What is inside your Atari VCS?

I loved my Atari. It was one my favorite childhood gifts and one I would return to throughout my life. That could have gone horribly wrong if not for the timely intervention of my Mother back in the 1980s. As a kid, I was the curious type and once I discovered that electronics had screws I found myself opening things and poking around inside trying to figure out how they worked. I did this with our cable box, the dishwasher, our old B&W television and many more of our household electronic marvels. One day I decided it would be a good idea to do the same thing to my Atari VCS.

My track record in playing around with these electronics was above average. Only one device stopped working after my toying with it. Sadly it was the dishwasher, which brought a lot of unwanted attention to my “hobby”.

As I was starting to open my Atari, my Mother came into the room and stopped me. She then asked me if it was worth the risk? This was honestly something that had never occurred to me. When I opened these things up, I had no intention of breaking them, I was just curious. But curiosity often led to dissembling and that is great, but reassembling is a lot harder. So I put down the screwdriver and never opened up my Atari.

Recently I was reading up on modding for the Atari VCS and considered making modifications to my original unit when I heard my Mother’s voice in my head saying, “Is it worth the risk?” I have had this same Atari since I was a kid and it would be a shame to damage it in the pursuit of novelty, so I am going to leave it alone. Luckily for me I have picked up some other Ataris over the years and one of them has a date with my screwdriver.

What does the VCS look like on the inside? Remarkably simple, as you can see from this diagram pulled from Atari Age magazine.

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Garry Vander Voort

Editor/Podcaster at Retroist
The Retroist is like a BBQ on a bun without the bones. You're only human daddy. Chomp!
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4 thoughts on “What is inside your Atari VCS?

  1. Daniel says:

    What kind of mods to your VCS were you considering? I still have my original childhood Atari VCS and within the past year picked up one of those Harmony cartridges that allows you to load up an SD card with every VCS game ever made and select them through a menu. Best thing ever. I also picked up the Intellivision and C64 equivalent carts. Highly recommended.

  2. Daniel says:

    Nope, I’ve never cracked my Atari system open. If I were to go that route, I’d probably get a second system as my original is too precious to me. Pause sounds interesting but with a word of warning, sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad. My friend and used to play the arcade version of Mario Bros using MAME and x-arcade sticks. We played it for like a year and we’d always have a great time but never really make it past these really really difficult levels. One day we discovered that MAME had a snapshot save/restore feature. So we figured, great, we’ll just play right up until that hard part, save a snapshot, and then always restore it from there. Within two play sessions of playing with that new feature, we totally lost all interest. The fun was starting a fresh game, going through the easy levels and trying our hardest to make it through. To this day we have never gone back and played a single level in Mario Bros. We ruined it.

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