Atari 1200XL, what could have been but wasn't
Released in February 1983 at a price of $899, the Atari 1200XL is an 8-bit computer that did not live up to all expectations despite its elegant design with metallic touches. Not offering too many advantages over its predecessor models and the high price tag meant that the success of this model was not as good as expected. Here are some of the details.
Atari 1200XL computer features
- CPU: MOS 6502C at 1.79MHz
- Ram memory: 64Kb RAM
- 40×24 in text mode
- 320×192 in graphic mode
- 16 colours with 16 colour intensities
- Two controllers
- SIO port (serial)
- Storage: Optional cassette or floppy disk drive
- Operating system: Atari BASIC (on cartridge)
What the Atari 1200XL looks like
The Atari 1200XL was the update of the previous Atari 400 and Atari 800 computers from 1979, but now with a sleek, low-profile aluminium and smoked plastic case with matching accessories. It has a very sleek appearance, similar to that of the Texas Instruments TI-99/4a from the same period.
New system features include:
- Disable the keyboard so that the program runs without interruptions.
- Disables the video screen - the screen turns black, but the program runs ~25% faster.
- Change the character set to "international language". The keyboard "click" sound now uses the TV or monitor speaker, not an internal computer speaker.
- The cartridge port is moved to the left side for ease and "beautification".
- Diagnostic tests for memory, audio-visual and keyboard are incorporated.
- Graphics modes 12, 13, 14, 15 now available in BASIC.
- Very comfortable keyboard - "velvety soft touch".
- Fine text scrolling available.
However, the new Atari 1200XL actually offers very little improvement over the old Atari 400 and 800 systems. The 1200XL has basically the same CPU at the same speed, actually has fewer ports for accessories, and costs the same, if not more. There are no built-in programs (all programs have to be loaded from the cartridge, cassette tape or floppy disk drive) this includes BASIC, and any other programming language.
These limitations include:
- No system bus expansion port
- There are no standard parallel or RS-232 ports.
- BASIC programming cartridge not included.
- The SIO port lacks the 12vdc power supply, which was available on the Atari 400 and 800.
- An improved video circuit provided a more colourful image for the TV picture, but the separate "chroma" signal was not provided to the monitor port.
Atari had been working on a new and improved system to be known as the Atari 1000, with many new features and capabilities, but possibly financial or time constraints meant that these features were greatly reduced and they rushed to release this computer. This is why all the matching peripherals have designations starting with the number 1000 and not 1200, such as the 1010 cassette recorder, 1020 plotter, 1027 printer, 1030 modem and 1050 disk drive.
To make it cheaper and more reliable, the Atari 1200XL has a single motherboard on which all the necessary circuitry is incorporated, rather than several smaller boards as in the 400 and 800. The 1200XL was probably the last Atari computer manufactured in the U.S. Manufacturing eventually moved to cheaper plants overseas, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and others.
Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the system and the high price, the Atari 1200XL sold poorly, and did not make any impact. The Atari 1200XL was marketed primarily as a competitor to the Commodore 64the most popular computer of the time in the United States. As a result, some Atari advertisements mention the "C64" up to three or more times.
Atari 1200XL and its decline
Due to slow sales of the Atari 1200XL, in April 1983 the price was reduced to $695. By June 1983, the price had dropped to 599 dollars. By then, the price of the old Atari 400 was only $150, while the Atari 800 cost $165. Sales of these older systems reportedly increased as they were phased out.
Within eight months of its release, the Atari 1200XL was discontinued, and two new, cheaper systems were released: the 600XL ($199) and the 800XL ($299). These new systems, while looking similar to the 1200XL and correcting the 1200XL's flaws, were cheaper to build and much less expensive for the consumer. The 800XL would eventually become the best-selling model of Atari's entire line of 8-bit computers.
The new Atari 800XL now with a proper parallel port, built-in BASIC programming language, and much cheaper than the Atari 1200XL.
Atari peripherals are connected to Atari computers using the SIO port, this includes the cassette recorder, floppy drives and printers. There is only one SIO port on the computer, so all peripherals are connected in series, one after the other. The peripherals are "smart" and contain their own CPU.
Did you know that... When running the full diagnostic test on a 1200XL, the "keyboard test" would spell out the programmer's name - "Michael Colburn"? This was later removed on the 600XL and 800XL.