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Useful Notes / Atari 7800

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Atari's next attempt to follow up the 2600 in the true 8-bit era. Unlike the 5200, the 7800 is fully compatible with the 2600, because it is a 2600, with a 6502 instead of the 2600's chopped-down 6507, a new graphics chip in addition to the 2600's TIA, and 4K of extra RAM. Atari had great plans for this system, the High Score Cart, the 7800 computer add on, and the 7800 trakball were planned but those add ons were killed.
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The system was roughly on par with the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of graphics and overall processing power (sound processing on the other hand was greatly inferior to its competitors, at least unless an optional POKEY sound processor was included in the game cartridge), but somewhat unfairly gained a reputation as being much less powerful than the NES, largely due to the number of lazily done ports from its two predecessors.

Released for one month in June 1984 in southern California, then left to sit in warehouses when Warner sold Atari to ex-Commodore president Jack Tramiel and a dispute arose about whether Warner or Tramiel had to pay contractor General Computer Corporation for developing the 7800 and launch games for it.

Re-released in January 1986 after Tramiel relented and paid and someone was found to head the new video game division, by which time the NES revived the console market from The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Though it never made a dent in the NES' dominance, it did turn a profit, thanks to low development costs and the huge 2600 library. The 7800 sold just under 5 million units in its lifetime, which might not sound impressive now, but was still enough to make it the fourth-best selling console of all time (behind only the NES, the Sega Master System and Atari's own 2600) as of the end of The '80s. The fact that it managed this feat despite a middling game library and a lack of much support from Atari proved that there was still an appetite for Atari's consoles; unfortunately, the company's following efforts wasted the chance to get back on their feet.

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Homebrew development was stalled due to lack of a special programming key. After the program that made that key was found, that opened the 7800 homebrew efforts. It's relatively easy to collect for the platform, as the library is so small and few of the games are really rare.

Specifications:

Processors

  • CPU: Atari custom 6502C, 1.79 MHz (7800 mode) or 1.19 MHz (2600 mode)
  • GPU: Atari MARIA (7800 mode) or TIA (2600 mode)
  • Sound: TIA (optional POKEY on cartridges. Actually any custom chip that outputs analog audio is accepted, Rikki And Vikki uses an ARM7TDMI core the developers called The BupChip for music)

Memory

  • 7800 mode: 4K. 2600 mode: 128 bytes.
  • Cartridges up to 48K, or more with bank switching.

Display

  • 7800 mode: up to 320*240 (NTSC) or 320*288 (PAL), up to 25 out of 256 colors.
  • 2600 mode: 160*192, 128 colors.
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Sound

  • Two tone generators.

Accessories:

Games:


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