Atari user's desk, circa 1983

My friend Jennifer Brown scanned this fantastic photo shot by her neighbor of his desk, circa 1983. The Return of the Jedi promotional glass set from Burger King is a perfect touch. Link to bigger picture


  1. Nice nostalgia dose. The Atari 800 was my family’s first computer, Christmas 1983, and I fondly remember playing ‘Temple of Apshai,’ ‘The Quest,’ ‘Transylvania,’ ‘Ultima III: Exodus,’ and other 8-bit Atari diskette classics.

  2. that’s absolutely terrifying. I hope the owner is safely locked up. No rotting pizza, no underwear draped over the monitor,no spilled cans of pop…..shudder!!

  3. That’s some sweet action. Double floppy! Printer! Tape Drive! Modem! And the rotary TV on channel 3, good times.

  4. I don’t know anyone named “Jennifer Brown”… how the heck did she get a picture of my desk? Oh, wait. That’s not my desk – I had an Epson MX-80 printer.

    That’s a great setup. I love the fact that he had both versions of the 810.

  5. i had all of those “Return of the Jedi” glasses from burger king!

    note the past tense.


  6. Sweet! The Atari 800 was my first computer. I was dissapointed, I thought I was getting a Colecovision for Christmas, but instead got the Atari; 30-odd years later, I’m a certified code monkey / office occult-tech guru / all-around geek. I wonder what would’ve happened, had I got the Coleco.

  7. I have to go with Takuan on this one, my nostalgic episode was completely ruined by the totally artifical cleanliness, it strains credulity

  8. As as I recall, on being unable to read a disk, the Atari 810 floppy drive would become angry and bellow at the user like an angry rhinoceros.

    To this day, I’m not sure if the drive’s designers just hated us, or simply did not want us to be able to use them while other people in the house were alseep.

  9. …ebay says $1. Good thing I sold all my He-Man figures and Transformers for $800 before the dotcom crash!

  10. Nice, (s)he has the tape cassette storage AND floppy drives.

    Wow, I remember how amazing it was to go from cassette tape storage to floppy on my Atari 800 (which I upgraded from the 400 after mowing lawns, working construction, selling plumbs off our plumb tree for money, etc.)

    Than you gotta add the Star Wars glasses?! Oh, the nostalgia

  11. Apple Disk2 drives would also bellow at you when there were disk errors. It sounded more like a machine gun than an angry rhino, though.

  12. I adore the Atari 8-bit and still use a 130XE to this day, for playing Gateway To Apshai and the various APX gems. However, I am eternally grateful that tractor-feed printers and CRT television-set-as-display exist mostly in the dungeons of history these days.

  13. Spiffy! It would be cool to contrast it with a current version of an equivilent setup (ie, a home productivity and gaming system with media drives, printer, tape backup, and associated media storage)…

  14. Nice. I had the Atari 800XL & a floppy drive — but my desk was never anywhere near that organized.

  15. Lest someone get a wrong idea, yeah, I’m pretty sure we already had color photos in those days…

  16. Yet you go to Staples these days and the desks still look the same. Or, at least they did until flatscreen monitors took over.

  17. Righteous. My setup was *very* similar — Apple IIe with equivalent peripherals. I had some Muppet Caper glasses nearby and stacks of Infocom boxes. Those were the days!

  18. This seems like my desk back then only…. tidier… mind you, I was 8 years old in 83, and only had a ZX Spectrum until 87, when I upgraded to an Atari ST. I still love both systems but definitely remember paying 100 UK pound each for a floppy drive and 512Kb memory upgrade for the ST.

    Wow. I’d hate to think how much the tape drives, floppy drive and printer in the screenshot cost!

  19. Hell, my parents still use those glasses! (Alas, we only have the Vader-vs-Luke and the Ewok one.)

  20. What’s funny is that I bought that same desk for my dad around the same time. $250 at Service Merchandise, if I remember correctly. And we used it for our Atari 800 (and later, for our PCjr).

  21. I used to sell these in ’82-83.

    The 800 went for $699, and I believe the 810 single-density drives went for $399 each.

    The printer should be a SIO interface, so I assume the reason the 850 Interface Module is there, is to connect a RS232 serial modem (probably a Hayes 1200 external).

    AtariWriter on Cartridge, with a data disk in the first drive, and a 410 cassette deck on the SIO loop.

    New, that’s probably close to $2000 there, on a good day. Since that’s a Sony, it might actually have a Video Input (there was a 5-pin DIN plug on the back of the computer that gave you Composite Video and Mono audio).

    The only thing missing is the Hole-puncher to pop a notch in the other side of the floppy, so you could flip to the other side of the disk.

    Cheap “Damn, I’m Old” Engineer

  22. That is a great desk. Wouldn’t that over-sized LCD clock pretty have been pretty high-tech in 1983? There were LCD clocks, of course, but they were usually all the same, smaller size.

  23. Wow! That brings back memories. The Atari 800 was my first computer I got when I 13. I never got the 810 drive. I got the Rana 1000 and then the Indus GT drive. I had that blue 300 baud modem by Microbits Peripheral Products. ASCII graphics at 300 baud, w0ot! Good times!

  24. This picture is also special because it depicts just about every piece of computer equipment you could buy from Atari before the Tramiels took over and created the “XL” line. Everything was the same shade of tan as the Commodore 64, so it’s a shame the picture isn’t in color.

    I personally grew up with an Atari 400, which my parents picked over a Vic-20. That was the right choice, even though the Vic-20 was a better brand and had a real keyboard, and bigger text for visually impaired me. The Atari 400, at the same price, had a better game selection, more RAM, and excellent forward compatibility. It was nice to be able to keep all my software once we upgraded to the Atari 800XL (64K), and then again to the Atari 130XE (128K).

    Did anyone else write game names on masking tape so that they could keep all their cartridges in a stack without being faced with 20 identical “LEFT CARTRIDGE” captions on top?

  25. My first computer was an IBM PC, but I got a used Atari 800 a few years later because the games were better.

    Those thick daisy-chain cables were a royal pain in the ass. They leaked RF like crazy. I remember arranging and rearranging things to minimize the interference with the TV.

    It was a good time to get Atari stuff. Liquidators were selling peripherals and cartridges really cheap. I had most of the peripherals shown here, except I had a different (daisy wheel) printer.

    I dragged a cubic yard of Atari crap with me when I moved to California. It was crammed in a corner of my living room until I decided that I’d never use it again. I sold everything to a delighted collector for $20.

  26. My grandparents had that TV (monitor…) and my grandfather, who was a WWII vet, hated that his wife had brought home a Japanese TV (for his bedroom). But then he saw he picture.

  27. Dios mio. The Atari could have been enough, but those BK Glasses just blew my mind. Someone page me in a few minutes, I’ll be in 1983 for awhile.

  28. All right! Let’s boot up TELENGARD, whoo-hoo!

    Way nicer than our makeshift family computer desk (with Apple II+) in 1983, when I was a wee lad…just a plain, painted door laying over two filling cabinets.

    In fact, that’s still what our family computer desk consists of…the TV and computer have upgraded, the Atari is now a PS2…but the desk is the same.

    I think I still have a PacMan glass somewhere, too.

    Cool nostalgia picture…thanks!

  29. The office supply store by my house still uses a dot matrix printer. The other day while I was in line they were printing something out and the kid behind me asked “What’s that horrible screeching sound?” It was the oldest I’ve ever felt.

  30. I would kill for a huge hi-res picture of this that I could wall paper my work cubicle with.

  31. Oh, I almost forgot the one thing that made the Atari 8-bit machines better than other 8-bit branded computers of the day: the happy noises it makes when you boot it up by disk.

    Listen to the end credits of the first episode of The BBS Documentary; you’ll hear it. It makes a happy beeping sound while it loads DOS into memory, and then a silly raspberry sound while it checks the serial bus for a printer, and then more happy beeping sounds while it checks for an AUTORUN.SYS file, or loads the RAMDisk driver, or whatever else.

    The serial bus had an audio channel, and the POKEY sound chip also drove I/O, so a lot of devices made sounds through the TV speaker, including cassettes. Some just had this awful grinding sound for each block of data, but some programs would load just a few sectors of that, then mute it, so that you could hear the audio track recorded on the other stereo channel. This made loading cassette games much more bearable; even if the tape wasn’t set up with loading music, you could still at least count the sectors down.

    This made it to Digg, btw.

  32. Look closely to the right and bottom of the monitor… There is some sort of thin metal shield there. A half-Faraday cage to protect picture quality from the leaky peripheral cables perhaps?

  33. Aha, happy, happy days. I had a similar setup (Atari 400 first, though, then the 800, and only one 810). The 850 also has a Centronics interface on it, good enough for my Epson RX80 printer. And I remember the fun I had building a RTTY decoder from “Electronics and Music Maker” magazine (all parts from Maplin electronics) and hooking it up to a SW receiver from Waters and Stanton Radio shop (£100!). I could read all the RTTY radio news – IRNA, TASS etc … This was in early 1986, so I got the news about Challenger, Chernobyl etc before it was on the telly. I remember printing off the Chernobyl news story and running downstairs shouting “Mum, dad! A nuclear reactor’s blown up!”. I use XFormer these days to still play the occasional game of Star Raiders.

  34. Mine’s in a box in the basement. It played great games and was fun to program. I had the 1050 disk drive and put in the Happy board. I actually used it to bring work home on IBM PC 5 1/4 diskettes, 180 KB. Then there were the modems, 300 baud at first, all the way up to 2400. Compuserve was really cool! I need to get those emulators working one of these days…nothing beats a good game of Archon, Mule or Seven Cities of Gold.

    Check out for a boatload of Atari documentation.

  35. My parents still have one of those desks in what we have for years referred to as the “computer room.” It used to house our Apple II (no plus, no e, just II) and the Sinclair ZX81, that my dad and I had soldered ourselves (I was 11 or 12). Of course it didn’t work, but for an extra 30-40 bucks, you could send it back and Sinclair would send you one that did.

    Nice to see that they are sporting something so charmingly vintage.

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