Atari 1600 prototype

I found some old faded and blurry Polaroid photos of our Atari 1600 prototype (circa 1983). This was essentially an Atari 800 and an IBM PC compatible grafted together. Finally… you could run Star Raiders and WordStar on the same machine. It seemed like a good idea at the time.


That could have been an interesting machine if they could have made the internal disk drives more of a first class citizen instead of a “smart” peripheral on that dreadful serial bus. Bump the disks from 80K to 360K, stick 128K of RAM in the machine. Doubt they could have bumped the processor up, though that would have been nice. 80 column card would be nice as well.

Sure, you could hook up legacy devices to that serial bus, but the internal stuff would have much better bandwidth.

What what you involvement with the machine?

The internal drives were on the internal PC bus. They pretty much had to be for PC compatibility in that era. And you could do 80 columns, but you had to buy a monitor, which sort of took it out of the entry-level home PC category.

(Perhaps you are thinking of the Atari 1450XL which was more of an 800 and serial drive in the same housing that was done by some other guys down the hall.)

I was one of the designers. We had done an Atari 800 grafted on to a 68000 the previous year, but management wanted to join the PC bandwagon so this was the second dual processor machine from our group. (And there was at least one other from Atari Research. The prototype-to-shipped-machine ratio was pretty lopsided in the last Warner years.)


I missed the “Atari 800 and PC grafted together” part. Definitely seems like a Frankenstein monster.

How first class was the access that the 800 side had to the PC side, could the 800 even use the internal PC drives? Was that just a hack to the disk system via CIO? Would Out of the box BASIC run on an 80 column screen?

Seems like a challenging project considering how completely different the two machines were. Was it essentially an Atari 800 on an ISA card?

I was just thinking it would have been nice to have a 4Mhz 800 with faster drives and more memory.


That possibility, of doing one project after another and never getting a product to market, that is somewhat familiar.

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It was more two machines in one box that could communicate through shared memory mailbox(es). Each could ask small service routines on the other side to copy data to/from peripherals.

I think it was at the point of this prototype (although a “special” slot), although it did get refined.