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Why isn't the 130XE the dominant Atari 8bit?

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To this day, I think that the Atari 400/800 is the only computer that will allow a family of 4 to sit down together and play a game at the same time.

I can't tell you how many hours of fun the four of us had playing MULE. Now that I have the 800 working again, I think Christmas will be a

good time to put it up on the 60 inch TV.

 

DavidMil

Edited by DavidMil
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One thing I like about this site is that threads like this never die :)

 

I think this question is similar to asking something like "why doesn't everyone who wants a PS3 buy a PS3 Slim?" or "why doesn't everyone who plays a Genesis do it on a Genesis 3?"

 

The Atari 8 bit line is from that class of computers that was built and maintained more like a game console - unlike the IBM PC or Apple II, it got probably got the fewest tangible upgrades, other than memory, of any competing line throughout the years it existed.

 

That means you can pretty much pick and choose whichever design you like these days. Most computer (or game console) revisions are for cost cutting reasons. The XL line still feels like quality to me; the case is thick and feels hefty for its size; the keyboard, while already a little mushy for my tastes, feels nicely weighted; and there's some actual metal in the design. And it's a lot more compact than the original 400/800, which I think is a plus given that Atari didn't get there by cheaping out on materials. What they did was cut down on the expansion capabilities at the time, but these days that's not really a big deal.

 

The XE, though, definitely feels cheap compared to the XL, without many tangible benefits beyond the extra 64K (and XL's can be upgraded). At the time it was supposed to look more modern, but that's not really a benefit when you think about retro or vintage computing. To me the XL line actually looks *more* retro than the original 400/800, which have more of a timeless quality. I think that black slotted look may be a positive for some people these days, whereas the XE line just looks kind of cheesy. I never really liked the look of them even at the time. I do like the look of the ST, but the XE looks like a cut down version of the ST. It doesn't look right to me. It looks like an IBM PCjr. compared to a PC.

 

Also I really, really don't understand what Atari was doing with their keyboards at that particular period of time. Both the XE and ST keyboards of those couple years were just nasty. Probably the worst in the industry; I mean I haven't tried worse, and I've used most of the computers available at that time.

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"The XE, though, definitely feels cheap compared to the XL".

 

Cheap or not, they have survived to this day ;). I think it's mostly a matter of this nostalgic feeling that brought you here.

 

In the old days (my elementary school time in a typical polish city) XE was not only the "only option" but it also looked better, more modern than the XL line. Even though the XL line seemed much more practical to use, nobody had carts... only pirated copies were easily available at that time.

 

Guess which is my preffered Atari model today? :) And yes, I don't like 800/400 at all (800 looks like an old typewriter ;)).

 

W.

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"The XE, though, definitely feels cheap compared to the XL".

 

Cheap or not, they have survived to this day ;).

 

Well obviously, some have. I don't think anyone's quantified the death rates of the different revisions. I've seen dead XE's and dead XL's. But I was mainly talking about feel anyway, which I think is actually more important nowadays than reliability. XE's to me just aren't very pleasurable to use because of their thin feeling plastic and horrible keyboards (IMO of course).

 

I wouldn't turn down an XE if somebody gave one to me, and if I had an XE I doubt I'd really go looking for another Atari 8 bit model; I'd probably be satisfied enough with it to not spend more money, anyway. If it ever broke, though, I'd go hunting for an 800 or 800XL to replace it. (Or a modded 1200XL, I guess.)

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Cheaaaap is the operative word here. Atari Corp. was the definition of Cheap. They did EVERYTHING on the cheap. Great products, no support, no advertising. Cheap. The XEs, were cheap to make. Too bad Atari didn't support them. Cheap.

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In keeping with the original poster's question, I'd be curious what people's thoughts are on which system (VCS aside) Atari most dropped the ball on, or squandered the most potential with, and why you think so.

 

For example, Atari staged the 1200XL as their business model, and then proceeded to hobble the system itself.

 

Or, the 1450XLD... would that really have been a game changer if it had made it to retail?

 

I'm looking forward to building on the OPs topic as well as gilsaluki's mention of Atari's (cheapness).

 

--Tim

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Well, you can blame the video game crash for the demise of the XL line, since Warner Communications stopped everything and sold off Atari as quickly as they could. But once the Tramiels took over, that was when everything became cheaply made with little or no support. Even the ST line's support was dismal compared to other companies support for their machines. Sam was a penny pincher of the worst kind, and the reason he was ousted from Commodore, he just got lucky with the C64. But the systems that they dropped the ball on were the same ones that could have saved the company, if they had proper support and advertising and availability, and that was the Lynx, the Falcon and the Jaguar. But it's only marginally worse support than the ST and XE lines received from Mr. cheapo Sam T. He just kept hoping lighting would strike twice with little support and advertising, like happened for him with the C64, but lightning only ever struck for him once.

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Well, you can blame the video game crash for the demise of the XL line, since Warner Communications stopped everything and sold off Atari as quickly as they could. But once the Tramiels took over, that was when everything became cheaply made with little or no support. Even the ST line's support was dismal compared to other companies support for their machines. Sam was a penny pincher of the worst kind, and the reason he was ousted from Commodore, he just got lucky with the C64. But the systems that they dropped the ball on were the same ones that could have saved the company, if they had proper support and advertising and availability, and that was the Lynx, the Falcon and the Jaguar. But it's only marginally worse support than the ST and XE lines received from Mr. cheapo Sam T. He just kept hoping lighting would strike twice with little support and advertising, like happened for him with the C64, but lightning only ever struck for him once.

 

Insofar as I can understand it from having read both the Atari and Amiga book accounts, I'd have to argue that Jack Tramiel's business methods, however unorthodox one might consider them to be, kept him in business for a very long time. He certainly pulled it off with his sometimes unorthodox approach to frugality, and it took Commodore a lot further than Atari went, let's not forget. I can't imagine a man like Mr. Tramiel sinking all of the money he did into buying Atari with the intent to ruin the company. The fact was, Atari was already in serious financial straits long before Tramiel bought it. He paid basement rate for it, and the money he used was his own, if I understand it correctly.

 

Bottom line, he had to go cheap, and he was determined to see a 16-bit machine on the market before the company he'd built from the ground up had theirs out. If he'd been more acquainted with the Atari ecosphere, who's to say that he couldn't have pulled it off, too, under different circumstances.

 

Did he make the right decisions? What if he had ended the 8-bit line rather than developing the 65XE/130XE systems and the XF551 drive, for example? Then, used that money as more investment in the new 16/32 machines, would that have been the better choice for the company? For the consumers?

 

What about the decision Atari made not to let development of a 16-bit machine go forward, leaving the men who felt it was the next logical advance in home computing to go and build it for themselves, and after a churn of events, ended up with Commodore? Would Atari have been better to endorse the idea from the start, and would it have meant the end of the 8-bit line even sooner than it finally took place?

 

--Tim

Edited by Timothy Kline

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I'm not sure what you mean by Commodore going a lot further than Atari, The Amiga was a success, more so than the ST, but Jack was gone by then, and you are aware that Commodore went out of business before Atari Corp., right? Also Jack T. (sorry I said Sam before, I get them mixed up) had an absurd standing rule of never spending more than 10 or 15% of revenue on advertising and promotion, which of course leads to a continual downward spiral since the less people know of the products, the less sales there are so that 10-15% keeps shrinking, as does revenue and the eventual collapse of Atari. If you are trying to rebuild a company and make it a success, advertising and support it EVERYTHING. Just look at Nintendo with the Gameboy, it was the worst handheld of all, but did much, much better than all others due to massive advertising campaigns. Again, it was another reason Jack was ousted from his own company Commodore. Yes, he had little to start with, when he bought Atari, but he didn't inherit any debts from Atari Inc.,

 

I'm glad he bought Atari and managed to have it limp along for another dozen years, otherwise Atari was finished and we never would have seen all the products I love, like the XE line (the first time I got into Atari, beside the 2600 was the 130XE) and Lynx, Jaguar, all favorites of mine that would never have been. But he SUCKED at business plain and simple. Commodore did better than Atari for the second half of the 80's, but they quickly went under, even quicker than Atari, in the 90's. So maybe ousting Jack didn't help them much, but like it or not, he was one cheap bastard.

Edited by Gunstar
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What about the decision Atari made not to let development of a 16-bit machine go forward, leaving the men who felt it was the next logical advance in home computing to go and build it for themselves, and after a churn of events, ended up with Commodore? Would Atari have been better to endorse the idea from the start, and would it have meant the end of the 8-bit line even sooner than it finally took place?

 

--Tim

Sorry, you got this bit all wrong. I'm not going to explain how, as it's too long a story, but that isn't how it happened. The Amiga was going to come out for Atari, as the 1600 or 1800 XL (forget which model now exactly), but the video game crash did it ALL in, it wasn't just some decision not to develop a 16-bit machine, I have no idea where you got that from. Commodore just ended up buying Amiga out from under Atari, So Jack had his ex-Commodore engineers come up with the ST instead, and in less than a year!

Edited by Gunstar
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i think the XE line "missed the boat".

by the time they came along, people had moved on - most 8-bit game players were already using other platforms - speccy, commodore, etc, then the arrival of Amiga, ST and next generation consoles hammered more nails in the coffin.

in essence, byt the time the XEs arrived, Atari's 8-bit hardware sales had already peaked

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Sorry, you got this bit all wrong. I'm not going to explain how, as it's too long a story, but that isn't how it happened. The Amiga was going to come out for Atari, as the 1600 or 1800 XL (forget which model now exactly), but the video game crash did it ALL in, it wasn't just some decision not to develop a 16-bit machine, I have no idea where you got that from.

 

In Jeremy Reimer's article titled "A History of the Amiga," he wrote the following:

 

 

After the 400 and 800 had shipped, Atari management wanted Jay to continue developing new computers. However, they insisted that he work with the same central processing unit, or CPU, that had powered the VCS and the 400/800 series. That chip, the 6502, was at the heart of many of the computers of the day. But Jay wanted to use a brand new chip that had come out of Motorola's labs, called the 68000.

The 68000

The 68000 was an engineer's dream: fast, years ahead of its time, and easy to program. But it was also expensive and required more memory chips to operate, and Atari management didn't think that expensive computers constituted a viable market. Anyone who had studied the history of electronics knew that in this industry, what was expensive now would gradually become cheaper over time, and Jay pleaded with his bosses to reconsider. They steadfastly refused.

 

Chronologically, this was evidently before Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications, and the decision by the pre-Warner Atari led Jay Miner to Hi-Toro, where the 68000-based computer was born.

 

And you're right that the new computer was supposed to land at Atari, but Commodore paid off Atari's investment and snapped up the Amiga for themselves. At least if memory serves from having read the accounts.

 

Would Atari have fared better, had they let Jay Miner go forward with the 68000-based computer? Wasn't Atari here just being cheap, preferring to stick with older technology, even in the face of the changing marketplace for home gaming units and 8bits in general? And what about the stories of Atari being cheap when it came to their developers of software, long before Jack Tramiel's shadow ever darkened the doors of Atari?

 

--Tim

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In Jeremy Reimer's article titled "A History of the Amiga," he wrote the following:

 

 

Chronologically, this was evidently before Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications, and the decision by the pre-Warner Atari led Jay Miner to Hi-Toro, where the 68000-based computer was born.

 

And you're right that the new computer was supposed to land at Atari, but Commodore paid off Atari's investment and snapped up the Amiga for themselves. At least if memory serves from having read the accounts.

 

Would Atari have fared better, had they let Jay Miner go forward with the 68000-based computer? Wasn't Atari here just being cheap, preferring to stick with older technology, even in the face of the changing marketplace for home gaming units and 8bits in general? And what about the stories of Atari being cheap when it came to their developers of software, long before Jack Tramiel's shadow ever darkened the doors of Atari?

 

--Tim

When I'm speaking of Tramiel Atari being cheap, I mean in manufacturing and advertising. Atari under Warner may have had some cheap ideas like remaining with the 6502, but the computers where much better built and advertising actually existed for them, unlike the Atari Corp. under the Tramiels. ALL companies have management that are afraid to take risks and want to keep using what they have, the tried and true. Steve Jobs had the same issue at Apple, they didn't like him spending so much time and money on his Lisa and Mac projects, and wanted to stick with Apple II because sales were still very strong at the time. Jobs had to fight tooth and nail for the Macintosh. have you seen the movie 'Jobs?' So that type of "cheapness" runs rampant in the industry with management and designers always feuding...

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When I'm speaking of Tramiel Atari being cheap, I mean in manufacturing and advertising. Atari under Warner may have had some cheap ideas like remaining with the 6502, but the computers where much better built and advertising actually existed for them, unlike the Atari Corp. under the Tramiels. ALL companies have management that are afraid to take risks and want to keep using what they have, the tried and true. Steve Jobs had the same issue at Apple, they didn't like him spending so much time and money on his Lisa and Mac projects, and wanted to stick with Apple II because sales were still very strong at the time. Jobs had to fight tooth and nail for the Macintosh. have you seen the movie 'Jobs?' So that type of "cheapness" runs rampant in the industry with management and designers always feuding...

 

Ah, I have a much better idea of where you're coming from, so thank you for taking time to elaborate.

 

I am inclined to agree with what you point out about the advertising especially. As I recall, the decision was to let Atari owners be the advertisers for the company rather than invest in advertising. I have no clue where Mr. Tramiel's head was at on that one.

 

On the manufacturing side, it seems like a tougher one to analyze, even in hindsight. Tramiel purchased a sinking ship, so I'm really not clear how he could have pushed the Atari 16-bit series without some significant cuts in materials. He still had to deal with the negative cash flow already in play when he bought Atari, still needed to meet payroll, and still intended to beat Commodore to the 16-bit market.

 

Another facet which might be worth considering here is that the technology marketplace hung in that tenuous place between 8-bit and 32-bit, the industry was itself in a state of rapid flux and the 16-bit market was over nearly as soon as it began in my estimation. The aforementioned plunge in the home video game market was just the initial signal of the shake-up to come. Adapt or die became the name of the game, and Tramiel's approach to business was old-school by comparison. What helped him build his company into a force to reckon with (again, his unorthodox business methodism notwithstanding) no longer applied to a tech industry rapidly leaping into a 32-bit world. Worse, he probably expected to run Atari like he had run Commodore/CBM-- and Atari was a very different creature built in a very different way. Tramiel was all about structure and tight control-- Atari was the complete opposite, as Ray Kassar soon realized when he was brought on board to try to regain the reins and likewise tried applying business decisions that had worked in other types of businesses.

 

Again, all of this is my own perception of the situation, based on the information that has been made available to me. That means I could completely be off-base here. That's why I'm enjoying this discussion-- to get other insights and opinions. :)

 

At the end of the day, was Tramiel's decision to cut corners on the manufacturing side (ever try working on a 130XE mainboard with a desoldering station? O.o ) a necessary one, given the fiscal standing of Atari? And given the short-lived 16-bit stage of home computing, would it even have mattered?

 

--Tim

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The main reason for me I go for the XL line is that I am not a huge fan of the XF551 diskdrive, and I do not like the 130XE + 1050 combo. So my main reason for not considering the 130XE as the ultimate atari 8bit computer is because of that. I like the 1050 way more (Especially with a HAPPY).

 

I agree the XE built quality is not as good as the XL line, but on the other hand... also XE computers are over 30 years old today, and most of my stuff is still in perfect working condition. Except for the keyboards... most (if not all) have issues.

 

It is always hard to pick my favorite model, but when I really had to pick one... I think it will be my 600XL, with 576KB (Hias' SRAM upgrade) and dual OS (Stock rev. 2 / MyBIOS) and built in RTC. It kicks ass.

 

I'm happy that I do not have to pick just one model :D .... so I keep enjoying my 800XL with U1MB, my 800XL without U1MB, my XEGS, my 130XE, my 65XE, my 800XE, my 400, my 800... Everything is so great, why pick one?

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* crappiest build quality ever, including the WORST full stroke keyboard I've ever used.

* hit or miss on crappy GTIA chip

* insanely inconsistent support for the extra banks of RAM in business software, and when it is implemented, it's implemented poorly (looking at you, AtariWriter Plus...)

* different connector from the PBI, so no real standard could be done, vendors had to provide adaptor boards, or build boards with both PBI and cart/ECI connectors

* keeping it cheap by putting the cart slot at the back of the system

 

sorry, those particular machines make me _very_ angry.

 

-Thom

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I bought my first Atari, a 130XE, because of the 128K ram. I payed full price when it was new, and the salesman where I bought it tried to get me to buy an 800XL and said it was much better quality, and I turned it down. I wish I hadn't. It was on sale for $99. I lived with the cruddy XE keyboard and other design issues as Thom mentioned for about a decade. And even after I found out about Rambo upgrades I was still weary of a Rambo XL because all the morons back then in the Analog and Antic magazines kept warning people off due to the lack of a Freddy chip and the CPU/Antic halt thing.

 

Eventually I found out that 99.999% of extended memory software worked fine with the Rambo memory and that was when I finally got rid of that 130XE in favor of a 1200Xl with Rambo, and FINALLY a computer that matched all my XL peripherals. I have never looked back. If I knew then what I know now, I never would have bought the XE, it would have been an XL from the start. I also steered clear of the 1200XL because of so-called incompatibilities I'd heard about, and that turned out to be very exaggerated too, just like the memory thing. I never found any incompatibility issues with my 1200XL even before I modded it. I'm sure they exist, but are so rare it shouldn't have been worth mentioning, yet people today still warn people off of the 1200XL for no real good reason that I ever found. The only incompatibilities I ever found were with 800 software issues requiring an OS translator disk, the same issue I had with the XE.

 

Of course it's totally modded and upgraded now, with all the "fixes" and I once again wish I had known the truth back in '85 and I could have picked up a 1200XL for dirt cheap (I even remember some mail-order companies offering it free with the purchase of a printer!) added the Rambo and revised OS and I would have had the best Atari computer, IMHO, from day one. All due to sophomoric advice from people out of Antic/Analog magazines.

Edited by Gunstar
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Gunstar. You are a wise person. The XL series were MUCH better, in quality and looks. When our brethren from a 100 years hence look back on the early years old computing, the XL will be mentioned, the XEs will not.

Period. Oh and Obama was born in the USA. Period.

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My first Atari was the 400. We then got an 800 XL which is the Atari I fell in love with. I don't think I ever had an XE back in the 80s, only in the late 90s when I started to collect the stuff.

 

So for me it has nothing to do with anything other than nostalgia. I spent the bulk of my Atari time in the 80s on an XL machine, so it's the XL machines I like the best. I picked up a 1200 XL with some OS hacks within it and that's the one I use today.

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XEGS is also the latest/most advanced design.. Last 8bit machine atari did.. They got rid of a BUNCH of discrete resistors and used DIP resistor packs instead.. It has the Freddy, like the rest of the XE line, that eliminates a bunch of discrete ICs from the XL design.. And the BASIC and OS roms (and missile command too) are combined into a single 32k (27256 compatable)ROM. It uses 4bit DRAM, which means only 2 chips per 64k rather than 8 on the XL line or earier XEs.. Not only does all of this consolidation save space on the motherboard, but it also saves overall load on the data bus, which we know is a direct contributor to the infamous "PHI2 stability problems" that you see with heavily expanded machines.

 

If it had a PBI/ECI slot and a port with chroma/luma video out, and a decent keyboard, it would be the hands-down winner.. The motherboard is unsocketed, but thats not really an issue for me.. I am used to re-socketing my machines.. The Sockets atari used on the XL line are junk, and I replace all of them anyway..

Most of what you're describing is cost-reduction.

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The IDEA of XE is not so bad.

I think it really was only the prolongation of XL line.

(I even don't try to touch aesthetic preferences!
Personally, I prefere LiteGray with Red (Maybe with adding Black, White and LiteBlue - Japanese reminiscence - SHADOOFS...))

Yes, I heared something about THE GLOBAL CORPORATIONS WAR!

But Tramiel desided to make his tranches as shallow as possible!
Minors was saved but Majors was dead. :skull:

I even don't say about the ability of total socketation of poor-made mobo. (too expensive)

Really safe way was to make tough-enough printed conductors for our resoldering them till now!

It is the only high-grade payment but when payed it will save THE ATARI SOLDIERS in Great War.
And they will bring The Victory!

I still hope that someone will produce New 130XE mobo!

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