(Note: I also describe this machine in a YouTube video (now in HD!))
In 1977 Atari was flying high with its 2600 game console, a (way distant) forerunner of the Playstations and Xboxes of today. However the rise of the personal computer, as flagged by the Commodore Pet, TRS-80 Model 1 and the Apple II, didn't go unnoticed by the company. Atari recognised, rightly, that while these gadgets in the home could be useful for balancing chequebooks, keeping recipes or perhaps writing the odd letter (assuming you could afford a printer back then), one of the big uses was going to be computer games. As they were masters of the computer game business, a cunning plan was devised; Why not build two related computers? One could take on the Apple II, but also plug and play cool cartridge games (the Atari 800). The other, a cheaper model, could be marketed as a games machine but could also masquerade as a real computer (with a kid-proof keyboard) if needs be (the Atari 400).
It was a brilliant move, and at the end of 1978 both units were released into an enthusiastic marketplace. Atari was up and running as a personal computer company!
In New Zealand these machines are RARE, although they were sold here in the early 1980s. When I first got hold of this one it was dirty, neglected and untested. I was sure it wouldn't go and was fully expecting to have to repair and restore it like many of my other units. Imagine my surprise when I plugged it in and it went first time! An even greater shock awaited me when I tried the membrane keyboard. Every key worked! They are obviously rugged little beasts, these 400s. In saying that, it's misbehaved once during its time with me, requiring some intervention.
The BASIC cartridge was the only thing that accompanied this one but since acquisition I've amassed lots of Atari gear so it's well-stocked. Here it can be seen playing Asteroids.
My impressions of the Atari 400 are very favourable. It would have been so cool to own one of these in the day. Solidly built, a long RF cable to bring it well back from the home television, clear video, good sound (for 1978-1980) and oh, so retro-looking with it's beige futuristic case.
How can you not love it!
This page last edited 24th July, 2015