Why the Atari 800XL was the best all around 8-bit of its era


My last post was about my 1st computer, the TI-99/4a. In short, I droned on about the bad hardware design of the computer and how I still love the software. As I mentioned, when I decided that the TI-99 was too expensive to upgrade I moved to the Atari 800XL. This post I’ll explain why I made that decision and why I think that the Atari 800xl was the best all around 8-bit computer of its time.

Now a bit about the Atari 800XL.

Wikipedia article on the Atari 8-bit line https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_8-bit_family

And AtariMuesum Article: http://www.atarimuseum.com/computers/8BITS/XL/800xl/800xl.htm

I plan to chase a lot of white rabbits in this blog so keep up. 🙂

My 1st computer, the TI-99 wasn’t a bad computer. I liked it on several levels. I actually thought that the beige TI-99/4a would have made a good game machine. Replace the crappy joysticks with good ones then just set it next to your 19″ Sears CRT and play away. There was a reasonable, although not great, game library. Graphics and sound was both very good for the era. Few of the cartridge games required the keyboard except to start and reset the game (which wouldn’t been much different then pressing the select and reset on the 2600). If TI had thought outside the box and re-branded it as a game system rather than abruptly exiting the market , who knows.

But, they split the market and I needed more power that I could afford. So I did my homework and the Atari 800XL became my next computer.

At the time I had no allegiances to any brand of computer (except TI). I hadn’t used an Apple II at school or had friends with C64s. So I compared and this is what I came up with.

Staying with the TI-99/4a:

the good; I already had the console, memory expansion and lots of software and I knew the system. With PEB was the machine was very expandable. And TI ExBASIC rocks!

the bad; Cost of expansion prohibitive. To get a disk drive and printer you would need; PEB, disk drive, disk drive controller card, RS232 card and fire hose connector which cost more than a respective C64, Atari 800XL or a CoCo2 with its disk drive. Plus the console / PEB took up a lot of space.

Apple II:

the good; Large software library, lots of programming languages and aids (important since I was going to be a programmer), very expandable with internal cards, standard well known CPU (6502), reasonable graphics with lots of graphics modes (40 column, 80 column, monochrome), fast processor and I/O (disk drive), feature rich DOS, Z80 CP/M card available and lots of peripheral choices.

The bad; Really, really expensive initially to buy and to expand plus graphics where quite primitive for the time (no sprites).

CoCo II:

the good; Reasonably priced, very fast and feature laden BASIC, System 7 compatible,  fast processor, I/O and easily accessible hardware and software through Radio Shack.

the bad; Primitive sound and graphics (no sprites), non-standard processor, small software library and RF only.

Commodore 64:

the good; Reasonably priced, good graphics, very good sound, large software library, lots of programming languages and aids (important since I was going to be a programmer), expandable, lots of peripherals and a standard well known CPU (6502).

the bad; A problem with reliability, buggy BASIC and Simon’s BASIC (exBASIC for C64) and a very, very slow / primitive I/O and DOS.

and now the Atari 800 XL:

the good; Reasonably priced, reliable, very good graphics, good sound, large software library (only slightly smaller than C64 or Apple II), lots of programming languages and aids (important since I was going to be a programmer), expandable, lots of peripherals, fast I/O, flexible DOS  and a standard well known CPU (6502). And it looked good.

the bad; Nonstandard built in BASIC.

There where other 8-bits but these are the biggest sellers in North America, at the time.

As you see, from my way of thinking, the Atari 800XL came out best. Which is why I call the Atari 800XL the best all around 8-bit of its time. The machine wasn’t top of the line in any category but also didn’t have any real short comings. Of course, this is all ‘in the eye of the beholder’. If expandibility was your thing then the Apple II was your machine of choice. If sound and software library was a must then the C64 was to your liking. Also if you had friends that had a certain computer then you more likely bought what they had. Its all relative.

I still own an Atari 800XL to this day. Its not my original, I sold that one to get an Atari ST (next times blog) but the current one is just like my 1st (same rev. 1 board) except I am tripping this one out with such things as APE multi-OS, Omniview, Omnimon and the like. Also my drives as Happy enhanced. Note: when I do add APE multi-OS I blog the build.

There you have it. Your mileage may vary, the comments don’t reflect the views of Paramount or its parent companies, if you have shortness of breath, stop taking, whatever.







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