Which Atari 8-bit computer to buy? What I need to run software? Where to find software? What emulators are available?
I try to answer to those questions in a way objective and suitable for newbies.
You'll find many other answers in Atari 8-bit computers FAQs.
Index: 1. Which computer to buy? 2. What I need to run software? 3. Where to find software? 4. Emulators? 5. Programming?
1. Which computer to buy?
Historically speaking, Atari 800 is a milestone (compare it with contemporary 1979 computers!), but if you want a computer compatible with all software, you should take an Atari 800XL or a 130XE (65XE and XEGS are OK too). Their only limitation is that they have two joystick ports only instead of the four Atari 800's ports.
Cart port. If you use cartridges, 800XL cart position is more comfortable.
Design. 800XL and 130XE are both beautiful and original.
Keyboard. Important only if you plan to enter a lot of text. Overall many people prefer 800XL keyboards but 5 variants exists (avoid the last variant, Mitsumi).
Memory. 800XL has 64KB, 130XE has 128KB, usuful for few games (but now AtariAge user ctirad sells an external 320KB low cost memory expansion for 800XL OUT OF STOCK).
Video ouput. RF and composite. 130XE has s-video too. With a simple jumper 800XL can have s-video too, but with a lower quality (to have an excellent s-video output you can make Kjmann s-video upgrade).
Quality. 800XL has a better building quality. Some XL's have all ICs socketed, so they are easier to repair and upgrade.
Basic. Important only if you want to program with Atari Basic. 130XE has bug free Basic rev. C. You can replace 800XL Basic rev. B IC with a rev. C. Anyway, if you like Basic programming, nowadays many people uses the fast, compatible and compilable Turbo-Basic XL so Basic's revision is unimportant.
2. What I need to run software?
If you want to use cartridges, you don't need anything apart your Atari 800XL/130XE.
If you want to use old 5¼ floppy disks, you need a disk drive (Atari 1050 or XF551): to load machine language programs, remember to turn on computer with option key pressed.
If you want to use old tapes, you need a program recorder (Atari 410, 1010, XC11 or XC12): to load machine language programs, remember to turn on computer with start and option keys pressed, then press play on program recorder and finally press return key.
If you want to run all existing software you have two solutions:
1 If you have and want a PC always near to your Atari you can buy
SIO2PC (AtariAge user classics, $60) and use it with APE Windows application (SIO2PC USB/RS232 version) or SIO2OSX Mac application (SIO2PC RS232 version)
SIO2PC-USB (AtariAge user lotharek, Euro 19.99) and use it with AspeQt Windows application
SIO2PC-USB (AtariAge user sloopy, $30-45) and use it with AspeQt Windows application
SIO2PC/10502PC DUAL-USB (AtariAge user atari8warez, $55) and use it with AspeQt Windows applications
With APE Windows application you can emulate not only disk drives but printers and modems too.
If you like DIY you can link PC and Atari with a breakout board for the FTDI FT232RL USB to serial IC.
2 You can put all existing software in an SD card/USB memory and buy/build independent self-powered devices like
- SIO2SD (basic instructions):
AtariAge user lotharek (Euro 84.49 with case, Euro 27.49 without case)
AtariAge user mega-hz (Euro 80 with case)
AtariAge user Pigula (Euro 40 without case and SIO cable/connector)
Atari Fan Store ($75 without case)
AtariAge user santosp (Euro 60 with case and SIO2PC) OUT OF STOCK
If you care about aesthetics, AtariAge user flashjazzcat can insert an SIO2SD into a 1064 (to match XL design) or an XM301 (to match XE design) case or inside the computer.
AtariAge user c0nsumer ($150 with case) OUT OF STOCK
AtariAge user santosp (Euro 45 with case) OUT OF STOCK
More Than Games ($94 with case)
- SIO2USB (documentation):
ABBUC (Euro 130-150 with case)
SIO2SD - SDrive comparison (I don't have a SIO2USB to compare, sorry).
If you like cartridges and their instant loading, you can put games in the Atarimax Maxflash Flash Cartridges (AtariAge user classics) or in the SIC! Cart (AtariAge user Stryker). To insert software in these two cartridges remember that you must buy Atarimax USB cartridge programmer or have a real disk drive or a SIO2PC/SIO2SD/SDrive device.
If you want fast loading/saving times - but you can load only single files (.xex/.exe) not disk images (.atr), unless you have Ultimate1MB internal upgrade (Lotharek, Euro 49.99) - you can buy SIDE cartridge (Lotharek, Euro 51.49)
This device has SpartaDOSX and a real time clock too.
3. Where to find software?
You can buy/find software on the Internet or in the real word, the price depends on conditions (loose, boxed, sealed) and rarity, and/or you can download it here:
Atari 8-bit Forever
Homesoft's Disk images
Vjetnam 8-bit Atari games Archive
Altirra (the best emulator for PC)
Colleen (official Atari800 port)
Emulators exists for Dingoo, GP handhelds, Pandora...
If you want to start programming Atari computers, the easier language is Turbo-Basic XL.
Released by Frank Ostrowski in 1985, it's compatible with built-in Atari Basic but faster, compilable and with additional commands.
Here you can find language and two manuals: Turbo-Basic XL.zip 6.35MB 15 downloads
If you would like to seriously develop with that language, I suggest to use Turban.
You comfortably write your code on the PC and then you push Control + B: Turban makes an ATR image with all needed files and runs your program with an emulator.
If you want to make bitmap images using various peculiar Atari graphics modes, you can use Atari Graphics Studio.
To make player-missile graphics (sprites), you can use Atari Player Editor (it supports overlap feature to create a third color when overlapping sprites).
To create music you can use Raster Music Tracker, made by Radek Sterba (we miss you).
To change character set you can use Atari FontMaker.
These are only a few tips, you can ask more informations in the 8-bit programming subforum.
Edited by Philsan, Tue Oct 27, 2015 3:32 AM.