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Steve Mynott

What might have been?

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Jay's chipset dates to 1979 (and was probably 2/3 years ahead of it's time then!) and they probably manufactured until 1992. Over this time period did Atari really never have any plans to upgrade it given the rate of technological change?

 

I'm aware of AMY as a POKEY upgrade and GTIA as a CTIA upgrade and FREDDIE but did they never think of upgrading ANTIC and pushing things further?

 

I suppose they had lost Jay's Lorraine team to Amiga but it seems strange that not even any design documents or abortive projects existed (AFAIK) and they were able to go outside Atari for the 7800's MARIA.

Thankfully the community completed the job with VBXE!

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http://www.atarimuseum.com/computers/8BITS/XL/1450xld/1450xld.html

 

"The 1450XLD may not have had a newer 16bit CPU or faster clock speed.   What it did have were some new additions to the Atari chipset (which comprised the ANTIC, GTIA, and POKEY).   These new chips were called the "FREDDIE" (a DRAM controller which was an enhanced consolidation of TTL chips found in earlier XL's) and the CO61618 Memory Management Unit.  What these little chips could do was something that was sorely needed in the Atari 8bits.   Freddie was an MCU (Memory Control Unit), this new chip would have allowed BOTH the CPU and the ANTIC chip to independently access different areas of memory for their own use.   What did this mean for the end user or more importantly , for programmers?   It meant that new Atari's with Freddie MCU DRAM controller and the CO61618 MMU could allow the CPU to access memory for programs (up to 64K) and the ANTIC could access up to 8K or more if needed to display graphics.   This meant that programmers would have more freedom and flexibility in writing programs that could have had more complex commands, better graphics and enough memory to accomplish what they had in mind".

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Good point about the FREDDIE MMU. I suppose it also basically means a 20% speed boost since ANTIC is no longer stealing cycles from the 6502 (?)

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We can only speculate what might have been, but at least there is a master chip listing here, so we can speculate what these updated/upgraded chip did for/to the A8:

 

 

Sara - Sara smile... (Hall & Oates)

Betty - (oh-oh) Black Betty (Ram Jam)

Matthew - Hey Matthew (Karel Fialka)

Maria - Maria (Carlos Santana)

Sally - Lay down Sally (Eric Clapton)

MTV-1 - "I want my MTV" (Money for Nothing, Dire Straits)

Freddie and Mercury... "God save (the) Queen"

 

Any more songs for Benny ? Matt ? Porkey ? Keri ? Amy ? Misty ? Paula ? Stellette ? Stella ? Stephanie ? Meg ?

 

 

 

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We know what SALLY (6502C) and MARIA (7800 graphics chip)  are, as well as SARA (expanded RAM memory chip for 2600 carts). :)

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Posted (edited)

There was a Super XEGS system in the works that would have a lot of upgrades, like tons of multi-color sprites, but it was axed while still just on paper in favor of the Panther 32-bit, which was axed in favor of the Jaguar 64-bit. And so Atari missed an entire console generation, and hence, too long out of the picture, even if they were barely in the picture with the 7800 & XEGS. If they had gotten the SXEGS out by '89/90 or the Panther out by '91/92, they would have been better off. The Jaguar of course leap-frogged them eventually, but too late, with other 32-bits coming out by then and the promises of the big boys new toys just over the horizon.

 

The Super XEGS, on paper, would have been able to easily compete with the PCengine/TG16, MegaDrive/Genesis and the SNES.

 

But Atari's consoles were a fiasco as soon as the decision was made to release the 7800 late, and cut-down, instead of upgraded. Or, they should have just released a 16-bit ST gaming console instead of the long-toothed Atari 8-bit, that could still keep up with the Master System and NES, if it had the proper support and programming, which it didn't, but why go in with barely-competent hardware instead of 16-bit hardware you already had, and further leap-frog the industry 2 years before the MegaDrive?!? 

Edited by Gunstar

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It's sad how few upgrades were made to the main 8-bit machines over the years. Not sure that it made sense financially with the 16-bits around the corner, but it sucks for us now :)

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On 6/29/2019 at 2:40 AM, Steve Mynott said:

What might have been?

 

If we can believe the interviews, the average person might assume that most Atari employees were high on drugs, so who knows might have been if they weren't having pillow fights with cotton candy unicorns and marshmallow elephants.

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Posted (edited)
49 minutes ago, polbit said:

It's sad how few upgrades were made to the main 8-bit machines over the years. Not sure that it made sense financially with the 16-bits around the corner, but it sucks for us now :)

Again, the original "sweat 16" Atari 1000 project was to have had upgrades and more expandability than the 800, but instead of leading the way with the best Atari could be, they cut back and cut down until it was a commercial failure 1200XL that had 16K more memory, but less everywhere else than the 800.

 

The rest of the XL and XE lines fixed the one issue of expandability (and then never supported it themselves except for the 600XL's 64K memory) but otherwise went unchanged but models with more memory, except in cheaper quality products. A company that lasts for decades and life times isn't one that tries to get the most inexpensive product to you, but the ones get give you the best quality and most advanced technology possible, with flagship and affordable models. Are always trying to bring you the next big thing, innovation all the time every time along with quality at an affordable price, but don't cut corners to be the cheapest.

 

Atari after Nolan Bushnell, chose to go cheap, like Commodore and Sinclair, for the common masses, and that's good, many of us would not have afforded a computer otherwise. But Apple did fine with the Apple II line by staying quality and a bit more expensive. A company can do both, with flagship and affordable models. Open architecture and 100% support.

all the time.

 

To Atari Inc.'s credit, they were attempting to return to this philosophy after the 1200XL fiasco, with the 1400 and 1600 (Amiga) lines as the flagships, and 600/800XL as the affordable, but quality made, low-end. And the 7800 would have been a state-of-the art system in '83/84 to reinvigorate the console industry instead of Nintendo 2 years later. But Warner pulled the rug out from under them, and Jack rolled it up and took it home for salvage.

 

All that being said, it's because of Jack Tramiel saving Atari from oblivion and releasing the 128K 130XE for $200 that made me an Atari fan in the first place. Before that I had a VCS, of course, but I was no loyalist, I wanted a Colecovison at the time (I had Coleco Telstar "Pong" before it all). I knew of the existence of the 800 and XL line, but was more fond, out of ignorance, of the Apple IIc. I wanted a 6502 computer with 128K at the time and didn't care which brand. I went with Atari because it meant a computer a year earlier from my savings. Still, IMHO, one of the best investments in my life, once I found out how superior Atari 8-bits were to stock Apple II's, and now a life-long love and hobby for the machine. Not the original 130XE though...once I found out about the better quality build of the XL line, and how to upgrade memory and fix machine-specific faults, I migrated to the 1200XL and XL line and never miss or look back to my XE days, even though the 130XE introduced me to the Atari 8-bit world. I'm nostalgic of the guts of A8's, not the enclosures, so I chose the line I think looks best.

Edited by Gunstar
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Freddie didn't add any functionality - it just replaces a bunch of logic ICs related to generating Ras/Cas for RAM accesses.  Similar with the MMU and EMMU - the main function being to reduce the chip count and provide for the more complex memory mapping of Ram/Rom on later machines.

Also neither chip alters the DMA load on the CPU - Antic determines that.

 

In theory they could have made an Antic that had less Refresh cycle steals since later DRam technology only really needed about 5 cycles per scanline rather than 9 but doing so would have broken so much software that relied on timing, it'd not been worth it.  Though having a bitsetting to select between the 2 would have been worthwhile.

 

What could have been done is a modified Antic and GTIA with better graphics modes since by default bitmap modes never really use more than half the available cycles.

So, think 320 horizontal with 4 colours, 160 with 16 colours, 80 with 256 colours.

To do so would require more bandwidth between Antic/GTIA (the ANx bus) but in reality they could have done the two on a single chip (aka CGIA) by 1982.

The other logical improvement would have been allow 16 luma values for all graphics modes.

 

Re Amy - it can't really be a Pokey replacement since Pokey has other tasks and it's not upward compatible but of course having both chips would have been beneficial.

 

Bottom line - it is sad that more significant architectural improvements never occurred by they weren't alone here - C= never bothered to give the Amiga 16-bit sound which was a big criticism point.   And they held back the C=65 which would have been near to the best 8-bit computer ever made - though the obvious answer there is it'd probably have impacted the more profitable Amiga models.

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Man - a HUGE improvement would have been giving us access to all 16 colour registers (I.E., GTIA mode 10 with 16 colours).  Second best thing would ave been to double the bandwidth so we could have 80 bytes per line rather than 40.  Proper 80 column mode, 640 monochrome, 320 with colours, etc.  Shit - probably an easier thing to implement would have been "half-bright" mode.  Each colour could have had a bright and dark one.  So many wasted opportunities.

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Just curious. What processor would have been available prior to ~1985 that would have allowed an upgrade? I can only think of two, the 68000 and maybe an Intel offering like the 80286. Kind of weak soup. There really was nothing out there, one of the guys I worked with bought a 68000 for a system he built for display at the Homebrew Computer Club and I seem to recall him paying ~$300 so really cost prohibitive. I don't think prices dropped until after the introduction of the Mac. I guess what I am trying to say is there was nothing that would fit in the price driven home market. Things are different now, can chose everything from ARM to AVR to Microchip. There's even a group that have a game system up with the ESP8266 we've been talking about. screen_shmup.png

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I would think that most of the 400/800 design was during 1978 to be ready for 1979 release - but it was 1980 that you could actually start buying them? For that time of development - you can say it was 'ahead of it's time'.

But with the C-64 - having a date of around 1981/1982 - it must have looked at the 400/800 design, and decided to improve upon what was available for that system?  Stronger sprite support, likewise with it's music capability?

You're looking at a 3 year time difference - which is huge for this time period.

The next leap forward, I think, came from the SNES - the Super Famicom with even better sprites and sound capability - because this easily tops the Amiga hardware - in terms of home versions of coin-op videogames.

I have mixed feelings about the Amiga hardware - for me, it didn't quite deliver what was hoped for, in a machine.  Sure it performed very well in certain areas - but in others - the software did not deliver.  Was it the fault of the developer(s) rather than the hardware?  Maybe it was both?

 

But if you talking about 3D simulation environments, and strategy games - you can say that the 16-bit computers covered that field better than gaming consoles.

The next leap forward was the Sony PlayStation in which 3D worlds became the norm, as too home conversions of coin-op games - that were identically the same.

 

The 5200 should have been released shortly after the 400/800 computers - so as to establish a strong foothold - instead of following the crowd.  Likewise the late release of the 7800 didn't help it's image but it's hardware wasn't all that much of an improvement over the 400/800 hardware, same with the XL/XE hardware which only offered marginally little improvement.  Atari was dragging it's chain and was no longer leading the videogaming world.

 

While a few homebrew developers have significantly shown what the 400/800 hardware can really do - when pushed - it's always at a cost to do so.  In no way can the hardware limitations be overcome but the lines can be blurred to make the impossible seem to be possible?

 

Harvey

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18 hours ago, polbit said:

It's sad how few upgrades were made to the main 8-bit machines over the years. Not sure that it made sense financially with the 16-bits around the corner, but it sucks for us now

I can vividly remember the frustration of 8-bit users in the Tramiel era.   One of the Atari-sponsered computer shows came to my town and we could go, try out the latest Atari stuff, meet vendors, Atari employees and hear talks.

 

At the time, the "upgrades" being shown for the 8-bit line were the awkward XEP-80 (added 80 columns, but was slow and had too many cables),  an enhanced 5.25" disk drive, and the just-announced controversial XEGS

 

I remember there was a talk there from Bill Wilkensen(sp?) the OSS guy who wrote Atari Basic among other things.  There was a lot of discontent in the audience.  Bill tried to defend the XEGS because "it has a detachable keyboard, and is nicer to work with".  But to the hobbyists in the audience..  they really wanted Atari computers to be taken seriously, and making a game system based on the 8-bit line wasn't going to shed the stigma of Atari computers just being a game systems and not for real work.

 

The kinds of upgrades the community wanted was something more in line with the Apple IIgs--  a hybrid 16-bit system with backwards compatibility.  A 3.5" disk drive-  (faster and higher capacity than 5.25"), and better graphics/ sound etc.   What Atari was offering was underwhelming

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Chipset upgrades would have certainly helped the Atari, but some of those projects bit the dust in cost cutting measures even before Tramiel came in.

Amy certainly would have upped the sound game vs the SID, but it would have upped the price at a time when computer prices were falling.
The time to add the Amy would have been with the XL line, as you need a significant number of machines with it built in to get significant software support for it.  Any later, and software support would be a lot more limited.  By the time the XE line rolled around, it would probably have to be integrated with other chips to keep costs down.  It's really sad Amy got cancelled, it could have also sold to arcade game manufacturers, giving Atari another source of revenue during the "crash".  It would have at least given Atari the appearance of continued innovation.

A built in 80 column mode was needed to compete with the IIe, but 1985 would have been very late, as Apple had a commanding lead in business software by then.  That type of upgrade was needed with the XL series along with other additional graphics features.

If you improve the graphics, sound, and business capability of the system in 1983, Atari would stand a much better chance in the market going forwards, but they really needed to introduce cheaper machines right on the heels of the C64 , maybe in 1982 before the C64 had such a glut of software.

The XEGS was too toy like with the pastel colors, and weird angled slot on the top.  It was made to be a game console, and nothing else.
Plus, it wasn't released until 1987, which is way late in the game.
Had they put the cartridge slot, and more normal looking buttons on the front, it could have been a small pizza box style machine that could fit under a low profile monitor stand, or in a tv stand.  You could also fit a low profile external 3.5" drive right next to the machine had they released one.  
Support 128K like the 130XE but with only 64K installed on cheaper models, and offer an optional keyboard with a numeric keypad. 
Then sell it in bundles like they did in the past.
Include a built in game with the entertainment package, built in Atariwriter (or similar) with the personal setup, and for the premium system, include Atariwriter(?) or Assembler(?) built in + keyboard with the numeric pad + 128K already installed. 
Atariwriter should have been upgraded to at least support more RAM.
This is the machine that should have come out instead of the the 65XE, and 130XE.
Just a thought.

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I liked the sound of the inital Atari prototype 16 bit computer , with working title of Sierra. .

 

A 68000 CPU with an AMY soundchip, sounds (no pun intended) better than the ST we got..

 

Coming from the era of Pokey then SID, i really hated the AY chip in the ST.

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22 hours ago, CharlieChaplin said:


 

 

Sara - Sara smile... (Hall & Oates)

Betty - (oh-oh) Black Betty (Ram Jam)

Matthew - Hey Matthew (Karel Fialka)

Maria - Maria (Carlos Santana)

Sally - Lay down Sally (Eric Clapton)

MTV-1 - "I want my MTV" (Money for Nothing, Dire Straits)

Freddie and Mercury... "God save (the) Queen"

 

Any more songs for Benny ? Matt ? Porkey ? Keri ? Amy ? Misty ? Paula ? Stellette ? Stella ? Stephanie ? Meg ?

 

not many that I know of:

Stella By Starlight - George Benson

Amy - Green Day

Stephanie Says - Velvet Underground

 

 

you missed these:  😀

 

Mustang Sally - Buddy Guy / Ride Sally Ride - Lou Reed / Long Tall Sally - Little Richard

Matthew & Son - Cat Stevens

Maria - Blondie

 

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Hi,

 

   With the benefit of hindsight, something like an XEGS with a detachable keyboard instead of the original 400/800 range might have been better. I don't think the second cartridge on the 800 was that widely used, so could have been done away with. Hias's high speed SIO routines plus support in external storage would have been great! Also faster maths routines in the OS. Also, perhaps a socket for a second pokey for stereo output would have been good, though that would need routing to an amplifier as I think all TVs/monitors were mono at the time (if that). Putting in the 2nd pokey could have been a service center upgrade, or user upgrade like putting together an 850 PCB and chips type thing.

 

     Also, being able to dedicate more than 1K to sprites would have made a big difference. Exposing the bus with an external connector would also have encouraged more innovation, though I don't know if that would have been a problem with radio interference and the FCC regulations at the time.

 

   I think when the 8-bit was originally released, Star Raiders sold more machines than any amount of learn to program hyping, but I think throwing in a copy of De Re Atari (or similar) and having a simple inline assembler package built into Basic or the OS would have stimulated a lot more software development, which would have driven hardware sales, which would have made it a more attractive development platform, etc.

 

   Having better 80 column support from the start would have made it more appealing to business users, but I think Atari were going for the mass market, which meant CRT TV output, which never seemed to produce legible 80 column output when it was done with software, bitd.

 

  I think the lack of innovation was partly down to it being a pretty good chipset from the start, so there weren't any blindingly obvious problems that needed fixing.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Someone on AA (can't recall) said it best in a single sentence. 

 

 "The 400/800 was Atari's last good decision and it appears to have been a complete accident"

 

Someone, maybe Ray Kassar, made the fateful decision to change direction and make the 2600 follow-on a home computer to compete with Apple.  Incredibly smart and gifted people made an amazing machine ahead of its time.

 

ANTIC and GTIA were the predecessor to video cards (Nvidia and AMD)

 

POKEY was the predecessor to sound boards (Sound Blaster)

 

SIO was the predecessor to USB.  First plug and play.

 

Atari got there in ~1978!!  

 

Had those same people (i.e. Jay Miner and company) been allowed to develop the next big thing, I think we would have seen something even more amazing.  With Warner's management, Atari Corporate and the Tramiels, Atari didn't stand a chance.  If Warner hadn't bought Atari, there might have never been a home computer, just a 5200.  We'll never know.  One thing is for sure, something magical happened in Sunnyvale in the late 70's.  A group of the right people at the right place at the right time made an amazing home computer using 1970's tech.

 

Edited by ACML
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