1982 (1200XL), 1983 (600XL/800XL), 1985 (65XE, 130XE), 1987 (XEGS)
What's it like today?
Atari announced the 1200XL home computer in 1982. It came with 64K of RAM and had the ability to use 256 colours. It retailed for $900 when new. The 1200XL began shipping in October of the same year, though it suffered backward compatibility issues with the Atari VCS (2600) and the earlier 400 and 800 machines, causing many prospective customers to rush out and buy a 400 or 800 before they were discontinued. The 1200XL was discontinued just one year after its launch due to poor sales.
In 1983 Atari redesigned several aspects of the XL design, and announced four machines at the Summer CES in 1983. These were the 600XL, 800XL, 1400XL, and 1450XLD. The 600XL to replace the 400, and the 800XL to replace the 800. The 1400 and 1450 included a 300 baud modem and a voice synthesizer, and the 1450 also got a built-in double-sided floppy disk drive. All these machines include most of the features of the 1200XL minus the Function keys and the demo program. But they all got the Atari BASIC language built into ROM. In addition, these systems offered the Parallel Bus Interface (PBI), providing fast parallel access to the heart of the computer. The 600XL has 16K RAM while the 800XL has 64K RAM.
During production, however, there were delays causing the first units to arrive with consumers in late 1983 instead of the originally planned mid-1983. Due to initial sales of the 600XL and 800XL units, and demand for the 7800 ProSystem, the 1400 and 1450 units had their delivery dates pushed back, and in the end they were cancelled completely.
All of the XL machines have the 6502 CPU at their heart, along with a set of custom ULAs called ANTIC (video display logic), GTIA (television interface adapter), and POKEY (keyboard, sound and serial communication chip). With native support for lots of colours and sprites ("Player/Missile" in Atari speak), the Atari XL range were particularly highly regarded as a games platform.
The 800XL lacks the separate chroma video signal although there was a late version of it in Europe, called the 800XLF. This includes a redesigned motherboard (copying the XE design) and contains FREDDIE for memory management and has the chroma output. BASIC is Revision C.
The XE (XL-line "Enhanced" or "Expanded" ) range of computers were launched in 1985 at the same time as the Atari ST, following Warner Communications' sale of Atari to Jack Tramiel, ex-president of Commodore. They were introduced as a replacement to the XL line, each one with a different amount of RAM (65XE = 64K, 130XE = 128K of RAM, etc).
Essentially the XE systems were not much of an improvement over the XL series. The XE used later technology from the 1400/1450 XL computers (which were never released) such as the FREDDY chip for memory management. The new Extended Cartridge Interface (ECI) included in the XE range was nothing more then the XL's old Parallel Bus Interface (PBI) repackaged to cut costs, and was semi-compatible with its forebear.
The XE range did not sell well, with many customers dissatisfied over poor quality - the keyboards were mushy-feeling with white keys that tended to get dirty quickly, and the function keys were on a 45 degree angle making them clumsy to use at times.
The 65XE (originally to be called the 900XLF) was almost identical to the 800XL but lacked a parallel port and came with just 64K of RAM. The 5 function keys along the top are: Help, Start, Select, Option and Reset. The early 65XEs released didn't actually come with the ECI or PBI, while later ones got the ECI.
An 800XE was also made available in Europe, which was a repackaged 65XE, although some of these were shipped with a buggy GTIA chip causing some software to not work.
Although sold as a video-game console, the XEGS (XE Game System) was simply a repackaged Atari 65XE with Missile Command built in. However the one nice feature of the system was the detachable keyboard. With the exception of the unreleased Atari 65XE-P Portable (luggable) computer, the Atari XEGS was the only Atari 8-bit computer system to ever have a detachable keyboard. It also came with a lightgun (XG-1) and a couple of game cartridges: Bug Hunt and Flight Simulator II.
On 1st January 1992, Atari Corp. officially dropped support for their 8-bit line of computers.