Saturday, October 24, 2009

What’s the difference between an Atari 7800 and a 2600?

No, the answer is not 5200 (although there’s something in that for all of us). Or 42, for that matter.

Proving that Dingoo-ing is educational, until 5 seconds and however long it took to type this post, I never realised that the Atari 7800 was in fact Atari’s attempt to compete with the NES. I always thought it was just a 2600 in a different case, which according to Wikipedia, is not an uncommon perception:

A view held by some was that the 7800 was essentially a souped up 2600. Even in an interview, Leonard Tramiel supported this viewpoint, stating "the 7800 is essentially a 2600 with some things put into hardware that were done in software on the 2600."[3] While this view is shared by many, the 7800 is different from the 2600 in several important areas. It features a full 6502c processor whereas the 2600 VCS has a stripped down 6507 processor which runs at a slower speed. It has additional RAM (Random Access Memory) and the ability to access more cartridge data at one time than the 2600. The most substantial difference, however, is its entirely different graphics architecture which differs markedly from either the Atari 2600 VCS or Atari’s 8-bit line of computers.

The 7800 ran all 2600 carts, and there were only about 60 native games made for it, which might explain the misconception. In truth, the 7800 was capable of much better GFX. Compare this (7800 native):


With this (2600):


Wikipedia also says:

Perhaps the most interesting recent development was the creation of the Cuttle Cart II, a device that allowed the Atari 7800 to read MMC cards containing binary files of Atari 7800 programs. The Cuttle Cart II has enabled more people to play the entire 2600 and 7800 library on an original system as well as binaries of unreleased games and new homebrew titles. The Cuttle Cart II was a success by homebrew standards, selling out both production runs and commanding high prices on Ebay.

So that makes your Dingoo a Cuttle Cart II emulator as well? Other interesting nuggets:

An expansion interface on the side of the 7800 would've allowed for a Laserdisc player to connect to the 7800 to play Laserdisc games like Dragon's Lair.

Whoa! 7800 Dragon’s Lair. That would have cost, oh, $5,000 or some such, back in the day?! But at least the 7800 wasn’t a failure, and arguably, by the metrics that many will say matter the most, was a success:

The Atari 7800 distantly trailed the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of units sold but was a profitable enterprise for Atari Corp., coasting largely on Atari’s name and its 2600 compatibility. Profits were strong, due to low investment in game development and marketing. However, Atari’s marketing of the 7800 helped to further tarnish their reputation, ultimately leading to their continuous decline with subsequent systems such as the Jaguar and Lynx.

Which brings me back to my original misconception: Atari might have done even better putting the 2600 into a new case, and leaving it at that:)!

Update 26 Oct 09: Thanks to anonymous (below), look here: for details of the "Atari Jr"!


  1. great post!

    The History of Atari (as well as the video games) is very interesting, I recommend not watching a documentary of discovery
    "The rise of the Video Games"

  2. "Atari might have done even better putting the 2600 into a new case..."

    They did. Google for "2600 Jr."

  3. I actually still have a 2600 Jr. sitting around, along with pretty much every 2600 cartridge ever made-- Even the "X-rated" ones.

    Fun fact: The entire library of Atari 2600 VCS games totals less than 3.4 MB of data. It makes you wonder why Atari never released a "Atari Flashback" console that featured *every* game on it. It's not like the storage space is an issue! Instead, they released Flashback consoles with a handful of games. Weird.

    1. Yes but if they released one Atari Flashback console with all the games on it they wouldn't make as much money instead they get to sell you the same console numerous times over.

  4. In my childhood I had a Atari 2600, was so funny spend all that hours played, inclusive I remember that after a few time my father bought me a Atari 7800 that was twice fun for me.