Which Atari 8-bit computer to buy? What do I need to run software? Where to find software? What emulators are available?
I try to answer to those questions objectively and in a manner suitable for newbies.
You'll find many other answers in Atari 8-bit computers FAQs.
Index: 1. Which computer to buy? 2. What do I need to run software? 3. Where to find software? 4. Best homebrews? 5. Emulators? 6. Basic programming? 7. Graphics capabilities
1. Which computer to buy?
Historically speaking, Atari 800 is the best one (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 compared to Atari 800 is that they have two joystick ports instead of four.
Cart port: if you use cartridges, 800XL cart's port position is more comfortable.
Keyboard: important only if you plan to enter a lot of text; 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. Memory can be upgraded with internal or external expansions.
Video ouput: 800XL has RF and composite, 130XE has s-video too. If you have a socketed Atari, with solderless Sophia board you get RGB and DVI output.
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. 800XL has Basic rev. B, 130XE has bug free Basic rev. C. You can replace 800XL Basic rev. B chip with a rev. C. Anyway, if you like Basic programming, nowadays people don't use Atari Basic but Turbo-Basic XL (fast, compatible and compilable) or other Basics so Atari Basic's revision is unimportant.
2. What do I need to run software?
CARTRIDGES: you don't need anything apart your Atari 800XL/130XE.
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.
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.
Nowadays all above software has been dumped, to load it in emulators and easier loading on real hardware.
These are file format extensions of dumped software:
ATR: files that are reproductions of floppy disks. XEX: files that are reproductions of single executables. CAR/ROM/BIN: files that are reproductions of cartridges. CAS: files that are reproductions of tapes.
The frequent asked question is: "I want to buy a cart to run games, which cart should I buy?".
Atari computers are not consoles, so games were (and are) released not only in cartridge format but in disk format too.
Moreover, some games need more than 64KB to run.
Therefore, there's no single solution to load all software on real 64KB hardware.
I made a comparison table (updated 11.03.2018) of various loading devices:
A8 loading devices.pdf 36.28KB 19 downloads
There's another comparison table: https://www.wudsn.co...0/tools/thecart
Those comparison tables are not easy to understand for newbies, so I'll try to explain in a simple way.
SIO LOADING DEVICES are slower devices that emulate disk drives; they connect to SIO port and load programs like real disk drives.
Considered the fact that all software is available in xex and atr formats, these devices load all software. To load some big cartridges a memory expansion is needed.
MULTICARTS are faster devices that emulate cartridges.
Some multicarts not only load cartridges but load .xex programs too; some are able to load .atr programs too, but with limitations (for example no saves or disk swap allowed).
SIO LOADING DEVICES
If you have a PC near 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 16.67) and use it with AspeQt or RespeQt applications
If you like DIY, with $6 you can make a SIO2PC-USB or you can link PC and Atari with a breakout board for the FTDI FT232RL USB to serial IC.
If you want an independent self powered device (you drag and drop software on an SD card or USB stick):
- SIO2SD (basic instructions):
AtariAge user lotharek (Euro 66.45 with case, Euro 40 without case)
AtariAge user mega-hz (Euro 80 with case)
AtariAge user Pigula (Euro 40 without case and SIO cable/connector)
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 alsp ($50 with case)
AtariAge user c0nsumer ($150 with case) OUT OF STOCK
AtariAge user santosp (Euro 45 with case) OUT OF STOCK
- SIO2USB (review):
ABBUC (Euro 130-150 with case)
SIO2SD - SDrive comparison (I don't have a SIO2USB to compare, sorry).
If you want to load software from your Android phone/tablet or PC with Bluetooth:
- SIO2BT ($35).
- SIDE cartridge (Euro 67 Lotharek): you drag and drop .xex on compact flash cart. If you have Ultimate1MB internal upgrade (Euro 67 Lotharek) you can load .atr too. This device has SpartaDOS X and a real time clock too.
- Atarimax MyIDE-II ($69.95)
- The Cart! (Euro 70): you insert .car into this cart with a PC application that makes one large .atr file that you transfer on Atari with SIO loading device and it flashes the cart. Nice .car search menu and instant load.
- UNO Cart ($56): you drag and drop on SD card .xex and .car (<= 128KB) and .atr (single disks).
- Atarimax Maxflash Flash Cartridges (from $25 AtariAge user classics): you put .car on cartridge with Atarimax USB cartridge programmer or a SIO loading device. Cart's on-board memory is limited.
- SIC! Cart (from 18 Euro AtariAge user Stryker): you put .car on cartridge with Atarimax USB cartridge programmer or a SIO loading device. Cart's on-board memory is limited.
It is not easy to recommend a unique solution: what is your budget, what games do you want to load, how fast do you want to load them, how do you want to copy them on device, how do you want to search them from the device...
With a good budget, I would buy Ultimate SD card because you can easily drag and drop the software. The drawbacks are you cannot load .atr disk images (for example, Alternate Reality, Seven Cities of Gold, The Dark Crystal - check the software you want to load) and car loading is fast but not instant).
If I wouldn't want to spend money, I would get a SIO2PC-USB (Lotharek's or do it yourself)
But other solutions are good too.
Advanced users would buy at least two devices (a SIO loading device + a multicart) and add a memory expansion.
In fact many people have Side2 cart + Ultimate1MB internal memory expansion (unfortunately some soldering is required).
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:
Atarimania (best interface)
Atari 8-bit Forever
Fandal (unparalleled for demos)
Atarionline (Gry/Games on the left column)
Homesoft ("clean" versions)
4. Best homebrews?
Dozens of programs are released each year, especially games.
KazKompo best game of the year contest is a good starting point to know the best ones:
2016: 1. Laura, 2. Pang, 3. AtariBlast! (4. Dimo's Dungeon, 5. Manic Miner)
2015: 1. Duszpasterz Jan Rzygon / Priest John McPuke, 2. Bomber, 3. Dimo's Quest Lurch Edition (4. The Great Escape)
2014: 1. RGB, 2. Treasure Island Dizzy, 3. The Great Return of the Penguins
2013: 1. Assembloids XE, 2. Deathchase XE, 3. The Hunt
2012: 1. Ridiculous Reality, 2. Line Runner, 3. Callisto
2011: 1. Space Harrier, 2. Marbled, 3. Mighty Jill Off
2010: 1. His Dark Majesty, 2. Ocean Detox, 3. Dr. Mario
2009: 1. Kolony 2106, 2. Nightshade, 3. Ghastly Night (5. Tempest Xtreem)
2008: 1. Bomb Jack, 2. Hobgoblin, 3. Knight Lore
2007: 1. Yoomp!, 2. Crownland, 3. Mindblast
2006: 1. Flowers Mania, 2. Klony, 3. Nibbly
In A8 world, almost all games are released for free (sometimes beautiful collectors editions are available).
You can download them in the "3. Where to find software?" websites.
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 and most known 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 239 downloads If you would like to develop with that language, I suggest to use Turban.
In 2017 a new Basic has been released, FastBasic. Almost completely compatible with Turbo-Basic XL, it is faster.
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.
7. Graphic capabilities
If you want to see A8 machines graphics capabilities, check out Images generated by Rastaconverter topic.
Edited by Philsan, Sun Mar 11, 2018 3:56 AM.