Arguably one of the nicest 16 KB computers ever released, the 8 bit Atari 600XL arrived in 1983. It was intended to be Atari’s new entry level model. It replaced the previous entry level Atari 400 Computer. The Atari 400, Atari 600XL and the Atari 5200 Game Console were all 16 KB systems.
Unlike the Atari 400 which had a tactile membrane Keyboard, the Atari 600XL had a full stroke keyboard. Although several different variants of XL keyboards were produced, the 600XLs frequently came with good quality keyboards.
Bestowed with the same Industrial Design as Atari’s original 1200XL computer by Regan Cheng, albeit in a smaller form factor with some changes, the 600XL sports an attractive and high-tech appearance.
The Atari 400 and 800 Computers required an external Program Cartridge to support Atari’s version of the BASIC programming language. The 600XL had an updated operating system with BASIC built-in.
The PBI (Parallel Bus Interface) port allowed the 600XL to be expanded just like it’s bigger brother : the Atari 800XL. One such expansion that Atari released was the Atari 1064 Memory Module. In fact this would be the only PBI device Atari would ever release. The Atari 1064 brought the small system’s RAM up to 64K which matched the 1200XL and 800XL models.
Expanding the Atari 600XL to 64K internally was a relatively simple and common upgrade. This provided a more compact solution than using an Atari 1064 Memory Module as there was nothing to protrude from the rear of the Computer.
Today there are several upgrades for these classic computers that take them far beyond their original design. For example, there are 1 Megabyte RAM upgrades, CPU Accelerators, Video upgrades and upgrades which add additional POKEY sound chips to provide for as many as 16 Channels of sound!
Atari built the circuitry into the motherboards of 600XLs to support connection to Computer Monitors. Despite this, the NTSC 600XLs did not come with a factory installed Monitor Port. It was decided at Atari (in order to reduce production costs) to not include the Monitor Port in the final design. However, the European/PAL 600XLs did in fact ship with factory installed Monitor connection Ports.
Though the built-in RF circuitry on the Atari 600XL is apparently of good quality, it only allows the NTSC version of the Computer to use TVs (Televisions) for displaying video output. Custom 3rd Party solutions would later appear (some of which are still available to this day) that enable the Atari 600XL to connect to Computer Monitors.
A stock Atari 600XL (top) in the photograph above is compared to a custom modified 600XL (bottom). A Monitor Port has been added in place of the RF Channel switch.
Rather than using the Atari/Commodore style DIN Monitor Connector, some video upgrades utilize standard RCA style Audio and Video (Composite) connectors. Others provide higher quality Component or S-Video connections for the video signal.
The Atari 600XL is a compact 8 bit computer of decent build quality. In the photograph below you can see that the 600XL is noticeably smaller than the Commodore 64.
Often overlooked, the Atari 600XL is a true classic. Every bit as good as an Atari 800XL with a few simple upgrades, but in a more compact case.
If you are looking to get into an Atari 8 Bit Computer today, be prepared for the extra hurdles required when upgrading a 600XL. If you are not prepared for them, an easier and more turn-key choice would be an Atari 800XL. However, enthusiasts will love the special little Atari 600XL.