Atari 5200

Atari 5200
Atari 5200
Atari 5200 system and controller
Manufacturer Atari Inc.
Generation Second generation
Retail availability November 1982 (United States/Canada)
Discontinued May 1984
Media ROM cartridge
CPU MOS 6502C @ 1.79 MHz
Controller input Joystick
Predecessor Atari 2600
Successor Atari 7800
Atari 5200 system with controller, game cartridges and packaging

The Atari 5200 SuperSystem, commonly known as the Atari 5200, is a video game console that was introduced in 1982 by Atari Inc. as a higher end complementary console for the popular Atari 2600.[1] The 5200 was created to compete with the Intellivision, but wound up more directly competing with the ColecoVision shortly after its release.[2]

The 5200 was based on Atari Inc.'s existing 400/800 computers and the internal hardware was almost identical, although software was not directly compatible between the two systems. The 5200's controllers feature an analog joystick and a numeric keypad along with start, pause and reset buttons. The 360-degree non-centering joystick was touted as offering more control than the four-position joystick controller offered with the Atari 2600.



Much of the technology in the Atari 8-bit family of home computer systems were originally developed as a second-generation games console intended to replace the 2600. However, as the system was reaching completion, the personal computer revolution was starting with the release of machines like the Commodore PET, TRS-80 and Apple II. These machines were similar in technological terms to the 2600, but sold for much higher prices with associated higher profit margins. Atari's management decided to enter this market, and the new technology was repackaged into the Atari 400 and 800, hitting the market in 1979.

In the early 1980s a second wave of games consoles came to market, notably the Intellivision and numerous other announcements and releases. Being behind the technological curve was not entirely surprising; the chipset used in the 400 and 800 was designed because they were aware the 2600 would be obsolete by the 1980 time frame. What was surprising was the sudden entry into the market of new competition, whose machines quickly cut off the sales of the 2600. Atari decided to re-enter the games market with a design that closely matched their original 1978 specifications. In its prototype stage, the Atari 5200 was originally called the "Atari Video System X - Advanced Video Computer System", and was codenamed "Pam" after a female employee at Atari Inc. It is also rumored that PAM actually stood for "Personal Arcade Machine", as the majority of games for the system ended up being arcade conversions. Actual working Atari Video System X machines, whose hardware is 100% identical to the Atari 5200 do exist, but they are extremely rare.[3]

The initial 1982 release of the system featured four controller ports, where nearly all other systems of the day had only two ports. The 5200 also featured a revolutionary new controller with an analog joystick, numeric keypad, two fire buttons on each side of the controller and game function keys for Start, Pause, and Reset. The 5200 also featured the innovation of the first automatic TV switchbox, allowing it to automatically switch from regular TV viewing to the game system signal when the system was activated. Previous RF adapters required the user to slide a switch on the adapter by hand. This unique RF box was also where the power supply connected in a unique dual power/television signal setup similar to the RCA Studio II's. A single cable coming out of the 5200 plugged into the switch box and was used for both electricity and the television signal.

The 1983 revision of the Atari 5200 has two controller ports instead of four, and a change back to the more conventional separate power supply and standard non-autoswitching RF switch. It also has changes in the cartridge port address lines to allow for the Atari 2600 adapter released that year. While the adapter was only made to work on the two-port version, modifications can be made to the four-port to make it line-compatible. In fact, towards the end of the four-port model's production run, there were a limited number of consoles produced which included these modifications. These consoles can be identified by an asterisk in their serial number.


The Atari 5200 controller

The controller prototypes used in the electrical development lab used a yoke and gimbal mechanism that came from an RC airplane controller kit. This simple design gave very nice smooth linear control and was highly reliable. The production controllers were quite different and a great disappointment to the electrical and software development teams. The design of the analog joystick, which used a weak rubber boot rather than springs to provide centering, proved to be ungainly and unreliable. They quickly became the Achilles' heel of the system because of their combination of an overly complex mechanical design with a very low-cost internal flex circuit system.[4] Another major flaw of the controllers was that the design did not translate into a linear acceleration from the center through the arc of the stick travel. The controllers did, however, include a pause button, a unique feature at the time. Various third party replacement joysticks were also released, including those made by Wico.

Atari Inc. released the Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller for the system, which was used primarily for gaming titles such as Centipede or Missile Command. A paddle controller[5] and an updated self-centering version of the original controller[6] were also in development, but never made it to market.

The primary controller was ranked the 10th worst video game controller by IGN editor Craig Harris.[7]

Internal differences between the 5200 and the 400/800

Although the Atari 5200's internal design was extensively based on that of the 400/800 home computers, the differences were sufficient that games designed for one would not run directly on the other.

One of the most obvious differences was the 5200's lack of a keyboard. However, there were several others:

  • The 400/800's 10 KB operating system was replaced with a simpler 2 KB BIOS, of which 1 KB is the built-in character set.[8]
  • A number of important registers, such as those of the GTIA and POKEY chips appear at different memory locations.[8]
  • The purpose of some registers changed slightly on the 5200.[8]
  • The 5200's analog joysticks required different input handling to the traditional digital joystick input on the 400/800. (However, the 5200 reassigned/rewired two of the 400/800's existing analog paddle registers for each bi-directional analog joystick input).[8]

Atari Corp.'s later XE Games System revisited the idea of a console based on the 400/800 hardware. However, as this was essentially just a 65XE computer with a detachable keyboard, it was able to run most of the home computer titles directly.

Market Performance

The Atari 5200 did not fare well commercially, compared to its predecessor, the Atari 2600.[9] While it touted superior graphics to the 2600 and Mattel's Intellivision, the system was initially incompatible with the 2600's expansive library of games, and there is speculation that this hurt sales[10] especially since an Atari 2600 cartridge adapter had been released for the Intellivision. (A revised 2-port model was released in 1983, along with a game adapter that allowed gamers to play all 2600 games.) The console's technical abilities became even less of an advantage once the more powerful Colecovision was released,[11] and the 5200's pack-in game, Super-Breakout, was criticized for not doing enough to demonstrate the graphics and sound capabilities of the console, as compared to the Colecovision's pack-in game Donkey Kong.[citation needed]

During its lifetime, Atari paid relatively little attention to the 5200, instead dedicating most of its resources to continuing to develop games for the saturated Atari 2600 market.[12] As a result, the 5200 had a comparatively small library of games, many of which were simply updated versions of Atari 2600 titles, which in turn failed to excite consumers.[13] Likewise, the 5200's non-centering analog controllers received much criticism for their "sloppy" design.[14]

At one point following the 5200's release, Atari had planned a smaller, cost-reduced version of the Atari 5200, which would have removed the controller storage bin. Code-named the "Atari 5100" (a.k.a. "Atari 5200 Jr."), only a few fully working prototype 5100s were made before the project was canceled.[15]

On May 21, 1984, during a press conference at which the Atari 7800 was introduced, company executives revealed that the 5200 had been discontinued after just two years on the market.[16] Total sales of the 5200 were reportedly in excess of 1 million units.[17]

Technical specifications

  • CPU: Custom MOS 6502C @ 1.79 MHz (not a 65C02).
  • Support Hardware: 2 custom VLSI chips
  • Maximum Screen Resolution: 320×192 resolution, 16 (out of 256) on-screen colors per scan line. Palette can be changed at every scan line using ANTIC display list interrupts, allowing all 256 colors to be displayed at once.
  • Graphics: ANTIC and GTIA
  • Sound: 4-channel sound via the POKEY chip which also handles keyboard scanning, serial I/O, high resolution interrupt capable timers (single cycle accurate), and random number generation.
  • RAM: 16 KB[8]
  • ROM:
    • 2 KB on-board BIOS for system startup and interrupt routing.
    • 32 KB ROM window for standard game cartridges, expandable using bank switching techniques.
  • Dimensions: 13" × 15" × 4.25"


Missile Command for the Atari 5200

There were a total of 69 games officially released for the system.[citation needed] Super Breakout, Galaxian and Space Invaders were the system's launch titles. A port of Asteroids was advertised as a launch title, but was never released.[citation needed] Gremlins, released in 1986, was the last game officially released for the system.[citation needed]


The console was frequently criticized for its poorly designed controllers and high asking price. In August 2009, video game website IGN placed the 5200 23rd out of the 25 greatest video game consoles of all time, behind its predecessor (the 2600, ranked 2nd greatest), its successor (the 7800, 17th), and both its main competitors (the Intellivision and Colecovision, 14th and 12th respectively).[11]

See also


  1. ^ "The Atari 5200 will be available in October". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 1982-09-01.,140029&dq=atari+5200&hl=en. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  2. ^ G4TV's Icons season 2 episode 1 "Atari"
  3. ^ Curt Vendel. "Video System X". Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Curt Vendel. "Atari 5200 Paddle Controller Prototypes". Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  6. ^ Curt Vendel. "Self Centering Joystick Prototypes". Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  7. ^ "Top 10 Tuesday: Worst Game Controllers". IGN. 2006-02-21. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Transporting Atari computer programs to the Atari 5200, A.N.A.L.O.G. #15 (January 1984), via Article retrieved 2007-04-22.
  9. ^ Moss, Stuart (2007). The Entertainment Industry: An Introduction. CABI. pp. 158. ISBN 9781845935511. 
  10. ^ Mace, Scott (August 6, 1984). "A New Atari Corp.: The House That Jack Tramiel Emptied". Infoworld: pp. 52. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  11. ^ a b "Atari 5200 is number 23". IGN. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  12. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Prima Publishing. pp. 230. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  13. ^ Staff, New York Times (2007). The New York Times Guide To Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind. New York: Macmillan Publishers. pp. 472. ISBN 9780312376598. 
  14. ^ Hubner, John (December 5, 1983). "What Went Wrong At Atari". Infoworld: pp. 148. Retrieved 2011-01-27 
  15. ^ Curt Vendel. "5100/5200 Jr". Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  16. ^ Sanger, David E. (1984-05-22). "Atari Video Game Unit Introduced". New York Times: 3 (Section D). "Company officials disclosed for the first time yesterday that the 5200 is no longer in production, and Atari appears to be selling off its inventory." 
  17. ^ Schrage, Michael (1984-05-22). "Atari Introduces Game In Attempt for Survival". Washington Post: C3. "The company has stopped producing its 5200 SuperSystem games player, more than 1 million of which were sold." 

External links

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