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Atari 800 (not XL) keyboard basics

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Posted Wed Feb 12, 2014 9:59 AM

Atari made a few versions of the 800 keybaord during its five year production run.  Each has its quirks, but all can be serviceable after 30+ years.


1) The original Hi Tek keyboards are very rare, I've never seen one, and they have a male ribbon cable connector like the 400 keyboard.  These were only on the very first 1979 800's.  Really can't comment on this one much.


2) The majority of 800 keyboards are the excellent mechanical Hi Teks that have white plungers.  As stated, they are mechanical switch keyboards and many still work wonderfully and will continue to for many years.  They do have one flaw.  Due to repeated pounding of the spacebar, the load (force) is transmitted to the solder pad on the PCB.  After many thousands of cycles, the solder pad at location 57 on the back of the PCB fails and the contact pin falls out leaving with a bad spacebar.  You just need to reinsert a wire in the hole in the solder pad at location 57, experiment a little with a multimeter to find the position that restores continuity and re-solder the lead.  This is probably the best made keyboard Atari ever made.


3) For a short while Atari used mylar membrane keyboards made by Mitsumi.  They look feel and are constructed just like the 1200XL keyboard also made by Mitsumi.  If you can find a mitsumi keyboard today that works, its a miracle.  Everyone I've ever encountered had a few or no keys working.  They can be easily identified as they are darker in appearance and have a distinctive glossy look.  These, when they work, are awesome as they are not mechanical switched and feel smooth, but lack feedback.  They can be fixed and will have to be, count on it, using the same procedure BOB1200XL has on RETROBITS.net.


4) The last run of keyboard was made by Stackpole, which have yellow plungers and are mechanically switch like the Hi Tek.  These will last a long time and are reliable except, they too, have a flaw.  The yellow plastic plungers all start to crack at the corners, even if not used.  This causes the the keys to seat too deep and either the loose fit causes the key top to pop off or the key binds and sticks in the down position.  The only way to fix these is to replace the yellow spacers.  You just need to be careful you don't bend the fragile little gold plated contact fingers in the middle of the mechanical switch.


The Hi Tek and Stackpole will be the most reliable over time, but the Mitsumi has its rewards if you can revive them.

Edited by ACML, Wed Feb 12, 2014 10:44 AM.

#2 Sub(Function(:)) OFFLINE  



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Posted Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:16 AM

Also regarding the 800 Keyboards


I have witnessed and heard that the white plastic used on these keyboards can become brittle, and break, with age (or heat over time). This eventually leads to the keycaps popping off.


But I will say in good condition these keyboards have a really good feel to them.

Edited by Sub(Function(:)), Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:17 AM.




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Posted Mon Sep 28, 2015 7:50 PM

Just thought I'd revisit the subject now that I have a little more experience working with and restoring 800 keyboards.  I definitely have my preference after fixing several.  


1) The best keyboard in my opinion for the 800 is the Mitsumi.  It was made by the same company that made the 1200XL keyboards and they have the same feel.  They are smooth, quite and the most serviceable.  The Mylar conductive tape will have to be removed and you have to rebuild the 9 or so terminal traces with conductive paint.


2) Second on my preference is the Hi-Tek (white plungers).  A very good mechanical keyboard, but has a major flaw.  The spacebar will eventually fail and the repair can be straight forward or a pain in the ass.  Has a mechanical noise not present in the Mitsumi.


3) Third, only because I can't make it tenth, is the Stack Pole (yellow plungers).  Garbage, plain and simple.  Stay away from these.  The yellow plungers always crack, even if not used. Yes, NOS Stackpoles will have cracked plungers.  It causes the key caps to fall off.  Plus the ribbon cable is horrendous.  It will cold work itself in just a few bends and break, lose continuity.  A major pain to fix once the ribbon leads start cold working.  I hate these keyboards with a passion.  Bought one brand new from Best and it failed after trying to install it a couple times (ribbon cold working failure).  Not Best's fault, Brad just sells them.  It's the only ones you can get now NOS.

Edited by ACML, Mon Sep 28, 2015 7:53 PM.

#4 vfrvulcan OFFLINE  


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Posted Sat Jan 16, 2016 4:06 PM

Thanks ACML, spent ages searching for the correct terminology to fix my keyboard and your description of the spacebar problem on the Hi-Tek was perfect.


Three hours messing around soldering/de-soldering/soldering and I have my spacebar working again. Guess you can file that one in the 'pain in the ass' dept :-)


So easy holding a wire in there and checking continuity, but holding it there and soldering was a different story.


Once again, many thanks for your help/info.

#5 simbalion OFFLINE  



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Posted Sat Jan 16, 2016 4:15 PM

I have one of the stackpole units from Best and so far it works good. One rule I use with all this old stuff is to try and not to disturb ribbons and cables too much. Age gets to all of it over time, especially when mixed with heat.

#6 Bryan OFFLINE  



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Posted Sat Jan 16, 2016 6:09 PM

The Hi-Teks aren't that rare. I've owned a few of them over the years. At one time I had a supply of OEM Stackpole keyboards for another (unknown) system and I used them as a source of plungers.

#7 Level42 OFFLINE  


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Posted Thu Jan 21, 2016 10:28 AM

Great information !


However.......this thread would be _brilliant_ if there were some pictures to show all the different versions :)


Any idea which one the PAL 800 had ? My PAL 800 works fine (after replacing one RAM chip) but the keyboard is dead...completely....

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