Above: Atari 2600 Game Console
In 1977, Atari introduced the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) , though it was most often referred to as the Atari 2600 or the 2600.
The console very quickly solidified itself as the console to beat. While the 2600 did not have the best graphics and sound of any console, it was the longest selling console when production stopped in 1992. The system did not have the best graphics. In fact the console actually saw many of its competitors leave the market even despite them having a much better product.
Above: Atari 2600 Retail Box
Atari had the rights to all the major arcade hits. The console was so popular at its pinnacle that its competitors actually made games for the 2600.
With millions of units sold, there is still a healthy market of Atari 2600 games and consoles on ebay and at garage sales across the world. In fact, there are still games being made for the console today.
In 1982, Atari release the Atari 5200 and was intended as a replacement for the Atari 2600. The internals for the 5200 were essentially taken from the company’s 8-bit computers, the Atari 400/800s. Despite being a replacement for the 2600, Atari still directed more funds toward the 2600.
Above: Atari 2600 Graphics
The results were evident in a series of issues and most importantly was the incompatibility with the 2600, and because it did not have a keyboard, it could not properly run Atari 400/800 software. As a result, the Atari 5200 enjoyed moderate success before being killed off by the video game crash.
Cartridge Design and Systenm Limitations
Above: Atari 2600 Junior Console
Early cartridges were 2 KB ROMs for Atari 2600 and 4 KB for Intellivision. This upper limit grew steadily from 1978 to 1983, up to 16 KB for Atari 2600 and Intellivision, 32 KB for Colecovision. Bank switching, a technique that allowed two different parts of the program to use the same memory addresses was required for the larger cartridges to work.
In the game consoles, high RAM prices at the time limited the RAM (memory) capacity of the systems to a tiny amount, often less than a Kilobyte. Although the cartridge size limit grew steadily, the RAM limit was part of the console itself and all games had to work within its constraints.