XE featured 64K RAM, while the 130XE boasted a (then) whopping 128K RAM.

Atari XE

Cut-down console version of the 130XE
Keyboard expansion and cassette datacorder were available as optional extras
64K RAM
Compatible with most 8-bit Atari computer cartridges