Angry Video Game Nerd Wiki
Atari 2600


Video game console
Second generation
Retail availability
September 11, 1977
(North America)
October 1983 (Atari 2800)
January 1, 1992
Units sold
30 million (as of 2004)
ROM cartridge, Tape
MOS 6507 @ 1.19 MHz
Atari Pong

The Atari Video Computer System, commonly known as the Atari 2600, is a cartridge-based video game console made by Atari. The Angry Video Game Nerd owns at least one and has reviewed several games for it. It was released on October 14, 1977 as one of the first second-generation consoles in North America.

Though the console was branded as the Atari VCS in its early years, it came to be known by its catalog number (CX-2600) sometime between the release of the Atari 400 and 800 home computers, and the release of the Atari 5200. Although it was not the first console released to feature games on ROM cartridges (the Fairchild Channel F preceded it in 1976), it was the most successful of its time. However, the 2600 proved to be a victim of its own success, as lower-quality third-party games began to flood the market, and Atari's own quality control took a backseat to getting products out in time for the holidays.

One of the most notorious games produced for the Atari 2600, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, is the focus of the Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, which made a feature an appearance by the game's programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw.


Atari had purchased an engineering think tank in 1973 called Cyan Engineering to research next-generation video game systems, and had been working on a prototype known as "Stella" (named after one of the engineers' bicycles) for some time. Unlike prior generations of machines that used custom logic to play a small number of games, its core was a complete CPU, the famous MOS Technology 6502 in a cost-reduced version, known as the 6507. It was combined with a RAM-and-I/O chip, the MOS Technology 6532, and a display and sound chip known as the Television Interface Adapter, (TIA). The first two versions of the machine contain a fourth chip, a standard CMOS logic buffer IC, making Stella cost-effective. Some later versions of the console eliminated the buffer chip.

Programs for small computers were generally stored on cassette tape, disk or paper tape. By the early 1970s, Hewlett Packard manufactured desktop computers costing thousands of dollars such as the HP 9830, which packaged Read Only Memory (ROM) into removable cartridges to add special programming features, and these were being considered for use in games. At first, the design was not going to be cartridge-based, but after seeing a "fake" cartridge system on another machine, they realized they could place the games on cartridges essentially for the price of the connector and packaging.

In August 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor released their own CPU-based system, the Video Entertainment System. Stella was still not ready for production, but it was clear that it needed to be before there were a number of "me too" products filling up the market—which had happened after they released Pong. Atari Inc. simply did not have the cash flow to complete the system quickly, given that sales of their own Pong systems were cooling. Nolan Bushnell eventually turned to Warner Communications, and sold the company to them in 1976 for US$28 million on the promise that Stella would be produced as soon as possible.

Key to the eventual success of the machine was the hiring of Jay Miner, a chip designer who managed to squeeze an entire wire wrap of equipment making up the TIA into a single chip. Once that was completed and debugged, the system was ready for shipping. By the time it was released in 1977, the development had cost about US$100 million.


The Atari 2600 was wildly successful, and during much of the 1980s, "Atari" was a synonym for this model in mainstream media and, by extension, for video games in general.

The Atari 2600 was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York in 2007. In 2009, the Atari 2600 was named the second greatest video game console of all time by IGN, who cited its remarkable role as the console behind both the first video game boom and the video game crash of 1983, and called it "the console that our entire industry is built upon."

Atari 2600 games the Nerd has reviewed[]