34

In 1982 the original 400 and 800 were on the market. These were expensive machines to implement. Even the low-cost 400 was significantly more complex and expensive than something like a VIC-20. Say what you will about the VIC-20, it was cheap. And it proved that the #1 selling point for a computer was its price. And then came the 64. So as Commodore started ...


16

I can only add to the other answers with observations and memories, some of which come from owning an Atari 800 in the time period you're asking about. First, notice the names flying around in the space of only a few answers: IBM, Apple, VIC-20, Commodore 64, TI. Add to that list TRS-80, Timex Sinclair, and the Coleco Adam (released in 1983), and more. In ...


14

At that point in time, Atari had separate divisions for the Home Computer market and the Consumer Electronics, or console, market. There was a lot of competition between the divisions. The Consumer Electronics division was the pride of the company due to all the cash that was rolling in thanks to the Atari VCS(2600), and it seems there was a bit of hubris ...


14

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 ...


12

The speaker was known as the console speaker and is controlled using the byte at location 53279; as indicated in Mapping the Atari: POKEing any number from zero to eight will cause a click from the speaker. The book also includes a program listing based on a COMPUTE! article, illustrating how to play different tones on the console speaker. The ...


8

I'm going to make a guess. For starters, Maury makes a good point about the manufacturing cost of the 400/800 series. I certainly think that is a key point, but not the whole story. Based on data found here which is a spreadsheet of sales numbers from the era, you can see that between 1979 and 1982 things are picking up for the home computer market in ...


8

It depends on a number of factors, a major one being the material that the membrane is made from. Various types of plastics can be used, with different properties. Some will age and become brittle, or otherwise degrade over time. The contact mechanism for each switch also varies. Some use metal domes that buckle for a somewhat tactile feel, and the metal ...


6

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.)


6

Chip checking time! Pull, inspect, and re-seat the 4051s (two of em, the small chips near the center of the board) and the POKEY chip on the motherboard. Hopefully they are socketed and not soldered, I'm not sure how consistent Atari was with those. If that doesn't resolve anything, and since some of the keys do work, try swapping the two 4051s and see if a ...


5

Historical perspective: IBM announced their PC in late 1981, Commodore announced the C-64 in late 1982, just before Atari destroyed their retail channel relationships by grossly overfilling the channel with bad product (E.T., et.al.) So the low-end retail channel was taken over by Commodore, and the higher-end retail channels were in the process of ...


5

While I think Troff's answer is very insightful about the environment inside Atari at the time, I think it might have something more to do with how licensing of popular arcade games was handled at the time. In particular, it was common practice for a company such as Nintendo to sell the rights for a game based on the target platform. For example, Nintendo ...


4

Some early computers used a membrane keyboard (ZX80, ZX81, Atari 400), or semi-membrane with minimal keys (ZX Spectrum). Not just early ones. Membrane keyboards are still made and used today, usually for industrial use, as they have inherent advantages - like every design. This is because it was cheaper than a mechanical keyboard. That's right, at least ...


4

Having lived through this time period, my first computer in 1983 was the vic-20 because the price was affordable for a young sailor in the Navy. By 1984, my mom had bought a Commodore 64 because of the price. One part that seems to have been absent from the discussion is the rise of the clones. From roughly 1985 onward there is little chance for any home ...


4

Another factor not yet mentioned is that even if Atari had tried to make the 5200 compatible with the 400/800, the 5200 probably wouldn't have been able to usefully handle all games for that platform (at minimum, it would have been difficult to support games that use the keyboard--even if only for initial setup--without building a keyboard into the 5200). ...


3

Joe Decuir has posted on Facebook some laments about how adding a couple more lines to the 400/800 cartridge slot - and including the TIA - would've made the 400/800 backwards-compatible with the 2600. The 400/800 began as a project to design the replacement for the 2600 since Atari's engineers assumed the shelf life for the 2600 - known as the VCS back ...


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