Purchase an Atari 400 Mini for 8-Bit Computer Emulation (15-30 mins)

Task: Purchase an Atari 400 Mini for 8-Bit Computer Emulation

Needed: Web browser, HDMI display

Time: 15-30 minutes

Introduction

I have been envious of new products such as the Amiga 500 mini that provide emulated games and software in high-definition. The wait for Atari minis is finally over. I recently posted about the Atari 2600+ device that provides emulated functionality for 2600 games. And now the Atari 400 mini has been released by RetroGames.biz for playing a wide variety of games and software made for the Atari 8-bit computers.

Below are photos of the box and box contents I received with my 400 mini. Also included is a photo of the mini on top of a real Atari 400 to illustrate its small size. Seems like a high-quality product and faithful visual reproduction of the original 400. The unit has 4 USB joystick ports on the front and a USB-C power input, an HDMI input, and another USB input on the back of the unit.

The unit comes with 25 built-in games such as Millipede, Miner 2049, Missile Command, and Mule. You can load additional games from a USB drive plugged in the back. It seems to support ATR files in addition to ROMs. However, I had trouble loading several of the ATRs I tried. For example, Sea Dragon worked fine while Gateway to Apshai did not load.

The joystick provided (aka THECXSTICK) is nice and includes a number of buttons for interacting with the system. For example, there are menu and start buttons on the back of the joystick. Further, the orange ring on top of the joystick can be pressed proving four additional buttons. I didn’t figure this out at first and was stuck in the setup process. When it says to press “TOP” this is the top button on that orange disk and not related to pressing the joystick “UP”.

400 mini box
400 mini box
400 mini box contents
400 mini box contents
400 mini components
400 mini components
400 mini on an Atari 400
400 mini on an Atari 400

Instructions

The first step is to purchase an Atari 400 mini. There are several options on the RetroGames.biz website including Amazon. List price in the U.S. is about $120.

The second step is to setup the unit when it arrives. This is very intuitive. A USB-C to USB power cable is provided along with an HDMI cable. The joystick USB cable gets plugged into the player 1 joystick port on the front. There is a button on the back for powering the unit once it is ready.

The third step is to select a language using the joystick to navigate the choices and the fire button to select. Once selected press the orange “TOP” button just above the joystick. This will bring you to the games menu where you can select a game and start playing (see below).

Atari 400 mini menu
Atari 400 mini menu

The fourth step is to load some ROMs and ATRs on a thumb drive and plug it into the back of the unit. This USB drive will show up on the menu above after Mule. Clicking on that USB option will show the contents of the drive (see below). There are cartridge icons for ROMs and disk icons for ATRs. You start a game by first selecting the game from the menu and then hitting the HOME button on the back of the joystick to start the game. The menu button on the back of the joystick will return you to the mini menu. You can also go to game settings by pressing the MENU button on the back of the joystick. This will allow you to select the Atari model you want to emulate (e.g. 400, 800, 800XL, 130XE, or 5200). You can also select the type of controller and there are some display settings.

USB drive options
USB drive options

Comments

This is an impressive little emulator. My only question is why did it take so long to develop and release it?

The menu system is pretty easy to use. It just takes some time to get used to all the various buttons on the joystick that need to be pressed. There are neat options such as the ability rewind a game up to 30 seconds or bring up a virtual keyboard.

I did not like the joystick at first. I found the controls to be a bit discrete and not as fluid as an old school joystick. In other words, when you move in a direction it feels like there is a click and a slight delay before you move to the next direction. This was distracting for me and seemed to interfere with fine or quick movements. Further, I kept hitting some of the extra buttons with my hand as I played. This can significantly disrupt the game.

I read that the mini will also accept a USB keyboard that could be used to program with the included 400 MINI BASIC ROM. I did not get a chance to try this.

Unlike the 2600+, the 400 mini does not accept real cartridges. A missed opportunity??? Hopefully they are in the process of making a new 800XL that takes cartridges.

The included paper instructions are very brief and left a lot to be desired.

Would be nice to know why some ATRs don’t load and what can be done about it. Seems like the developers missed an opportunity to maximize ATR compatibility. Before you give up on an ATR make sure you have the 130XE selected to maximize memory. A 48K or 64K ATR game won’t run on the Atari 400 hardware emulation option.