Custom Atari 2600 PC by Hard Drives Northwest

Custom Atari 2600 PC by Hard Drives Northwest

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The year was 1982. My sister and I had decided to pool our resources and together we saved up enough cash to buy the ultimate gaming console: the Atari 2600. We spent many hours playing games on that console, and I can still remember the sound of the tanks driving in Combat. I would later move on to the Commodore 64, the PC platform, and now have an Xbox as well. Even so, there’s always going to be an affinity for me with the Atari 2600 platform. I still admire its fake wood grain on the front, the cool aluminum toggle switches on the top, and the old-school joysticks that I used both with the Atari, and with my Commodore 64.

Fast-forward 30 years, and still have some serious fans of all things Atari. Feeding on this energy, the Internet Explorer team decided to team up with Atari to develop a modern arcade - eight classic Atari games using HTML5 and supporting multi-touch. You can see and play these at http://arcade.atari.com. What’s more, the team that built these games has created an Atari SDK so that you can build your own games for the Atari platform.

As a part of this classic Atari re-launch, a limited quantity of original Atari 2600 gaming consoles were retrofitted with modern PC internals. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the Atari 2600 boxes that was put together by Hard Drives Northwest, and I’ll have to say it’s one of the coolest “case mods” I’ve ever seen!

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This may look like an early 80’s gaming console (it is on the outside), but the internals are totally up-to-date. That’s right; this Atari is sporting an Intel Core i7 processor, and even features an SSD for storage. If only I could bring this back to 1982, I’m sure I’d be the coolest kid in school!

Let’s do some quick math to figure out how much more processing power we have compared to the original:

  • Atari 2600 (1982): MOS 6507 Processor, 1 thread @ 1.19 MHz
  • Custom Atari 2600 PC (2012): Intel Core i7 2600S Processor, 8 threads @ 3.4 GHZ

So we basically have: 27,200 MHz / 1.19 MHz = ~22,857 times the processing power! That’s more than any kid from 1982 could wrap their head around…

But, you know what happens when you increase processing power: you also increase heat output. It’s a good thing that the Intel Core i7 is more thermally efficient than the MOS 6507. Even with drastically increased thermal efficiency, heat management was an issue with the first iteration of this Atari 2600 PC. In fact, the first prototype had a bit of a melt-down. The folks at Hard Drives Northwest solved this issue by adding a case fan in the bottom of the case, and also dual fans in a cutout where the cartridge port would normally be located.

Atari-2600-fans-macro-600

With all of this airflow, the final configuration runs cool, and you don’t have to worry about your case melting. There are a lot of great ideas went into this PC build, and there’s a lot of attention to detail throughout. On the back of the Atari, you have extensive connectivity options including an Ethernet port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 2 eSATA 3 GB/s ports, d-Sub and 2 DVI ports, a DisplayPort connector, an HDMI port, and analog audio jacks.

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You can see here the neat-and-tidy copper-plated Plexiglas reconstruction of the back panel of the Atari 2600 enclosure. It’s sturdy and it looks good at the same time. You can also see here where you plug in the power brick which powers the PC (round connector on left). Looking at these ports, I’m thinking it would be way cool to run multi-mon with this Atari 2600.

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To startup this PC, you slide the power switch up and hold it momentarily. You may recall that the original Atari 2600 had a switch what would stay in the “on” or “off” position. This build involved swapping the original switch with a momentary switch (game reset). On this Atari, the game reset switch is hooked up to the PC reset line- so you have to be careful since it’s labeled “game reset” (it does more than that).

Atari-2600-reset-switch-600

I like the way that this PC was envisioned because a lot of the original elements were re-purposed so that they still do something instead of just being covered over or made inoperable. The left difficulty switch was replaced with an LED that indicates if the PC is on or off. Likewise the right difficulty switch slot houses an LED showing hard drive activity. The “TV type” and “game select” switch slots expose USB ports in case you have a USB joystick you want to use with your retro PC. Nice touches!

I hooked this Atari 2600 PC up to a 47” TV and had to try out http://arcade.atari.com running in IE10 on Windows 8. The first game I tried out was Combat, and I was surprised at how much more sophisticated this updated version is. No “ping pong ball” projectiles to be seen, instead there are missiles that shoot out of the tank cannon complete with animated smoke.

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You can spend a lot of time playing these new games, especially when inspired by the classic lines of the Atari 2600! If you are inclined, this PC would also make a great dev box to write some of your own updated Atari classics with.

There’s one more awesome detail on this Atari 2600 PC that makes it truly special: it’s been signed by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. How cool is that!

Atari-2600-PC-Signature-600

In case you wanted to know more about this project, here are the build details:

  • Motherboard: Intel Executive DQ67EP
  • Processor: Intel I7 2600S, hyperthreaded quad core, 3.4 GHz
  • RAM: Kingston DDR3 8GB
  • Storage: Intel 520 Sata 120GB
  • Graphics: ASUS EAH6570/DI/1GD3(LP) Radeon HD 6570 1GB 128-bit DDR3
  • Power Adapter: PICO PSU-160-XT 192W

If you wish you could have one of these Atari 2600 PCs, I have good news. Two of these Atari 2600 PCs will be given away. For more details, follow the freddiew2 YouTube channel!

You can follow me on twitter here: @GavinGear

7 Comments
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  • Keatah
    0 Posts

    Agreed though, it is more useful than that flashback garbage.

  • Keatah
    0 Posts

    Attention to detail? I don't think so.

    Light up L/R difficulty switches?

    USB TV Type and Game Select switches?

    Cut up back?

    Fan in the cartridge port?

    And he didn't bother to touch out the yellow outline surrounding the 6-switch control panel.

    You know, anyone can do a mod of this "quality" or lack thereof. A good well thought-out project would have addressed the above concerns, and more!

    A mouse and keyboard plugging into the switches - how retarded.

  • chopaz
    1 Posts

    Looks a lot more useful than that Flashback crap!

  • This is very similar to what Wurlitzer had done with the 1015 Series juke boxes. Initially they had a valve-amplified unit which could play 10 78-rpm records. Then, later on, they released the 1015 One More Time which used transistor-based amplification and a mechanism that could select from 50 45-rpm records and then they subsequently released a CD version which had access to that same number of CDs. The 45-rpm and CD versions, known as "1015 One More Time", used a computer-driven way of selecting the music, yet the classic "arch" look and style was kept the same for that classic piece.

    I would reckon that Hard Drives Northwest could work with Atari to release a "2600 One More Time" series of gaming computers that are based on this case mod and celebrate the classic symbol of retro gaming just like Wurlitzer did with their classic jukeboxes.

  • One of the more "cool" features is that you got an i7, drive of any type, and Radeon HD 6570 running with a 192w power supply :)

    Oh - the picture shows 3 DVI, no D-Sub.

  • That's one super cool thing you've got there! I was once had an Atari but due to the fast evolution in the game consoles, I never had the chance to keep it..I wish I did. It's like you're going back 30 years ago, bringing back the old days, huh!

    <a href="www.tssgrp.com/.../a>

  • Cool, but some of the details could have used a little TLC imo... the back of the case being open in particular.  Smaller holes for each individual port would have looked a lot nicer.

    Not sure how I feel about the case fans in the cartridge slot or the weird USB port in the switches.  IMO they all should be switches even if some of them don't actually do anything (though you could possibly make some simple USB input devices out of them and code software to react).

    I believe someone solved a similar case fan problem in a recent N64 case mode by gutting a cartridge and putting the fan in that, so it wouldn't be visible from the front.  Still weird though, I guess there is no real "good" solution for that sort of thing other than purposefully using low-heat generating (and slower) hardware.

    Great, now you've made me want one of these.  I'd probably go with an NES though, lots of case room, plus a nice spot for an optical drive.