Atari System 1
The hardware used a large circuit board with a Motorola 68010 main processor, a MOS Technology 6502 sound processor, an operating system ROM, text and graphics display hardware, and control interfaces. Two large edge-card connectors allowed a "cartridge board" to be plugged in; the cartridge board supplied the main program ROMs, sound program ROMs, graphics ROMs, graphics shift registers, a "SLAPSTIC" copy protection chip, and (for some games) TI TMS5220 LPC speech synthesis chip. System 1 was capable of generating a max resolution of 336 x 240 with 256 colors from a palette of 1024 colors.
Converting one System 1 game into another generally required replacing the cartridge board, attraction marquee, control panel, and in some cases installing additional controls (e.g., foot pedal for Road Blasters).
Early System 1 boards and cartridge boards used large numbers of 7400 series TTL chips. These boards were later replaced by the functionally identical "System 1 LSI Main" and "LSI Cartridge" boards, which used ASICs for reduced manufacturing costs.
Modular or upgradeable video games were not commonly offered by the major video game companies in the 1970s and 1980s, because it was more profitable to sell an entirely new machine. System 1 was the only major exception, though there were many smaller companies that sold conversion kits for competitors' hardware.
The system 1 and its games are noted for the use of "raw" sounding FM Synthesizers for sound effects and music: that is, the music many times used instruments that had the modulation settings turned too high or too low to emulate realistic sounding instruments, instead creating a warbly or noisy sound.
Atari System 2
Very soon after the introduction of the Atari System 1, the Atari System 2 was introduced. The System 2 platform was used for the games:
Probably the most noticeable difference between the System 2 and System 1 games was the fact that the System 2 used higher resolution graphics. The video resolution was 512x384 and as such a medium resolution monitor was used (System 1 used low resolution).
The hardware was similar to its predecessor in the fact that it used 2 main circuit boards. In this case it used a "CPU board" and a "Video Board". The EPROMs were split between both boards.
These systems have been emulated by the MAME software program.
- The code t11.c here is an example that emulates the DEC CPU within the MAME program.