The "Atari 800 ITX"
Hutson - Posted on June 16, 2003
The Atari 800 was my first love. The year
was 1982, and the specs were cutting-edge: 1.79 MHz, 48K of
RAM (should be enough for almost anything, right?) Well, after
years of playing games, times changed and I had graduated
on to bigger, faster, sexier computers. The Atari went into
the closet...then eventually faded and disappeared.
Flash forward to 2000. I've missed that clunky
old Atari. Well, after a chance meeting with an elderly gentleman,
I came into a very large quantity of free Atari gear that
he had been hoarding and wanted to donate to "a loving
home". I've been reveling in nostalgia ever since.
There has always been a cult community of
Atari 8-bit enthusiasts, keeping the platform alive, and even
developing some very interesting new technologies that allow
interface to modern PCs and peripherals.
When I was alerted to the new Mini-ITX standard,
I immediately thought: Wouldn't it be cool to retrofit an
Atari 800 to be a full-fledged Windows PC, with built-in Atari
interface, to act as a high-speed Atari I/O Server? The ITX
mobo should fit, and the resulting PC would have a designed-in
useful purpose. As a side benefit, I could use it as a DVD
player! I had my work cut out for me...
Here's the perfect donor unit: dirty, a little
beaten up, missing keyboard keys, unable to boot up.
The first step was to completely gut the unit,
and throw away the internals. I realized immediately that
there would be a few logistical challenges, as the inside
of the atari case is not linear. As you can see in the picture,
there are steps and angles, as well as support pillars all
over the upper half of the case.
The first thing I did was to use a Dremel
tool to mill out a slot for a notebook-style CD burner. The
Atari has four 9-pin joystick slots on the lower front of
the case. Three of these are just wide enough for a standard
I also required a self-contained power supply,
particularly well-suited for ITX in set-top DVD type applications.
I found a nice unit from PC
Power and Cooling. I decided on the best location for
this power supply, then set about to milling out holes in
the case to accomodate the rear panel, and to cut out the
case support pillars to fit the power box inside snugly.
I got my hands on a Samsung CDRW/DVD drive
that came complete with mounting plate and integral IDE connector
adapter. The first test fitting was perfect.
Due to the shape of the case, I had to figure
out how to suspend the rear-end of the CDR about 8mm above
the floor of the case. I decided that a simple but effective
solution would be to mount nylon standoff posts with narrow
slots cut out to hold the rear of the mounting plate. Perfect--sturdy
enough and lightweight.
The Atari's keyboard was going to be a major
problem. The 800's keyboard assembly is huge and heavy. It
literally occupies the entire front end of the case (exactly
where the CDR is now sitting). At first, I wasn't sure how
I was going to solve this. First, I thought I might find a
notebook PC keyboard that might fit in that space, but that
proved to be highly impractical for several reasons (I won't
bore you with the details).
As it turns out, the later model Ataris (XL
series) used a totally different keyboard that was wider,
but very slim. This would work as a replacement, but it would
have to be a non-functional facade.
I had to make several cuts to the new keyboard
to make it fit properly. I wanted to retain the use of the
console keys (RESET, START, etc.), so I cut that part of the
keyboard off and used some creative mounting to make it work
with the older style buttons (see left side of photo)