Apparently when the two Atari 8-bit machines were released, the 400 outsold the 800 2 to 1, which is unsurprising considering they were priced at approximately $500 and $1000 respectively.

Indeed, the surprise is that the ratio was not higher. Granted the 800 had an extra cartridge slot; that doesn't jump out as being a very important feature; it at least looks like one in three customers were willing to pay an extra $500 largely or entirely for a better keyboard. Which would be very logical for a productivity machine, but more surprising for a machine whose primary selling point was games.

Were those one in three customers really paying for the better keyboard, or did the 800 have some other selling point I'm not taking into account?

  • 1
    The 400 came with 16k RAM and initially it was not that simple to upgrade like the 800 was. I remember upgrading mine by soldering on a daughterboard. Eventually Atari released an “official” upgrade board.
    – mannaggia
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 23:41
  • 1
    Did the 400 have basic? I seem to remember basic being on a cartridge...
    – Geo...
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 1:38
  • 7
    Don’t underestimate the keyboard factor. Having grown up with an Atari 400, I can testify that its membrane keyboard is truly awful, and I would have been delighted to have an 800 instead... Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 6:57
  • 2
    I had a 400 and didn't mind the keyboard at all. I didn't find it all that different from modern low-profile keyboards and could type quite fast on it. My particular machine had the added bonus that the glue under the area of the control and left shift came undone and those "keys" bubbled upward to form domes. Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:03
  • 2
    I own two 400's, an 800 and a few 600XL's and 800XL's. Out of all of them, the 800 has them all beat. That machine is so solid. The keyboard is great. While the 800XL is superior (64 KiB RAM, GTIA 256 colors), the 800 is just so nice to use. Back in the day, if you had the extra money, it would have been worth it.
    – cbmeeks
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 19:05

2 Answers 2


There are a few improvements that made the 800 more valuable

                           Candy     Coleen
                           (400)     (800)
RAM (original design 1979)   4 KiB     8 KiB
RAM (first delivered 1980)   8 KiB    16 KiB
Maximum RAM               (48) KiB    48 KiB (*1)
RAM (later models    1982)  16 KiB    48 KiB
ROM Slots                    1         2     (*2)
Expansion Slots              1         3
Free Slots                   0         2
Keyboard                   Membrane  Full Stroke

*1 - RAM on the 400 could only be extended by replacing the existing board after opening the case.

*2 - ROM cartridges where meant to carry (up to) 8 KiB each. The 'left' slot was mapped at $8000, while the 'right' was mapped at $A000. A 'left' cartridge could also fill the whole 16 KiB.

When speaking about sales numbers, it might be worth noting that according to Curt Vendels book only about 35,000 400 and 800 where sold until December 1980. So the 'big' difference shrinks to more reasonable numbers - not enough to really show a trend.

  • 4
    That last line can't be emphasized enough. The Atari 400 "chicklet" keyboard was gawdaful. Ever seen anyone selling one of those for a consumer PC clone? No? There's a reason why.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 13:44
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Membrane keyboards (chicklet is the pocket calculator style as shown with the PET) were a lot. Just think the incredible numbers of the ZX80/81 and TS1000 sold.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 13:53
  • 2
    Not in the US they didn't. I never quite understood why folks elsewhere were willing to put up with those horrible keyboards. Perhaps money was just a lot more tight there, or perhaps they just wanted to play games and didn't want to program. Whatever it was, ick.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:03
  • 1
    @T.E.D. The Timex Sinclair was only sold in the US. And there where others, like Magnavox Odyssey2 and several other in/for the US market.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:48
  • 1
    The Sinclair was also sold in the UK and Portugal, and only sold 600k units in the US in the ONE year it was in production. That's effectively nothing in that market. By comparison, the competing C64 sold in the neighborhood of 15 million and the Atari 800 4 million. I think I once saw an Oddysey in a magazine back in the day, but I never once even saw one in a store.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 15:49

The Atari 800 allowed a maximum of 48k of RAM, vs the 16k maximum in the Atari 400. After 1980, both models shipped with maximum RAM - so you were getting three times as much memory with the 800. (Details are on Wikipedia.)

  • 3
    Plus a better keyboard, an additional ROM slot, user-accessible RAM slots, and better video output options (per the wiki). The 400 was marketed as a home computer/game machine and the 800 as a professional computer. Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 23:43
  • 2
    @AlexHajnal: Was the 400 a computer, or a Star Raiders console?
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 14:56
  • 2
    @supercat, the 400 keyboard was fully functional, it was just “uncomfortable” to use. The 400 was my first computer and I typed in many programs from Compute and Antic on that keyboard. I wrote many of my own programs, in Basic and later Action! and C/65 and assembler. And I learned how to touch type in school so I was pretty fast. You just felt like you had no fingerprints after a long session...
    – mannaggia
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 12:26
  • 2
    @mannaggia: I guess one could get used to it. I remember it seemed pretty bad. I thought my VIC-20 keyboard felt pretty wonderful compared with many of its other competitors.
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:41
  • 2
    The additional ROM slot was effectively useless. I believe there were a total of three or four cartridges for it, ever. Monkey Wrench II was the best. Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 15:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .