The The Atari 7800 ProSystem, more commonly known as the Atari 7800, was the successor to the unsuccessful Atari 5200.
The system was originally released in California in June 1984 however Atari’s Consumer Division was sold to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel just a few weeks later, and he wanted to focus on Ataris computer line rather than a new console. As a result, the console was dropped. In development the 7800 was known as the Atari 3600 and the Atari CX-9000 Video Computer System. It then went into production as the Atari CX7800.
The 7800 literally sat in warehouses for a year and a half. Due to the Atari 2600 selling well at Christmas in 1985, the 7800 was officially re-released in January 1986. Originally the 7800 was designed as a worthy replacement for the 2600 including backwards capability to play 2600 games, something which the 5200 couldn’t do (though an adaptor was later released). However, in 1986 it’s main rivals were the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System.
The console was marketed with a budget of just a few hundred thousand dollars, compared to the millions which were being spent by Nintendo and Sega at the time. Atari only managed to control about 10% of the market, similar to Segas share, with Nintendo dominating the rest. Though due to the low advertising budget, the console made Atari a lot of money.
The console had a sleek black design with a strip along the bottom containing the power, pause, select and reset buttons.
In Europe, the console came with two gamepads which were similar to the ones which came with the NES and the Master System. There was a hole in the middle of the D-Pad to allow a small joystick to be inserted. Unfortunately, gamers in North America had to put up with a poor joystick which had a button attached to the top of either side of the controller. They proved to be very unpopular amongst 7800 users.
The 7800 only had about 60 games released for the quality was pretty high. There were very few games which were exclusive to the console, most of them were good arcade ports of games which had already been released on other systems.
The console is a favourite with many retro gamers since it is easy to collect all games and it can play around a thousand games from the 2600 library too.
This was the first console which Atari did not design themselves, being designed by an arcade modification company called General Computer Corporation (GCC)
The 7800 used a MOS Technology 6502 CPU, which was clocked at 1.79 MHz. Interestingly, the clock speed is reduced to 1.19 MHz when playing Atari 2600 games. It had 4kb of RAM and 52kb of ROM (4kb set aside for the BIOS and 48kb available to load games).
Graphics were powered by the MARIA chip. This allowed developers to use 25 colours on the screen at any one time, from a palette of 256. Most games were displayed on a resolution of 160×240 pixels (160×288 for PAL) though it was possible for game designers to develop games at a resolution of 320×240 pixels (320×288 for PAL). This would have made the resolution larger than that of Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System.
The sound on the 7800 was pretty poor, matching the capabilities of the 2600 which was released in 1977. Atari allowed developers to include a POKEY audio chip in cartridges in order to improve sound but no developer ever did so.
The system had 2 ports for controllers and one expansion port.
GCC had a list of peripherals and expansions Originally planned for the system but they never materialised. Some of the proposed add ons were:
- Keyboard: The keyboard add on would have let users run computer programs and connect to all peripherals from the Atari computer series.
- High Score Cartridge: The high school cartridge would have allowed users to save scores from over 65 games.
- LaserDisc: The LaserDisc expansion would have allowed users to play LaserDisc movies and games.
- Double Joystick: A double joystick was planned to use with games such as BattleZone.
The 7800 did work with the Atari XG-1 light gun though, with 5 games were released for it: Alien Brigade, Barnyard Blaster, Crossbow, Meltdown and Sentinel. The gun wasn’t as accurate as the NES Zapper or Master System Light Phaser.
In total 60 games were officially released for the Atari 7800.
32 in 1
Ace of Aces
Dig Dug Namco
Donkey Kong Junior
Mat Mania Challenge
Mean 18 Ultimate Golf
Pete Rose Baseball
Planet Smashers Atari
Pole Position II
Rampage Bally Midway
Title Match Pro Wrestling
Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator
Many homebrew games have been designed since the 7800 got discontinued. Incomplete games which were not released have also been sold too. Below is a list of some of these games:
A commercial for the 7800 from the 80s.
Don Nauert, Captain of the U.S. Video Game Team, tells you why he plays the Atari 7800.
A good review of the Atari 7800 ProSystem.
A retrospective review of the Atari 7800 console.
Console Wars of the Past 2.42 – Atari 7800
A review of the 7800 joystick.
Great review of the 7800 gamepad.