2600 CE - Handheld Atari VCS Home

What is the 2600 CE Project?
The making of the case.
The making of the guts.
The making of the guts.
Current status of the project.
Game of the Week.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Files of interest.
Links to other sites of interest.
About me.

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated Questions are highlighted in blue and are at the top of the page...

Q. Where have you been for the last two years?
A. The short answer is that I've been busy - my job(s) quickly consumed all of my free time, leaving me to only think in vague terms about this project.  Add to that building a new house, Trying to get my own company off of the ground, helping friends get there businesses going, and you start wishing for 32 hour days really fast.  All of that aside, I've made a commitment to myself to follow through with this project - I've loved it from day one, and still do.  I want to see the fruits of my labor in the hands of myself and other Atari fans.

Q. What are the next steps?
A. I will be designing a new case.  To do that, I have to dig back in and get some research done - I'm going to investigate LCD screens and batteries; when I know what I can use, and what space requirements they have, I'll be able to do the case design to fit.  The PCB design hasn't changed, i just need to send it to a fab and get a few prototypes made so that I can verify that the board will work correctly.  Once those are done I'll need to find someone to make the case - there's a big plastics manufacturer near me, so I plan on talking to them first.

Q. When will the 2600 CE be finished?
A. The answer to this question changes more than the Dow, but right now, having conquered the clock circuit problem, I'm guessing that I will have saleable units in October. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's interested in a unit for being so patient, it's hard when a project like this can only be worked on in my spare time - I'd so love to do this full time! (UPDATE - It's two years later, and I'm not willing to lead anyone on at this point, but assuming I can keep a few hours a week carved out, I could have prototype boards riunning in June, and maybe prototype cases by July - after that it's merely a question of assembly - stay tuned for updates!)

Q. What colors will be available?
A. There's actually three parts to that question:

  • The controls - are already being cast in resin, and as such will be available in just about any color that you'd like, all translucent (black and white are not yet a possibility - I have to find some viable dyes).
  • The case - I haven't finalized my decision on the case yet - Depending on how it's manufactured, the case will likely be black to begin, with solid colors coming into the picture as demand requires. I've been told that colors are going to be more expensive, and translucents will be even more. I really want to have a broad selection, but the particualrs will be known a little later on.
  • The combination - You'll be able to freely mix and match colors - I'm working on creating enough molds so that I can get large batches of the same color, since it's fiendishly tough to match colors between batches. From there, pick what you want, and so it shall be built!

Q. How much has this endeavor cost you so far?
A. So far, I've spent around $1000, and I'm sure it'll top $1300 before I'm done (not including the cost of a case prototype made, which'll be another $600+)... It creeps up on you, $10 here, $20 there. There are also some big purchases, of course, like an oscilloscope...

Q. How many units if any did you have to destroy to get the info you needed?
A. So far, four. But all of those units have salvageable chips, so they aren't just throw-aways.

Q. Will you be at the Classic Gaming Expo 2002?
A. Yes! I wanted to make it to CGE 2001, but I couldn't afford it when I needed to set things up. I will be at CGE 2002, and I'll start to get things in motion as soon as the plans and costs are released.

Q. Will you bring the CE?
A. Yes! By then, I should have had them for sale for a while, and CGE 2002 will be a great venue to not only meet those who would already be customers, but also to attract new fans.

Q. How much will they cost?
A. Right now, I'm projecting the price to be $250, or $225 with an Atari trade-in (which'll just provide me with the RIOT, STELLA and 6507 chips, and the cart connector). Here's the breakdown that helps me come to that conclusion:

  • System board - about $70 to etch and populate with the necessary components.
  • Case - about $40 each to have made, including screws and other miscelaneous items.
  • Screen - $90 for the four inch LCD.
So at this point it looks like about $200 for the parts, the remainder would pay for my labor. I hope that by working out some deals, I can make those numbers much smaller - it would be nice to hit $200 for a final price - but quality comes first in my book.

Q. Why did you use a 2600 unit, when a 7800 unit would play all of the 2600 games plus the 7800 games?
A. Before I started this project, I built the 7800 A/V modification for my 7800, as well as add a power adapter to it... I took a look at the board, and it's pretty involved - much harder to shrink (not impossible, just harder). So I figured I'd start with the 2600, then see what comes next...

Q. Have you thought about designing a new chip that will incorporate all the processes of the three chips?
A. I don't have the knowledge to do it - If I had chip designs to work with - it would definitely be a big winner. I know that single chip Juniors exist, and the Mega Boy type units have a single surface-mount chip in them - but I don't have any other information, unfortunately...

Q. Do you already have a waiting list and how do I get on it?
A. Yes I do. I've kept the address of everyone who's let me know that they're interested - they'll be among the first to know that I'm ready (before it's posted on the site or announced on Classic Gaming, in fact.)

Q. Do you need help in any way?
A. I have no idea... seriously. What can you do?

Q. Do you have to use chips from old units or can you get them from a reseller?
A. I don't want to kill Ataris! Best Electronics has them at a pretty reasonable price, so everything in the unit will be brand-spanking new!

Q. Isn't it possible to create a converter for the gameboy unit and play the game on the Game Boy Color?
A. Anything's possible! Off the cuff, someone would need to write an emulator that ran on the Game Boy Color (or Game Boy Advance), which could then be put on a Game Boy cartridge and connected to an external Atari cartridge via a simple hardware to emulator interface. It's definitely a cool idea, and there are good 2600 and Game Boy Color emulators out there, it'd be a matter of interfacing them and putting it in hardware...

Q. Are you the only one doing this?
A. I am not alone (which is a good thing.) There is a system out there called the Puma, which was built by a guy (who's name escapes me right now) into a Sega Nomad case, and there's Ben Heckendorn, who's work on his VCSP inspired me to create my own project. What's wild is that these three projects take very different approaches - The Puma is a one-off custom build, the VCSP uses cut-down Atari boards fit into a routed acrylic case, and I'm designing the 2600CE as a new board and new case that can be produced in quantity.

Q. I think from a legal standpoint, you might have a problem selling these units because they still have the same old chips in them?
A. I don't think so - Atari lost that one in 1980 something - They sued Coleco over the ColecoVision 2600 compatible Expansion Module #1, and they lost - the 2600 was made from off-the shelf parts, and had been reverse-engineered. I won't use the Atari name - which would represent trademark infringement - but if things go as well as I hope, I'd like to talk with Infogrames and see if they'd approve the project on a grander scale (or even on the current scale)...

Q. How close, percentage wise, are you to completion?
A. Somewhere between 5% and 90% :) Actually, the biggest piece is the part I'm working on now, once I have a working PCB design (and accompanying schematic) everything else will just fall into place. I've got a company that will vaccum-form the cases for me, and all that'll need to happen there is to work out a few securing mechanisms for the TV, board, batteries, and controller parts. Once I have a working prototype, things will accelerate rapidly.

Q. Are you going to use battery power or stay with AC adapter.
A. Yes to both! Batteries for portable operation, and AC for sitting home or console mode...

Q. How do you wire the AC power so you can still have a battery in the unit? Have you thought about a relay to automatically switch between the two connections?
A. I was going to use a simple switch, but a relay is good idea - I'll see what's available!

Q. Can you get a pin layout or logic schematic of the three chips?
A. I've found pinouts for the 6532 and 6507 (both will be added to the files section shortly) - the Stella is a different story... Does anyone out there have this information?

Q. How did you come up with the circuit diagram?
A. I used the evaluation version of a program called Circad to design it. I took all of the components in the four schematic images that I have, then started connecting them to each other with straight lines. When that was done, I started playing with positioning them for shortest path, and more importantly, single sided traces. As you know, I've refined that design several times, to make the design simpler, smaller, and easier to work with. Again, I've learned so much in the process, I don't regret a step.

Q. Do you know what each component is used for?
A. For the most part, yes. I'm not sure why they had capacitors dropping off of every joystick direction input line - they don't seem to be needed. I've since been informed that the capacitors are probably there to prevent signal noise back to the RIOT, which makes sense, so I've put them back in. I'd love to talk with the original designers to find out!

Q. It just seems crazy that they put in all those extra components for no reason.
A. I agree, which is why I'm sure there's a reason - I just don't know what it is, because they don't seem to be necessary. I've been informed that the capacitors are probably there to prevent signal noise back to the RIOT, which makes sense, so I've put them back in. I'd love to talk with the original designers to find out!

Q. Were all the components available at an electronics store? Were you able to find the ratings to all the components?
A. Almost everything I need is at Radio Shack (when I'm producing units, I'll be buying bulk from www.digikey.com) The obvious exceptions are the Stella, RIOT, and CPU, which I'll be buying from Best Electronics.

Q. Where did you buy the three chips in the circuit? Are they sold through Radio Shack?
A. No, you can't pick them up at Radio Shack, or any other mainstream dealer - the only place I know of is Best Electronics, or Atari consoles...

Q. What is the pink plastic tube-spring looking thing in the middle of the board?
A. That's the RF modulator's coil/inductor. Forunately, since I want composite video out, I don't need that whole chunk of the system!

Q. How were you able to cut off so many components from the original circuit without knowing exactly what they do?
A. Believe it or not, until the rev 5 design, I had all of the original components on the board, except for the video and audio segments. I culled the RF modulator and everything beyond the A/V mod tap points initially, and after testing my suspicions about all of those capcitors on a working board, I was satisfied that they weren't needed any longer. I understand what the circuits are doing, though I don't have the complete, in-depth understanding of the whole thing as I'd like.... (I'd love to talk to the original designers and ask why? all over the thing, so I could understand it completely)

Q. Your diagram shows 3 resistor pots but the 2600 unit only has one? Why? What are they used for?
A. The other two are trimmers for the video modification, they adjust two of the luma channels coming out of the Stella.

Q. What was the program you used to design the circuit board and how much is it?
A. Circad 98 is the software I'm using (by HoloPhase ), and I'm currently working with the evaluation version - full cost is $995, which I'd need to pay if I want Gerber file output...

Q. How is the RF circuit used in the main circuit? How were you able to cut that part of the circuit out and not cause problems?
A. It comes back to using the 2600 A/V mod for video, which negates the need for the RF circuits. A really nice thing about the 2600 is that it really is well designed, every function is well compartmentalized - the RF circuit takes the audio, chroma, and luma signals and coombines them, I've just taken those same inputs, and compined them in a way that gives me composite video, and mono audio...

Q. Have you thought of using a larger TV screen?
A. Yes, I've thought of using a bigger screen. The bigger TVs cost a lot more, though, and I haven't spent any time looking for other LCDs that'd take composite video input...

Q. How and why did you decide on the shape of the final unit?
A. Well... I held my hands in front of me in a comfortable, natural position, and used that angle to determine the side angles. The curved sides and edges are borrowed from the Sega Game Gear, which was very confortable to hold, and the switch section is an homage to the orginal console, of course. I wanted the Screen in the middle, and working backward, wanted to make sure that there'd be enough space for controllers and stuff, and for it to be comfortable. I carved the wax prototype using those principles and tested it for comfort, and it was very nice... from there I refined the design and came up with the drawings that you see in the files section!

Q. How did you get the info on creating the circuit boards? They look great.
A. I've done some etching before, but that was one-off type stuff. I went to a local electronics place (not Radio Shack) and got the information and materials for the photographic etching process. I'm familiar with traditional photographic developing - both film and offset printing - so I had all the pieces, I just needed the boards, the design, and the chemicals.

Q. How long did it take to make a circuit board from start to finish? Hours?
A. Here's the breakdown:

  • Design the PCB to rev 5 status - 30 hours
  • Printing the mask and exposing the board - 30 minutes
  • Developing the resist - 15 minutes
  • Etching the board - 1 hour
  • Drying the board - overnight
  • Cleaning the board and drilling the holes - 1 hour
  • Adding the components and soldering them in place - 2-3 hours
  • Testing - 30 minutes
Of course, the time will become reduced when I move into an assembly line mode (and get a Dremel drill press)...

Q. When did you decide to take on this project and how much time are you spending on it? Are you keeping record of all the time you spend and on what you a spending it on?
A. I drew the first sketches in mid January 2001 (the ones that are on the first page of the case section). I bought the guinnea pig Ataris and started the wax case design process at the end of January, as well as the beginnings of this site. I'm spending about 10-15 hours a week, not including doing some pcb design at my work. I haven't been keeping a record, but that is a good idea!

Q. Have you thought about taking off the old cartridge cases and designing a new smaller one like the Gameboy? The Atari rom chips are so small it would be so much better.
A. Yeah, but I've dismissed it for now - I want people to be able to play carts without destroying anything. There's definitely a preservation thing running through some of my design decisions, I guess. It's not a bad idea, though.

Q. The reason I asked you this is because you could come up with a new cartridge shape and people could unscrew the cartridge case and screw your case back on. Just a thought!
A. It's a good thought - they are WAY bigger than they need to be. I want to have maximum ease of use to begin with, and I want collectors to be able to play their games without going through the labels (couldn't they have put the screws on the back?)

Q. I wish you would show more pictures of you progress, they add to the journal effect of it all.
A. I'll try!

Q. Aren't you worried about anyone stealing your Atari project ideas?
A. Nope. I don't believe that the classic gaming community is like that. We're doing this for the love of the game, to use a fitting cliché.

Q. And what about copyrights from Atari in the first place?
A. As many of you are already aware, the 2600 uses 99% off-the shelf parts. Atari lost it's suit against Coleco for that very reason after Coleco released the Colecovision Expansion Module #1, which was basically an Atari 2600 that plugged into the Colecovision system for power, audio and video purposes. Atari and it's logo, etc... are now owned by Infogrames - which does bring up a related point, the logo and name Atari. There are valid concerns, and if I end up selling more than a couple systems, the unit will not have a true Atari logo or the word Atari on the unit - I'll call it simply the 2600CE. The design element along the front of the case, under the screen will remain, however because: a) it's not a full logo, and b) it is definitely an homage and design element of tribute to the original. I guess if I wanted too, I could contact Infogrames and see what they think, maybe it wouldn't be a problem anyway.

Q. Where would a person buy the games to play in the CE?
A. If you're a classic gamer, you know the answer, but there are many who are just finding this hobby, and here's a list of the places to get game carts for the Atari 2600 VCS:

  • Ebay - this link will perform a search for Atari 2600 for you. As you'll see, there is a ton out there!
  • O'Shea Ltd. - has a bunch of shrinkwrapped, boxed cartridges at a couple of bucks a piece.
  • Sean Kelly - produces and sells a multi cart with 256 different 2600 games on it! It sells for $100, that's $.39 per game - the cheapest way to get an instant game collection. Sean also has many other carts in various quantities and conditions available.
  • Did I mention Ebay?

Q. Will the CE be available to buy?
A. That has been my intent from day one. My prototype is a production prototype, and I am using it's design and construction to develop assembly-line techniques and cost estimates so that I can make them available to classic gamers. Each unit will be hand built, and as mentioned in the case and project sections, I intend for each unit to be unique, and somewhat customizable.

Q. Where will you sell them?
A. They'll be available to order on this site, and I will probably also sell them on Ebay to help spread the word.

Q. I've looked at what you are doing and I like it. Even though you aren't done yet and not formally taking orders, I want one! What should I do?
A. Anyone who is interested should let me know! If I see a lot of people waiting, I can feel comfortable investing in larger (and cheaper) quantities of the stuff I'll need to make them, which'll only make each unit less expensive.

Q. When will you have more frequently asked questions?
A. Whenever some interested person(s) email more question(s) to me - I welcome your questions!

Comments? Questions? Answers? Email me!