Can The Atari 7800 Play 2600 Games?

Can The Atari 7800 Play 2600 Games?

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Have you ever wondered about the Atari 7800 playing the 2600 games? Well you are not alone. Whether this is your first time wondering this, or if every time you go to play a game you wonder, we have the answer for you. 

So can the Atari 7800 play 2600 games?

Although most of the Atari 2600 games will work on the 7800, there are a few exceptions to this. They are Robot Tank, Decathlon, Time Pilot, Kool-Aid Man, and Dark Chambers. 

If you continue reading, we will go into depth about the Atari, and why they use different games and the different models of the Atari. If you don’t like reading though, you can just watch this video to compare the Atari models.

If you are interested in looking at some of the best Atari consoles available today with preloaded games on them you can find them by clicking here

Backward compatibility

The Atari 7800 ProSystem, or simply the Atari 7800, is a home video game console officially released by the Atari Corporation in 1986. It is almost fully backward-compatible with the Atari 2600. This was the first console to have backward compatibility without the use of additional modules. It was considered affordable at a price of $140 (equivalent to $327 in 2019).

History of Atari

The company’s products, such as Pong and the Atari 2600, helped define the electronic entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. The original Atari, Inc., founded in Sunnyvale, California in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, was a pioneer in arcade games, home video game consoles, and home computers.

Atari 2600 vs Atari 7800

I never realized that the Atari 7800 was in fact Atari’s attempt to compete with the NES. I always thought it was just 2600 in a different case, which according to Wikipedia, is not an uncommon perception. This view held by some is that the 7800 was essentially a souped-up 2600. Even in an interview, Leonard Tramiel supported this viewpoint, stating “the 7800 is essentially a 2600 with some things put into hardware that was done in software on 2600.” 

While this view is shared by many, the 7800 is different from 2600 in several important areas. It features a full 6502 processor whereas the 2600 VCS has a stripped-down 6507 processor which runs at a slower speed. It has additional RAM (Random Access Memory) and the ability to access more cartridge data at one time than the 2600. The most substantial difference, however, is its entirely different graphics architecture which is so different from any other Atari 2600 VCS or Atari’s 8-bit line of computers.

The 7800 runs almost all of the 2600 cartridges. Even though there were only about 60 games made for the 7800 it was capable of much better games and graphics than other games on the market at that time. 

Perhaps the most interesting recent development was the creation of the Cuttle Cart II, a device that allowed the Atari 7800 to read MMC cards containing binary files of Atari 7800 programs. 

The Cuttle Cart II has enabled more people to play the entire 2600 and 7800 libraries on an original system as well as binaries of unreleased games and new homebrew titles. The Cuttle Cart II was a success by homebrew standards, selling out both production runs and selling for extremely high prices on eBay.

What would make the Atari better?

An expansion interface on the side of the 7800 would’ve allowed for a laser disc player to connect to the 7800 to play laser disc games like Dragon’s Lair.

But even though it did not have an expansion, at least the 7800 wasn’t a failure. Quite the opposite actually, it was arguably a big success. The people who call it a success are the ones who look at the internals of the machine, and not just the games that were produced for it. 

The Atari 7800 distantly trailed the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of units sold but was a profitable enterprise for Atari Corp. The Atari 7800 was popular mainly because of Atari’s name and its 2600 compatibility. The Atari company did make good profits because they did not invest much money into the production of the 7800. The biggest problem was that Atari’s marketing of the 7800  did not help their reputation, and ultimately led to their continuous decline with the release of their next two systems. 

The Atari 7800 differs from the 2600 in several key areas

It features a full Atari SALLY 6502 processor whereas the 2600 VCS has a stripped-down 6507 processor running at a slower speed. It has additional RAM (Random Access Memory) and the ability to access more cartridge data at one time than the 2600. 

The 7800’s compatibility with the Atari 2600 is made possible by including many of the same chips used in the Atari 2600. When operating in “2600” mode to play Atari 2600 titles, the 7800 uses a Television Interface Adapter (TIA) chip to generate graphics and sound. The processor is slowed to 1.19 MHz, enabling the 7800 to mirror the performance of the 2600’s 6507 processor. RAM is limited to 128 bytes found in the RIOT and game data is accessed in 4K blocks.

When in “7800” mode (signified by the appearance of the full-screen Atari logo), the graphics are generated entirely by the MARIA graphics processing unit. All system RAM is available and game data is accessed in larger 48K blocks. The system’s SALLY 6502 runs at its normal 1.79 MHz instead of the reduced speed of 2600 mode. The 2600 chips are used in 7800 modes to generate sound and to provide the interfaces to the controllers and console switches.

Will 5200 games play on the Atari 7800?

Unfortunately the Atari 5200 games were not ever made to work with either the 7800 or the 2600. Although many people have tried, it just wasn’t made to work on other systems. 


Although the Atari 7800 did not have many games made for it, it was still the best console that Atari made. Although some people argue this and say that the 7800 is just a remake of the 2600, this is just not true. Although the 7800 did share a lot of components with the 2600, the graphics chip and other differences are what really set the 7800 apart. 

Since all the Atari 2600 games can be played on the 7800 many people love the 7800 because of it. Here is a video of the top 20 games that defend the Atari 7800! These games are quite fun, and with the better graphics of the Atari 7800 people started to really like these games. 

No matter if you are a bigger fan of the Atari 2600, 5400, or 7800, you have to admit that the Atari games were at the top of the gaming chain when they were first released. Although the NES and SNES became more popular when they were released, the Atari still rings true and is still a game loved by all! People of all ages love the wide variety of games that the Atari released as some were for the younger generation, some were for the older, and others were for everyone in between. 

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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