I am what many in the tech space would refer to as, well, seasoned. I enjoyed a childhood where arcades at the mall were commonplace and “console” games were still very much in a fledgling state. As a matter of fact, my first console was the original Atari 2600 but we didn’t get one of those until the original NES was already on the market. See, I grew up on a small farm and my brother and I spent the majority of our days outside exploring the natural wetland on our property, working the farm or playing baseball. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy video games but they weren’t a priority until I was well into my teens and later. While many of my friends were upgrading to Super NES consoles, SEGAS and PC games, we were content with a second-hand Nintendo and a rousing game of Duck Hunt.
Later in my life, I got relatively invested in PC gaming but consoles were lost on my. My fond memories of the platform have and always will revolve around that Atari 2600 and our trusty NES. Nowadays, my gaming is restricted mostly to mobile and a little bit of Stadia and honestly, my kids play Google’s streaming service way more than I do. Still, I often revisit older games that stick in my memory if for no other reason that simple nostalgia. PC titles such as Quake, 11th Hour and others will occasionally draw me back to a desktop for a walk down memory lane. Give me a Flash version of Pitfall and I’m content for hours. That’s just me. I guess I’m just old-fashioned.
While I love me some retro games, I’ve never really jumped on the bandwagon of buying a throwback console. There are just too many web-based options out there for me to invest in a pre-loaded game system for just a handful of childhood memories. That said, Atari may be getting my money in the very near future. At CES 2020, Atari teased the upcoming VCS 800 game system and it is so much more than a home for vintage games. We don’t go to Vegas each year with the intention of covering non-Chrome OS hardware and I have to be candid here. The Atari announcement was barely a blip on my radar. It was uninteresting enough to me that I completely overlooked a major feature that will come pre-packed in the retro game console.
Atari PC Mode
Atari’s latest console is built on a skinned version of Debian Linux that’s dubbed, yup, Atari OS. That’s cool. If you can actually do some Linux-y things on it, that will just be an added bonus. However, Atari PC Mode completely slipped passed me. According to the landing page for the VCS 800, you will be able to boot the console to an alternate OS via the USB drive. The spec sheet for the Atari VCS 800 lists compatible operating systems and among them is Chrome OS.
Being that Atari OS is Debian-based, I presume most flavors of Linux can be used on the console so long as they can be booted from a live image on a USB stick. Windows can be booted in the same manner but I was intrigued to see Chrome OS on this list. There are various methods with which users can install Chromium OS, the open-source version of Chrome OS, on a PC or even a bootable disk but the Chrome OS brand is reserved for official devices. Perhaps the Atari will in fact allow users to use a images like those provided by ArnoldTheBat but it seems like Atari would list Chromium OS not Chrome OS. It’s odd, for sure but either way, this retro gaming console has gained my undivided attention.
I’ve always been a big fan of Chromeboxes as a suitable desktop solution for the average user and thanks to Stadia’s server-based nature, Chromeboxes can make formidable gaming units for very little cash. A Celeron Chromebox with 8GB of RAM and minimal storage can be used for remote learning, work at home scenarios and entertainment while costing as little at $250. The Atari, however, offers all this and more. The 800 series will feature an AMD Raven Ridge 2 APU with Ryzen graphics. That setup is paired with 8GB of RAM which Atari says you can upgrade and 32GB of storage but that’s expandable via USB and cloud storage. While this won’t stand up to a legit gaming PC or even some consoles, it will offer an ample performance boost over any Chrome OS device that has integrated Intel HD graphics and the entire bundle costs less than $400. That price gets you the more-powerful 800 series, retro joystick and Atari modern controller.
Atari’s new VCS will launch with 100+ classic games embedded in the Atari Vault and users will have access to thousands more titles via a partnership with Antstream Arcade. Personally, this alone makes the console worth the $389 pre-order price tag. Then you throw in the ability to boot your own OS to play games you already own or access services such as Stadia via the cloud and you’ve got yourself a very versatile gaming/desktop machine. If I can get this and actually run a full version of Chrome OS, it’s a no-brainer. I love Chromeboxes but this will be the go-to desktop around my home. I can jump into a game of Pong and turn right around and knock out some Chrome Unboxed work. Win-win. You can learn more about the upcoming Atari VCS 400/800 here. Units are slated to start shipping later this year.