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Jan 30

Atari XL 1010 Cassette Drive Review

The Atari 1010 cassette drive acts as nice little window to the past, back when the world had expensive floppy drives and you can use your regular old cassette tapes for data storage. The moment I found out about this device, I wanted to own this unique piece of history and test out a few games for the hell of it, you know, for the community sake, because nothing is more astounding that analog video game storage.

The Atari 1010 drive was the replacement model to the old 410 drives for older 400/800 series Atari computers. The 1010 drive was designed from what I can tell to aesthetically match the 600XL/800XL/1200XL series computers exterior decor. Wood was out and cream colored plastic was in. Cassettes can store about 100,000 bytes per side on a 30 minute tape, assuming I did my math right, which is roughly about 98-100 kb which was huge back then but completely laughable by today’s standard. The drive was designed more for the conscientious consumer in mind since the cassettes were cheap and plentiful while the floppies were so still much more expensive and just out of reach for the frugal consumer. The Atari 1010 was mostly used for data storage for BASIC programs and such, but that’s not the reason for my spontaneous purchase. It’s all about the games baby and the idea of playing games off of a cassette tape was almost too tempting for me to resist.

After picking up a few cassette games online, I’ve tested them out on the Atari 1010 drive as soon as possible. Let’s be serious, computer were design to simplified your life by crunching numbers and balancing your check book but of course the first thing anyone would do is to see what kind of cool games will work with their new computer. Who would ever own a computer built by Atari and not want to play games on the damn thing? My 1010 cassette drive came with the original instructions but I ignored them.  How hard is it to get a cassette tape to load? I tinkered with the stupid thing but I got nothing.  I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t load and after wasting about 30 minutes trying to a damn cassette to load I sucked up what little pride I had left and read the damn game instructions.

Per the manual, you have to hold the option & start button during the initial boot sequence. So the damn thing won’t work right out of the box unless you had the proper button sequences. Figures. It’s a bit elaborate but I’m starting to understand the relevance of Windows.  Computer sucked back in the day. With the buttons pressed, the computer will beep at you, which I think is telling you that it is disabling the preinstalled BASIC program (I think) which was preloaded on all XL series computers. After the first beep, I need to press play on the 1010 cassette drive. Nothing. WTF? What I didn’t realize is that I now have to hit the Return key to start up the cassette drive. It’s a very convoluted but what works I guess.

As the game loads, you hear this God awful screech every couple seconds or so, which I think is the analog data slowly being uploaded onto the 600XL computer’s RAM, and I do want to emphasize slowly. Remember that the cassette can hold at max 98kb on each side and these game tapes are nowhere near the size of a 30 minute cassette. I would guess the average games could fit onto a 30 minutes cassette tape. To load one game from start to finish where it’s playable takes about 15-20 minutes. Pray that you didn’t fuck up during the initial loading process because it will act like it’s loading properly until the screen displays an error code at the very end, which means, you need to rewind the cassette and start over. Yeah, that loads of fun.

Now fast forward 30 minutes:

The game is now loaded and I’m ready to go. Most of the games I bought are not very good, mainly because I spent as little as possible which probably explains why these games were only a couple of bucks. Probably the best game on the Atari cassette format is the Bruce Lee cassette, but I was able to score a copy of that awesome game on floppy. (bootleg FTW)

Quite honestly the only reason for my purchase of the 1010 drive was to add something to my small Atari 8-bit gaming collection and quench my innate desire to play more classic games. The drive was too irresistible to pass up, but now that the novelty has worn off, I can’t really recommend this drive for the average collector. Granted my definition of the average collector is someone who loves retro gaming but don’t have the fundage for all the really cool shit out there to add to their library so basically, this is only for the niche gamer who also happen to have the passion for out-dated hardware because emulation sucks. This is not for the you if you only want to play Asteroid but lack the patience with finicky hardware.

I paid $20 for my complete 1010 Atari cassette player with box and if that sound likes a fair price for this piece of out dated hardware, then ignore what I just wrote and buy one for your Atari computer. If $20 sounds too much for a drive that’s probably worth $2, then go to a coffee house and spend $6.00 on frou-frou coffee and shut the hell up.

This thing is awesome and going back to beating the rotting corpse of a horse; games on cassette tapes is an AMAZING CONCEPT! Yeah, it makes me want to pull out my hit-stix and rock out to the Michael J Fox in “Back to the Future” and pretend Regan was still President wishing my computer could hack into NORAD for some war games action. Ah man that would have been sweet.

–Jangofatt

About the author

Jangofatt

Jango believes in the simple rule of gaming: games are meant to be played and enjoyed, not to be placed behind glass only to be to stared at. When he isn't playing old school games, Jango is also the host for the Pinekast in which you will hear his frustrations with his fellow site members. Believe you me, a bad day gaming and recording the Pinekast is always better than a good day at work.

2 comments

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  1. driph

    Doh, shoulda read this before you dropped by tonight, I’ve got a ton of Atari 8-bit floppies, including a handful of dupes… I’ll see what interesting titles I’ve got and set some aside for ya if you want.

  2. Jangofatt

    Sweet!

  1. Pinekast #77: Obsolete Physical Media « Pineconeattack!

    [...] as we circle around the digital campfire as we reminisce the ‘good old days’ of gaming when cassette tapes and 5 1/4 floppy discs were viable media for gaming and 6kb was considered a SHIT TON of memory. Do [...]

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