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need feedback for a timeline to be posted to soc.history.what-if by Kalvan2009-11-24 09:43:36


I'm currently drawing up a timeline for Soc.History.What-if that involves a point of divergence where Nolan Bushnell manages to secure funds by having Japanese companies Taito and Nichibutsu take 22.5 percent stakes each in Atari, thus preventing the need to sell Atari Japan independant to become Namco, and the rest to WB. As a result, the game designers aren't treated like poop, so they don't bolt to form Activision (Third party software is inevitable, though. Imagic, Broderbund, Sierra, Parker Brothers, and yes, even Mattel and Coleco wrote third party software for things other than the 2600 first.)

So far, I've gotten the hardware specs for the home consoles and computers written up, but of course, I'd like you folks to take a look and tell me what you think of what I have so far.

Home Consoles:

Pong: Same as OTL

Super Pong: Same as OTL

2600: Same as OTL

2800: Introduced in 1980: Slight Hardware revision of the 2600 (Chip Die Shrink, Slight Overclock) Featuring push-button console switiches, four controller ports (facing forward) and new controlers combining joystick and dial-paddle functionality with microswitch architcture. First Atari Home System introduced in Japan. (Based on the Japanese Market Atari 2800 that was introduced just in time to be colobbered by the Nintendo Famicom in Japan)

5200: Introduced in 1983: CPU 7802 (Custom Ten bit Microprocesser Based on MOS 6502) 64 Kilobytes of RAM. Fully Backward Compatible with 2600-2800) Utilizing the POKEY sound chip, and a native resolution of 256x224 and capable of displaying 256 Colors at one time out of a total pallette of 1024. Featuring a controller based on the 2800, but with a self-centering analog joystick and three action buttons plus start and select. Pack-in game: PacLand.

Must Have Peripheral: Trackball Controller Packed with Millipede. Indispensible for Mike Ditka Football and the sniping portions of Golgo 13.

10400: Introduced in 1988: CPU 16 bit MOS 65C816 Overclocked to ca. 10 Megahertz. 512 Kilobytes System RAM, Custom 16 bit GPU with 96K Video RAM, Capable of displaying up to 256 sprites onscreen and 2048 colors out of atotal palette of 65K. Native Resolution Modes: 384x272 to 448x320. (384x256 and 448x306 in PAL Countries) Ten Channel MIDI Sound Chip with Voice Synthesizer. Fully Backward Compatible with 2600-2800 and 5200 game cartridges. Pack-in Game: Choice of PacMania or Gauntlet. Introduced game save system through FlashRAM cards. Much cheaper than the battery packs used in Nintendo and Sega Game Cartridges.

Must Have Peripheral: CD-ROM Drive, Packed with MACH V. A must Have for Ys Deluxe, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and all of Cinemaware's Historical and Fantasy games.

Panther: Introduced in 1993: CPU 64 bit Digital Alpha 21064 (EV4S Revision) Declocked to 75 Megahertz. System RAM 16 Megabytes RAMBUS DRAM. Custom graphics chip based on Atari Arcade Hardware and used by Digital Equipment in their PRISM Worksatation (A mix and match of technologies from the Atari Transputer and the OTL cancelled Digital PRISM Project, part of an ATL technology sharing deal that eventually leads to a merger) with 4 Megabytes of Video RAM. 24 Channel sound chip featuring 12 MIDI chennels and 8 PCM Channels. Replaced FlashRAM cards for save states with an Insite Periphrials based Floptical 3 inch drive that was twice as reliable, 10 times as fast and almost 1000 times as dense. (save file system was backward compatible with 10400's method, so Floptical disc could save 10400 save states even if the Flash Cards couldn't fit in the drive) Pack-in Game: PacWorld CD-ROM only System.

Must Have Peripheral: Overdrive Modular Control Stick/Steering Wheel. Indispensible for Ridge Racer, San Francisco Rush, California Speed, Future Flyer, MechWarrior II, III, and IV, Star Raiders: Destiny, and the Lucas Arts Star Wars games.

Panther2: Released in 1996: Slight revision of the Panther making use of a Die Shrink to .5 micron process, roducing voltage to 2.5 and consumption to 6 watts from 30, and breaking backwad compatibility with with previous Atari consoles, thus reducing system prce from $225 to $125.

Jaguar: Released in 1999: CPU Two Digital Alpha 21164(PCA57) CPUs at 600 Megahertz, Linked to a custom 128 bit Data Bus. 64 Megabytes System RAM, Custom Bose Wave Table sound card with 64 Megahertz StrongARM Core and Custom S3 Savage 3D Graphics Card with 16 Megabytes VideoRAM. Built-in Broadband Modem. Pack-in Games: Choice of Tekken 3, Aliens vs. Predator, or Soul Calibur. Fully backward Compatble with Panther (but not consoles before) Floptical drive replaced by 3M SuperDisc drive featuring backward compatibility with the Panther's file save format. (But again, a Floptical wouldn't work in a SuperDisc) CD/DVD software medium.

Sabertooth: Released in 2005: CPU: Custom design four core Digial Alpha Based on the 21264D using a 90 nanometer process and a 256 bit address bus at 2.5 Gigahertz. (The first Atari Game console with a non off-the-shelf CPU since the 5200). 448 Megabytes System RAMBUS XDR DRAM. Custom S3 SHAMAN 3D Graphics Card featuring 256 Megabytes RAMBUS XDR DRAM. Ten LayerVMD-ROM Software Media. Free subscription to Atari @ Home online multiplayer matchup service. Pack-in Game: Choice of Soul Calibur 3, Tekken 5, or Pac Man Generations. The development of USB pen drives and modern flash card standards has rendered previous expensive custom storage media obsolete.

Must Have Peripheral: Caliburn/Onigiri (Motion based sword controler) Packed with Mazan: Flash of the Blade or Fechmeister.(Same basic design, but one's a Western Longsword, the other's a Katana) Indispensible for Mazan 1, 2 and 3, Soul Calibur 3 and 4, The Tales series, Fechtmeister, and Tellings of the Wheel.


Atari 120: Introduced in 1978: Basically a 2600 with 8k RAM, a built in BASIC ROM, and a 3"x8" QWERTY Keyboark. Interface was via a Cassette Tape Drive. Sold only in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand.

Atari 400: Introduced in 1980: Upgraded 8 Bit Computer featuring 16 K RAM, and a "Typewriter Sized" Membrane Keyboard.

Atari 800: Introduced in 1980: Feature Rich "Deluxe" 400 featuring 24 K RAM(expandable to 48K), "Real" Keyboard, and a Built in 32K Microtape drive simmiler to the Exatron Stringy-Floppy and ZX Microdrive.

Atari 1000: Introduced in 1982: CPU 7802 with either 48 or 80K RAM. Microtape drive updated with integrated controller card, random seek function, and a longer 64 k format (still backward compatible with 32k tapes) that could store data on all of the tape (no room for subdirectories, though). Unlike the XE/XG/XL Computers of OTL, did not break backward compatibility with Atari 400/800.

Atari 1600: Introduced in 1985: CPU 16 Bit 65C0816 clocked to 6 megahertz,with an integrated clock controller to prevent "zipping" and maintain backward compatibility with previous Atari computers, and replaces the tape drive with a 3 inch Double Sided Double Density/Single Sided High Density Floppy Disc Drive. 1987 Atari 1600XR Added GEOS GUI System to the ROM. 1990 1600XRT overclocks CPU to 10400 speeds, switches to a fully static core, and adds 20 MB Hard Drive. Unreleased 1995 1600XRX Model features X8 Speed CD ROM Drive 128 K RAM (eventually upgraded to 1 Megabyte by the time it is discontinued in 1994)

Atari ST: Introduced in 1985: CPU 32 Bit MIPS R2000 RISC processor. 512 Kilobytes of RAM, built in 3 inch flippy drive, and the introduction of the predecessor of the 10400's MIDI Sound Chip.

Atari STX/Falcon: Introduced in 1988: CPU Atari/Digial Joint Venture PRISM CPU running TOS 2.0. Backward compatibility with MIPS based ST maintained through the use of a code-morph emulator in the BIOS. In 1992, Atari and Digital migrate to the Alpha with the upgrade to TOS 4.0 and the introduction of OpenVMS.

re: need feedback for a timeline to be posted to soc.history.what-if by Kalvan2009-11-24 09:44:24


Here's some more from my notes, if anyone is at all interested.

In this timeline, my healthy Atari never makes a PC Clone, and Apple is more likely to quickly settle over GEM with an Atari that has good friends in MIPS and DEC. This means that both can pour more money into production and R&D, and Atari can afford to price the ST rather closer to PCs of simmilar memory capacity. And the precedent of that settlement will bring Commodore to heel quicker, and encourage Apple to mend fences with Xerox behind closed doors(possibly with a large but not majority chunk of Apple stock). All of this will isolate Microsoft more financially and legally. This circling of the wagons and dotting the i's and j's and crossing of t's and x's (particlarly regarding Xerox) will give such greater weight to Apple's "Look and Feel" lawsuit that the following scenerios are possible:

1. Microsoft settles, and either scraps the most usable features of Windows until the late 90s or else pays a royalty it has to pass on to consumers and OEMs.

2. Microsoft loses and gets hit with an injunction, which stays intact as the case winds its way through the appeals process. While a favorable Supreme Court descision can bust up this "Anti-Napoleonic" coalition forever, that will still be three years of paperwork, courtroom shennanigans, and billable hours from the initial verdict (which itself won't appear on the District Trial Docket immediately) and unless Bill Gates can get away with bribery (and actually tries it) there's no garauntee it will even be heard at 1 1st Street. And even if Microsoft wins, there's no way to recover the revenue it would have made from Windows unless Bill and Steve can prove collusion, which would require evidence that would probably have beem justifiably destroyed before Discovery, or else requiring extralegal means beyond Discovery to obtain, opening up grounds for lawsuits and a further financial drain from litigation. This means a higher price for a more bare-bones MS-DOS, and higher priced buggier Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Schedule Plus that will more than make up for assembler and machine level calls and other such leveraged optimizations.

3. Microsoft tries an end run with a fig leaf to Xerox. If Xerox no longer has an axe to grind with Apple, they'll hear nothing of it.

Atari will also sell its computers (the 1600 especially) with as agressive a price point as it can without cutting corners, then make the cynical descision in 1993 with the transition to the Alpha to sell copies and licences of full-kernel TOS seperately from Falcon hardware at the rather reasonable price of $130 per computer/user/copy. (Well, sort of. It will still only run on Digital Alpha CPUs, if you deviate from the stock spec graphics, sound, I/O controler, or bridge hardware, you're the one who will have write the new drivers{which must not be for sale if this breaks compatibility with the kernel at the command interpreter or BIOS levels, or it violates the license}) The cynicism of this descision is that cloners still have to buy Alpha chips from Digital (and several architectural features and all the instruction set itself are under patent, so even a semi-functional reverse engineering job would be absolute piracy) and any driver not written by the manufacturer of the component (or under contract there from) of the original hardware is automatically in the public domain.

These things, together, will lower the popularity of PC clones, especially in the consumer and small business arenas. Standardised PC sound cards will only be beeps and boops until the release of the first Sound Blaster card, which _still_ won't be able to compete with the 1600's four year old sound chips regadless of what speakers are plug in, let alone those in the STX. That would have to wait until Sound Blaster Pro, except that the Falcon will leapfrog even that and Sound Blaster 16 in 1993. Creative Labs won't finally leave non workstation Atari-Digital stock sound technology permanantly in the dust until Sound Blaster Live!, by which time the Digital-Bose alliance will be starting to bear fruit. As for the VGA standard, when introduced in 1987, the PC will finally catch up with the Atari 1000 as a gaming device, (well, theoretically better resolution, but practically far worse frame rates, clipping, and total color pallette) which was retired from service the year before. The 1600 XR can clobber it handily, let alone the STX. It's not until the late Nineties and the 3dfx Voodoo Rush, ATI Rage, and S3 Savage cards that the PC has better graphical hardware than the stock Falcon's arcade and Digital workstaion technology hand-me-downs, except those cards will fit in Falcon motherboards too!

And all of this will encourage the further development of other unique 32 bit challengers. The Sinclair QL will be based on the Zilog Z8000-Z80000 and then Ez80 series of 32 bit processors with an easily configurable keyboard layout to expand all thougout europe and the PAL market, so that competition with Amstrad's PC clones and Acorn's ATL Falcon (The basis for Digial gaining the ARM architecture) clones were far closer and fiercer than anything in otl.

In Japan, aided and abetted MITI, a new katakana/harigana/kanji radical keyboard standard and Hitachi's own 32 bit CPU designs ultimately derived from the Motorola 6809, a successor to the MSX 3 standard (this one without Microsoft) resulted called SNKK. (And yes, SNK stamped its approval on this by using it as the basis for it's NEO GEO2 arcade and home system hardware).

Microsoft's customers in total will have the largest overall marketshare, but that share will fluctuate between 40 and 45% in any given market (and be rather closer to 35% in PAL markets and Japan).

I'm toying with having Atari-Digital introduce an inexpensive home computer/laptop/palmtop/PDA line based on the StrongARM chip called Sparrow (Home Computer, Laptop), Robin(Palmtop) and Hummingbird(PDA) running a cut down version of TOS with a built in high language compiler (someting that could be considered easy enough to be entry-level {which means that C and it's derivatives, like Java are out}, but more powerful than, say, most BASIC dialects and not under the thumb of a direct competitor {So Microsoft Visual Basic is out, as is are SmalTalk and HyperTalk}) as a spiritual successor to the 400/800/1000/1600 lineup (Complete with not quite total backward software compatibility for the Sparrow via an emulator in the BIOS) and to tweak Apple's nose at not being able to come up with an entry-level Mac at the ca. $400 price point, and bridge the percieved gap between Panther and Falcon. Would this work, or was the age of the entry level hobbyist home computer over for good by then?

re: need feedback for a timeline to be posted to soc.history.what-if by Darryl B.2009-11-29 00:05:44

Darryl B.
Houston, TX

Bug Smasher
125 Posts
Can't help you as far as a technical standpoint goes, but good luck, you've sure gone to a lot of trouble for a 'what if'-type story!




re: need feedback for a timeline to be posted to soc.history.what-if






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