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Philsan

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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), brand-new FastBasic 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/ATX: 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 (last updated 16.04.2019) of various loading devices:

A8 loading devices.pdf

There's another comparison table here: https://www.wudsn.com/index.php/productions-atari800/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 limited compatibility.

 

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

With APE Windows application you can emulate not only disk drives but printers and modems too.

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 (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.
- SDrive - SDrive-MAX:

AtariAge user alsp ($50 with case)

AtariAge user Gavin1968 (SDrive-MAX, $95 with case, color LCD screen, PSU)
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).

 

MULTICARTS

- AVGCart (Euro 40): drag and drop .car, .xex and .atr (limited compatibility) on SD card; nice search function.

- SIDE 2 cartridge (Euro 55 Lotharek): drag and drop .xex on compact flash cart. If you have Ultimate1MB internal upgrade (Euro 55 Lotharek) you can load .atr too. This device has SpartaDOS X and a real time clock too.

- Ultimate SD card ($95 AtariAge user MacRorie): you drag and drop .xex and .car on SD card.

- Atarimax MyIDE-II ($69.95): drag and drop .car, .xex and .atr (limited compatibility) on a CF card

- The Cart! (Euro 75): 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 search funtion and instant load.

- UNO Cart ($56): drag and drop on SD card .xex and .car (<= 128KB) and .atr (single disks, limited compatibility).

- 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.

 

Conclusions

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 often do you update them, how do you want to search them from the device...

With a cheap SIO2PC-USB and a memory expansion you can download 99.9% of the software from a nearby PC.

Multicarts quickly load most of the software (especially games) but don't load .atr disk images or have a limited compatibility (for example, Alternate Reality, Seven Cities of Gold, The Dark Crystal cannot be loaded).

I would buy at least two devices, a SIO loading device and a multicart.

 

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 (many screenshots and manuals)
Atari 8-bit Forever
Fandal (unparalleled for demos)
Atarionline (Gry/Games on the left column)
Homesoft ("clean" versions of games with tunes preview)
Mr. Bacardi

 

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.

 

Thanks to MrFish, you can download an homebrew compilation here.

 

5. Emulators?

PC
Altirra (the best emulator for PC)
Atari800
Atari++
Atari800WinPLus
Mac
Atari800MacX
Android
Colleen (official Atari800 port)

XEmu65
Droid800
Atari800
Nintendo DS
PokeyDS
Nintendo Wii
WiiXL
Sony PSP
Atari800PSP
PSP Atari

Emulators exists for Dingoo, GP handhelds, Pandora...

 

6. Programming?

 

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 If you would like to develop with that language, I suggest to use Turban.

In 2017 a new Basic has been released, FastBasic. Almost 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 or Atari Font Creator.

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
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Yes, sounds like a good idea.

 

A nice setup could be: Keep track of all posts made in such a thread, thus keep a summarizing list (with links to later posts in the same thread) in the 1st post, to be edited by the topic starter. This list can be edited, everytime someone adds a new post.

 

Another idea: As there already exist a lot of such topics, all we need is just one topic linking to all the others.

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Considering getting into A8 here... would a 600XL be worthwhile? I have no problem soldering the insides to add RAM (if that's even necessary). I think I saw a topic earlier where somebody'd located $2 RAM chips? Sounded like a deal to me. Ideally I guess I'd get a 130XE or XEGS, but they seem somewhat expensive to me. How's the keyboard on a 600XL, too? I hear various reports on the (various) A8 keyboards.

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Considering getting into A8 here... would a 600XL be worthwhile? I have no problem soldering the insides to add RAM (if that's even necessary). I think I saw a topic earlier where somebody'd located $2 RAM chips? Sounded like a deal to me. Ideally I guess I'd get a 130XE or XEGS, but they seem somewhat expensive to me. How's the keyboard on a 600XL, too? I hear various reports on the (various) A8 keyboards.

you can get 41464 chips for 600XL upgrade here:

 

http://www.jameco.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_10001_10001_41574_-1

 

$1.69 per chip, and something ($5.00?) ship and a $10 minimum order.

 

A 64K 600XL is OK, but no composite output, must use RF. You can't tell which keyboard you're getting on an 800XL without opening

it up. I never heard that the Mitsumi keyboards were to avoided. Probably the older 800XLs have better keyboards, so getting a used one rather than an unopened 'new' one may be better.

 

I've experienced a problem with both the 64K 600XL and the 800XL for burning non-USB Maxflash carts, I have a 1200XL that does that very well. A 1200XL is the largest XL/XE, but has a nice feeling keyboard which must be 'upgraded', often fails.

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Regarding keyboards, I don't know if 600XLs had 5 models like 800XLs.

800XLs older models are better than newer ones (but it important to avoid only the last one, Mitsumi).

All keyboards works, but the last one feels very bad (rattle while typing...).

Anyway, there is a fundamental topic regarding keyboards.

 

Regarding internal memory upgrades, I can't help you (I am unable to solder!)

I would buy AtariAge user ctirad external 320KB memory expansion.

 

In my first post I haven't mentioned 600XL because this thread is for newbies and 600XL needs at least a memory expansion (and a composite mod if NTSC).

But with those two enhancements 600XL is a very nice machine, for someone even better than 800XL/130XE because of its small dimensions.

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Pretty sure the XL keyboard variants were all shared among both machines.

 

First 600XL I owned had the nice high-quality stepped version, the one I bought about a year ago has the cheaper stepped one, my 800XL has the flat one.

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A mini-FAQ is a good idea.

 

The "official" one has the problem in that it's a giant wall of text and not exactly convenient if you're just looking for the simple answers.

 

Then again, AtariAge itself seems to have most of the "Systems" covered from links on the main page, but there's nothing covering the 8-bitters.

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I have been thinking about making some sort of grid with the various attributes of each system, kind of a quick reference guide.

Just need to pull my finger out and actually do it.

I agree, we need to sticky some sort of guide for noobs

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A mini-FAQ is a good idea.

 

The "official" one has the problem in that it's a giant wall of text and not exactly convenient if you're just looking for the simple answers.

 

Then again, AtariAge itself seems to have most of the "Systems" covered from links on the main page, but there's nothing covering the 8-bitters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like i already said, A revised version....And i think it needs updating as i think most of that text is from the 90's and doesn't take into accept recent developments

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We used to call this a FAQ, and I think it's a great idea. While there are a lot of Atari FAQs, the topics covered here are unique -- covering the last decade of A8 evolution.

 

I think this topic should be *very* detailed. Not simply noting that there are SD options but comparing and contrasting the options and availability. A flash cart post would compare all carts, detail the load procedures, and link to vendors. Same for custom hardware (VBXE, MIO, memory upgrades, video upgrades).

 

The topic schould be moderated and sticky. Hurry up with this -- I have a lot to learn ;-)

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I think A8 deserves a good website with history, hardware, software, books (for software and books a link to Atarimania could be sufficient), service manuals, mods...

(BTW, Atari definitely deserves a book like Commodore - A company on the edge).

Wikipedia page needs to be updated too.

Websites always forget to tell that A8 was leader of the market in 1980-1982 and to point out that in 1979 Atari 800 128 colors, sprites, and sound were awesome.

Unfortunately such a website doesn't exists.

For example, Atari History Museum has many unvaluable informations but, for example, a good history is here, Atari Basic is examined here...

 

Carmel, I have to say that Atari 8-bit computer FAQs are updated frequently.

 

The problem is that many persons don't have time, other have knowledges but are unable to design a good website, other don't have the qualities of historians, other don't know English (like me)...

 

Back on topic, I have done this thread because newbies often ask the same questions and people always answer with the same replies: someone writes to buy an 800XL, another one a 130XE, another one SIO2SD, another one SIO2PC...

Boring...

 

I think this thread is useful for newbies and too much informations would scare them.

On the other hand it's impossible to give fewer informations. I would not be very objective if I would simply write "buy this machine with that device".

I will try to keep updated the first post.

 

Obviously another thread with complete informations (not only for newbies) would be great.

Anyway, people really interested in A8, have the motivations to search the forum (and the web) to find deeper infos.

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The trouble with FAQ's (I've written a few) and pinned subjects is that as much as we would like they rarely get read, peoples eye's see 'pinned' or 'sticky' and instantly their head says boring and they look for the new subjects.

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The trouble with FAQ's (I've written a few) and pinned subjects is that as much as we would like they rarely get read, peoples eye's see 'pinned' or 'sticky' and instantly their head says boring and they look for the new subjects.

 

Sadly, they often aren't maintained & aren't as useful as newer topics might be. ONE good solid FAQ for this forum would probably be beneficial, though. I know I'd have at least looked at the initial post in one, if there were one.

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The trouble with FAQ's (I've written a few) and pinned subjects is that as much as we would like they rarely get read, peoples eye's see 'pinned' or 'sticky' and instantly their head says boring and they look for the new subjects.

 

Sadly, they often aren't maintained & aren't as useful as newer topics might be. ONE good solid FAQ for this forum would probably be beneficial, though. I know I'd have at least looked at the initial post in one, if there were one.

 

My C64 FAQ that I created many years ago for a C64 newsgroup was maintained solidly by me and also by the guy that took it over (I think its still in the wild even now) but we still got the same level of same questions. I'm not against the idea at all, I love it but if anyone is hoping to see less traffic question wise then you may be disappointed.

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Please correct me if I am wrong because in the first post I want to be very objective.

 

After having tested Sic! Cart and IDE Plus 2.0 these are my thoughts.

 

Those awesome pieces of hardware are not the first devices a newbie should buy because:

 

Sic! Cart: to program it you must already have another device to transfer files from PC to Atari (SIO2PC, SIO2SD, SDrive).

IDE Plus 2.0: you must have another device too, installation and file transfer not easy for newbies, software compatibility issues.

 

All in all, SIO2PC, SIO2SD and SDrive remain the best solutions for newbies (and must have devices for others): easy software transfer, no storage space problems, no compatibility issues.

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It would be really great if there were detailed descriptions of different people's fully tricked-out , modern, upgraded systems, for each Atari 8-Bit model.

 

Also, can someone list which upgrades are known to be incompatible with other upgrades?

 

 

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A matrix with rows and columns named after each upgrade with a tick or cross in each box showing compatibility/incompatibility would work well in this case.

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It would be really great if there were detailed descriptions of different people's fully tricked-out , modern, upgraded systems, for each Atari 8-Bit model.

Also, can someone list which upgrades are known to be incompatible with other upgrades?

A matrix with rows and columns named after each upgrade with a tick or cross in each box showing compatibility/incompatibility would work well in this case.

Useful, but not for newbies! ;)

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A really dumb question, but I can't seem to find the answer to with Google.

 

Is an Atari DOS disk required to use the Disk Drive, or is it only needed for certain things? From what I can find, it seems that the DOS files can be written onto a disk. Would that mean most official software on disk would have DOS already written onto it?

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