Bit Generation Part 3: “The 8-bit era”

Bit Generation Series: Third Generation (1983  -1987)
“The 8-bit era”


Commodore 64 (1982)

Also known as the C64, C-64, C=64, or occasionally CBM 64 (or VIC-64 in Sweden) is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International.
It was first shown at the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, January 7–10th, 1982 and is listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time, with independent estimates placing the number sold between 12.5 and 17 million units.

It had an introductory price of $595and being a home computer it came with Commodore BASIC 2.0 upon start-up, where users had to learn some basic programming just to start the games.  It preceded the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore MAX Machine and was followed by the Commodore 128.


Commodore’s Success
Part of the Commodore 64’s success was its sale in regular retail stores instead of only electronics and/or computer hobbyist specialty stores. Commodore produced many of its parts in-house to control costs, including custom integrated circuit chips from MOS Technology.
It has approximately 10,000 commercial software titles been made including development tools, office productivity applications, and video games.
In 2008, 17 years after it was taken off the market, research showed that brand recognition for the model was still at 87%.

Internal Components
With superior sound and graphical specifications compared to other earlier systems such as the Apple II and Atari 800; multi-colour sprites and a more advanced sound processor the C64 dominated the low-end computer market for most of the 1980s.  For a substantial period (1983–1986), the C64 had between 30% and 40% share of the US market and two million units sold per year, outselling the IBM PC compatibles, Apple computers and the Atari 8-bit family of computers.

It used the 8-bit MOS Technology 6510 microprocessor; a close derivative of the 6502 with an added 6-bit internal I/O port that in the C64 is used for two purposes: to bank-switch the machine’s read-only memory (ROM) in and out of the processor’s address space, and to operate the datasette tape recorder.

It also has 64k of RAM (65,536 bytes), with 38k are available to built-in Commodore BASIC 2.0 on start-up. There is 20 KB of ROM, made up of the BASIC interpreter, the kernel, and the character ROM. As the processor could only address 64 KB at a time, the ROM was mapped into memory and only 38,911 bytes of RAM (plus 4 KB between ROMs) were available at start-up.

The C64 performs a RAM test on power up and if a RAM error is detected, the amount of free BASIC memory will be lower than the normal 38911 figure. If the faulty chip is in lower memory, then an ?OUT OF MEMORY IN 0 error is displayed rather than the usual BASIC start-up banner.

The kernal ROM went through three separate revisions, mostly designed to fix bugs. The initial version is only found on 326298 motherboards, used in the first production models, and cannot detect if an NTSC or PAL VIC-II is present. The second revision is found on all C64s made from late 1982 through 1985. The third and last kernel ROM revision was introduced on the 250466 motherboard (late breadbin models with 41464 RAM) and is found in all C64Cs. The 6510 CPU is clocked at 1.023 MHz (NTSC) and 0.9 MHz (PAL); lower than some competing systems although a performance boost can be gained by disabling the VIC-II’s video output via a register write; this feature is often used by tape and disk fastloaders as well as the kernel cassette routines.


Input Devices
The C64 retained the DE-9 joystick Atari joystick port from the VIC-20 and added another.  It is also possible to use Sega gamepads although not recommended as the slightly different signal generated by them can damage the CIA chip.

Atari paddles are electrically compatible with the C64, but have different resistance values than Commodore’s paddles, which means most software will not work properly with them.  However, only a handful of games, mostly ones released early in the computer’s life cycle, can use paddles. In 1986, Commodore released two mice for the C64 and C128, the 1350 and 1351. The 1350 is a digital device, read from the joystick registers (and can be used with any program supporting joystick input); while the 1351 is a true mouse, read with the SID’s analog-to-digital converter.


Graphics Chip
The VIC-II graphics chip features 16 colours, eight hardware sprites per scanline (enabling up to 112 sprites per PAL screen), scrolling capabilities, and two bitmap graphics modes. The standard text mode features 40 columns (like most Commodore PET models); the built in character encoding is not standard ASCII but PETSCII, an extended form of ASCII-1963. The kernel ROM sets the VIC-II to a dark blue background on power up with a light blue text and border. Unlike the PET and VIC-20, the C64 uses “fat” double-width text as some early VIC-IIs had poor video quality that resulted in a fuzzy picture. Most screenshots show borders around the screen, which is a feature of the VIC-II chip. By utilizing interrupts to reset various hardware registers on precise timings it was possible to place graphics within the borders and thus use the full screen.

Sound Chip
The famous SID chip has three channels, each with its own ADSR envelope generator and filter capabilities. Ring modulation makes use of channel number 3, to work with the other two channels. Bob Yannes developed the SID chip and later co-founded synthesizer company Ensoniq.

Well-known composers and programmers of game music on the C64 are Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, David Whittaker, Chris Hülsbeck, Ben Daglish, Martin Galway, Kjell Nordbo and David Dunn among many others.  Due to the chip’s three channels, chords are played as arpeggios, coining the C64’s characteristic lively sound. It was also possible to continuously update the master volume with sampled data to enable the playback of 4-bit digitized audio.

There are two versions of the SID chip: the 6581 (original ‘Breadbox’, C128) and the 8580 (replaced in 1987).  While the 6581 sound quality is a little crisper it does lack some versatility available in the 8580 – for example, the 8580 can mix all available waveforms on each channel, whereas the 6581 can only play a single waveform per channel. The main difference between the 6581 and the 8580 is the supply voltage. The 6581 uses a 12 volt supply—the 8580, a 9 volt supply (Although a modification can be made to use the 6581 in a newer 64C board).


Hardware revisions
Commodore made many changes to the C64’s hardware during its lifetime, sometimes causing compatibility issues.  Commodore and Tramiel’s focus on cost cutting instead of product testing, resulted in several defects that caused developers like Epyx to complain and required many revisions to fix.

The C64’s original (NMOS based) motherboard would go through two major redesigns, (and numerous sub-revisions) exchanging positions of the VIC-II, SID and PLA chips. Initially, a large portion of the cost was eliminated by reducing the number of discrete components, such as diodes and resistors, which enabled the use of a smaller printed circuit board. There were 16 total C64 motherboard revisions, most of them aimed at simplifying and reducing manufacturing costs. Some board revisions were exclusive to PAL regions although all C64 motherboards were manufactured in Hong Kong.

IC locations changed frequently on each motherboard revision, as did the presence or lack thereof of the metal RF shield around the VIC-II.  PAL boards often had aluminized cardboard instead of a metal shield.  The SID and VIC-II are socketed on all boards, however the other ICs may be either socketed or soldered. The first production C64s, made in 1982 to early 1983, are known as “silver label” models due to the case sporting a silver-colored “Commodore” logo. The power LED had a separate silver badge around it reading “64”. These machines also have only a 5-pin video cable and cannot output S-video.

In late 1982, Commodore introduced the familiar “rainbow badge” case, but many machines produced into early 1983 also used silver label cases until the existing stock of them was used up. In the spring of 1983, the original 326298 board was replaced by the 250407 motherboard which sported an 8-pin video connector and added S-video support for the first time. This case design would be used until the C64C appeared in 1987. All ICs switched to using plastic shells while the silver label C64s had some ceramic ICs, notably the VIC-II. The case is made from ABS plastic which may become brown with time. This can be reversed by using the public domain chemical mix “Retr0bright”.

The VIC-II was manufactured with 5 micrometer NMOS technology; clocked at either 17.73Mhz (PAL) or 14.31Mhz (NTSC).  Internally, the clock was divided down to generate the dot clock (about 8 MHz) and the two-phase system clocks (about 1Mhz;).  At such high clock rates, the chip generated a lot of heat, forcing MOS Technology to use a ceramic dual in-line package called a “CERDIP”. The ceramic package was more expensive, but it dissipated heat more effectively than plastic.

After a redesign in 1983, the VIC-II was encased in a plastic dual in-line package, which reduced costs substantially, but it did not totally eliminate the heat problem.  Without a ceramic package, the VIC-II required the use of a heat sink. To avoid extra cost, the metal RF shielding doubled as the heat sink for the VIC, although not all units shipped with this type of shielding. Most C64s in Europe shipped with a cardboard RF shield, coated with a layer of metal foil. The effectiveness of the cardboard was highly questionable, and worse still it acted as an insulator, blocking airflow which trapped heat generated by the SID, VIC, and PLA chips.

The SID was originally manufactured using NMOS at 7 and in some areas 6 micrometers. The prototype SID and some very early production models featured a ceramic dual in-line package, but unlike the VIC-II, these are extremely rare as the SID was encased in plastic when production started in early 1982.

Power Supply
The C64 used an external power supply, a conventional transformer with multiple tappings (as opposed to switch mode, the type now used on PC power supplies), encased in an epoxy resin gel which discouraged tampering but tended to increase the heat level during use.  The design saved space within the computer’s case and allowed international versions to be more easily manufactured. The 1541-II and 1581 disk drives, along with various third-party clones, also come with their own external power supply “bricks”, as did most peripherals leading to a “spaghetti” of cables and the use of numerous double adapters by users.

Commodore power supplies often failed before expected; the computer reportedly had a 30% return rate in late 1983, compared to the 5-7% the industry considered acceptable. 

The original PSU included on early 1982-83 machines had a 5-pin connector and could accidentally be plugged into the video output. To prevent the user from making this fatal mistake, Commodore changed the plug design on 250407 motherboards to a 3-pin connector. Commodore later changed the design, omitting the gel. The follow-on model, the Commodore 128, used a larger, improved power supply that included a fuse. The power supply that came with the Commodore REU was similar to that of the Commodore 128’s unit, providing an upgrade for customers who purchased that accessory.


Commodore Basic

As is common for home computers of the early 1980s, the C64 incorporates a ROM-based version of the BASIC programming language which essentially served as the operating system for the machine. The disk drive has its own microprocessor, much like the earlier CBM/PET systems and the Atari 400 and Atari 800. This means that no memory space is dedicated to running a disk operating system, as was the case with earlier systems such as the Apple II and TRS-80.

Commodore BASIC 2.0 is used instead of the more advanced BASIC 4.0 from the PET series, since C64 users were not expected to need the disk-oriented enhancements of BASIC 4.0. The company did not expect many to buy a disk drive.  The version of BASIC is limited and does not include specific commands for sound or graphics manipulation, instead requiring users to use the “PEEK and POKE” commands to access the graphics and sound chip registers directly.  To provide extended commands, including graphics and sound, Commodore produced two different cartridge-based extension to BASIC 2.0: Simons’ BASIC and Super Expander 64.  Other languages available for the C64 include Pascal, C Logo, Forth, and FORTRAN. Compilers for BASIC 2.0 such as Petspeed 2 (from Commodore), Blitz (from Jason Ranheim) and Turbo Lightning (from Ocean Software) were produced,. Most commercial C64 software was written in assembly language, either cross developed on a larger computer, or directly on the C64 using a machine code monitor or an assembler. This maximized speed and minimized memory use. Some games, particularly adventures, used high level scripting languages.


As well as the original GEOS, two third-party GEOS-compatible systems have been written: Wheels and GEOS megapatch. Both of these require hardware upgrades to the original C64. Several other operating systems are or have been available, including WiNGS OS, the Unix-like LUnix, operated from a command-line, and the embedded systems OS Contiki, with full GUI.
A version of CP/M was released, but this requires the addition of an external Z80 processor to the expansion bus. Furthermore, the Z80 processor is under-clocked to be compatible with the C64’s memory bus, so performance is poor compared to other CP/M implementations.

During the 1980s, the C64 was used to run bulletin board systems using software packages such as Bizarre 64, Blue Board, C-Net, Colour 64, CMBBS, C-Base, DMBBS, Image BBS, EBBS, and The Deadlock Deluxe BBS Construction Kit, often with sysop-made modifications. These boards sometimes were used to distribute cracked software. As late as December 2013, there were 25 such Bulletin Board Systems in operation, reachable via the Telnet protocol.

There were major commercial online services, such as Compunet (UK), CompuServe (US – later bought by America Online), The Source (US) and Minitel (France) among many others. These services usually required custom software which was often bundled with a modem and included free online time as they were billed by the minute. Quantum Link (or Q-Link) was a US and Canadian online service for Commodore 64 and 128 personal computers that operated from November 5, 1985, to November 1, 1994. It was operated by Quantum Computer Services of Vienna, Virginia, which in October 1991 changed its name to America Online, and continued to operate its AOL service for the IBM PC compatible and Apple Macintosh. Q-Link was a modified version of the PlayNET system, which Control Video Corporation (CVC, later renamed Quantum Computer Services) licensed.



Commodore has released many peripherals for the C64, and these include:

Commodore 1541 Floppy Drive
This is a single-sided 170-kilobyte drive for 5¼” disks. The 1541 directly followed the Commodore 1540 (meant for the VIC-20).  In production from 1982-1983 and with a retail price tag of $400

Commodore 1541C Floppy Drive, 2nd model

Commodore 1541-II Floppy Drive, 3rd model

Commodore 1530 (C2N) Datasette
Known as Datassette (a portmanteau of data and cassette) was Commodore’s dedicated magnetic tape data storage device. Using compact cassettes as the storage medium, it provided inexpensive storage to Commodore’s 8-bit home/personal computers, notably the PET, VIC-20, and C64. A physically similar model, Commodore 1531, was made for the Commodore 16 and Plus/4 series computers.

Commodore MPS-802 Dot matrix printer
A type of computer printing which uses a print head that moves back-and-forth, or in an up-and-down motion, on the page and prints by impact, striking an ink-soaked cloth ribbon against the paper, much like the print mechanism on a typewriter. However, unlike a typewriter or daisy wheel printer, letters are drawn out of a dot matrix, and thus, varied fonts and arbitrary graphics can be produced.

Commodore Modems
Commodore offered a number of inexpensive modems for the C64, such as the 1650, 1660, 1670. The 1650 and 1660 were 300 Baud, and the 1670 was 1200 baud. The 1650 could only dial Pulse. The 1660 had no sound chip of its own to generate Touch Tones, so a cable from the monitor /audio out was required to be connected to the 1660 so it could use the C64 sound chip to generate Touch Tones. The 1670 used a modified set of Hayes AT commands.

The Commodore 1650 shipped with a rudimentary piece of terminal software called Common Sense. It provided basic Xmodem functionality and contained a 700 line scrollback feature.

Commodore 1351 Mouse
Made by Commodore in 1986 that can be directly plugged into the 9-pin control port of a C64 or C128.

C64 Lightpen
A pen-shaped input device which contains a light sensor which, when pointed at a cathode ray tube screen, generates a signal each time the electron beam raster passes by the spot the pen is pointing at. The VIC-II accepts this signal, generates the X and Y coordinates in a pair of registers, and, if desired, causes an interrupt to the CPU every time new coordinates are reported.

The following companies produced light pens:  REX 9631/9520, Conrad, Lindy, Cardco, Futurehouse (Edumate), Amicron (Microscirbe), Madison Computer (McPen), Koala Soft, Pixsticks, Inkwell Systems, Turbo, Tech Sketch, Pen-Datel, Stack, Trojan.

Various software supported the light pen as well including: GEOS (GeoPaint and GeoCanvas), CAD-Master, FlexiDraw, Koala Painter, Paintbox Package, Penmaster Art Package and BASIC programs like Cardriter.

Commodore 1702 video monitor
Introduced around 1982 as an alternative to using a crappy TV for a monitor;  And what a difference it made!  The 1702 gave you a beautiful crisp image and handy front A/V inputs in a tiny stackable package. They even had a pair of RCA jacks on the back for separate Chroma and Luma input (aka S-Video) You got a far superior picture than any composite monitor or TV could manage.

Freezer, Reset, and Utility cartridges
Probably the most well-known hacker and development tools for the C64 included “Reset” and “Freezer” cartridges.  As the C64 had no built-in soft reset switch, Reset cartridges were popular for entering game “POKEs” (codes which changed parts of a game’s code in order to cheat).

Freezer cartridges had the capability to not only manually reset the machine, but also to dump the contents of the computer’s memory and send the output to disk or tape.  In addition, these cartridges had tools for editing game sprites, machine language monitors, floppy fast loaders, and other development tools. Freezer cartridges were not without controversy however. Despite containing many powerful tools for the programmer, they were also accused of aiding unauthorized distributors to defeat software copy protections. Perhaps the best known freezer cartridges were the Datel “Action Replay”, Evesham Micros Freeze Frame MK III B, Trilogic “Expert”, “The Final Cartridge III”, Super Snapshot and ICEPIC cartridges.

Music and Synthesizer
The C64 featured a digitally controlled semi-analogue synthesizer as its sound processor, it was not surprising to discover an abundance of software and hardware designed to expand upon its capabilities.  Notable hardware included various brands of MIDI cartridges, plug-in keyboards (such as the Colour Tone or the Sound Chaser 64), Commodore’s own SFX range which included a sound sampler and Sound Expander plug-in synthesizer and keyboard, the more recent Commodulator oscillator wheel and the Prophet 64 sequencer and synthesizer utility cartridge.

Developed by Creative Micro Designs and released in released on 4th May 1997 (no longer sold from CMD from 2001).  It is a processor upgrade for the C64 and C128 that uses the W65C816S 8/16 bit microprocessor.  It can have up to 16Mb RAM installed and sported a “Turbo” switch which, when enabled, clocked a C64/C128 up to 20Mhz.  The unit plugs into the expansion port.


Other Models

Commodore MAX
Commodore released the MAX in 1982 (Japan), it was named the Ultimax (US) and C-10 (Germany).
It was intended to be a game console with limited computing capability, and was based on a very cut-down version of the hardware family later used in the C64. The MAX was discontinued months after its introduction because of poor sales in Japan.

Commodore  Educator 64
1983 saw Commodore attempt to compete with the Apple II’s hold on the US education market with the Educator 64, essentially a C64 and “greenscale” monochrome monitor in a PET case.  Schools preferred the all-in-one metal construction of the PET over the standard C64’s separate components, which could be easily damaged, vandalized or stolen

Commodore SX-64
Also in 1983, Commodore released the SX-64, a portable version of the C64. The SX-64 has the distinction of being the first full-colour portable computer.  The base features a 5” (130mm) colour cathode ray tube (CRT) and an integrated 1541 floppy disk drive. Unlike most other C64s, the SX-64 does not have a cassette connector.

Commodore C128
Two designers at Commodore, Fred Bowen and Bil Herd, were determined to rectify the problems of the Plus/4. They intended that the eventual successors to the C64—the Commodore 128 and 128D  (1985)—were to build upon the C64, avoiding the Plus/4’s flaws.

The successors had many improvements such as a structured BASIC with graphics and sound commands, 80-column display ability, and full CP/M compatibility. The decision to make the C128 plug compatible with the C64 was made quietly by Bowen and Herd, software and hardware designers respectively, without the knowledge or approval by the management in the post Jack Tramiel era.

Upon learning that the C128 was designed to be compatible with the C64, Commodore’s marketing department independently announced that the C128 would be 100% compatible with the C64, thereby raising the bar for C64 support. In a case of malicious compliance, the 128 design was altered to include a separate “64 mode” using a complete C64 environment to ensure total compatibility.

Commodore 64C
The C64’s designers intended the computer to have a new, wedge-shaped case within a year of release, but the change did not occur.   In 1987, Commodore released the 64C computer, which is functionally identical to the original. The exterior design was re-modeled in the sleeker style of the Commodore 128.

The 64C uses new versions of the SID, VIC and I/O chips being deployed, with the core voltage reduced from 12V to 9V. Models with the C64E board had the graphic symbols printed on the top of the keys, instead of the normal location at the side. The sound chip (SID) were changed to use the MOS 8580 chip that uses other filter units, that results in “samples” almost being un-audible.

The 64k RAM memory went from eight chips to two chips and Basic and KERNAL went from two separate chips into one 16k ROM chip.

In the United States, the 64C was often bundled with the third-party GEOS graphical user interface (GUI) based operating system, as well as the software needed to access Quantum Link. The 1541 drive received a matching face-lift resulting in the 1541C. Later a smaller, sleeker 1541-II model was introduced along with the 800 KB 3.5-inch microfloppy 1581.

Commodore 64 Games System (C64GS)
In 1990, the C64 was repackaged in the form of a game console, called the C64 Games System (C64GS), with most external connectivity removed.  A simple modification to the 64C’s motherboard was made to allow cartridges to be inserted from above.  A modified ROM replaced the BASIC interpreter with a boot screen to inform the user to insert a cartridge. Designed to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System; it suffered from very low sales compared to its rivals. It was another commercial failure for Commodore, and it was never released outside Europe.


Commodore 65
In 1990, an advanced successor to the C64, the Commodore 65 (also known as the “C64DX”), was prototyped, but the project was cancelled by Commodore’s chairman Irving Gould in 1991. The C65’s specifications were impressive for an 8-bit computer, bringing specs comparable to the 16-bit Apple IIgs. For example, it could display 256 colours on screen, while OCS based Amiga’s could only display 64 in Half Brite mode (32 colours and half-bright transformations). Although no specific reason was given for the C65’s cancellation, it would have competed in the marketplace with Commodore’s lower end Amiga’s and the Commodore CDTV.

C64 Games
With over 2,021 commercial titles released.  In order to load a file from certain commercial tapes/disks, the following command must be entered:
     LOAD “*”,8,1




Videopac G7400 (1983)
The Philips Videopac+ G7400 is a video game console released in limited quantities in 1983, and only in Europe; an American release as the Odyssey³ Command Center was planned but never occurred. The G7400 was the successor to the Philips Videopac G7000, the European counterpart to the American Magnavox Odyssey².  The system featured excellently tailored background and foreground graphics.  Running an Intel 8048 (5.91Mhz) CPU with 6k RAM and 1k ROM, with a display of 320×238 (16 colours) and audio of 1 channel (8 sounds).

Various Expansions were released including:

  • The Voice – Speech synthesis unit, compatible with G7000
  • Chess Module – Increased the G7400’s computing power such that it could play chess, also compatible with G7000
  • Microsoft BASIC Home Computer Module (G7420) – Similar to above, with the purpose of converting the G7400 into a “real” computer, not compatible with G7000. An additional Z80 CPU with 16k RAM and 16k ROM.

The G7400 could play three types of games: all normal G7000 games, special G7000 games with additional high-res background graphics that would appear only when played on the G7400, and G7400-only games with high-res sprites and backgrounds.

In the European market, each game released by Philips was clearly assigned a number from 1 to 47.  After the launch of the G7400 console in 1983, the games’ packaging design changed to a red masthead with a total of 60 games.



Sega SG1000 (1983)
Also known as the Sega Computer Videogame SG-1000, is a cartridge-based home video game console manufactured by Sega and released in Japan, Australia, and other countries.  It was Sega’s first entry into the home video game hardware business, and provided the basis for the more successful Master System. Introduced in 1983, the SG-1000 was released on the same day that Nintendo released the Family Computer (Famicom for short) in Japan. The SG-1000 was released in several forms, including the SC-3000 computer and the redesigned SG-1000 II, also known as the Mark II, released in 1984.

It is powered by 8bit Zilog Z80 CPU (SG1000 I & II 3.58Mhz, SG3000 4Mhz).  Video is handled by a Texas Instruments TMS9928A (16 colours) and sound by a Texas Instruments SN76489. All three chips were used in the ColecoVision.  The system includes 1k of RAM and 2k of video RAM.  Power is supplied through a 9V DC connector connected to an AC adapter.

It was created on the advice of Hayao Nakayama, president of Sega Enterprises. Shortly after the release, Sega was sold to CSK Corporation, which was followed by the release of the SG-1000 II. Due to the release of the Famicom, and the number of consoles present in the market at the time, the SG-1000 was not commercially successful.

To keep costs down while ensuring sufficient longevity, Sega opted to create the platform from popular off-the-shelf components.  The first model to be developed was actually the SC-3000, a computer version with a built-in keyboard, but when Sega learned of Nintendo’s plans to release a games-only console, they began developing the SG-1000 alongside the SC-3000.

An unauthorized clone system known as the Telegames Personal Arcade was produced, and is able to play SG-1000 and ColecoVision games.

Although the SG-1000’s launch did not prove to be successful; the three launch games, all of which were ported from Sega’s VIC dual-arcade board, lacked the name recognition of Famicom’s launch games (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye).  However, the situation was quickly turned around. Thanks in part to the SG-1000’s steadier stream of releases (21 SG-1000 games by the end of 1983, as compared to only 9 Famicom games), and in part to a recall on Famicom units necessitated by a faulty circuit, the SG-1000 chalked up 160,000 units in sales in 1983, far exceeding Sega’s projection of 50,000 units.

SG-1000 II

On 31st July 1984 Sega released another console, the SG-1000 II.  It featured hardware tweaks from the original model, including detachable controllers and the ability to play Sega Card games.

Despite this, the console war turned back in the Famicom’s favour during 1984. The Famicom had more advanced hardware, allowing it to perform smoother scrolling and more colourful sprites, and Nintendo boosted its games library by courting third-party developers, whereas Sega was less than eager to collaborate with the same companies they were competing with in arcades.


The SG-1000 was also coming up against game consoles from companies including Tomy and Bandai. This would result in the release of the Sega Mark III in Japan in 1985, which later became the Master System worldwide. The last cartridge released was Portrait of Loretta on February 18, 1987.

Several peripherals exist for the SG-1000 series.
SK-1100 keyboard connects through the expansion slot and is compatible with all models.
Multiple controllers were created, including the SJ-200 joystick attached to the SG-1000, and the SJ-150 joypad, made for use with the SG-1000 II. A racing wheel known as the SH-400 was made for use with games such as Monaco GP.  The C-1000 Card Catcher allowed players to play Sega Card titles.

Additional accessories existed solely for use with the SC-3000, including the SR-1000 cassette deck, the SP-400 4-color plotter printer  and the SF-7000 expansion device which adds a floppy disk drive and additional memory.

The SG-1000’s game library comprises 68 standard cartridge releases and 29 Sega Card releases. All games play on each model, although 26 cartridge releases require the keyboard accessory or the SC-3000. All titles are also fully compatible with the Mark III and Master System.

Titles for the system include Flicky, Congo Bongo, Sega-Galaga, and Girl’s Garden, the first video game directed by Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka. The library included licensed titles, such as Golgo 13.



Sega Master System (1985)
Manufactured by Sega and originally released in 1985 as the Sega Mark III in Japan, it had a redesign prior to its North American launch, renamed  ‘Master System’ and released in 1986 (US), 1987 (Europe) and 1989 (Brazil).  The redesigned Master system was also released in Japan in 1987 with additional features over the overseas models.  Both the Mark III and the original Master System models could play with both cartridges (or “Mega Cartridges”, as they were officially called) and the credit card-sized Sega Cards, which retailed at lower prices than cartridges but had lower storage capacity; the Master System II and later models did not have the card slot. The Master System also featured accessories such as a light gun and 3D glasses which were designed to work with a range of specially coded games.

CPU was taken care with the Zilog Z80 (8-bit running at 4 MHz) alongside 8k ROM, 8k RAM and 16k Video RAM.  Video is provided through an RF switch which displays a resolution of 256 × 192 pixels (32 colours from a palette of 64).  Sound is provided by the SN76489 PSG chip. The Japanese version also integrates the YM2413 FM chip, which had been an optional feature on the Mark III.  Altjough with few exceptions, the Master System hardware is identical to the hardware in the Mark III. Titles for the console are playable on the Sega Genesis by use of an accessory known as the Power Base Converter, as well as on the Game Gear by use of the Master System Converter.

The Master System was designed with superior hardware when compared to the NES. It contains twice as much memory as its competitor from Nintendo and the CPU of the Master System runs at a faster clock rate than the NES, which is a Ricoh NMOS 6502 running at 1.79 MHz, though a Z80 requires more cycles to execute an instruction than the 6502. The NES is capable of displaying 25 colours at a time from a master palette of 54, in contrast to the 32 colours at a time from a 64 colour master palette on the Master System.

Master System II / III
Master System II (1990) removed a number of components in order to reduce the cost of the console, including the Sega Card slot, reset button, power light, expansion port, and activation music and logo upon turning on the system.  Several licensed variations of the console also exist in Brazil, created by Tectoy.  

A variation known as the Master System 3 Compact was capable of functioning wirelessly with an RF transmitter, while Tectoy also sought to appeal to female gamers in Brazil with the Master System Girl, which was molded in bright pink plastic. A more recent version, released in 2006 in Brazil known as the Master System 3 Collection, contains 120 built-in games.


A number of accessories were created for the Mark III and Master System, which are cross-compatible with one another. The controller for each console consists of a rectangular shape with a control pad and two buttons.  Sega also introduced additional controllers, such as a bike handle controller and paddle controller, for the Mark III and a special sports controller for the Master System.

A pair of 3D glasses known as SegaScope 3-D were also created for games such as Space Harrier 3D, although Mark III users need an additional converter to use them. The Mark III also had an optional RF transmitter accessory, allowing wireless play that broadcast the game being played on a UHF television signal.

A light gun peripheral known as the Light Phaser was also released with its design based on the weapon of the same name from the Japanese anime Zillion.

Succeeding the SG-1000, the Master System was released as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the third generation of video game consoles. The Master System was constructed with hardware superior to that of the NES, but failed to overturn Nintendo’s significant market share advantage in Japan and North America.  However, it attained significantly more success in Europe and Brazil. The hardware of the Master System also shared many similarities with Sega’s handheld game console, the Sega Game Gear. Compared to its competition from Nintendo, the Master System’s game library lacks a number of well-received titles due to Nintendo’s licensing practices that restricted third-party developers from creating games for any system other than the NES.

Sales of the console have been estimated between 10 and 13 million units, not including recent Brazil sales, compared to 62 million NES units sold. Reception to the system given in retrospect gives credit to the system’s role in Sega’s development of the Sega Genesis (Megadrive), as well as for having a number of well-received titles, particularly in PAL regions, but is generally critical of its small game library.  As of 2015, the Master System is the longest-lived game console (30 years and continuing), due to its popularity in Brazil.

Games for the Master System are in two formats: ROM cartridges are capable of holding up to 4Mb, while Sega Cards can hold up to only 256k.  Cards were cheaper to manufacture than the cartridges and included titles such as Spy vs. Spy and Super Tennis, but Sega Cards were eventually dropped due to their lack of memory.  Master System cartridges were initially branded Mega Cartridges to emphasize their larger ROM size compared to cards, but this label felt into disuse after Sega ceased production of new card software.
Games manufactured for the system include Psycho Fox, Golvellius, and Phantasy Star, which became a successful franchise for Sega and is considered one of the benchmark role-playing games.

The Master System also hosts games featuring Sega’s flagship character at the time, Alex Kidd, including Alex Kidd in Miracle World. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap had recognition.

Built-in titles are common in Master System hardware, including Snail Maze and Hang-On, as well as Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Sonic the Hedgehog.  Additional titles were also released in Brazil by Tectoy, including ports of Street Fighter II and Dynamite Headdy after the Master System was discontinued elsewhere.


NES (Famicom) (1983)
The Nintendo Entertainment System (commonly abbreviated as NES) is an 8-bit home video game console that was developed and manufactured by Nintendo.

The best-selling gaming console of its time, the NES helped revitalize the US video game industry following the video game crash of 1983.

It was launch with the following games: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye.   With an initial bad chip set causing the system to crash it was slow to gather momentum.  Following a product recall and a reissue with a new motherboard, its popularity soared and became the best-selling game console in Japan by the end of 1984.

It ran the Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor (MOS Technology 6502 core) CPU.
It was discontinued on 14th August 1995 in both North America and Europe and in Japan on 25th September 2003.  In it lifetime it had sold 61.91 million (Worldwide).  19.35 million (Japan), 34 million (US) and 8.56 million (other).

It introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers, authorizing them to produce and distribute titles for Nintendo’s platform.  Although it was initially released in Japan as the Family Computer (Famicom) on 15th July 1983; it was later released in USA (1985), Europe 1986) and Australia (1987). In South Korea, it was known as the Hyundai Comboy and was distributed by SK Hynix which then was known as Hyundai Electronics. It was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Following a series of arcade game successes in the early 1980s, Nintendo made plans to create a cartridge-based console called the Famicom, which is short for Family Computer.  Masayuki Uemura designed the system and had originally planned for an advanced 16-bit system which would function as a full-fledged computer with a keyboard and floppy disk drive, but Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi rejected this and instead decided to go for a cheaper, more conventional cartridge-based game console.

A test model was constructed in October 1982 to verify the functionality of the hardware, after which work began on programming tools.  65xx CPUs had not been manufactured or sold in Japan up to that time, no cross-development software was available and it had to be produced from scratch. Early Famicom games were written on a system that ran on an NEC PC-8001 computer and LEDs on a grid were used with a digitizer to design graphics as no software design tools for this purpose existed at that time.

Code named  “GameCom”, although Masayuki Uemura’s wife proposed the name “Famicom”.

The cartridges were originally planned to be the size of a cassette tape, but ultimately they ended up being twice as big.  Careful design attention was paid to the cartridge connectors since loose and faulty connections often plagued arcade machines. As it necessitated taking 60 connection lines for the memory and expansion, Nintendo decided to produce their own connectors in-house rather than use ones from an outside supplier.


The controllers were hard-wired to the console with no connectors for cost reasons. The game pad controllers were more-or-less copied directly from the Game & Watch machines, although the Famicom design team originally wanted to use arcade-style joysticks, even taking apart ones from American game consoles to see how they worked. There were concerns regarding the durability of the joystick design and that children might step on joysticks left on the floor. Katsuyah Nakawaka attached a Game & Watch D-pad to the Famicom prototype and found that it was easy to use and caused no discomfort. Ultimately though, they installed a 15-pin expansion port on the front of the console so that an optional arcade-style joystick could be used.

Uemura then added an eject lever to the cartridge slot which was not really necessary, but he felt that children could be entertained by pressing it.  He also added a microphone to the second controller with the idea that it could be used to make players’ voices sound through the TV speaker.

It wasn’t long after that intend began negotiations with Atari to release the Famicom under Atari’s name as the Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System.  The deal was set to be finalized and signed at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in June 1983; although Atari discovered at that show that its competitor Coleco was illegally demonstrating its Coleco Adam computer with Nintendo’s Donkey Kong game. This violation of Atari’s exclusive license with Nintendo to publish the game for its own computer systems delayed the implementation of Nintendo’s game console marketing contract with Atari.  Atari’s CEO Ray Kassar was fired the next month, so the deal went nowhere, and Nintendo decided to market its system on its own.

Subsequent plans to market a Famicom console in North America featuring a keyboard, cassette data recorder, wireless joystick controller and a special BASIC cartridge under the name “Nintendo Advanced Video System” likewise never materialized.

 Atari Games took a different approach with their line of NES products, Tengen. The company attempted to reverse engineer the lockout chip to develop its own “Rabbit” chip. Tengen also obtained a description of the lockout chip from the United States Patent and Trademark Office by falsely claiming that it was required to defend against present infringement claims. Nintendo successfully sued Tengen for copyright infringement although Tengen’s anti-trust claims against Nintendo were never decided.

At June 1985’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Nintendo unveiled the American version of its Famicom, with a new case redesigned by Lance Barr and featuring a “zero insertion force” cartridge slot.  This is the system which would eventually be officially deployed as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  

The nationwide release was in September 1986 alongside 17 launch titles:

  • 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Soccer, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew, and Super Mario Bros.

Some varieties of these launch games contained Famicom chips with an adapter inside the cartridge so they would play on North American consoles, which is why the title screen of Gyromite has the Famicom title “Robot Gyro” and the title screen of Stack-Up has the Famicom title “Robot Block”.

R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy)

This was an accessory for the NES’s 1985 launch. Although it ended up having a short product lifespan, R.O.B. was initially used to market the NES as novel and sophisticated compared to previous game consoles.

To differentiate Nintendo’s new home platform from the perception of a troubled and shallow video game market, the company freshened its product nomenclature and established a strict product approval and licensing policy. The overall system was referred to as an “Entertainment System” instead of a “video game system”, which was centered upon a machine called a “Control Deck” instead of a “console”, and which featured software cartridges called “Game Paks” instead of “video games”.  

Nintendo’s Seal
To deter production of games which had not been licensed by Nintendo, and to prevent copying, the 10NES lockout chip system acted as a lock-and-key coupling of each Game Pak and Control Deck. The packaging of the launch line-up of NES games bore pictures of close representations of actual onscreen graphics.  To reduce consumer confusion, symbols on the games’ packaging clearly indicated the genre of the game. A ‘seal of quality’ was printed on all licensed game and accessory packaging. The initial seal stated, “This seal is your assurance that Nintendo has approved and guaranteed the quality of this product”. This text was later changed to “Official Nintendo Seal of Quality”.

Rating System
Unlike with the Famicom, Nintendo of America marketed the console primarily to children, instituting a strict policy of censoring profanity, sexual, religious, or political content. The most famous example was Lucasfilm’s attempts to port the comedy-horror game Maniac Mansion to the NES, which Nintendo insisted be considerably watered down. Nintendo of America continued their censorship policy until 1994 with the advent of the Entertainment Software Rating Board system.

In Europe, Australia and Canada, the system was released to two separate marketing regions. The first consisted of mainland Europe (excluding Italy) where distribution was handled by a number of different companies, with Nintendo responsible for most cartridge releases. Most of this region saw a 1986 release. The following year Mattel handled distribution for the second region, consisting of the UK, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.  It wasn’t until 1990s that Nintendo’s newly created European branch direct distribution throughout Europe.

Control Deck

For its complete North American release, the Nintendo Entertainment System was progressively released over the ensuing years in four different bundles:

The Deluxe Set ($199.99)
This included R.O.B., a light gun called the NES Zapper, two controllers, and two Game Paks: Gyromite, and Duck Hunt.

The Basic Set ($89.99, 1987)
With no game, and $99.99 bundled with Super Mario Bros.

The Action Set ($149.99)
Included the Control Deck, two game controllers, an NES Zapper, and a dual Game Pak containing both Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.

The Power Set
Included the console, two game controllers, an NES Zapper, a Power Pad, and a triple Game Pak containing Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet.

 In 1990, a Sports Set bundle was released, including the console, an NES Satellite infrared wireless multi-tap adapter, four game controllers, and a dual Game Pak containing Super Spike V’Ball and Nintendo World Cup.

Two more bundle packages were later released using the original model NES console:
The Challenge Set ($89.99, 1992)

Included the console, two controllers, and a Super Mario Bros. 3 Game Pak

The Basic Set ($89.99)
First released in 1987, was repackaged to include only the console and two controllers, and no longer was bundled with a cartridge.   Instead, it contained a book called the Official Nintendo Player’s Guide, which contained detailed information for every NES game made up to that point.

Finally, the console was redesigned for both the North American and Japanese markets as part of the final Nintendo-released bundle package. The package included the new style NES-101 console, and one redesigned “dogbone” game controller.  Released in October 1993 in North America, this final bundle retailed for US$49.99 and remained in production until the discontinuation of the NES in 1995.


Famicom Disk System
Abbreviated as the FDS or FCD is a peripheral for Nintendo’s Family Computer home video game console, released on 21st February 1986 (Japan).  It uses proprietary floppy disks called “Disk Cards” for data storage.  Through its entire production span, 1986–2003, 4.44 million units were sold.

It is connected to the Famicom deck by plugging a special cartridge known as the RAM Adapter into the system’s cartridge port, and attaching that cartridge’s cable to the disk drive. The RAM adapter contains 32kb RAM for temporary program storage, 8kb RAM for tile and sprite data storage, and an ASIC known as the 2C33.



Game Franchises

The system’s hardware limitations led to design principles that still influence the development of modern video games. Many prominent game franchises originated on the NES, including Nintendo’s own Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda] and Metroid, Capcom’s Mega Man franchise, Konami’s Castlevania  franchise, Square’s Final Fantasy and Enix’s Dragon Quest franchises.

NES Classic

On 14th July 2016, Nintendo announced the launch of a miniature replica of the NES, titled NES Classic Edition (US) and Nintendo Classic Mini (Europe and Australia).  The console includes 30 permanently inbuilt games from the vintage NES library, including the Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda series. The system features HDMI display output and a new replica controller, which can also connect to the Wii Remote for use with Virtual Console games. It was discontinued in North America on 13th April 2017.



Atari 7800 (1986)
The Atari 7800 ProSystem, or simply the Atari 7800, is a home video game console officially released by Atari in 1986 or $140.  It is almost fully backward-compatible with the Atari 2600, the first console to have backward compatibility without the use of additional modules.  It had significantly improved graphics hardware over the 2600, but uses the same audio chip.  It also shipped with a different model of joystick than the 2600-standard CX40.

The 7800 was initially released in southern California in June 1984, following an announcement on 21st May 1984 at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show.  13 games were announced for the system’s launch: Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position II, Centipede, Joust, Dig Dug, Desert Falcon, Robotron: 2084, Galaga, Food Fight, Ballblazer, Rescue on Fractalus!, Track & Field, and Xevious,.

Atari was a sponsor of the 1984 Summer Olympics and planned to push the 7800 aggressively in time for Christmas that year.

The 1986 launch is sometimes referred to as a “re-release” or “relaunch” because the Atari 7800 had originally been announced on 21st May 1984, to replace the Atari 5200, but a general release was shelved due to the sale of the company.  A few units were released to test markets in June 1984 though.  The Atari 7800 languished on warehouse shelves until it was re-introduced in January 1986, after strong 2600 sales the previous Christmas.  The console was released nationwide in May 1986 for $79.95

It ran the Atari SALLY 6502 (“6502C”) CPU clocked at 1.19-1.79MHz, alongside 4k RAM, 4k BIOS ROM and 48k cartridge ROM space.  Display was handled by the MARIA chip clocked at 7.16Mhz allowing for displays of 160×240, 320×240 (160×288/320×288 if PAL) and 25 on-screen colours out of a possible 256 colour palette.  It was discontinued on 1st January 1992.

It was the first Atari game system designed by an outside company, General Computer Corporation (GCC) in 1983-84 with an intended mass market rollout in June 1984, but was cancelled shortly thereafter due to the sale of the company to Tramel Technology Ltd on 2nd July 1984. The project was originally called the Atari 3600, though was later renamed the Atari 7800.

With competition from the ColecoVision (boasting graphics that more closely mirrored arcade games of the time than Atari’s 2600 system) the 5200 had been widely criticized for not being able to play Atari 2600 games without an adapter.

With GCC having a background in creating arcade games, designed their new system with a graphical architecture similar to arcade machines of the time.  The 7800 allows a large number of moving objects (75 to 100) that far exceeds previous consoles.  

In contrast to the Atari 5200, the Atari 7800 can play almost all Atari 2600 games out of the box, without the need for an adapter. In addition, it features a return to a digital controller. Then as an added bonus, GCC’s programmers would also do almost all of the Atari 2600, 5200 games in 1983-1984. To make sure the system had every bell and whistle possible, the system was slated to be released with not only a computer keyboard, but also a High Score cartridge (Designed by GCC), and a new add-on module for the Atari 5200 which would have given the Atari 5200 system full Atari 7800/2600 compatibility.

Atari’s launch of the 7800 under Tramiel was far more subdued than Warner had planned for the system in 1984 with a marketing budget of just $300,000. Additionally, the keyboard and high score cartridge were cancelled, the expansion port was removed from later production runs of the system and, in lieu of new titles; the system was launched with titles intended for the 7800’s debut in 1984.

By the end of 1986, Computer Entertainer claimed the Atari 7800 had sold only 100,000 consoles in the US; far less  than the Sega Master System’s 125,000 and the NES 1..1 million.

According to Atari, due to manufacturing problems, it only managed to produce and sell 100,000 units by 1986, including units that had been in a warehouse since 1984. A common complaint in 1986 was a lack of games, including a gap of months between new releases (Galaga’s release in August was followed by Xevious in November).  By the end of 1986, the 7800 had just 10 games, compared to Sega’s 20 and Nintendo’s 36; nine of the NES games were third-party, whereas the 7800 and Master System had no third-party games.  The main reason being cited for the lack of third-party interest in the 7800 was its small 100,000 install base and low market penetration.

The Atari 7800 remained officially active in the US between 1986 and 1991 and in Europe between 1989 and 1991. On 1st January  1992, Atari formally announced that production of the Atari 7800, the Atari 2600, the Atari 8-bit computer line, and the Atari XE Game System would cease.

At this time the NES dominated the North American market, controlling 80% while Atari controlled just 12%.

Despite this, the 7800 was a profitable enterprise for Atari., benefiting largely from Atari’s name and the system’s 2600 compatibility. Profits were strong owing to low investment in game development and marketing.

Game Protection
Following the debate over Custer’s Revenge, an Atari 2600 VCS title with adult themes, Atari had concerns over similar adult titles finding their way onto the 7800 and displaying adult graphics on the significantly improved graphics of the MARIA chip. To combat this, they included a digital signature protection method which prevented unauthorized 7800 games from being played on the system.

When a cartridge was inserted into the system, the 7800 BIOS included code which would generate a digital signature of the cartridge ROM and compare it to the signature stored on the cartridge. If a correct signature was located on the cartridge, the 7800 would operate in 7800 mode, granting the game access to MARIA and other features. If a signature was not located, the 7800 remained in 2600 mode and MARIA was unavailable.   This meant that all 7800 US games released had to be digitally signed by Atari. This digital signature code is not present in PAL 7800s, which use various heuristics to detect 2600 cartridges, due to export restrictions. The signing utility was found and released by Classic Gaming Expo in 2001.


Atari CX7800, two joystick ports on lower front panel. Side expansion port for upgrades and add-ons. Bundled accessories included two CX24 Pro-Line joysticks, AC adapter, switchbox, RCA connecting cable, and Pole Position II cartridge.

Atari CX7800, second revision. Slightly revised motherboard, added an additional timing circuit. Expansion port connector removed from motherboard but is still etched. Shell has indentation of where expansion port was to be.

Atari CX7800, third revision. Same as above but with only a small blemish on the shell where the expansion port was.


The Atari 7800 came bundled with the Atari Proline Joystick, a two button controller with a joystick for movement. In response to criticism over ergonomic issues in the 7800’s Pro-Line controllers, Atari later released joypad controllers with European 7800s, which were similar in style to controllers found on Nintendo and Sega Systems. The Joypad was not available in the United States.

Unlike the NES or Sega Master System, there were few add-on peripherals for the 7800, though its backwards compatibility feature allowed it to be compatible with most Atari 2600 peripherals.

The most notable exception was the XG-1 lightgun, which came bundled with the Atari XE Game System. The XG-1 was fully compatible with the 7800 and was sold separately for other Atari systems. Atari released four 7800 light gun games: Alien Brigade, Crossbow, Meltdown, and Barnyard Blaster.


Cancelled peripherals
Due to the acquisition of the Atari Consumer Division by Jack Tramiel in 1984, a number of planned peripherals for the system were cancelled.

The first behind the High Score Cartridge was designed to save player high scores for up to 65 separate games. The cartridge was intended as a pass-through device (similar to the later Game Genie). Nine games were programmed with the feature but the cartridge was cancelled before it was released.  

The 7800 included an expansion port which would have allowed for the addition of a planned computer keyboard, connection to laserdisc players and other peripherals. The expansion port was removed in the second and third revisions of the 7800.

While the 7800 can actually play hundreds of titles due to its compatibility with the Atari 2600, there was limited third party support for the 7800 and fewer than 100 titles were specifically designed for it.

Some unreleased games, as well as early versions of released games have been released to the public. A few have been manufactured and sold.  Including:

  • Klax (Blue Sky Software)
  • Gato (Ibid Software)
  • Missing in Action (Sculptured Software for TNT Games)
  • Pit-Fighter (Imagitec Design)
  • Rescue on Fractalus! (GCC)
  • Skyfox (originally shown on the back of the box)
  • Electrocop

Source code
The source code for 13 games, as well as the OS and development tools (for the Atari ST computer system) were discovered in a dumpster behind the Atari building in Sunnyvale, California. Commented assembly language source code was made available for Centipede, Commando, Crossbow, Desert Falcon, Dig Dug, Food Fight, Galaga, Hat Trick, Joust, Ms. Pac-Man, Super Stunt Cycle, Robotron: 2084 and Xevious game titles.



Atari XE Game System (1987)
Released by Atari in 1987 ($199), the Atari XE Game System (Atari XEGS) is a home video game console based on Atari’s 8-bit 65XE computer.  The XEGS is compatible with the existing Atari 8-bit computer software library and can additionally operate as either a stand-alone console or full computer with the addition of its specially designed keyboard.

It was packaged with the console and joystick, and as a deluxe set consisting of the console, keyboard, joystick and light gun.

It ran the MOS Technology 6502C CPU with 64k RAM and display of 384×240 utilising a 256 colour palette.  Its media was ROM cartridge based and the machine was discontinued in 1992 having sold between 1-2 million units, in its lifetime.


The XEGS followed the updated Atari 2600 and Atari 7800, building on Atari’s 8-bit computer line which had started with the Atari 400 and 800.  Although the XEGS was really a repackaged Atari 65XE, compatible with the existing range of Atari 8-bit computer software and peripherals, and thus could function as a home computer.  The system co-existed with the Atari 2600 Jr. and Atari 7800 on store shelves and was occasionally featured alongside those systems in Atari print ads and television commercials.



It shipped with the Atari 8-bit version of Missile Command built-in, Flight Simulator II bundled with the keyboard component and Bug Hunt which is compatible with the light gun.

As the XEGS is compatible with the earlier 8-bit software, many games released under the XEGS banner were simply older games rebadged. This was done to the extent that some games were shipped in the old Atari 400/800 packaging, bearing only a new sticker to indicate that they were also compatible with the XEGS.


The XEGS was released in a basic set and a deluxe set.  

The basic set

includes only the console and a standard CX40 joystick (albeit with a grey base to match the XEGS, rather than the original black).

The deluxe set
Consisted of the console, the CX40 joystick, a keyboard which enables home computer functionality, and the XG-1 light gun. The keyboard and light gun peripherals were also released separately outside North America.  This is the first light gun produced by Atari, and it is also compatible with the Atari 7800 and Atari 2600.

In addition, the XEGS can use the standard Atari 8-bit peripherals, allowing the use of devices such as disk drives, modems and printers.

Sources, and Wikipedia

 To be Continued..
Part 4 covering PC Engines, Genesis/Megadrive, Neo-Geo, SNES, C64GS, CDi and CDTV.

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