The Atari 2600 was the first and most famous game console designed by the Atari. It was also called Atari VCS, or Atari Video Computer System. The name “2600” came only later, when Atari produced and launched on the market (only in America) the Atari 5200.
The Atari 2600 was the first successful “programmable” console. Previously all game consoles ( like Pong ) did not allow the use of new programs and it was possible to play only with the pre-installed ones.
The Atari 2600 was launched on the market in 1977. Sales immediately upturned. To ride the wave and always attract new customers, Atari purchased the rights to some games and films, as well as other things, making conversions for his console. Among the great successes we remember Space Invaders, Pac Man and E.T. (which will then be the subject of numerous retro-criticisms for the “hasty” programming). In Christmas 1979 the Atari 2600 was still the number one in sales despite its hardware, now a few years old, was rather dated.
During the great business of the Atari 2600, the manufacturer experimented with new versions, such as the Atari 2800, 2500 and 2200, distributed only in some countries and which did not have – in principle – great economic return. Atari also created a defined 2700 version that had the particularity of being wireless … ie with wireless controllers. But the technology was not yet mature to offer reliable systems from this point of view and therefore radio disturbances caused by consoles to other nearby electrical systems were commonplace. The system also had a short life due to the high production costs and the market crisis that would come in the following years.
Atari also designed a prototype on a 2600 base, the CX 3000 Graduate Computer, adding a keyboard and a basic programming module to the standard console. But the console was never produced to avoid possible internal competition with the “professional” computer lines of the same company, such as the Atari XL.
By the end of 1982 sales began to fall due to the fierce competition of home computers such as the Apple II, the Atari 800 and the legendary Commodore 64. Home computers were a better purchase in the value for money and were certainly more versatile as use compared to a simple game console.
In 1985 Atari attempted to revive its image by introducing on the market a new version of the Atari 2600, called Atari 2600 Junior or Atari 2600 JR, cheaper and smaller and which could use all the cartridges designed for the original system. The system found a good sales response and was distributed – in some countries – for several years. It was clear, however, that the decline had begun and that the era of first-generation consoles was at its point of arrival.
CCU: MOS Technologies 6507, 6502 variant also of 64KiB on 8KiB reduced address area and approx. 1.19 MHz clock frequency.
Video processor: Atari TIA, 121 different colors of 128 theoretical numbers (NTSC) and/or. 114 colors of 128 (PAL). No bit-maps; the program must produce each individual screen line in real time explicitly. To program thus very with difficulty, but for conditions at that time extremely flexibly. NT sports club programs must be rewritten for PAL and in reverse.
Audio processor: Atari TIA, two voices, various waveform-shaping. Expenditure in mono over the loudspeaker of the television.
RAM: 128 bytes; some play modules starting from 1983 additionally again contained 128 or more byte RAM in the module.
Data medium: ROM of modules. Early modules were only 2 KiB largely, originally were only 4 KiB maximally intended. Starting from 1981 however many modules contained an auxiliary hardware, in order to make by means of bank Switching larger memory addressable. Up to 16 KiB were usual, some few multi-play modules contained up to 64 KiB.