Flutterby™! : Atari 400 for sale

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Atari 400 for sale

2007-07-18 05:40:27.842125+00 by Dan Lyke 17 comments

[ related topics: Games Video ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 11:17:29.808562+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Now if he had a Commodore 64 to sell ... I'd probably snatch it up. Other than the Sinclair ZX-80 (w/1K ram and chicklet keyboard) the Commodore was my first real computer with a whopping 64K of RAM. I can't remember how much memory the Atari 400 had back in those days (circa 1983).

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 13:30:32.476357+00 by: ebradway

Hah! That's funny. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX-81 - basically the same model that Timex/Sinclair was selling. I had the 1K RAM and 16K expansion. It had a membrane keyboard but the computer was so light that pressing the keys caused the entire thing to move around and the memory expansion box to jiggle, locking everything up. I returned it and got a VIC-20 - which was an awesome first computer. Then I upgraded to the C-64.

I actually picked up this Atari 400 at a yard sale and am just passing it through eBay. The Atari 400 came standard with 8K of RAM. The Atari 800 had 32K and could expand to 64K. It was a 6502 CPU, like the Apple II and the C-64 (and the Nintendo Gameboy!).

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 15:50:03.443764+00 by: jeff [edit history]

That is hilarious! I think I bought my ZX-80 in 1982 and kept it for about six months before selling it to a Chinese research scientist at the University of Arizona, where I was a EE student at the time. As I recall, with only 1K of RAM, it had enough storage for about 60 lines of BASIC code, which didn't impress too many folks via its monochrome TV output.

The VIC-20 was also a great computer at the time. I don't recall how much memory it had, and whether it supported sprites (movable object blocks).

The C64 is where I really learned BASIC, and also where I self-taught myself 6510 Assembly language programming. One of the thrills for me during that era was attending a Commodore Users Group conference in Toronto in 1984, and running into the legendary Jim Butterfield in one of the hotel elevators and talking with him for a couple of minutes.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 16:14:15.026925+00 by: ebradway

The VIC-20 had 5K of RAM but 1.5K was used by the character bitmaps (font), leaving 3.5K for user programs. It was common-practice on the VIC-20 to remap the character set to make things like spaceships or creatures for games. I that's how I taught myself binary math in 7th grade. One game I wrote, as you played it, the variables started overwriting the character set - which was kind of fun.

The VIC-20 lacked sprites (the C-64 added these) but it did have a precursor to the SID chip in the C-64 and could produce custom sound waveforms. It also had 16 colors but the display was only 23x22 characters.

I learned BASIC and delved into assembly on the VIC-20. By the time the C-64 came out, magazines started shipping floppy disks with the games on them and the listings became too long to print. One of the negative side effects of larger memory sizes!

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 17:18:06.929511+00 by: jeff

Boy, those were the days! I remember pulling "all-nighters" assembling 6510 code virtually by hand using an sssembler stored on cassette tape. I then became more sophisticated by using the monstrous (at the time) 171K Commodore hard drive, when it became available.

My first assembly language program was a re-write of the classic "Battleship game," and I needed the extra speed (over BASIC) for real-time screen refreshes.

Accessing the white noise generator on the SID chip was also a fairly good mechanism for obtaining random 8-bit integers at machine language speed. This was useful for creating graphical star-field animations (aka Star Trek).

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 17:54:40.442216+00 by: ebradway

Never thought of using the white noise generator for random numbers. I always used the last two digits of the clock-tick.

And that was the Commodore 1541 Floppy-Disk Drive. Single-Sided, Double-Density 5.25" floppy (you could cut a notch on a double-sided disk and use the back!). It used a serial interface at 9600 baud and actually had it's own 65XX CPU!

Commodore never made an actual hard drive for the C-64 or the C-128 but you can get plans and drivers to slave your PC via a custom serial cable as a bunch of virtual 1541's!

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 18:24:51.017601+00 by: Dan Lyke

Uhhh... I hate to say this, given that my first computer was a KIM-1 and all, but y'all are seriously geeking me out.


#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 18:45:58.81188+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Eric--you beat to me to my own response! You're absolutely right, it was the 1541 Floppy Disk Drive. It was so fast compared to the cassette deck I had been using that it "seemed" like a hard-drive at the time. I thought that either Commodore (or another vendor) eventually produced 5mb and 10mb hard drives for those two Commodore machines, but my memory has been overwritten; I need to reboot, I think. <grin>

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 18:50:45.885281+00 by: ebradway

Yeah. You managed to miss out on the serious geek-wars in the early 80s with the Commodore vs. Atari vs. Apple II. Everyone knew the specs of everyone else's machine and we'd have arguments on the playground in Jr. High about which system was better. Even though I was a Commodore owner, I always longed for an Atari - especially after they came out with the XL series. I had several friends with Apple II+s and IIes and even took my first programming class on the IIe, but I was never actually impressed with what the machine could do.

There were other non-contenders in that race: the IBM PCjr (blech), the TI-99/4A (with a floppy drive that costs over $1000 when the CPU was $150), and the Coleco Adam (deservedly short lived), as well as odd-balls like the Mattel Aquarius and the various Sinclair machines.

Oh yeah... I can't forget the CoCo...

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 18:51:52.506968+00 by: ebradway

Cassette Drives - gotta love'em. How long does it take to get a program listing off a 60 minute cassette tape? Why 60 minutes, of course!

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 20:06:59.909427+00 by: jeff [edit history]

I actually did some serious stuff with that little processor, too. An entry on Alireza Behbahani's resume is largely the result of programming work (mostly 6510 code) that I did for him in the middle 1980's on the C64. Although it's also a credit on my resume, I did 95% of the coding, 90% of the writing for publication, and 100% of the presenting at the symposium:

"Real-Time Data Logging and Color Graphics Display Systems for the University of Cincinnati BWR Simulator", IEEE Transaction on Nuclear Science, presented in the 1986 IEEE Nuclear Science Symposium.

"Real-Time Data Logging and Color Graphics Display Systems for A Boiling Water Reactor Simulator", NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY, Vol. 82, No. 2, August 1988, With Jeffery Reagan.

It's been a long time since I've had that much fun coding! I wrote the real-time data acquistion software to interface with the A/D hardware we used to monitor 15 analog reactor parameters, wrote the interrupt-driven reactor scram alarm system, and developed all of the graphics primitives for real-time bar chart and strip chart displays of those variables, including sprite animation for physical depiction of control rod insertion and movement. You have brought back some very good memories, Eric!

RE: Jim Butterfield appparently passed away this year from cancer. I still have a vision of him in my mind.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 20:49:59.492394+00 by: jeff

Dan--you probably didn't know that I had that much "geek" in my past? <grin>

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 20:53:56.005215+00 by: Dan Lyke

Jeff, you managed to hide it well.

And I think Jim Butterfield may warrant an entry on the front page. My first programming experiences started with typing in some of his stuff from The First Book of KIM[Wiki] and modifying that. I got pretty good with hand-assembling 6502 code.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 21:25:35.987101+00 by: jeff

Jim Butterfield really was "the Commodore guru" back in those days, and also one of the best 6502/6510 programmers around.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 22:12:21.913859+00 by: ebradway

The WikiPedia article on the 6502 is a great read. Steve Jobs can talk all day long about how Apple's iPhone will revolutionize the world, but things like the 6502 had much greater impact than I think any phone could have at this point.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-18 22:21:37.93925+00 by: ebradway

There are other geeks like me out there. WikiPedia actually has an entry on SpeedScript. I spent the evening of December 25, 1983, entering the MLX listing of the assembly code for SpeedScript into my new C-64.

I used it later to write my first research paper (on the atomic bomb) even though I didn't have a printer. I wrote and edited it in SpeedScript and then hand-copied the final version.

To this day I'll never get over the argument I had with my English teacher about the FatBoy bomb dropped on Nagasaki. She swore it was a hydrogen bomb and even took points off on my paper. Of course, it was a simple plutonium fission bomb!

Of course, I got her back on Feb 14th. My best friend had missed the lab in science class where we dissected a deer heart. He had to go in early to make up the lab and I went with him. The heart ended up on my English teacher's desk!

#Comment Re: made: 2007-07-19 13:23:14.166581+00 by: jeff

That's a great article on the 6502 chip, Eric. Thanks for sharing! And I agree with you on its relative importance compared to the hoopla surrounding the iPhone.