github twitter linkedin instagram
Atari 800XL revival mod
Jul 2, 2018
3 minutes read

Many moons ago, I bought a broken Atari 800XL from a used electronics store for about 10CAD. I wanted to bring it back to life in some form - even if I just slapped a Raspberry Pi inside and ran an Atari simulator. After letting it collect dust for about 6 years, I decided to finally finish this project.

To get the full Atari experience, the keyboard needs to work, of course. I used a Teensy 2.0 to translate from the old-school Atari keyboard connector to USB (This article was a godsend). You can see the keyboard controller source code here. Shoutout to pixelpracht, who I stole some code from.

I had a Lenovo T500 with a broken screen kicking around, and had a hunch that it would fit. It isn’t a great computer, but a lot better than a Raspberry Pi, and clearly powerful enough to run an Atari simulator. So I tore it apart like an animal. I realized the power button was connected via the T500 keyboard connector, so I traced the connection on the keyboard matrix with an ink pen to find which pins need to short for the power signal.

The T500 motherboard fit perfectly in the Atari case… except for the heat sink. So my brother and I set out to our favorite electronics surplus shop, and found some heat sinks that fit (mostly). We mounted the heat sinks through some of the old T500 screw holes with metal wire, and screwed some spare fans directly into the heat sinks. In the below picture, it looks like one fan should touch the case, but it just clears the Atari case (I moved it a bit further back after taking this photo). The T500 fan used a 3 pin connector, but we had some extra 4 pin connector fans that we wanted to use. The protocol differs on the two types of fans, so we had to slap the old fan in just to get the laptop to boot. The new-and-improved fans are hooked up to the power lines of the old fan, so the OS will still be able to regulate the fan speeds.

I needed an internal USB port for the Atari keyboard, so I rerouted one of the external USBs (the purple wires shown below). I trimmed down the plastic around the T500 speakers and hot-glued them in place. The Antennae are fastened to the Atari case roof. I used a rotary tool to carve out some slots for the T500 I/O ports. The motherboard is mounted with bolts and nylon stand offs.

Arch Linux is my OS of choice, so I installed it along with Fluxbox and this fancy Conky configuration. You can see the configuration files here.

Et voilĂ , the Atari 800XL is finally revived! If you want to know more details about this mod, feel free to send me a message (social media links below).

Back to posts