Amazing add-on 'Graduate' keyboard prototype for the Atari 2600 VCS
Super rare, one-of-a-kind prototype of the CX3000 Graduate computer keyboard, a never-released add-on for the Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS). Developed in 1982-83, this 57-button plug-in keyboard unit, 13.5″ x 7″ x 3″, was designed to attach to the front of the Atari 2600 and effectually turn the video game system into a personal home computer—for under $90. Atari’s idea was to introduce another contender into the growing field of sub-$100 home computers and, moreover, to entice the millions of VCS owners, who Atari deemed as prime candidates, into buying a home computer. This Graduate, which was earlier briefly promoted by Atari as ‘My First Computer,’ originates from the personal collection of an Atari program manager, who was part of the team that presented this prototype privately to key accounts at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 1983. Included with the Graduate is a 2″ x 2″ projection slide containing the opening presentation graphic for the Atari 2600 Graduate. Atari ultimately ended the project in late spring 1983, fearful that the Graduate would cannibalize Atari home computer sales. In fine untested condition; the original power supply is not included. Accompanied by an original Atari 2600 VCS with a joystick controller, as well as letter of provenance from the consignor, Bill Simmeth, who, as Product Manager for New Products in Atari's Consumer Division, managed the development of products like Atari Bionics, the Atari 7800 game console, and the offered Atari 2600 Graduate Computer.
Atari originally developed the Graduate not to compete with similar add-on keyboards for competing game machines (like the Mattel Intellivision or the Colecovision attachments), but as an alternative to affordable home computers such as the Timex/Sinclair, the Texas Instruments TI-99/2, and the Commodore VIC-20. According to Michelle Simpson, a former Atari spokesperson, ‘My First Computer is the missing link between video games and computers…We don't see it as competing with our own computers. We see them as different models, like the different models produced by a car company.’
The Graduate’s Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the widely used 6502, the same chip found in Atari's 400, 800, and 1200XL home computers. The 8K BASIC in the new computer will be a cross between the existing Atari BASIC and the more generally used Microsoft BASIC. The string-handling, for example, will conform more closely to Microsoft BASIC than Atari BASIC'S nonstandard approach.
Standard features include:
8K of Random Access Memory (RAM), expandable to 32K RAM
16K of Read-Only Memory (ROM), which includes an 8K BASIC programming language
Innovative 'bus-stuffing' technology
16-color display, with eight luminances (shades) per color, for a total of 128 hues
Screen format of 32 columns by 24 rows
Maximum graphics resolution of 192 by 160 pixels (screen dots)
Two sound generators
A built-in interface for storing programs on any standard cassette recorder
Expansion slot for plugging in game cartridges, memory expanders, and peripherals