History of Consoles: Atari 5200 (1982)


Console: Atari 5200

Manufacturer: Atari

Availability: 1982



In the early 1980’s Atari was still successful with their Atari 2600 console, but soon there were many competitors including Mattel’s Intellivision (released 1979) that were taking some of the gaming marketshare away from Atari.  Atari had also a fairly successful line of Atari 400 and Atari 800 8-bit computers at the time, and in the late 1970’s Atari decided to take the same chipset used in their 8-bit computers, and create a stand alone home console.  At first the system was called the “Atari Video System X-Advanced Video Computer System”, and the project was code-named “Pam” after a female employee at the time with Atari Inc.  Some people speculated that Pam also meant “Personal Arcade Machine” because many of the games for the system were direct ports from the arcade. There are some 100% working “Atari Video System X” models floating around today, but they are extremely rare.


Things that set the Atari 5200 apart were that it featured four controller ports, where every system up to this point only had two.  It also featured a TV switch-box which would enable the system to automatically switch to the game signal when the system was turned on. Previously people had to manually switch the RF box between TV and the game signals.  The downfall of this unique RF box was that the power adapter had to be plugged into the RF box, which is very similar to the RCA Studio II and how that powered up.

In 1983 Atari redesigned the Atari 5200 to only include two controller ports and replaced the power supply to the more conventional way, and got rid of the auto-switching RF box.

Unlike the 8-bit line of Atari computers, the Atari 5200 did not include a keyboard, didn’t have an 10KB operation system but rather a simple 2KB BIOS, and non of the Atari 400/800 computer games are compatible for the Atari 5200 and vice versa.



The Atari 5200 controllers had a lot of great inovations, but unfortunately they aren’t reliable, and one big reason the system didn’t sell well.   The controllers featured an analog joysticks that could move in all different directions, a pause button on the controller (very unique in this time), start button, reset button, numeric keypad, and four action buttons on the side. The Achille’s heel for the controllers was that the analog joysticks featured a week rubber boot rather than metal springs, and many of the joysticks ended up not being very responsive, and thus unusable.

Atari also released a Pro-Line Trak-Ball controller for the Atari 5200 to be used for games including Centipede or Missile Command.



Soon after the Atari 5200 hit the market Coleco released their Colecovision system in the market as well.  Ultimately the Atari 5200 didn’t fare well because Atari was still focusing primarily at their already saturated Atari 2600 console.  Atari had plans on releasing a much smaller version of the Atari 5200 called the (Atari 5100 or “Atari 5200 Jr.”), but that never saw the light of day outside of a few rare prototypes. In 1984, only a few years after the initial release, Atari dropped all support for the Atari 5200.



In total only 69 official Atari 5200 games were released.  There is still however a homebrew market out there for the system. The games were significantly larger than all of the other types of games in the market, and there is no sticker game label at the top of the game to tell which game it is when they games are stacked.  Most of the games released for the Atari 5200 were arcade ports.


Technical Specs:

  • CPU: Custom MOS 6502C @ 1.79 MHz (not a 65C02).
  • Support Hardware: 3 custom VLSI chips
  • Maximum Screen Resolution: 384×240 (overscan), 256 color palette. Register values can be changed at every scan line using ANTIC display list interrupts, allowing all 256 colors to be displayed at once.
  • Graphics: ANTIC and GTIA
  • Sound: 4-channel sound via the POKEY chip which also handles keyboard scanning, serial I/O, high resolution interrupt capable timers (single cycle accurate), and random number generation.
  • RAM: 16 KB[8]
  • ROM:
    • 2 KB on-board BIOS for system startup and interrupt routing.
    • 32 KB ROM window for standard game cartridges, expandable using bank switching techniques.
  • Dimensions: 13″ × 15″ × 4.25″

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John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a bimonthly podcast for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007