Atari 400

By Collin Graham
April 29, 2020

Atari 400

Atari 400 console with 5 cartridges and a controller.

Of course we have all heard of the company Atari, they used to make video games that our parents played back in the day. But did you know that, for a time, they also made personal computers? The Atari 400 is one such computer. It is a screenless personal computer that connected to a standard television and ran programs and video games off of cartridges (there’s no way Atari would stop you from playing your video games!) While it wasn’t extremely popular, it was an effective machine.

Statistics and Specifications

The Atari 400 was released in 1979 and was priced at $550 1 (which is about $1,700 in today's money). It originally shipped with 8KB of RAM, but soon started shipping with 16KB of RAM 2 , which means it was capable of running even more powerful programs. It had a very durable membrane keyboard and was mostly made out of durable plastic and metal. The keyboard was very similar to a standard keyboard you’d find today, but with a few keys missing and a couple of keys added. It also had 4 controller ports at the bottom of the device that allowed for up to 4 player inputs. The specifications of the machine definitely held up to other computers at the time.

Importance

The Atari 400 wasn’t very successful, even though it was a powerful computer at the time. They originally marketed it towards the family and business side of the industry and had even designed it to be quite childproof 3 . However, they found much more success selling the product to educational institutions, who were interested in the machine because of its relatively low price and decent power as compared to other machines at the time. Unfortunately, the device went on to be forgotten, but it still left an impact on the world of computing.

  1. Steven Stengel, "Atari 400," Steve's Old Computer Museum, http://oldcomputers.net/atari400.html.

  2. Curt Vendel,"The Atari 400 Computer System," Atari Museum, http://www.atarimuseum.com/computers/8BITS/400800/400/400.html.

  3. “Atari 400/800 - Atari Brings the Computer Age Home" ad - Stock Analysis and Space Invaders,” YouTube video, 0:30 , posted by “ScottithGames,” November 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7J-l1Rqc3vo.