The Atari "Graduate" Computer

        During the heyday of the early 80's when video games were the hottest thing out there next to Cabbage Patch dolls and Smurfs, it was every video gamers dream to be able to upgrade their video game system to a computer.   Every manufacture had made one promise or another to create the "Upgradable" video game system.  Mattel electronics since the introduction of the Intellivision promised a computer upgrade which was delayed for years upon years.   Coleco hastily sold its ADAM computer which was plagued by severe bugs in the software and horrible quality control in the hardware.  The ADAM was Coleco's downfall since they stopped all production of the Colecovisions and put all resources into its ADAM computer, when nearly all the ADAM's were returned for one reason or another Coleco was stuck with a massive inventory of damage goods, no sales revenue and a tarnished reputation....

The above Atari Age Magazine photo shows a blue membrane keyboard version

 with power behind the rear of the cartridge connector neck.   Regan Cheng

(former Atari Industrial Designer) explained that the version shown above was
a mockup with rubber keys glued onto it.



        However, back in 1982, fresh from finishing the Commodore VIC-20 and C64 computers, 3 former Commodore engineers began brainstorming a new idea to sell in large volume.   Looking to Atari with its installed base of close to 12 million Atari VCS 2600 video game consoles they decided to create a computer keyboard add-on.    Peripheral Visions Incorporated (PVI) was born.    They approached Atari with the idea.   Atari discussed this idea with its engineers who said it could not be done.    PVI had never programmed on the Atari 2600 before, yet in 2 days they were able to create a text screen demo to show Atari.    To make their presentation at Atari Headquarters more mysterious, PVI packaged their ROM chip into a large black box that they weighed down with a power supply and other items to make it seem like there was much more to their project then just some fancy programming.

                                                                    PVI Membrane CX-3000 "Graduate" Prototype

The Graduate is a remarkable little device which downloads a looping program into the 128 byte memory of the VCS and in turn, simply turns the VCS into the Graduates video support hardware.    The Graduate has 8K of onboard memory with specifications to allow it to add another 24K through its buss connector.   The unit is clean and simplistic in its design, yet performs an outstanding job and allowing the 2600 to in fact become a computer in itself.   The first prototypes used a membrane keyboard.   PVI went to the same supplier as Atari did for its Atari 400 keyboard, the keyboard layout was slightly different including the PVI logo in place of the Atari "Fuji" logo on one of the keys.



        Originally the add-on was supposed to be nothing more then computer keyboard add-on, but Atari began to make more and more demands on PVI to create more and more enhancements to the system such as moving the cartridge port from the side to the top of the unit.   Making the connection neck into the 2600 so that it could expand and contract to fit both the deeper 2600 model and the 2600A with a more shallow cartridge slot.    Then the real demands came.    The custom chip that PVI designed was called FRODO, Atari then spec'd out 2 new accompanying chips to allow the keyboard to accept peripherals and new "Enhanced Graphics" modes to make the 2600 more competitive with the Intellivision and the Colecovision.   These 2 new chips were part of what was called "Bubbles" the new chips were called Fred and Wilma.   Frodo was then renamed Pebbles.   In one internal PVI document titled: "The Flintstones meet Middle Earth", specifications were already being made to take all 3 chips and combine them into one.    PVI insisted that the project was going to end up going way over the targeted price of $79 and more into the $350 range which put it up against its own Atari 400 and the Vic-20.   Atari continued to push for the project specifications for the enhanced graphics and capabilities which PVI worked on.  In September of 1983 James Morgan took over as head of Atari and among the numerous projects slated for cancellation was The Graduate and it was never released.    PVI then looked for new ventures to move to, first they looked into building a new computer system, but with the market saturated with low end PC's they looked into adding chips into musical synthesizer keyboards since Bob Yannes (who designed the SID chip) was very adept in the music field and then later they moved into assorted multimedia devices.   The Atari Historical Society Staff would like to personally thank Bob Yannes of PVI for all his assistance and time.

NOTE:  The Atari Graduate CX-3000 made its first public appearance at the World of Atari Show 98 in Las Vegas on August 21-23 and was shown to hundreds of passerby's at our booth, Next Generation Gaming issue #47 also talks about the Atari Graduate Keyboard, photo's are shown at some of the various WOA98 websites.

        Peripherals listed in the below chart were promised and prototypes do exist.   Atari was so confident that these products would make it to market, they were already shipping line art advertisement flyers to its dealers.   Click on GRADUATE PERIPHERALS to see the actual flyer. (124k)

Atari, Inc. Consumer Electronics Division
2600 Graduate Computer Product List
CX-3000 Graduate Computer
CX-3010 Graduate Computer I/O Module+8K RAM
CX-3011 Graduate Computer Printer
CX-3012 Graduate Computer Modem
CX-3013 Graduate Computer 16K RAM
CX-3014 Graduate Computer Cassette
CX-3015 Graduate Computer Micro Disk
30009 Typo Attack
30010 Monkey up a Tree
30001 Donkey Kong
30002 Robotron
30003 Stargate
30004 Sport Goofy
30005 Caverns of Mars
30006 Introduction to Programming
30007 Children's Introduction to Programming
Original June 1983 Pricing List


     However other 3rd party manufacturers also had plans for their own (incompatible with the Graduate) versions of computer add-on keyboards such as Spectravisions Compumate.