Atari 2600 Teardown
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Background and Identification
Originally branded as the “Atari Video Computer System“ (VCS) upon release in 1977, the Atari 2600 is a home game console designed by Atari, Inc. The 2600 was one of the first consoles to use ROM cartridges to store games instead of building them into the processor as was the case with Pong. To achieve this goal, the 2600 used a MOS Technology 6507 processor running at 1.19 MHz.
Early games for the 2600—including Combat and Adventure—were programmed to fit into the machine’s 4096 bytes of addressable memory. Later games got around this limitation using bank switching. Fun fact: Adventure was the first video game to include an Easter egg.
The 2600 includes two joystick ports and was originally bundled with two joysticks. Buttons on the console allow you to change the difficulty, reset a game, or toggle the output between black-and-white and color. The 2600 was sold in PAL and NTSC regions and can work at 50 Hz or 60 Hz depending on the model. Video output is an RF modulated signal, but you can modify your 2600 to output RGB video, S-video, or composite.
The design of the 2600 changed from 1977 to 1986, but most models feature a black plastic case with horizontal slats. Early designs feature wood grain on the front. The Atari 2600 Jr., released in 1986, is black with a wide rainbow stripe. The simplest way to identify your model is to compare it with this list on AtariAge.
- MOS Technology 6507 at 1.19 MHz
- 128 colors on NTSC, 104 colors on PAL
- 128 bytes of RAM
- 4096 bytes accessible in each ROM (more with bank switching)
- 2 joystick ports
- RF modulated video output