Getting Started With an Atari 600XL




About: French engineer in robotics. I love Arduino projects / coding / guitar / various electronics. Oh, I like cooking also ! PS : English is not my main language, please inform me in case of grammar mistakes ! ...

Hi all,

I bought in a yard sale a few days ago a fully equipped Atari 600XL. The computer, the external floppy drive, all the documentation, games, discs, and even the graphic tablet, for a few bucks !

The Atari 600XL was released in 1983. It has 16k of memory (with an external module of 64k more ram, we'll see it later). It has a build-in BASIC, 2 joysticks ports, a video monitor output, a HF TV output, and one serial port used to connect the external drives. The keyboard is full-stroke.

In this Instructable, we'll see first how to clean everything and set-up the computer and the external peripherals on a modern TV. Oh, and how to play of course !

Feel free to comment or to ask questions ! I'm not a professional of this kind of computers, but for basics questions, I'm sure it will be okay !

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Step 1: Big Cleaning !

Ok, the computer was stored in his original box, so it wasn't very dirty. But I choose to clean it, as the other elements were dirty.

The idea is, for each element, carefully open them and separate, if possible, the plastic parts to clean them. If not, (like the computer), use a sponge and a standard cleaning liquid to remove the dirt. To clean the keyboard, I use a small brush to reach the dirt zones between the keys. Watch out to not introduce cleaning product or water in the keyboard !

After cleaning, leave the parts outside under the sun and let them dry. Once done, carefully re-assemble everything. You are done, everything is now cleaned !

Step 2: Let's Examine the Computer

This computer is very small, compared to the bigger Atari 800XL.

We can see the full-stroke QWERTY keyboard, the cartridge slot on the middle, and the function buttons on the right.

On the right side, the two joysticks connectors.

Back side, from left to right we have:

the serial port, used to connect the external drives (floppy, tape recorder)
• the parallel extension port, used (only ?) to connect an external memory module, the Atari 1064, to add 64k of RAM
TV : the HF video/sound output, modulated to be connected to a TV antenna input (see the "video" step)
Monitor : an other video output, used to be connected to an Atari screen. More details in the "Video" step.
Power In : to connect the power supply unit
Power switch : to turn the computer on !

Note : my Atari is the European PAL version, the others one are different.

Step 3: The Floopy Disc Drive

Here is the Atari 1050, the external floppy disc drive, for 5"1/4 discs. Some of them were provided with the computer.

This device is the easiest way to store data files on the computer. An external tape drive was available, but the loading times / low capacity / need to use the counter tape to check data / leads me to prefer this drive (and, most important thing, I don't have it !).

On the back side, we have, from left to right , the drive select switches (used to connect more than one drive to the computer), the two serials connectors, and the power in jack. On the front side, only the floppy drive, and a power switch button, and two leds.

Never do anything on the drive (switch it off, remove the disc) when the activity led (on the drive) is ON ! You can damage the drive and loose data.

Step 4: Check the Power Supplies Modules

Before connecting everything, it's always good to check the power supply modules, to be sure that they are all-right and to avoid to burn something.

I learned everything here.

Two modules needs to be checked : the computer power-supply, and the external floppy drive.

Fortunately, the two modules are simple, they are not switching power supply. They are easy to test, and, in case of problems, easy to fix.

Ok, get a multimeter, plug the modules into a wall power socket, and carefully test the modules.

The computer module should create 5V DC (check the pinout on the picture), the external floppy drive is 12V AC !!

In case of problems, warning, don't try to do anything inside the modules if you are not trained ! The mains can kill you ! You are warned.

Step 5: All About the Video Outputs

Ok, we will soon connect the computer to a TV. To a TV ? Yes ! During the 80's, the computers works the same way as the video games consoles : they uses the TV as display screens. No VGA connectors yet !

The 600XL comes with two video output : the TV out, and the Monitor out.

The TV out connector contains both the video and the (monophonic) sound channel, modulated at high frequency. This output is NOT a composite video signal, but an "Analog antenna" signal. It means that, in old TVs, the classical antenna must be disconnected, and this signal is connected instead. After that, a special channel on the TV (3 sometimes) allows the user to get the video and the sound.

But now, the TV incoming channels are digital, so it will not work anymore. But, my "not young" TV has both the integrated digital TV and a classic analog tuner. We will use this one later.

BUT, there is an other connector ! The monitor output is more easy to use. It contains the video output composite signal, and the sound on a separate pin. It fit the classical SCART signal (called PERITELEVISION in France). Very easy to connect !

My computer comes with three cables :

• the TV output signal, to use as an antenna cable. (Watch out, the cable must be used in the good orientation),
• a monitor to composite video signal (so, without sound),
• a monitor to SCART cable (sound and video).

The easiest way to use the computer on a modern TV is to use the SCART cable. Unfortunately, mine was very damaged (not sure that it was a genuine cable. Any ideas someone ?). But I was able to use the TV antenna signal ! Let's see this in the next step.

More information here.

Step 6: Connection !

Ok, for the first test, we will only connect the computer to the TV, without anything else (no drives, no memory module).

As explained before, my SCART cable was damaged, so I will use the simple video cable. The sound will not work, but for a first test it will be OK.

Connect the composite video cable into the YELLOW cinch connector on your TV.

Connect the other side of the cable on the monitor output on the computer. Connect the power supply module on the computer, then into a wall socket.

Turn on the TV, and select the AV-EXT channel. Turn on the computer. The red led on the right-down corner should be on.

Anything on the TV ? Check the EXT channels (my TV got 3 of them.). If a blue screen with "Ready !" appears, whouhou, it works !!

To fully check the computer video outputs, I tried the HF TV signal. Turn off everything, remove the monitor cable, and plug the antenna cable on the computer (watch out, there is a direction to respect, I don't really know why). Remove the TV antenna cable, and connect the computer antenna cable.

Turn on the computer, then the TV, and switch on the analog tuner. Asks him to researches the channels (warning, if you are still on an analog TV, you will lose your channels). If you are lucky, after a few minutes of researches, you should get the "Ready" screen !

Ok, my computer looks good, but is the sound channel working ? We will check that in the next step !

Step 7: Check Everything With a "self Test"

The Atari 600XL has a nice build-in feature that allows to check the memory modules and the sound output.

With everything still connected, turn on the TV, then the computer while holding the Option button (right side). As the "Self test" screen appears, release the button.

With Select, highlight the line "All Tests", then push Start.

The computer will first check the ROM then the RAM memory slots, then he will test the sound chip. You will hear music notes.

In the keyboard mode, just hit the keys, the corresponding key will blink on the screen.

If everything is OK, congrats, your computer is in good health !

Step 8: Some BASIC Anyone ?

Ok, as we have a nice build-in basic, let's try it.

Type the following lines of code:

10 PRINT "Hi Instructable !"

20 GOTO 10

Then type LIST to display the program. If all right, type RUN to launch it.

Push BREAK to stop this infinite loop.

Step 9: Floopy Disc, Memory Module and the DOS

Ok, turn off everything again.

Get the external drive, connect the power supply into it, then into a wall socket.

Connect one side of the serial cable into the computer serial port, then into the right connector of the floppy drive (back side view, see pics). Look into the switch address connector on the back (on the left), it should displays a black switch. If not (or if you see a grey switch), use a screwdriver to make it looks like the picture.

Ok, turn on the drive (without a disk to start).

Turn on the TV and the computer. It should display "boot error" in a loop. It means that the drive is well detected.

How to open the DOS (Disc Operating System) ?

If you have the Atari DOS disc, put it in the driver, computer off. Close the floopy drive door (what's the exact English name for this ?) and turn on the computer. He should check the drive, then display the classical "Ready" screen. Type DOS on the basic command line to access the DOS menu. Here, you can manage files, display information...

I don't really know how it works in details, I'll study this !

To make a disc "bootable", you must format them with a small utility, I'll study this. With it, you should be able to save and load BASIC programs.

Step 10: Let's Play !

Ok, to finish this Instructable, it's time to play. A few games where provided with the Atari, one of them is the famous Karateka game by Jordan Mechner.

But before playing, we must plug the external memory module into the parallel port ! It will not work if you don't put it.

Connect the joystick into the first joystick port, on the right side of the computer.

Put the Karateka disk into the drive. Close the door.

Turn on the computer, while holding the Option button. As the blue screen is displayed, release it. The drive should work (led on). Wait... The main screen should be displayed after a few seconds !

Read the game manual in order to understand how to play !

Step 11: Conclusion

Ok, this Instructable is just a quick overview of my first experiments with this computer. I still have a lot to experiment... I'll try to create a serial link with the serial port of a computer, to transfer files, and why not to create my custom games...

If you've got one, do not hesitate to share your experiments !

Thanks for reading !

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    19 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago on Step 5

    So i have a question: I recently purchased an Atari 600xl and made the connections to my tv. From what im hearing from videos online there is a bootup noise that you can hear as the device is started up. I'm not getting that noise, nor am i getting any video from the computer. The power pack does work, so i dont think its any issues with that. Do you have any further advice so i can begin to troubleshoot this?

    1 answer

    Answer 1 year ago

    It's been a long time since I booted up my 600XL, but I don't remember any boot sound.

    What video output did you tried ? The composite is the best one to try, as the "antenna" signal can be hard to be recognized by new TVs.

    One thing you can do is to check the 5V on every chips inside the computer to make sure the power supply is OK.

    Is the led turning ON ?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I started with the Atari model 800... which is very similar but bigger. There are many game cartridges available on ebay for these, and they were far superior to the games on the model 2600. For example, Pacman on the 2600 was pretty lame... but on the 800xl... it was just like the arcade version (at that time). The game cartridges are available on ebay... and some of them are very expensive. However, the expensive ones are the "rare" ones... but lucky for you, the popular ones were the best ones and they are plentiful and cheap. If you ever get a game cart that doesn't work, just remove the lid from the game cart and if the ROM-chip is in a socket, just slightly pry up on the IC (Don't remove it)... then push it back into the socket. That will "re-seat" the pins and will fix most game cartridges that don't work.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the tip ! I'll try to get some cartridges, as I don't have any of them...!


    5 years ago

    Serial con is too slow to build a browser around but you can do simple text and maybe some house hold automation. You can definitely communicate with a pic like the arduino that would open a world of possibliity

    1 reply

    5 years ago This is a link to a serial to ether device. It's not plug and play. It will take a lot of code and imagination to get it to work but the theory is good


    5 years ago

    Floppy disk had a notch on the left side the allowed them to be written to. If you flip thedisk upside down and cut a notching the opposite side you can write to that side. This effectively doubles the size of the disk. Although you have to take it out of the drive and physically flip it to use the additional space


    5 years ago

    Wanna a project. With a serial to Ethernet adapter it should be possible to build a chat application with this machine. It's a completely useless exercise but it woul be fun to try

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    A special cable exists, the SIO2PC cable. You can create a serial link between a computer and the Atari. It's my next challenge ! I need to study it. But yes, with an Ethernet adapter it can be fun... Maybe I can try to browse the net...!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I studied the documentation. They only talk about the single/double density (a special format command must be used), but nothing on the single/double side. Maybe I don't have the good floppy drive ?


    5 years ago

    I think it 720k. But it's been a few years


    5 years ago

    This was one of my first computers. I spent hours keying in and debugging code. Enjoy

    1 reply