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Atari 600 XL

Updated on January 9, 2014
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

The Atari 600 XL

The Atari 600XL was a home computer from those industry giants Atari that was released in 1983.

It was Atari's low end replacement for the now discontinued Atari 400 personal computer and also followed on from the likes of their Atari 2600 console.

This machine ended up being quite a popular choice (although was never a major player in the UK where the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 reigned supreme) and was a good 'all rounder'.

It was a great machine for learning programming and it there was also plenty of educational software available for it.

Gamers were also catered for with some truly excellent titles available to play on yet another home Atari machine.

So let's take a look at another fine 8-bit machine from the golden days of the 1980s...

What Does An Atari 600XL Look Like?

Note the cartridge slot on the Atari 600XL
Note the cartridge slot on the Atari 600XL

Good Looks And A Nice Keyboard on the Atari 600 XL

The Atari 600XL was very modern looking
The Atari 600XL was very modern looking

16K Was A Limiter to the Atari 600XL

Like many other machines that were manufatured in 1983 it came with an inbuilt 16KB of memory, it's own version of BASIC and it also had a 'PBI' Parallel Bus Interface on the rear of the unit to accommodate Parallel Bus expansion devices.

These devices included the Atari 1064 64K memory module and the Atari 1090XL Expansion System. You could upgrade these machine a lot if you wanted to.

The 600XL, just like the Atari 400 lacked a composite video output port.

Atari Home Computer Division engineers revealed that originally the Atari 600XL was going to have composite video, but it was cut from the final design to reduce costs which is a real shame.

The Full Atari 600XL System

Gaming on the Atari 600 XL

A good range of games was released (with many coded by Atari developers, as you might imagine!) for the Atari machines, but developers soon began to favour the newer 800XL model over the 600XL.

The 800XL had more memory than the 600XL in the shape of a whopping 64KB.

Looking back machines with 16KB never really stood the test of time (look at what happened to the 16KB ZX Spectrum and the 16KB Oric 1), with many users upgrading them where possible or even buying a newer model.

The 600XL also looked slightly smaller in dimensions than the 800XL.

In fact, the 800XL was actually a very similar machine, it had more memory (64KB as we have established) and the all important composite video capability.

All peripherals were compatible with both machines, which is always a good way to go.

But then Atari usually did know what they were doing...

Galaxian On The Atari 600XL

The Classic Centipede on the Atari 600XL

The Classic Donkey Kong on the Atari 600 XL

Noteworthy Atari 600 XL Games

Some truly great games and arcade conversions were available for the Atari 600XL.

If you are thinking of picking up one of these machines or if you are lucky enough to already own one then please check out the following titles:

  • Asteroids - you can't not play a version of this absolute arcade classic. If you think Asteroids, then you've gotta think Atari...
  • Centipede - another good version of another true classic from the golden age of arcading...
  • Donkey Kong - a very nice version of the classic arcade game
  • Exploding Wall - a good and different version of the arcade classic Breakout
  • Star Raiders - just how did they squeeze THIS into a 16K machine? Early 3D Gaming at it's best
  • Star Wars - not as good as other 8-bit conversions but worth a play nonetheless for the nostalgia value

Star Raiders on the Atari 600 XL

Technical Capabilities of the Atari 600 XL

The machine was capable of producing decent graphics. It had an impressive range of 256 colours, and each of these colours was tweakable with 16 levels of 'intensity',

The XL machines were also capabal of producing good sound effects and multi-channel music. The sound effects generally managed to capture that 'arcade' sound which always enhanced the gaming experience a little bit.

These were always important factors where games developers were concerned.

There were plenty of games released on the machine that had that classic 'Atari feel' to them.

The BASIC that was built in to the machine was pretty good too, and compared well to other 8-bit machines of the era.

The 600XL had no major issues or problems and users could put together quick basic programs if they wanted to, making it a good machine for the budding programmer.

If only it had been blessed with more RAM...

Of Course PacMan Was Available for the Atari 600 XL

Eat Those Power Pellets On Your Atari 600 XL
Eat Those Power Pellets On Your Atari 600 XL

Atari 600 XL Aesthetics

The machine itself looked quite cool and was a real step up in design when compared to the likes of the old Atari 400.

The black case with the white top outline and silver function keys down the right hand side certainly made it a very modern looking unit.

The cartridge slot was nicely placed centrally above the keyboard and was unobtrusive to the user.

This machine and the more powerful 800XL became very popular choices as they pretty much ticked all the boxes for the home user.

Atari was once a major player in the hardware sector , and these machines go a long way in reminding us why...

Any Fans Of The Atari 600XL?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      "It had an impressive range of 256 colours, and each of these colours was tweakable with 16 levels of 'intensity',..."

      Hm, but 256x16 would be 4096 what is wrong. So correct would be that it had range of 16 colours and each of with 16 levels of intensity ... 16x16=256 ... right !?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My 600XL definitely has composite video as standard.

      You're most likely confusing it with component video (chroma/luminance), which is not available on 800XL either. (without doing supervideo mod)

    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      9 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Hey Scaramanga - those really were the halcyon days when a combination of your TV settings and your own imagination did the trick!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I had one and I loved it.

      I used to simulate night time races on pole position by adjusting the contract on the black and white TV I used as a monitor...happy days :)

      TDU2 on the xbox360 finally gives you the concept of night and day and proper variable only took 20+

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Does anybody knows if atari 2600 cartridges work on atari 600xl? Sorry for the newbie question.

    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      9 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Thanks Crewman - I can't believe you were tempted by Shatner's Vic commercial! :-)

      Look out for my next hub - I'm covering the Atari 5200 console.

    • Crewman6 profile image


      9 years ago

      I wanted one of these so bad I could taste it, but at the time could never afford one. Then Captain Kirk wooed me away with his "Wonder Computer of the '80's", the Vic 20. I maxed mine with a eprom burner, 32k of ram, and loved it until the C128 came out.

      I love your hubs. You make me remember good things.


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