Task: Connect Your Atari Computer to a PC
Time: 15-30 minutes
Cartridges and floppy disks are great but sooner or later you will want to tap into the huge archive of software that is available on the internet. You can certainly boot these with an emulator such as Altirra. However, there is nothing like running software or playing games on original hardware. Fortunately, modern hardware and software makes it easy to connect your Atari 8-bit computer to your PC or Mac to boot games directly from your hard drive. These devices essentially make your Atari think it is booting directly from a disk drive.
My first such device came pre-installed as a mod to an Atari 65xe that I ran across on eBay. The previous owner installed a Cypress USB-UART adapter kit in the 65xe with a small hole cut out of the side of the case for the USB cable. This converts the USB signal to the Atari serial input-output or SIO port. Here is his YouTube video that shows how he installed this nice mod. I was really happy to get this 65xe for $175 on eBay. I just had to install the Cypress driver on my PC and I was off and running booting disk images from my hard drive using the AspeQT software. Unfortunately, this mod didn’t work with the Atari Peripheral Emulator (APE) software from Atarimax that, like AspeQT, allows you boot disk images. The main reason I wanted to use APE is that can serve as a virtual modem allowing you to telnet from your Atari 8-bit computer to a BBS on the internet. I didn’t use BBSs back in the day and was really looking forward to exploring these online resources today. This led me to purchase an SIO2PC unit from Atarimax that is compatible with the APE software. I will do a post later about my BBS experience. I provide instructions below for getting connected to your PC using the SIO2PC and APE.
Purchase an SIO2PC device from Atarimax. The USB version is $69.95. I got the one with dual SIO ports. These were back ordered when I purchased mine in September of 2018 and it took about three weeks to come in.
Install the SIO2PC device driver. This comes on the CD-ROM that is distributed with the device from Atarimax.
Install the APE software. Note that the software comes with a cripple delay that lasts about 20-30 seconds. You need to register the software to get rid of this. I am not sure why they cripple the software after you just paid them $69.95.
Run the APE software and click on the Start APE Now button.
Connect your Atari to the SIO2PC with an SIO cable. Connect the SIO2PC to your computer with a USB cable. You should see a message at the bottom of the APE software that says “APE USB interface detected and configured” if all goes well.
Download an ATR file and load it into APE. You can find ATR files here and here, for example. Once you have downloaded an ATR file load it into APE by clicking the load button (i.e. the file folder icon). This places into virtual disk drive 1.
Boot your Atari! If all is working it should start beeping and load the file. That is it!
A fun thing to do is to copy images loaded this way to real disks. Here is my tutorial on buying and making new floppies. A downside of Atarimax is that their web page isn’t very good. I found it difficult to navigate and some of the document links are broken. Here are Atari Age forum posts about AspeQT.
I would also love to have a case for my SIO2PC since it comes as a bare circuit board. Some have 3D-printed cases for these. Here is someone who made a case out of an Atari 2600 cartridge shell. None of these seem to be for sale. If you know of a source please let me know so I can list it here and purchase one.