The AtariPC Project (AKA Atari + PC = Strange Breed of Game)

Introduction: The AtariPC Project (AKA Atari + PC = Strange Breed of Game)

Well, My first instructable.
I was planning on waiting to add this to Instructables until it was final, but I can't... for 2 reasons, 1: It's just too frigging awesome to keep in hiding any longer, and 2: The dead computer contest (It fits perfectly)
For those of you who are wondering what this exactly is, it's pretty simple.
I had a box of old laptops that  Irescued from a dumpster, and I also had a pair of Atari 2600 VCS systems that I had also rescued from a dumpster (but a different dumpster though, so you aren't confused)
My Project is currently Incomplete, as I ran out of funding (I started with $0 for the project, and I'm sadly, still stuck there)

It's a pretty basic setup, One laptop, One Atari 2600 VCS, and one brain are basically all that's required, tools are usually extra, but handy. << Youtube says my video is too long, so it's on my site instead. Enjoy

Step 1: Step 1: Gut the Atari

Gutting an Atari seemed fun... Until I started doing it.
This is the 6 switch, Woodgrain model, and It's pretty easy to take it apart.
Flip it over,
Locate the screws (There's about 6 of them, depending on your model, mine has 8, and a newer model of mine has only 5... so it's really iffy depending on the model)

Remove the screws. (A screwdriver is useful, or if you're feeling spiteful against the Atari, a nice, highspeed drill will take them out just fine, be careful, don't damage the case too much)

Once the screws are out, you'll be able to pull the top off the system, and you'll want to keep that intact. It'll be used later.

Once inside, you'll see a mainboard. just sitting there... (Or is it?)
It'll take a few more screws to remove the mainboard, but it'll come put pretty easy (Again, i'm not sure exactly how many it takes, as the models differ greatly over the years, mine had some holding it in from the underside) Taking out all the screws that you see underneath it will allow you to probably pull it out, if not, take out any others you see once it's open, and try to remove it (Mine came out in one piece)

You're now left with a nice, empty case.

Step 2: Gut the Laptop!

This step depends on the laptop you choose.
I chose an Insprion 3700 because of one feature: The expansion bays. It has 2 bays on the bottom half of the system, making it freakishly small when separated from the plastics (As the pictures will tell)
I know that some dell Latitude systems (the CPx, and a few others my school has (I'll update the list when the snow clears out) are usable, PLEASE COMMENT IF YOU KNOW YOUR LAPTOP WOULD FIT!)

I also have confirmed that the Compaq Armada m700 laptop will fit it, but barely (I've got 5, so I decided to test fit, and it's faster than my 3700, but I have no power adapter)

The Needed specs for your laptop are: TV out, atleast 400mhz (for it to be able to emulate some stuff, atleast Atari 2600 games), Proper cooling, Hard disk, with enough space for your OS (my system uses a custom built system based on Windows 2000) and the Roms (You'll be able to find them at, the whole collection is just over 2mb, so you'll not have too much trouble...)
I've also loaded mine up with other stuff, but we'll get to that in another step...

Since everyone's laptop is different, it'll be hard to detail it properly, but as a point of reference, Almost every Dell laptop has a "Service manual" which details how to take it apart, most HP do, some gateway do as well...
If you can't find it on the manufacturer's site, you might try just googling it's model name with "Service manual" at the end of it.

NOTE: It's always good to test that the laptop still works as you take off each part. Make sure NOT TO REMOVE THE HEAT SINK!

Step 3: Prep the Atari Case

As I mentioned in the Intro, I've got a budget of $0. that includes tools.
I needed a dremel.
I called my uncle.
I hopped into the rusty* trusty car of mine, and headed over to their house.

Once there, I found out that they lost the adapter for their cutting tool, so we had to make do with the rest of their tools.
A dremel is recommended, but since I didn't use one, I won't say that it's needed (I'd still like one to make the case alot nicer)

Instead of a Dremel, I used a Power Sander, and some bolt cutters, along with a pipe cutter for some finishing touches, to make it all fit.

you should keep test fitting the systemboard in the case, and adjust properly, to assure a perfect fit.

*rust car not required, just some mode of transportation if needed

Step 4: Software

No computer works without software, right?

Well... I'm the kind of person who as a personal library of Windows OS, and other novelity software, and pretty good at typing stuff into google... so... I've gone beyond the normal software you'd find on a laptop.

My OS I chose was one that Dell had supported on their site (make sure to do that... finding drivers is a pain when it's not supported by a computer maker...)

I loaded up a copy of Windows 2000 into nLite (Google it, it allows you to slim down an OS to work however you want) and slapped in the driverpacks, and then slimmed it down to just 18mb of ram used (Without Explorer... because I don't need it)

The Atari Emulator is called Stella (Google it) and it contains quite a few nifty features

The ROMS are from, their whole collection is just over 2mb, and it's a nice full collection.

There are a few other Emulators i've loaded on it, but You can do whatever you want with yours)

FTP server: In my madness to make it run as slim as possible, I accidentally removed any chances to add files to the actual file system, via the system, so I installed FileZilla Server, and shared the ROMS folder.

Custom written VB script chooser (Still in testing, not finalized) for when I want to load more than one emulator, will be implemented when I finish it, including the selector switches.

WiFi Software (For the cheap USB wifi dongle)

Game Pad Adapter software (For the cheap PS2\Gamecube\Xbox to USB adapter)

I also used VMWare Workstation to develop the "Test bed" with the appropriate hardware, and software in the system, and running it at the right settings. One limitation of the system that is difficult to replicate except on physical hardware is the processor speed, luckily there is a nifty picece of software called QEMU that allows me to not only emulate the hardware, but the video card as well (an 8MB one) which gave me the proper realizations of how well it would work.

This system does run like a jackrabbit with the current software setup.

Step 5: Custom Hardware

Every project hack requires custom hardware.
First things first: the project originally was going to include an adapter that converted the joypads to PC readable input, until I found out that I would have to pay $20 a port for some USB adapters, so that was scrapped.
I went with the next best thing: Keyboard hacking.
Everybody who has ever taken apart a keyboard knows how much fun it is to trace the keyboard matrix inside it, to use it for something else [/sarcasm]
It took me about 4 hours to trace, and take notes on the whole matrix of the keyboard using my improvised circuit tester, also known as the exploded flash light (1x AA battery, 1x Flashlight bulb, 2x paperclips, 1x large spool wire, 1x time)
A Keyboard controller is the brains of the keyboard, and is quite useful when making hacks that require keyboard strokes being translated into buttons.
I took the controller, and mapped out all the keys needed, and took notes of what circuits need to be closed to make such a thing happen.
It requires some Triple Pole, Dual Switch switches, which I haven't been able to get my hands on, so this piece of the hardware will not be completed soon, but if Anyone ever finds some, and they fit the 9mm by 17mm holes (just the switch part) please let me know. (These are momentary in the UP and DOWN positions, to allow me to simulate a key-press.)

Other custom hardware that is needed:
If using a DELL brand laptop, and are wanting composite out: a pair of metal-cored bag twists, and a sliced up composite rca cable. Plug the stripped ends of the metal cored bag twists into pins 2 and 6 of the socket (you'll find the pinout for it at, or just look at the picture)  (6 is right next to 2, in the center above the notch) and attach the CORE of the composite video the pin 6, the Ground to pin 2.
This will allow TV out.

A hacked up USB Hub will fit perfectly in the bottom of the case, and you can dremel out the space for it to expose it's ports, allowing you to plug in whatever USB devices you desire.

Step 6: Things to Come

As I mentioned earlier, It's nowhere near perfect.
I've got it complete, and the pictures will attest to that, but It needs switches.
I don't have the budget to put the switches in, but I do have the patientce to wait till I do, and i'll update accordingly.
I don't have a TV to test it on, but I do have a DVD Conversion kit (Basically a USB to RCA\SVideo adapter for my PC, and i'll post pics of me playing roms\loading the system on it)

If you don't have a laptop with TV out, there's a VGA to Svideo adapter out there somewhere (I know there is, because my school has some sitting in their supply cabinet, but I haven't tested it yet)
And alot of laptops have atleast SVideo out, which will work, with an adapter.

I havne't modified the bootscreen for it (mostly because you can't see it whilst starting, but it's pretty nifty to do with any Windows OS.
It hasn't been finished, only plays Atari Games, but Sega Genesis, and NES\SNES games are in the works too. MAME will NOT be implemented, because it's too processor intensive.

Step 7: Testing\Playtime

Took a short video through the adapter of me messing with it. but... the adapter also flipped the video...
I'll try to fix that, but i'm gonna upload it first, because it works, and it works great.
I have a small script that sits waiting on startup to press Ctrl+F1 which enables the TV out command (VIA ATI's hotkey service, thanks ATI)

It's actually pretty nifty. I used a Gamecube controller, and it's a bit touchy, but you can easily get the hang of it pretty darn fast if you're used to gaming.
Combine this with a PS2 controller, and hide the adapters inside the case, and you'd have a nifty little gaming center.

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    7 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You have a nice idea going here, and i like the fact that you chose a retro atari to put this all in, I hope you can get your hands on a dremel, it would make that project a lot nicer...

    You might want to cut some vents for that cpu fan, unless i didn't see them.


    10 years ago on Step 5

    Congrats on beinbg 3rd on the search for atari.

    Nice custom hardware tutorial :P


    10 years ago on Introduction

    You have a keyboard with a "nipple" thing!! Those are expensive and I really need one for a project I want to do.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Most late 90's laptops have them and they're easy to wire up to a regular PS\2 controller for use on a normal PC.
    I've been looking into hacking this one into my PC (Along with some media buttons for my PC) for a "Side control" that I can strap to the arm-rest of the chair and use without needing to actually be at my desk. (Great for homework)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work! These kind of projects are quite fun to build. I added your project to our group that has some similar interests. If you'd like join us that'd be awesome. Thanks for sharing your instructable!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Well... Youtube says that my video is too long, so it's on my site instead... here: