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Tricking out the 1200XL: Beyond Sweet 16

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Gunstar

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I always loved the look of the 1200XL. I love it's size, like the 800 before, the larger foot-print always seemed to me to lend it a look of a serious computer. The smaller XL's and XE's foot-print suggested more of a "toy" or "game machine" even though the same power 8-bit computer lay at the heart. Starting out with a 130XE, I had the most powerful stock 8-bit ever released by Atari, but the build quality is terrible. Don't get me wrong, if it weren't for that "Power Without the Price" cost-cutting XE, I may never have owned an Atari. But as time went on I longed for the "serious computer" size, aesthetics and build quality of the 800 and 1200XL. Sure, the 800XL and 600XL's still had solid build quality, but the small size, similar to my 130XE just didn't do it for me, especially with the cartridge slot exposed in the top middle like a "toy game console" just never endeared themselves to me like the 1200XL, with it's tucked away cartridge and joystick ports, top-quality keyboard and much better suited horizontal row of brushed-metal function keys for the design and to match the 1000 series of XL peripherals' horizontal trim styling. 

 

So after nearly 20 years of owning a 130XE, I obtained a 1200XL and 800. Eventually upgrading the 1200XL to Rambo 256K and selling off the 130XE. But that was just the beginning for this first XL with a few issues. I fixed the issues, adding +5v to the SIO, upgrading the video circuitry with Supervideo 2.1, removed the RF modulator to reduce video interference. Then I fixed the mylar keyboard connector issue, I modified the cartridge port bay so that all released cartridges fit. Next I added an Atarimax 32-in-1 OS, internal BASIC and XL/XE MMU and an Atarimax 512K Rambo upgrade. Of course I also added a DIY dual-POKEY upgrade with an amplifier & phono-out jack board where the RF modulator used to be. After all of that, I came across a $100 PC keyboard at Walmart that was back-lit with a rainbow of LED colors. I decided I wanted LED lighting for not only my keyboard, but also to shine out the XL's vented edges.

 

But even though internally, the 1200XL had become a super 800XL, I decided I wanted the expansion capabilities of the 800XL and 130XE. So even though by then mass storage solutions via the cartridge port were available and plenty of internal upgrades making the PBI/ECI ports unnecessary. I decided I wanted one anyway, but a real PBI port and not a ribbon cable to a 50-pin Centronics plug like others had done, then use an adapter. I had a 600XL that wasn't working that I had already started using as salvage for spare parts, so I decided to operate and salvage the PBI edge-connector and PBI case opening from the 600XL and install them in my 1200XL. And so my own vision of a "Poor man's 1400XL" began. Once I had given my 1200XL a PBI, I needed something to use with it. I already had a MyIDE II with a Super SpartaDOS X cart with RTC, so I didn't need a HDD solution, I had internal expanded memory, I had multiple OS's too already...so the PBI sat, waiting for something to use it. Then I got Syscheck 2.0 with it's diagnostic OS, just to have something to use with the PBI. And the external OS's and extended memory bonus really help with diagnostics, but I also removed the Rambo 512K and re-installed the stock 64K. This raised my total memory to 576K from 512K.

 

I am far from finished. Next on my Super 1200XL MAX upgrade agenda includes an internal 3.5" XF351 floppy drive, using a board from Dropcheck. The Stereo POKEY's will eventually get replaced with a Quad+Covox POKEYmax, a second PIA or possibly VIA will be installed, and using the second IC, I will add 2-4 more controller ports. I will be installing a Hybrid Art's MIDImate board with it's MIDI and Sync I/O ports. And lastly, until I think of something else, assuming it would fit, a second SIO port. I thought of something else...Sophia 2, VBXE and Rapidus upgrades.

 

Pictures and more to come soon...

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