The Atari 1200XL Computer in Action

Photos is the closest I have come to seeing an Atari 1200XL Computer being used. What I know of the system mostly comes from its bad reputation as a “closed system” that was not adequately backwards compatible. Also as a gamer I was sad to read that they reduced the number of joystick ports from 4 to 2. This was rather disappointing to me, and I am sure it was to Atari more so, because I always thought this was a pretty slick-looking machine.

Released in 1983, the 1200XL seemed to be a computer without an audience and the press was warning people to stay away.

We’re hard pressed to figure out what Atari is up to … We’re concerned about the emperor’s new clothes because the actual features of the XL seem off base when compared to the competition. For example, the Atari 800 [less than $700] … we’re concerned that the 1200XL has been introduced to fill a nonexistent hole in Atari’s product line.


On paper though, the machine looks nice. Although perhaps not enough to differentiate it from other Atari computers. It had 64 KB of RAM, built-in self test, a redesigned keyboard with four function keys and a HELP key, and a redesigned cable port layout.

Announced with a $1000 price, the 1200XL was released at $899. This was $100 less than the announced price of the 800 at its release in 1979, but the 800 was still available and still very good. It also had a much better price. So many people steered clear of this machine.

The story goes that because they 800 has a lower price point. There was a rush on them, resulting in a bump in sales for the existing machine, while the new machine languished. This is an oft repeated story in technology. Although I tend to question its credibility since I can never find statistics for sales on these older machines that bear this out.

I want to comment on the face of the guy watching the computer in use. It looks silly, but I think through much of the eighties this is probably what I looked like whenever I was around computers…just a big ol’ goofy toothy grin.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. “Well, sweetheart, according to this personal finance software, after buying this computer we are flat broke!”

  2. I always thought the Atari 1200 XL was the best looking of the Atari computers. It was designed by Regan Cheng who designed the sleek wedge look of the Atari 5200 and with the 1200 set the design cues for the entire XL line.

    The “closed system” architecture was Atari’s philosophy of making computers approachable to the public when they were still somewhat seen as something for computer hobbyists and corporate offices. They wanted their computers to be “household appliances” not unlike can openers or microwaves. They wanted a computer experience that would be simple and welcoming. This approach fell into the closed / open source debate and ironically it was the easy expandability of the Apple II that loured away a lot of potential Atari XL customers.

    I would have loved to see them retain the 4 joystick ports though.

  3. Yeah, despite the understandable grin over his wife’s computer coolness, I doubt a Mortgage and Loan Analysis program would’ve kept that look for long.

    “Uh hon…can we use a spaceship to shoot that fixed rate down by half?”

    Our family went for the Commodore 64, after trying out the Adam computer (sad hardware failure, returned it), and the Vic-20 (trial basis, went for its older kin).

    I was – and still am an Atari fan (nut) – and would’ve given in to any kind of sales tactic to push the Atari computer line.
    Alas, in my region, the Commodore was heavily promoted and favored by salespeople.

    I dunno – low return rate? high number of profitable third-party games for the stores? product availability?
    All I know is that, despite having been very happy with the C64, I still remain curious and supportive of the home computer division of my favorite company.

  4. AAS, wait a second.. were you the friend the Retroist was referring to in his story about the ADAM computer? 🙂

    The Atari 400, 800, 800 XL were fantastic systems. I can speak for them as I own them. On looks alone, the XL line, 1200 included, were simply gorgeous.

    Tough to beat the C64. Not unlike Windows or Android today; they’re everywhere. The C64 had so many programs and games to choose from. Your family made the right choice, but the 1200 looks so much better than the bread box.

  5. Justin – No, I was a different soul who tried out the Adam but had to return it (twice) on the basis of faulty hardware and peripherals.
    Kinda glad I did, because the C64 offered a stable and generous mixture of gaming, programming, simulation experience that fed my interests at that time.

    Would’ve been happy to have an affordable alternate with Atari computers, with all the apps and magazine articles to keep me going.

    What a great time of microchippy discovery that was.

  6. WHOA! Hold your tongue AAS! Well, your fingers.

    Most of the ADAMs were faulty, but not their peripherals. So if you’re gonna bash my system, at least be accurate 😉

  7. Sorry Justin, I shoulda pointed out it was the tape machine reader that had issues.
    Then again, maybe I’m remembering it wrong.

    I’ll tell you this much about the system – I was fully on board with the ADAM but, halfway through the short period we had it, realized the C64 had more offerings in terms of games and programming support documents (more or less – some interesting magazines had sprouted onto the field).
    The small trouble it had underlined the desire to move on.
    It was a sad decision, but as a youngster dazzled by the age of computerized wizardry, I was ruthless about what came next.

    Quite enjoy your articles of firm support for the ADAM, as it merits and deserves as much insight (and respect) as possible in these days of looking back at the roots of home PCs.

  8. Thanks man., but I understand AAS. The Commodore 64, even the Vic-20, had so many more applications available. Though the ADAM did come with the built-in ColecoVision and expansion port (Atari games can be played then as well), the games for the C64 grew more complex and interesting as time went on – I still think Defenders of the Crown is one of the best computer games of the 1980s. Was still playing that in the 90s! I’m surprised no one has written about that game on here yet…

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