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Oh boy, Space Invaders!
Introduced all the way back in October 1977, The Atari 2600 Video Computer System is one of the more fondly remembered video game consoles. For its time, the Atari 2600 was a breakthrough in entertainment technology and foreshadowed what would eventually become a multi-billion dollar industry. In this TechRepublic Cracking Open, we take a look at what made the Atari 2600 tick.
The Atari 2600 is held together with a set of Phillips head screws. Just about every hole on the back of the unit has a screw in it.
A couple of the screws even have washers.
An old friend
Look, it is our old friend the ribbon cable.
Here’s a question for the engineering crowd: When was the ribbon cable introduced?
Major part one
The circuit board holding the switches is mostly nondescript in terms of notable features. The silver box in the right corner houses the circuitry that creates our standard video/audio RF signal.
Not much to see in the plastic housing. One note of speculation that might warrant discussion though.
John Sheesley of the Classics Rock blog wondered if the two three-pronged housings were designed to hold speakers? It certainly appears that they could and there are slits in the top of the case which fit the pattern of allowing sound to emanate from the unit. Did future versions of the Atari console have speakers?
We haven’t really seen much in the way of chips yet. The must all be housed in this cocoon of metal.
We have circuit board
The metal box opens to reveal the underside of a circuit board.
It is very odd to see a single piece of paper taped to the underside of a circuit board. Again, I am wondering if this perhaps a serial number?
The metal case reminds me of the leaking oil pan from my first car — a 1972 Chevy Nova Coupe, orange with white pin stripes. But I digress…
Here is where it happens
Here is the main circuit board of our Atari 2600.
Sound and video
Using the technical information found at ClassicGaming as a reference, the circled chip should be part of the sub-system where sound and video get processed along with interaction with the paddles and joystick ports.
This chip has Atari’s logo and is part of the sub-system that processes the interface interaction with the switches and the game cartridge. This chips also houses 128 bytes of RAM. That is BYTES not kilobytes.
The game cartridge has taken some abuse over the years it appears.
A close look at the input/output chip.
Here is a closer look at the CPU. Also take note of the handwritten 3. Is that room for another chip?
The joystick ports and the power adapter plug.
The pins on this ribbon cable are very fragile and I bent a few during the cracking open. Luckily the pins went back in place with minimal effort.
The orange piece pictured here adjusts the gain on the sound output — at least as far as I can tell. If you have a better idea, please share it.
The output from the Atari 2600 is your basic radio frequency signal carried along a wire via RCA connections. The tunning is set for channel 3 on a standard television. Apparently, that channel can be fined tuned, perhaps even changed to a different channel. In later models, Atari allowed the user to choose between channel 3 or 4.
All to pieces
The Atari 2600 in all its Cracked Open Glory.
I never owned one of these consoles — I was an Intellivision II man (George Plimpton convinced me it was better). Do you still play your Atari 2600?