Introducing the Atarimax - The Modern Way to Play Retro Games

atari800Playing retro games is all about the games, but being able to play them on the hardware they were designed for really does cover your 99 with sprinkles, (I'm not sure how many of you will get that, you oldies out there will!)

Retro gaming can be a tricky thing. Hardware can be expensive to buy and hard to find, software can be even harder because of the very medium it's made from, often meaning that lack of care can deny the best pleasure of this sport of ours, namely playing these wonderful games on the original hardware, as nature intended.

The fragility of moving parts

Hardware suffers too. Older computers and consoles are usually pretty solid and even after decades of solitude in a damp attic or cellar, will fire up with the minimal of trouble, and maybe a little blowing. Peripherals are a different matter. Disk and cassette drives all have moving parts, gears, drive belts and mechanisms that are very susceptible to grit, water, temperature and being thrown in the bottom of a box, and covered in Christmas decorations, suitcases other crud that might be needed sometime in the future, do them no good at all. Combined with fragile magnetic tape, old games can be lost forever to us, and I for one flatly refuse to sit and type stuff out, line by line ever again. (Yes folks, back in the early 80's one of the highlights of the monthly magazine was the centre section, where you could type in BASIC games, fail to get them to load, despite the checksum tester, and wonder where the afternoon had gone...)

After the bombs

I am a huge Atari fan. Luckily my trusty 2600 will always work, in fact after the next nuclear war, all the cockroaches that will no doubt survive the blast will be playing 'Berzerk' on rock solid 2600's. Atari 8bit computers are my real love a little more fragile but wonderful machines, as I said before they are well built and usually work, but the 810 and 1050 floppy drives, and the 410, 1010 tape drives really can suffer, and already wobbly software that was sometimes a pig to load back in 1980 is an absolute impossibility today.

So what is the solution? Emulation is a really grey area but can be a vital link to software that is in danger of being lost, but you have to balance the legal implications of copyright against the reason games exist, and your conscience. Wanting to put your precious software through the grinder each time you want to play Dropzone, or firing up an image on your laptop that is in no danger of being lost makes a very strong case. I'm not going to touch on the legal side, but speaking personally, if I own the game, it belongs to me and because I come from a time when software was free and backups were encouraged, having a safe copy to use is a no brainer, but playing M.U.L.E using anything but a CX40 on an 800 makes a mockery of retrogaming.

Saved by the enthusiasts

usbbigThankfully there are people out there that can help. Using a bit of electronics and some clever software, the guys over at Atarimax have come up with a solution that is as simple as it is brilliant. This pocket sized device allows you to make use of the hard drive from your existing laptop or PC via your Atari 8bit computer. This means there is no need for you to strain your 810 or 1010, wear out your tapes or disks and it even gives you printer and internet access. All of this for under £35.00 including shipping from the USA.

There are two versions, one a standard serial that uses the older type 9 pin 'D' or a USB, which is slightly more expensive. Spend the money and get the USB version as most modern computers have dropped the older serial, and there are no guarantees that it will work with an adapter.  Setup is a little tricky if using 64 bit Windows 7 like I am, I had to manually install the driver from the device manager but that's my only real niggle and there is plenty of help to be found on the net and the creator of the interface is helpful and always happy to answer questions. Once the drivers were in, it was found immediately by the software and it was ready for use.

How it works

I am using an 800xl as my gaming computer, as my 400 is awaiting a memory upgrade. (More on that in a later feature) and all I needed to do was connect the other end via a standard I/O cable to the port and switch on. The software gives you eight virtual drives each of which can store an image of a game rom or be set as storage for your own programs. Booting a game is simple, load the backup rom into the first drive, hold 'OPTION' down on the 800xl and switch on. The LED's flash, the familiar beeps emanate from the 800, and the program loads just as it would if attached to a 'real' floppy drive, it all adds to the fun of playing epic games on original hardware, the pinnacle goal of the retrogamer. Of all the games I own and all the backups I have, none of them failed to work and switching games is a breeze (not having to wait 20minutes for Dropzone is a serious bonus too)

Internet and Printing

I mentioned internet access and printers, you can print directly from BASIC using LPRINT, or from software and it works fine, no set up other than selecting your printer from the settings. If you are thinking of surfing the web, then you might be a little disappointed unless you grew up with it the first time around. Back then BBS's (Bulletin Board Systems) and SysOps (Systems Operators, or God as they were known!) were king, and the only graphics were ASCII. However there are some interesting places to look, but you have to have the right software on the Atari. This may not be a hugely important feature, but it works well is easy to use and very stable.

In conclusion

I think this could be one of the most important bits of kit for the 8bit Atari computer collector or enthusiast. It takes the strain from the most valuable and easily damaged parts of your collection while freeing you from the worry of it failing. It enables printing and net access, its easy to use and pretty robust. The niggles are small but worth pointing out, my main one being that it comes as a bare circuit board, not in a case which makes it easily damaged if you are not careful. Installation is a little tricky but nothing beyond most people.

 


 

Info and further reading

Atarimax a veritable Aladdin's cave of things for your Atari 8bit, and supplier of the interface and its support
Atari Age a great resource for everything Atari
BBS guide If you are interested in what BBS's are, have a look here. You will need to install Telnet on your computer, use google if you are not sure how.
Darkforce BBS This is a BBS actually running on real Atari hardware. The telnet address is: telnet://darkforce-bbs.dyndns.org


Last Updated ( 21 October 2011 )  

Page

I am the original first generation. I wandered in to an arcade in the late 70’s and never really got over it. I don’t have a favourite system but I do have a lot of favourite games and spend most of my spare time playing and writing about them. On sunny days you could find me outside, but only if my longboard is with me.

Other recent articles:

Comments 

(Link to this comment) hydr0x 2011-10-23 10:13
Very nice :) I don't have an 8-bit Atari computer but if I had this would be a godsend. As someone active in preservation circles I can really appreciate this :)
(Link to this comment) PageVGP 2011-10-24 09:45
Im pretty sure there is a similar device for the Commodore 64. As soon as I get my hands on a C64 ill hunt it down. I think devices like this really are the way forward, my poor 810 just wont work anymore :(
Banner
Banner

Retro Game Database Search

Retro Gaming Podcast

Join the RetroCollect Squad as they discuss our gaming past in the all new RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast.


Retro Games on eBay now



About RetroCollect

RetroCollect is your one stop for everything retro games and retro gaming. Featuring the latest classic gaming news around, informative reviews and an ever active forum, you'll feel right at home with other retro gamers.

RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast

Join the RetroCollect Squad as they talk their way through the wonderful world of retro gaming.

Listen to RetroCollect FM - Retro Gaming Podcast

Join RetroCollect on the web