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Why isn't the 130XE the dominant Atari 8bit?


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2 hours ago, Beeblebrox said:

Thankfully decades later the 800's expansion card slots are now being used to great effect with all the ram upgrades as well as of course incognito and now VBXE. I love my 800.

 

I have recently reacquired an 800 after losing my original to keyboard damage and stupidity over 35 years ago, and I'm really looking forward to upgrading it with an Incognito and a Super Color CPU Card and maybe a VBXE eventually.

 

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The 130XE offered a reiteration of the 1979's tech with double memory, very sleek, but still impractical case, and a mediocre keyboard.

 

Could sell well for sure, but no reason to be a "leading 8-bit computer". Where are 8 sprites and 80-column native text mode? In the 16-bit line!

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10 hours ago, baktra said:

The 130XE offered a reiteration of the 1979's tech with double memory, very sleek, but still impractical case, and a mediocre keyboard.

 

Could sell well for sure, but no reason to be a "leading 8-bit computer". Where are 8 sprites and 80-column native text mode? In the 16-bit line!

I think he meant leading Atari 8-bit, not of all 8-bit computers.

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On 11/3/2023 at 1:35 PM, Beeblebrox said:

Thankfully decades later the 800's expansion card slots are now being used to great effect with all the ram upgrades as well as of course incognito and now VBXE. I love my 800.

Yes, I would like to get an 800 to have.  That and/or a 130XE, but my urges are mostly satisfied using emulation these days!! :D

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On 11/1/2023 at 8:58 AM, reifsnyderb said:

My thought is to imagine it's the 1980's.  You already have an Atari 800 or 800XL.  Maybe you have a 600XL that was upgraded to 64k.  Why do you need to buy an Atari 130XE?  Is the extra memory more important than the tradeoff of the bad keyboard and ridiculous location for the cartridge port?  Most likely, the answer is no.  Most Atari software, in the 1980's, would run on a 48k machine anyhow.

 

By the time the 130XE came out I was already sporting an 800XL with 256K, so the 130 didn't bring anything extra to the table.

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Just an interesting observation, and I know it was a very different time with different factors at play, but the core chipset for the 8bit Atari line remained more or less unchanged from 1979 to 1994. 6502, Antic, Gtia, Pokey - the core chips for the brain, visuals and sound of the Atari line we're the same for 15 years. Memory size and other hardware (eg pbi) for the Atari 8bit line progressed, but these chips remained constant. (I know we had ctia breifly before gtia, but you get the gist). 

 

I know Atari wanted to keep compatibility with the back catalogue/library of software, and again it was a very different time with the computer industy a very different thing, plus of course financial reasons, but nevertheless it's quite interesting. 

 

I know you can't directly relate this to the modern day but that's rather like Sony bringing out the PlayStation 1 and then all the following PlayStation models where the core chipset remained the same. 

 

So really if you owed an 800xl bitd and it was possible to upgrade the ram, then the 130xe wasn't worth investing in if all it offered was extra ram. You were getting an improved graphics chipset which was backwards compatible with the earlier machines. 

(I know it's not as simple as this). 

 

It's a pity as the years passed and Atari released new models of A8, that they didn't improve on the graphics chipset, for example. 

 

The maria graphics chip in the 7800 being incorporated into the Xegs might have been interesting. Or a more advanced one. 

 

I know a lot was down to money and the lack of foresight from the Trammels. 

 

 

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15 hours ago, Beeblebrox said:

So really if you owed an 800xl bitd and it was possible to upgrade the ram, then the 130xe wasn't worth investing in if all it offered was extra ram. You were getting an improved graphics chipset which was backwards compatible with the earlier machines. 

(I know it's not as simple as this). 

 

It's a pity as the years passed and Atari released new models of A8, that they didn't improve on the graphics chipset, for example. 

 

The maria graphics chip in the 7800 being incorporated into the Xegs might have been interesting. Or a more advanced one. 

 

I know a lot was down to money and the lack of foresight from the Trammels. 

A lot of us were annoyed at Atari BITD for not offering any sorts of graphical upgrades.

 

But in retrospect, I think they were right not to.   History shows that enhanced features rarely get used by developers, who prefer maximum compatibility to increase sales.     Commodore built some extras into  their C-128, but doesn't seem like there's a big software library for that (compared to C64 mode).    Apple IIgs was doing interesting things with graphics/sounds and enhanced CPU, but it too is kind of a footnote in the Apple II legacy.    All three companies were in the position that they had 16-bit systems to sell, so they couldn't enhance their 8-bit line too much.

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1 hour ago, zzip said:

A lot of us were annoyed at Atari BITD for not offering any sorts of graphical upgrades.

 

But in retrospect, I think they were right not to.   History shows that enhanced features rarely get used by developers, who prefer maximum compatibility to increase sales.     Commodore built some extras into  their C-128, but doesn't seem like there's a big software library for that (compared to C64 mode).    Apple IIgs was doing interesting things with graphics/sounds and enhanced CPU, but it too is kind of a footnote in the Apple II legacy.    All three companies were in the position that they had 16-bit systems to sell, so they couldn't enhance their 8-bit line too much.

Sure. I understand towards the end, with a shift towards the 16bit models. I was probably just thinking of smaller changes within the 8bit line. So the XE line or xegs having an enhanced graphics chipset more in line with the 7800's Maria chip, whislt still maintaining backwards compatibility with the XL software backcatalogue at least. 

 

I appreciate it was a different time and perhaps such backwards compatibility would have been very tricky. Plus the financial aspects and their limited, if non existent, development budgets. 

 

Thing is the 7800 maintained backwards compatibility with the 2600 back catalogue of games. 

 

Anyways, in some respects decades later I do love the fact all my XL and XE machines are all on an equal par in this respect. Also I really get a buzz seeing what can be squeezed out of this amazing 1979 chipset. Doom engines, etc. Amazing. 

Edited by Beeblebrox
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42 minutes ago, Beeblebrox said:

Sure. I understand towards the end, with a shift towards the 16bit models. I was probably just thinking of smaller changes within the 8bit line. So the XE line or xegs having an enhanced graphics chipset more in line with the 7800's Maria chip, whislt still maintaining backwards compatibility with the XL software backcatalogue at least. 

 

I appreciate it was a different time and perhaps such backwards compatibility would have been very tricky. Plus the financial aspects and their limited, if non existent, development budgets. 

 

Thing is the 7800 maintained backwards compatibility with the 2600 back catalogue of games. 

I definitely wanted that at the time,  but seeing the failure of other enhanced 8-bits just makes me think it wouldn't have been worth it..

 

Although, I suppose you could think of the PC platform an 8-bit design that got continually enhanced.

 

Perhaps one way it could have happened is if Atari's 16-bit initiative was built around the 65816 rather than ST.  That could have maintained backwards compatibility while moving the platform into the 16-bit world, like the Apple IIgs tried to do (without being crippled by the Mac part of the company).    But that was never going to happen because the ST was already being designed before Tramiel took over Atari, and the 65816 was kind of late to the party.   

Edited by zzip
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Technological progress at that time was so fast that you needed to be quick to make upgrades competitive with newer systems. The PBI bus and the 1090 are some hints that Atari wasn't completely opposed to "improvements" but the natural development team for a downward compatible upgrade for the graphics system had departed to build the Amiga and whatever technological future the 8-bits might have had was lost to savings pressure after the Tramiel takeover. I always thought that it would have been a clever move to at least make downward compatible BASIC XL or XE the standard but that probably would have been too expensive if you're after cents. 

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21 hours ago, Beeblebrox said:

Just an interesting observation, and I know it was a very different time with different factors at play, but the core chipset for the 8bit Atari line remained more or less unchanged from 1979 to 1994. 6502, Antic, Gtia, Pokey - the core chips for the brain, visuals and sound of the Atari line we're the same for 15 years. Memory size and other hardware (eg pbi) for the Atari 8bit line progressed, but these chips remained constant. (I know we had ctia briefly before gtia, but you get the gist). 

The only time when Atari could have done something interesting would have been if they had gone forward with a premium system like the 1400XL.

 

In my alternate timeline, they came out with the 600XL and 800XL as-is a year earlier, with no 1200XL first.  Then the 1200XL came out a year after the 800XL with 128K, four joystick ports (dual PIA or a different trick for accessing memory), dual Pokey for stereo sound, and a more advanced graphics chip with an alternate mode for player/missile graphics to instead render multi-color sprites.  I'm sure we all have different wish lists, but the point would be a high-end machine with features to make people want to pay a premium to upgrade.  Oh, and also in my alternate timeline, Atari wouldn't have worried about advanced 8-bit features detracting from the ST line, and we would have had a 3.5" drive.

 

Atari was right that compatibility was critical, as they learned when the 1200XL was berated for OS issues.  So any update would have had to be done in a way that kept support for the old versions.  So if you put in a new sound chip, you have to also keep Pokey and have both.

 

The trick for software is to have it detect whether the new features exist and support two modes.  I can imagine software advertised as "1400XL-enhanced" or "Stereo sound where supported."  Boxes with screenshots might say, "1400XL graphics pictured."

 

If only.

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I honestly think both the 8bit line and ST line failed because of bad sales operations.  The 8 bit line could have probably been more successful with a better distribution network and a better version of 80 columns than the XEP-80.  128k was nice.  The ST was the right machine at the right price and the Amiga and Mac software really had nothing on the STs software till much later in the cycle, somewhere around 90 the Amigas mainstream software took a leap forward in terms of complexity and power (not including the niche video stuff, where the Amiga always had an edge), but the ST had better compatibility with IBM desktops (you could do cross platform spreadsheets for example on the same disk)...  They just had horrible distribution, at least in North America.  The ST could have achieved a signficant lead in machines sold and then they would have stay relevant longer and the ST lines upgrades could have been funded sooner...

 

All 8 bits were dying out by 90ish I'm not sure what could have been done to go further, I don't know enough about the IIgs to know if that was a possible route.  

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46 minutes ago, Atari8guy said:

All 8 bits were dying out by 90ish I'm not sure what could have been done to go further, I don't know enough about the IIgs to know if that was a possible route.  

That's true.  I think most of the what-ifs are not so much about extending the commercial life of the platforms, but about what would have make the platform more successful during its life and have left us with an even cooler system for retrocomputing today.  And the more successful it was back in its prime, the larger our community would be today.

 

We still have a pretty awesome system and community, though!

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Actually what probably made most of the failures for Atari in the market, was Jack Tramiel.  First with his price wars when he was at Commodore, then with the short sighted things he did while at Atari, which included the marketing and distribution.  The Amiga would have stayed at Atari, and maybe become a combination of features from the ST and Amiga.  With both Midi and Video editing, it would have made more impact in the market.  The 8-bit line was kinda screwed as soon as the C64 price wars started, and Commodore owning MOS probably didn't help.

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16 hours ago, Atari8guy said:

All 8 bits were dying out by 90ish I'm not sure what could have been done to go further, I don't know enough about the IIgs to know if that was a possible route.  

I think any 8-bit system with enough of a userbase (and therefore money)  could have evolved the way the PC architecture did.    The IIgs was a step in that direction,  I've read that IIgs CPU was deliberately capped at 2.8mhz to keep it from competing with Mac.   Seems like a full speed 65816 could have been up there in performance with the ST and Amiga 

 

Problem was the 65816 came late,   it was too new and unproven when 16-bit designs were already being done around the 68000 architecture

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23 hours ago, Beeblebrox said:

Sure. I understand towards the end, with a shift towards the 16bit models. I was probably just thinking of smaller changes within the 8bit line. So the XE line or xegs having an enhanced graphics chipset more in line with the 7800's Maria chip, whislt still maintaining backwards compatibility with the XL software backcatalogue at least. 

 

I appreciate it was a different time and perhaps such backwards compatibility would have been very tricky. Plus the financial aspects and their limited, if non existent, development budgets. 

 

Thing is the 7800 maintained backwards compatibility with the 2600 back catalogue of games. 

 

Anyways, in some respects decades later I do love the fact all my XL and XE machines are all on an equal par in this respect. Also I really get a buzz seeing what can be squeezed out of this amazing 1979 chipset. Doom engines, etc. Amazing. 

 

Endorsing this view. The fact that Atari didn't fundamentally change the arch of the 8bits all that time is its saving grace in this era.

 

People can meaningfully participate with an 800 or XEGS- not hard to make it work with 99% of the software and hardware.

 

 

Again, compare this to the 128 and the Plus line for Commodre- real failures (financially) and they just fracture the community. They added no value to the core C64 arch FWIW.

 

 

If you want the next gen Atari 8bit the answer is right there: grab an Amiga 1000 and you are set.

 

 

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14 hours ago, wildstar87 said:

Actually what probably made most of the failures for Atari in the market, was Jack Tramiel.  First with his price wars when he was at Commodore, then with the short sighted things he did while at Atari, which included the marketing and distribution.  The Amiga would have stayed at Atari, and maybe become a combination of features from the ST and Amiga.  With both Midi and Video editing, it would have made more impact in the market.  The 8-bit line was kinda screwed as soon as the C64 price wars started, and Commodore owning MOS probably didn't help.

Regarding Jack Tramiel, while he did some things that certainly seemed short sighted, at the time Atari was in a financial tailspin and he managed to keep Atari afloat much longer than it had any right to be. Still, the Commodore 64 price wars did not help.

1 hour ago, zzip said:

I think any 8-bit system with enough of a userbase (and therefore money)  could have evolved the way the PC architecture did.    The IIgs was a step in that direction,  I've read that IIgs CPU was deliberately capped at 2.8mhz to keep it from competing with Mac.   Seems like a full speed 65816 could have been up there in performance with the ST and Amiga 

 

Problem was the 65816 came late,   it was too new and unproven when 16-bit designs were already being done around the 68000 architecture

I think that the 65816 had potential. Plenty of people already knew how to program and get the most out of the venerable 6502 so having the 65816 as the processor of your next generation computer could be a logical choice. Of course, the cpu speed cap to avoid competing with the Mac crippled the machine and it was crippled even further with lackluster marketing (again, because of the Mac).

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 10/28/2023 at 1:35 AM, chevymad said:

Have to laugh, when I saw the title my first thought was because the 130xe is the ugliest Atari and I wouldn't own one just because of that. Then I click on the thread and very first comment says it's the best looking!  It's all personal taste, but I think the XL"s are some great looking computers.  Chocolate, cream and chrome definitely not appliance white. 


The XE isn't appliance white. It's grey. The XE and ST were really nice looking machines, unlike the Commodore systems (the breadbin was always ugly, and the Amiga was ridiculously large and not a great choice of colour). I never cared for the 800XL either. I've tried to like the way the XL looks, but I can't warm to its the brown and cream, nor do I like its styling. But it's all personal taste, like you say.

Edited by Mercenary
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On 11/7/2023 at 11:03 PM, Atari8guy said:

I honestly think both the 8bit line and ST line failed because of bad sales operations.  The 8 bit line could have probably been more successful with a better distribution network and a better version of 80 columns than the XEP-80.  128k was nice.  The ST was the right machine at the right price and the Amiga and Mac software really had nothing on the STs software till much later in the cycle, somewhere around 90 the Amigas mainstream software took a leap forward in terms of complexity and power (not including the niche video stuff, where the Amiga always had an edge), but the ST had better compatibility with IBM desktops (you could do cross platform spreadsheets for example on the same disk)...  They just had horrible distribution, at least in North America.  The ST could have achieved a signficant lead in machines sold and then they would have stay relevant longer and the ST lines upgrades could have been funded sooner...

 

All 8 bits were dying out by 90ish I'm not sure what could have been done to go further, I don't know enough about the IIgs to know if that was a possible route.  

 I never saw the ST as a failure. At least it wasn't in the UK. The ST, along with the Amiga, were a big deal in the mid to late 80s. It should've done better on the other side of the pond though. Atari certainly dropped the ball from the mid 80s onwards.

Edited by Mercenary
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Moving to the 65816 would kill a lot of the existing software, as use of undocumented 6502 opcodes was widespread.  I've been thinking it would be interesting to have an emulator report for each program it runs a list of observations, including whether it uses undocumented opcodes.  You might be able to determine this with disassembly, but that's tricky, as it would have to be smart enough to detect when branches are unconditional and not try to disassemble past them (i.e., when the status flag it checks is always in the same state so the branch always happens).

 

I don't know that anyone has done a survey like that of which programs break.  Whether they used them or not, I expect pretty much all serious assembly programmers were at least aware of opcodes like LAX.

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