The History of the Atari
XL Computer Systems
In 1981 Atari began work on its
replacement to the Atari 400/800 computer systems in an
effort to keep them current with technologies, give them an
updated and more modern look and to reduce the cost of
The first design went through numerous
project codenames: Z800, Sweet-16 and Elizabeth.
Eventually it would be called the Atari 1200 then
upon its release in January 1983 it would be officially
called the 1200XL.
The new Atari XL series was born.
The Atari 1200XL originally would have a
simple 50 pin Buss Expander and 2 new 15 pin SIO connectors.
However during the summer of 1982, issues with RF noise in
the new 1200 design
and Atari wanted a more formalized and capable
expansion design. Marketing was not firm on how to move
forward with the system having different sized and designed SIO
connectors. So the 1200XL would be scaled back to a more closed
design so it could be released. Meanwhile Atari's engineering group would
use the additional months to formalize its
new "PBI" Parallel Bus Interface design and create a
new OS to intelligently manage external parallel buss
While this initially sounds bad for the
1200XL, it did allow Atari to officially announce its new
computer on time in
December of 1982 and release it in January of 1983.
Atari was now facing pressure from Commodore with its VIC20
and now its C64 computers. So the 1200XL
would be a short term fix as the model would only be made
for 6 months with the intent of replacing it with its
original design (less the dual DB15 connectors) called the
The 1200XL would start to arrive into
dealers by February 1983 and in March of 1983 the
specifications for the 600XL (codenamed: "Surley") would be
completed. The 600XL would be the replacement to the Atari
400 as the 1200XL was the replacement to the Atari 800.
Atari, facing immediate negative feedback
on the costing of the 1200XL, would have an additional
version of the 600XL design in a slightly larger case and
with 64K and composite which would be directed as the new replacement
for the 1200XL over the original idea of the 1201XL. The
"Surely Plus" project became the 800XL and would be the
more affordable replacement for the 1200XL.
1201XL was changed to have a built in modem and voice
synthesizer and would become the Atari 1400XL which was spec'd out along with the 1250XLD in June of 1983. By July
of 1983 production of the 1200XL's had ceased and it was
The 1250XLD would change to
become the 1450XLD, this would have a modem, voice
synthesizer and a built in parallel disk drive interface
with support for up to 2 360K high speed disk drives.
All 4 of the new XL systems were expected to be ready for
sale by the fall of 1983. Atari's CEO, Ray Kassar
would be fired due to stock market insider trading and a
loss of confidence by Warner Communications CEO Steve Ross
in June of 1983. A new CEO for Atari was hired but he
wouldn't start until September and when he did. He
into the company, put a 30 day hold of all work and canceled
all projects he felt would not benefit Atari.
In the fall of 1983, the 1400XL and 1450XLD were
canceled, along with the Atari 1060 CP/M box, the Atari 1600XL
hybrid Atari/MS-DOS PC clone and many other products.
The new 600XL and 800XL would be the only XL's to be sold at
the end of 1983.
However, even their sales were crippled
when Atari's new CEO James Morgan made a critical error in
judgment regarding their manufacture. Atari had an
existing manufacturing plant with Atari-WONG, It was ready
to build and ship the new XL's, however Atari's new ATMC
(Atari Taiwan Manufacturing Company) was not ready yet, but
if the XL's were made in that new plant, they would cost $30
less each but there would be a 30 day delay before they
could ship. James Morgan chose to wait the additional
30 days which caused Atari to lose the Christmas 1983 sales
season and gave an almost totally unchallenged market over
to Commodore for its C64 computers. This essentially gave
Atari's biggest rival in the computer market a massive leg up in sales.
To compound this already bad decision, it is also decided to
RAISE the prices of the XL systems and video game systems.
(Read News Articles Timeline HERE)
By January 1984 Atari decides
to revive the Atari 1450XLD. It would now be redone
from the ground up into a new board design under the project
codename "TONG" and it will be an all in one board with disk
drive controller built in. Also work on the Atari
1090XL Expansion system is in high gear. By March and
April of 1984 many of the expansion cards Atari had
announced were nearing completion. Also in March of
1984 Atari inks a critical deal with Amiga Corporation.
Amiga is out of money and to finish its "Lorraine" chipset
it is in serious need of capital. Atari and Amiga signed
into a contractual agreement that Atari would fund Amiga
$500,000 to complete the development of the Amiga chipset.
Atari would get exclusive rights to use the chipset under
the Atari name for a new high-end game console. After one
year, Atari could then sell a keyboard upgrade for the game
console, plus utilize the technology in a new series of
Atari computer systems one year later.
On June 30, 1984 Amiga was set
to deliver the chipset to Atari but backed out, instead it
had negotiated behind Atari's back in breach of their contract
and made a deal with Commodore to
repay the loan back to Atari that Amiga had been paid to
complete the Amiga chipset and Commodore then bought Amiga.
Because of this contract breach
by David Morse of Amiga and the selling of Amiga to
Commodore, Atari was never able to produce both its Atari 1850XL computer and
also its new high-end video game console (Codenamed
"Mickey") which were both to
be based on the Amiga chipset technology.
On August 13,
1984 Atari Corp (The now newly owned Tramel Technologies
Company renamed to Atari Corp after it had bought Atari
Inc's home game & computer divisions on July 2, 1984) filed
a lawsuit against Amiga for breach of contract
and use of technology that Atari had paid to be developed.
The suit was settled in 1987, however it was a closed
decision and although rumors leaked that Atari won the suit,
no positive confirmation of this has been found to date. (If
you have any documented evidence of the Settlement, please
The electronics design of the
Atari XL series of computers were original started in the WCI/NY Atari research labs
in Manhattan, New York under Steve Mayer with Gregg
Squires as the head of Engineering. Meanwhile in Atari's
Sunnyvale offices in the Industrial Design group headed by
Roy Nishi, Regan Cheng designed the all new look for Atari's
second generation of computers. Going for a very
attractive high-tech look based on similarities to equipment
made by Bang & Olufsen. Regan Cheng designed an all-new look
into what became the first Atari XL computer, the Atari
1200XL. It can probably be labeled the world's first stylish
and sexy looking computer system.