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Atari 800 Quandry


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Tonight I am left with a bit of a quandry. The past two days I have been playing with my working Atari 400 (have one that just comes up a black screen) and decided to dig out my 800. It works fine as always, but I also decided to dig out the 'parts' 800 I was given a few years back. The second 800 is missing several keys on the keyboard, and several of the remaining ones don't work. I had been keeping it as a parts machine because I thought the boards were flakey. (In fact, I scavenged the internal speaker from it when the one in my good 800 died.) I decided to clean and reseat the ROM and RAM boards before I put the unit away, never actually trying it again until tonight. Well, it appears to be working and stable! I can't remember how much RAM it has, but it seemed to boot up Atariwriter and Atari Artist OK. I know those programs flake if the RAM is too low and they won't work on my 400 with 16K. Now, I am left wondering if I should try to find an affordable keyboard and speaker for the second unit or just keep it for parts? I can't do eBay, so that's out for parts.

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There has been a resurgence of interest in Atari 8-bits of late. It's probably nostalgia driven. We are seeing a shortage of parts for the 800. The 1200XL's parts supply became scarce long ago and probably due to the fact that the production run was so short. B&C is down to its last few NOS 800 keyboards. Brad at Best seems still have a few pallets left and his asking price is ~$55 verses $79 from B&C. They will be Stack Poles (yellow plungers). Probably my least favorite 800 keyboard. Are your plungers white? If so, and has a rainbow colored ribbon cable, it is most likely a Hi Tek. The keys on a Mitsumi keyboard should not pop off, but that is usually the one that has many keys fail over time. The Mitsumi is rare and looks and feels like a 1200XL keyboard, also a Mitsumi. Anyway, the best mechanical keyboard is the Hi Tek, but it suffers from the dreaded spacebar failure usually brought on by too many enthusiast sessions of Defender. Players smack the spacbar (smart bomb) and that was a weak point of the Hi Tek. Other than that, they are excellent. The Stack Pole is also a mechanical keyboard, but it has a serious flaw. The yellow plungers were made too thin and over 30 years the corners crack, even if not used. NOS Stack Poles will likely have cracked plungers. AS to how much RAM you have, that's easy, unless you have some 3rd party board, just multiply the number of RAM boards by 16.

 

Bottomline: If you want a NOS 800 keyboard, get it soon as spares are getting scarce. Just ask anyone looking for a spare 1200XL keyboard.

Edited by ACML
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This one has the yellow plungers, which is probably why the keys are missing. I have run across several 800's with missing keys over the years and they usually have yellow plungers. My other 800 is an earlier version and I think it has the white plungers. Keyboard on it is 100%. Hmm, but $55 though? Figures I would get in at the tail end of things. Maybe I'll just make the unit into aprts fodder to keep my other 800 going.

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Yeah, for $55 plus shipping, you can get a good working 800 on Ebay. Keeping it as a parts machine is probably a good idea. The power board that has the large capacitors will potentially need to be repaired or replaced. Those wet electrolytic capacitors won't last forever. The fact that most still work after 30+ years is a testament to the quality parts Atari put into the 800 in 1979. Remember, the 800 retailed over $1,000 in 1979 and the Hi Tek keyboard was considered a nice quality keyboard.

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It seems that the electrolytics in lower power devices seem to last longer if they are good quality. The 800 is only taking in 9 volts to begin with. Heck, I even have some antique radios that are working on original parts under the chasis. It seems that if these items are used once in a while, they live longer rather than sitting. If I wasn't so horrible at removing and replacing soldered parts, I'd look for a kit to rebuilt the power supplies. The parts 800 would be a good candidate to try, though I don't want to foul it up as it does work well. My good 800 was apart tonight as part of the keyboard quit working. A cleaning of the pins and keyboard plug with cleaner remedied that. It definitely has the Hi Tek keyboard! Oh, one other issue: two of the RAM boards in my good 800 are bare without the cases and have a nasty habit of wiggling loose and causing the screen to scamble up! Doesn't seem to happen in the parts 800 and all the boards are caseless in it!

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Oh, one other issue: two of the RAM boards in my good 800 are bare without the cases and have a nasty habit of wiggling loose and causing the screen to scamble up! Doesn't seem to happen in the parts 800 and all the boards are caseless in it!

 

Both of my 800's have "caseless" RAM boards. The one that was 48K from the factory has a little plastic spacer widget that spans the RAM slot opening and holds the boards vertically and keeps them from wiggling. My other 800 was a 16K machine from the factory, later upgraded by a prior owner with a 32K aftermarket board. The 16K Atari board is also uncased, and there is no plastic widget to hold things upright. When I got it I had to re-seat the boards but I don't have a problem with them wiggling loose in ordinary usage.

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I don't mean to pry, but I just bought a new 800 keyboard from Best Electronics and Brad told me that he's 3/4 of the way through his last box, so if you need a NOS, now is the time.

 

Just an FYI to all.

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I don't mean to pry, but I just bought a new 800 keyboard from Best Electronics and Brad told me that he's 3/4 of the way through his last box, so if you need a NOS, now is the time.

 

Just an FYI to all.

I just bought one from Brad a couple months ago. It's the stackpole. I didn't check for cracked plungers, but I haven't had any problems with it so far. Key action is very smooth compared to my 800XL.

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Oh, one other issue: two of the RAM boards in my good 800 are bare without the cases and have a nasty habit of wiggling loose and causing the screen to scamble up! Doesn't seem to happen in the parts 800 and all the boards are caseless in it!

My 800 arrived with the RAM boards loose due to the missing spacer. This is my home made spacer using a paper towel tube.

 

post-24519-0-16840900-1433263906_thumb.jpg

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Got a reply, but I think they misunderstood me.. They said they would get me a total when I am ready to order. Well, that's the whole reason why I asked! I am ready to order! Did find out they take postal money orders, but that will probably push things back to next week now as our post offices here are only open fully five days a week and are mostly closed weekends. I'll send another request in or maybe just call Monday. I've got enough on my mind right now without confusion being caused... Including my Galaxian board set going MIA! :(

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