Assemble a Minimal Atari 8-Bit Computer (30-60 mins)

Task: Assemble a Minimal Atari 8-Bit ComputerĀ 

Needed: Components listed below and about $200 to $225 for purchasing

Time: 30-60 minutes

Introduction

I have a colleague at work who I have been helping set up his first ever Atari computer rig. I have been thinking a lot about what he should get without breaking the bank. This process left me thinking about what a minimal rig should look like to maximize fun, minimize space requirements, and minimize investment. Below is what I came up with. Suggestions welcome!

Instructions

The following is the minimal rig that I recommend along with approximate prices and links where applicable. I have included all the individual pieces and parts that would be required to get up and running.

  1. Atari 800XL computer ($100)

As I posted about earlier, this is an ideal 8-bit computer to start with because there are usually plenty for sale for around $100 or less and it comes with 64KB of RAM and BASIC built in. It also has a decent keyboard and a smallish footprint. The main downside of this computer is that it doesn’t have separate chroma and luma signals making it difficult to convert the composite to S-Video. This is easy enough to fix by removing a capacitor and soldering one wire on the motherboard. Here are the instructions. Please note that all four of my unmodded 800XLs work fine with the composite to HDMI hardware described below.

2. Power Supply ($15)

I recommend a new power supply so you don’t have to worry about the older ones. Some 800XLs you find on eBay don’t come with power supplies anyway.

3. Composite Video Cable ($12)

I am assuming that you only have access to a high-definition TV or computer monitor with HDMI video input. If so, the first thing you will need is a composite video cable that has the 5-pin DIN that plugs into the 800XL on one end and the yellow video with red and white audio AV plugs on the other end. I like the one I linked to because it also has an S-Video connector if you ever want to plug it into an LCD monitor (with the required video mod described above).

4. Composite to HDMI Converter ($15)

In addition to the 5-pin DIN composite AV cable mentioned above, you will need a composite to HDMI converter. I have tried several of these low-cost options and like the Neoteck the best. You can get one from Amazon for less than $20.

5. HDMI cable ($10)

This will get you from the Neoteck converter to your HD screen. These are everywhere and usually cost $10 or less.

6. Flash device ($65)

There are several different flash devices that allow you to lead software onto the Atari. Some of these are cartridge-based and some plug into the SIO port. The one I recommend is the S-Drive Max that provides maximum flexibility. This device emulates and Atari disk drive and read of a flash card that you load up with ATR disk images. It also has a nice touchscreen for choosing files. There are several sources for these and the prices fluctuate a bit. The one from the Vintage Computer Center was $65 at the time of this post and comes with everything you need including power supply and SIO cable. You can also choose the color. The flash cartridges that are available (e.g. Atarimax Maxflash) are also fine but they aren’t disk drive emulators and most don’t allow you to boot ATR files.

Comments

There are a lot of variations on the above list. However, this should get most people up and running with minimal equipment and cost. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Happy to consider modifications to the list.