Released in late 1983, the Atari 600XL computer and its companion, the Atari 800XL, were the latest in Atari’s line of 8-bit home computers.
Direct successors to the Atari 400 and 800 computer, the XL’s were notably smaller and more compact than their predecessors. This made them not only cheaper to produce, but also more accessible to the average consumer.
While both the Atari 600 and the 800XL are virtually identical, the main difference between the two is their available memory. The 600XL has a base of only 16 KB of RAM, whereas the 800XL offered 64 KB of RAM.
This meant that, while the 800XL gave users more RAM to work with, the 600XL was much more compact than it’s counterpart and one of the smallest home computers available on the market at the time.
Whether you grew up with an Atari 600XL in the house or not, you may be surprised to hear these 7 surprising facts about Atari and its line of 600XL computers.
Atari BASIC Included
As anyone who has ever owned an Atari 400 or 800 computer knows, these systems did not come packaged with an interpreter for the BASIC programming language.
This meant that consumers who were in the market for a computer not only had to buy the computer itself but, in the case of Atari BASIC, an 8 KB ROM cartridge with the language on it as well.
Thankfully, with the release of the Atari 600XL, the Atari Basic language came built-in to the ROM of the computer.
This handy little feature may have been one of the major reasons why the Atari 600 and 800XL were much more successful than their predecessors.
Bill Gates Was Fired From Atari
Speaking of Atari BASIC, long before the language was ever packaged and shipped out with the Atari 600XL, Atari hired a young programmer by the name of Bill Gates to help with the language’s development.
However, for one reason or another, the project was delayed time and time again with Gates continually missing deadlines.
In the end, Atari fired Gates and gave the project to another programmer instead. Regardless, it’s nice to know that Gates eventually picked up the slack and went on to found Microsoft instead.
Losing the War
While Atari may have been dominating the home gaming console market in the early 80’s, it certainly was not alone at the top of the home computing world.
In fact, one of the major, industry swaying events of the early 80’s took place completely without Atari’s involvement.
While Atari was focused on the development of their own home computers to match their competitors, Texas Instruments and Commodore International had become locked in a vicious price war.
In an attempt to undercut TI’s prices and drive them out of the market, Commodore slashed prices of their newly released home computers to as low as $299.
Unfortunately, Commodore’s price cuts were so drastic that they affected not only the sales of TI’s computers but Atari’s newly expanding 8-bit line of computers as well.
This price war that Atari had unintentionally found themselves in the middle of would go on to shape their upcoming line of XL computers.
Why the Atari 600XL?
The Atari 600XL was not simply the next installment in the company’s series of 8-bit home computers. Instead, the development and release of this system marked Atari’s official entrance into the Commodore Vs. Texas Instruments price war.
But how was the 600XL meant to draw a profit in such a competitive market? The answer that Atari settled on was a smaller computer with the same capabilities as competitor’s machines.
This would not only drive production costs down, but also allow Atari to meet the competitive pricing that Commodore was currently offering.
Atari Vs. Atari
After the release of the Atari 600XL computers, the company quickly found itself in the middle of another up-hill battle – this time with itself.
With the release of the Atari 2600 in 1977, Atari had firmly established itself as an unequaled force in the game console industry of the time.
However, as Atari moved forward with the next phase of their 8-bit line of home computers, the company began to notice a troubling trend. The highest selling programs for their systems were in fact their own video games – with Star Ship being their #1 seller for the 600XL.
This meant that, while they may have been selling more games, their home consoles were now in direct competition with their home computers.
Did you know that the Atari 600XL was almost called the Syzygy 600XL? For that matter, the entire Atari Corporation was almost not even called Atari at all.
When founders Bushnell and Dabney first tried to register their company’s name as Syzygy, a word for planetary alignment, they unfortunately found that it had already been registered.
Thankfully, the two quickly settled on a new company name, Atari, from the Japanese game Go – similar to chess.
The phrase Atari is used like the word “check” in chess. At the time of the company’s creation, it was definitely foreshadowing Atari’s successes to come.
Atari and Chuck E. Cheese
Saving the best for last, long before there was an Atari 600XL, or an Atari 2600, or any Atari products available to the general public in the first place, Atari was first and foremost an arcade game company.
One of the challenges faced by any arcade game developers at the time was ensuring that your games would have a place in arcades around the world.
That mentality led Atari co-founder, Nolan Bushnell, to open his own, first of its kind restaurant arcade chain, Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre.
As Pizza Time Theater was owned by Atari, the company was able to keep 100% of the profits from all Atari owned arcade games.
Unfortunately, the restaurant went bankrupt in 1984. It was sold to a new owner, but the name Chuck E. Cheese still holds up today as a reminder of Atari’s founding of the chain.
How Did You Do?
How many of these facts about the Atari 600XL did you know already, and how many caught you completely off guard? Let us know in the Responses below!
Interested in reading more from the 8-bit era? Check out this article on The 7 Best 8 Bit Games of All Time You Need to Play.