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Thoughts About the Atari 1400XL & 1450XLD

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12 minutes ago, ldelsarte said:

If I extend the reasoning, I ask myself: From a graphical point of view, why are the machines released in 1983 barely improved versions of the initial 1978/1979 design with CTIA/GTIA and ANTIC? Where are the extra graphic modes? Where are the additional sprites? Where is the 40 column mode with 8 or 16 colours text like on the C64? And of course, that 80 column monochrome text mode? Surely it should have been possible to remain compatible with the previous 8-bit models while offering new features?

Because, from a market perspektive, this doesn't make much sense. It would have required to redevelop the entire custom chips from scratch, using a more sophisticated or different allocation of DMA slots, creating incompatibilities with the existing machines. I already mentioned that: In the existing DMA engine, there is no space left for more sprite channels.

 

Essentially, Atari would have created a new platform and a new ecosystem. Of course, that ecosystem then came, later, with the Amiga, and a design that is very close to the original Atari design - just more sophisticated. There you got all you asked for: More sprites, 80column mode.

 

The speech synthesizer would have been just a toy without much practical use. Look at the Amiga and its narrator.device: It could do that in software, and which piece of software actually used that thing? It made a great laugh at trade shows, but it served no particular purpose, so it made sense to leave this away.

 

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Like most everyone else on here, I would've almost killed for a 1450XLD back in the day. I drooled over those brochures for months and months. I wish I still had all those brochures that I used to have and I really wish I could stumble on one of those rare 1400XL or 1450XLDs that actually made it out into the wild. Also, like everyone else, today I realize that those computers wouldn't have been the be all and end all of Atari 8-bit computers that we all thought they would've been back then, but I'd still love to have one. Neither would be my daily driver and would probably only be fired up rarely, but I'd love to have one just the same. Day to day use would continue to go to my 1088XEL or my 800XL with U1MB and SIDE3.

 

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4 hours ago, ldelsarte said:

First and foremost, in order to offer a machine that would have been of interest to SMEs and freelancers, several essential things were missing:

[1] An 80-column text mode, this was absolutely essential for Visicalc, etc. With, logically, additional video outputs, RGB, etc...

[2] A larger capacity floppy disk drive. A real single sided double density, or even better double sided double density. 127 Ko was just not enough for professional projects.

[3] Internal expansion possibilities on the PBI bus - what made the Apple II and IIe so successful, a machine that was obviously overpriced and average in everything. In short, a 1090XL Expansion System was needed INSIDE the 1450XLD.

Item 1 and 2 would have naturally been ideal candidates for the internal 1090XL Expansion System (item 3). And in fact there was an 80 column card made for this. I think item 3 really hits the nail on the head, and would have opened up a whole new world of possibilities. However the problem was it came too late, and would have alienated all the owners of what came before (400/800). Since this was still seen as a big market, software developers would have been reluctant to embrace new hardware that left that market behind.

 

The APPLE II computer only had the lowly APPLE I as it's predecessor which was really only considered to be a hobbyist computer board, still requiring the owner to build his own case, and supply all the peripherals including a keyboard and power supply. So in actuality the APPLE II was the true starting point of a commercial product for them, and right out of the gate they had internal expansion capability. No worries about legacy support.

 

4 hours ago, ldelsarte said:

Where is the 40 column mode with 8 or 16 colours text like on the C64?

YES!!!! When I saw all those colors in standard text mode on a C64 for the first time i was envious. It sure would have been great if the Atari could have done that as well without resorting to DLI trickery. Because of that, and through the use of alternative character sets it allowed for some very fast and colorful game graphics on the C64.

 

4 hours ago, ldelsarte said:

2 POKEYs, to provide more audio channels while remaining fully compatible

This by far was the strangest omission from later 8-bit machines. Since Atari already had dual and quad Pokey chips in their arcade machines, how much of a stretch would it have been to integrate one of these into the 8-bit? Granted to do it right, they would have needed to change to an RF modulator that also had MTS stereo audio support, since TVs in the late 80's were commonly being made with MTS stereo sound capability.

 

 

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5 hours ago, mytek said:

YES!!!! When I saw all those colors in standard text mode on a C64 for the first time i was envious. It sure would have been great if the Atari could have done that as well without resorting to DLI trickery. Because of that, and through the use of alternative character sets it allowed for some very fast and colorful game graphics on the C64.

Again, not without a major redesign of the custom chips. The custom graphics hardware is a two-chip design with ANTIC as DMA processor and GTIA as display generator. In the C64, only a single chip is used, probably due to possibilities of higher integration of the years between the machines.

 

If you want to reach something similar on the Atari design, you would need to add additional lines between ANTIC and GTIA (the internal "custom chip bus", namely AN0 to AN2) to communicate the additional colors, and you need either an additonal RAM for the colors (as in the C64) and thus additional pins on ANTIC, or additional DMA cycles (where from?) and thus a re-design of the DMA engine.

 

Thus, in the end, its asking for a redesign of the custom chips, which is not an easy undertaking and required a huge investment. As said before, that step did happen, but outside of Atari, and it led into a new machine with a surprisingly similar design.

 

About the only idea that would have been relatively easy to implement is to add a second POKEY, but that really buys you little for the average game. For game sound effects, POKEY did well. It was never designed as a musical instrument like SID was.

 

Thus, a tad later Atari did a minor patch-up job of the XL line, and that was the 130XE. For that, they did a minimal investment into the machine, and added what was easy to do, and which offered an actual advantage - more RAM, and separate RAM access for ANTIC so you could create better graphics without the limitation of the 64K address space. That did make sense, but it was really too late.

 

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43 minutes ago, thorfdbg said:

Again, not without a major redesign of the custom chips. The custom graphics hardware is a two-chip design with ANTIC as DMA processor and GTIA as display generator. In the C64, only a single chip is used, probably due to possibilities of higher integration of the years between the machines.

 

If you want to reach something similar on the Atari design, you would need to add additional lines between ANTIC and GTIA (the internal "custom chip bus", namely AN0 to AN2) to communicate the additional colors, and you need either an additonal RAM for the colors (as in the C64) and thus additional pins on ANTIC, or additional DMA cycles (where from?) and thus a re-design of the DMA engine.

 

Thus, in the end, its asking for a redesign of the custom chips, which is not an easy undertaking and required a huge investment. As said before, that step did happen, but outside of Atari, and it led into a new machine with a surprisingly similar design.

 

 

Well,

 

as we all know, Amiga happened outside Atari, but internally they developed e.g. the CGIA and KERI chip which was Antic+GTIA in one chip (and several other new custom chips). Unsure if they just wanted to save/spare regarding chip count or if there was also some kind of upgrade included (i.e. additional lines, additional pins, etc.). There was also Porkey in development, which was a stereo Pokey chip. But similar to what happened with the 1400XL, 1450XLD (and 1600XL, 1800XL/1850XL) these developments of new chips were all cancelled. 

 

See e.g. here:

KERI and MUFFY

Master Chip listing

Atari chips

 

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the 1400/1450 would have been a very expensive machine with no real added value. and even if it had new graphics or sound capabilities, the price would have meant that very few would bother to write software for it.

 

it would have went over as well as the apple iii.

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8 hours ago, CharlieChaplin said:

Unsure if they just wanted to save/spare regarding chip count or if there was also some kind of upgrade included (i.e. additional lines, additional pins, etc.).

CGIA and later KERI were just ANTIC+GTIA made to save costs.

 

8 hours ago, CharlieChaplin said:

There was also Porkey in development, which was a stereo Pokey chip.

That's not true. PORKY was just POKEY with integrated multiplexers, again to save costs.

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4 hours ago, bani said:

the 1400/1450 would have been a very expensive machine with no real added value

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that the machine was supposed to cost just under $1,000.
So, in theory, when you look at the price of the components sold separately (computer, floppy drive, modem + voice synthesizer), it must have still been a good deal.

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21 hours ago, thorfdbg said:

Because, from a market perspektive, this doesn't make much sense. It would have required to redevelop the entire custom chips from scratch, using a more sophisticated or different allocation of DMA slots, creating incompatibilities with the existing machines. I already mentioned that: In the existing DMA engine, there is no space left for more sprite channels.

Thank you for these technical clarifications, I had not realised the issues related to the DMA.


But I wonder: what really happened at Atari, concerning the evolution of 8-bit machines, between 1978/1979 (design and implementation of the 400/800) and 1982/1983 (design and implementation of the 1200XL). The development of the 400/800 did not take 4 years, far from it, it was much faster. Imagine all the work to design a complete computer, nevertheless it happened relatively quickly! So why, when the 400/800 are ready and marketed, it takes 4 years and Atari has very few technical innovations to propose for the 1200XL? 4 years, at that time, with the fierce competition of other brands who were also trying to impose themselves, it seems to me almost like an eternity. Cost-reduction and simplification efforts are great, but, 4 years to release the "same" computer with 64 Ko and a reworked OS !!!

Was it the technical teams that were spread over too many projects in parallel, with no clear short-term goal or focus? Was it Warner's marketing that wanted to give priority to other things? Does anyone have an idea?

 

Don't get me wrong: I'm a fan of the Atari 8-bit (and I collect them too). Even today, I believe that these machines are little marvels, little jewels. I have an Atari 800XL in my living room (with the best of the 5 keyboards) + SIDE3 + FujiNet + 1Mb RAM, hooked on the TV in HDMI, with which I play several times a week. I would just like to understand how they thought they could get away with 4 years without any decisive technical news for the 8-bit range, when new machines were coming out every month or so. Were they not watching what the competition was doing? Weren't they worried about launching the 1200XL against the C64? (I have one, "to see", "to compare" but I'm not a fan and I don't collect. BTW it's a miracle it still works: just count the videos on YouTube about repairing a C64. And I don't give a damn about SID, I like the sound of the inferior - yes, that's true - POKEY).

 

And I still have the same question: does anyone know if I can see a 1450XLD somewhere in a museum in Europe? It's too recent for "Le Louvre" or the "Victoria & Albert" ;-) 

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On 3/6/2022 at 1:09 AM, thorfdbg said:

You can get this today. Os++ has an integrated command line DOS in ROM, and an updated almost twice-as-fast BASIC. Some software updates would have surely served the machine well.

These days I roll with an an Ultimate 1mb/Side2 and a 576 Nuc+, which are light years better than anything back in the day. SpartadosX and Fujinet are amazing.

 

I haven't tried the OS++ in ROM though, how is it?

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7 hours ago, ldelsarte said:

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that the machine was supposed to cost just under $1,000.
So, in theory, when you look at the price of the components sold separately (computer, floppy drive, modem + voice synthesizer), it must have still been a good deal.

 

No really, at $1000 it would not have been.   I wanted one too back-in-the-day.   Still would.   But had they been released it would have been a Mattel Aquarius level marketing debacle. 

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7 hours ago, ldelsarte said:

So why, when the 400/800 are ready and marketed, it takes 4 years and Atari has very few technical innovations to propose for the 1200XL? 4 years, at that time, with the fierce competition of other brands who were also trying to impose themselves, it seems to me almost like an eternity. Cost-reduction and simplification efforts are great, but, 4 years to release the "same" computer with 64 Ko and a reworked OS !!!

The original engineers left?   Similar thing happened with the ST,  it was designed in months, but it took years to get modest upgrades to the design.

 

But I also think it's easier to make a clean design from scratch than to upgrade an existing design, which can break compatibility in an unknown number of apps.

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About the only idea that would have been relatively easy to implement is to add a second POKEY, but that really buys you little for the average game. For game sound effects, POKEY did well. It was never designed as a musical instrument like SID was.

 

I think it could have been of great use.  The advantage of double POKEY is not just more channels, but the ability to join them in several different ways.  For example,  the audio work I did on the Intellidiscs game.  The game relies alot on the two-tone mode (using the first two channels) to make those echoing sound fx in the game.  A second POKEY adds four more channels that could then be used for background music or more sfx.

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1 hour ago, Synthpopalooza said:

 

I think it could have been of great use.  The advantage of double POKEY is not just more channels, but the ability to join them in several different ways.  For example,  the audio work I did on the Intellidiscs game.  The game relies alot on the two-tone mode (using the first two channels) to make those echoing sound fx in the game.  A second POKEY adds four more channels that could then be used for background music or more sfx.

"Great use" as in "worth the money?" Consider this: You put in a new POKEY, that costs say 10$ extra for the machine. How many customers would want to pay 10$ extra for just a bit of extra sound in a minority of programs, and, in particular, how many would even notice?

 

The memory upgrade in the XE made sense, because it was dirt cheap. 128K of memory, at the end of the XL lifespan, did not cost a lot more (or was potentially even cheaper than 64K), and all it takes is another GAL

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You can double the graphics capability by wiring in two ANTICS and two GTIAs, running in their own memory banks. You can even do 80 columns with them. And, they are backwards compatible. Heck, you could use three ANTIC/GTIA sets to do RGB.

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3 hours ago, bob1200xl said:

You can double the graphics capability by wiring in two ANTICS and two GTIAs, running in their own memory banks. You can even do 80 columns with them. And, they are backwards compatible. Heck, you could use three ANTIC/GTIA sets to do RGB.

Could someone write an emulator to do this to see what this could look like? No I am not asking someone to do this, just wondering if it was theoretically possible.

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Well, I built one. Back in the day where I had to point-to-point on a perf-board. With discrete ICs - no CPLDs.

 

The one ANTIC set ran just as normal. The Second Set ran by itself until you toggled the flag. Then, it was available to the Atari buss and the main Set ran by itself. For example, you could boot and come up on a GR.0 screen. Then switch and set up A2/G2 as a GR.7 screen. Fill the screen with color blocks and switch back. Colored text! I also tried a GR.8 screen with a fifth amplitude bit from A2G2. 32 shades of grey. So smooth that you can't quite make out the transition between shades. I never worked out more sprites, but I didn't try real hard.

 

So, it's not theory and it isn't too hard. Atari could have done it - rip out all that DRAM junk and put it there...

 

Bob

 

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21 hours ago, bob1200xl said:

You can double the graphics capability by wiring in two ANTICS and two GTIAs, running in their own memory banks. You can even do 80 columns with them. And, they are backwards compatible. Heck, you could use three ANTIC/GTIA sets to do RGB.

 

I would have wanted four of them, 4x Antic, 4xGTIA, 4xPokey and then would have named the end result: Atari Quattro. Would have been nice with a quarter-mega RAM enhancement by someone you know. (Of course four Antics on one chip, four GTIAs on one chip and four Pokeys on one chip; for eg. 16x16x16x16 colours = 65k colour palette, RGBB = red, green, blue, black, 640x400/480 resolution, 16 mono or 8 stereo sound channels and whatnot; price similar to an Apple IIc, so no-one would have bought it...)

 

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On 3/7/2022 at 4:39 AM, ldelsarte said:

So why, when the 400/800 are ready and marketed, it takes 4 years and Atari has very few technical innovations to propose for the 1200XL? 4 years, at that time, with the fierce competition of other brands who were also trying to impose themselves, it seems to me almost like an eternity. Cost-reduction and simplification efforts are great, but, 4 years to release the "same" computer with 64 Ko and a reworked OS !!!

 

On 3/7/2022 at 11:55 AM, zzip said:

The original engineers left?   Similar thing happened with the ST,  it was designed in months, but it took years to get modest upgrades to the design.

 

But I also think it's easier to make a clean design from scratch than to upgrade an existing design, which can break compatibility in an unknown number of apps.

People tend to think that Atari did nothing during those years -- from the outside looking it, given what we got, that view is logical.. but.. Atari was working on a lot of things, in many different areas.  There are a lot of documents out there showing all the revisions and designs to the 8bit architecture.  But also remember that Atari had a "don't kill the goose that lays the eggs" sort of mentality. Example: don't build a better video game system when the VCS was making tons of money -- that is dangerous!  Also, engineers wanted to do new things, not rehash the same old stuff.  The fact that people were developing Amy, and also working on the Rainbow Gold and Silver (granted all 1983 work, but still).

 

I tend to look at it that the 400/800 were really out in 1980 and Atari was working on how to improve them and their accessories (how many 810 changes were there again?), so sure by 1982 something better should be coming along and we got the 1200 (well, what should have been the 1000).  Also, the electronics industry was going through massive changes and changes in costs and supplies at this time.

 

Looking at CBM, there were only 3.5 years between the 64 and 128. (But then there was the Plus/4 in there which was not compatible).  So even though the 128 had some chip improvements, I wouldn't call it that much better than the 64, but certainly better -- but better in a different way, not better in improving the C64 graphics or sound.

 

What does amaze me is how much Atari, Inc. pulled off in 18 months (late 82 to mid 84): 1200, 600XL, 800XL, 1450XLD, etc. and then how much Atari, Corp. pulled off in the next 12-18 months.

 

Still, this doesn't address the feeling of "make my 800 better than before!"  

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