In December 1982 Atari's Home Computer Division (HCD)
introduced the new replacement computer to its aging Atari 400/800
line. Shipped to dealers in February 1983. The new computer
brought to Atari's home computers line a high-tech and sleek low profile
modern look. The case design and the "XL Look" were created
by Regan Cheng of Atari's Industrial Design group. The all new
design took the 7 separate boards that made up the Atari 800 (Main, Power,
CPU, OS and 3 16K Memory boards) and integrated them into a single motherboard
with 64K of memory. The system also brought with it probably
"THE" best keyboard for any Atari system.
The system featured many
new internal and external enhancements. Some of the obvious ones
were the new Function keys and built-in HELP key that programmers could incorporate
their usage into future programs. The tangle of wires from the
system were now out of the back making for a clean and uncluttered arrangement.
The cartridge port and controller jacks were now on the left side of the
system. The new OS was designed for a new era of
SIO "Plug n Play" devices to automatically load their device drivers and even
on-board applications right into the 1200XL memory, also an International Character Set and built-in Diagnostic features
were now part of the system. Other OS enhancements were
included as well.
However the downside was
that many programs by both 3rd party companies and even Atari itself were
incompatible with this new OS in the machine. The loss
of 2 of the 4 original controller jacks from the earlier Atari 400/800 systems
didn't seem like much of a big deal to the 1200XL engineers, however the
end users did seem to mind. The system was supposed
to have a better video display output signal, however to most end users, the system
appeared to have a fuzzier display then the Atari 800. The system also
touted that it had 64K of memory, however for the end user, they
still only had access to 48K of it. Another sticking point for consumers: No expansion whatsoever. While the idea of a "Closed Box" design seemed like a good idea to Atari's
Marketing Department, the consumer felt exactly the opposite.
Atari's whole design philosophy
for their home computer line was that these would be Consumer oriented, not
Hobbyist oriented systems. That meant buffering the
user from the actual electronics and chips within the machines. This concept was very well executed on the Atari 800 with its easy to remove
top cover and its various OS and Memory modules fitted into easy to install
packages. The SIO connector also gave users a universal, easy
to handle and understand expansion system. Atari felt it
could take this philosophy to the extreme with the 1200XL and completely
cut the users off from ANY internal access. Even the simplest
of users still wanted to tinker and expand their systems and the 1200XL just
didn't give them the flexibility found in Apple ][e's, C64s or Atari's original
800 line of computers. What really did it in for the 1200XL was its price.
Originally introduced at an insanely high $999 price tag, then
almost immediately dropped to $899. Magazines and end users
alike scoffed at such a high price for a system that to many - gave
them less, less joystick ports, less expansion, less memory than
advertised. Atari's new hot rod was becoming its "Edsel."
While the 1200XL's were
arriving at dealers and into consumer hands in February 1983, Atari
was already at work on several "New" XL's which would replace the
1200XL and give users more features at much better prices.
By March of 1983, while 1200XL's were just settling into users
hands, Atari engineers already spec'd out the 600XL, which was the
"S-16" design, the Atari 400 replacement. However, the S-64:
the 1200XL itself was already slated for the chopping block.
It successor was also spec'd out in March called the 800XL, a system
that would provide the features and the much lower cost that the
1200XL just didn't deliver. The Atari 1200XL was slated for
cancellation before the full production assembly lines slated for
ATMC (Atari's Tawain Manufacturing Company) were even tooled up to
produce them. Up to that point, all of the Atari 1200XL's were
being built and assembled in the US. In June 1983 the other two
computer specifications: the Atari 1400XL and Atari 1450XLD were
completed and in July 1983 the Atari 1200XL was officially canceled,
expected to be replaced by that fall with the 600XL and 800XL
Are you a former Atari engineer?
Did you work on the 1200XL or have direct knowledge of this project?
Please contact the Atari Museum: