Atari 7800 Portable

I thought about doing one of these years ago, right after my first Atari 2600 portable actually, but after taking a look at the motherboard (which is a lot more complex than the Atari 2600’s) I got cold feet.

My feet are much warmer now and thus here is an Atari 7800 portable I’ve done by request. For some reason I am just not that intimidated by “complex looking” electronics anymore, I don’t know why! The 7800 motherboard is a bit larger than the 2600, thus the unit is larger, but I slapped on a bigger 7″ widescreen to make up for it. (Kind of like the iPhone ads that allegedly use giant hands) Quick specs:

  • Rechargeable batteries built-in
  • Combination driving / paddle controller
  • Weighs less than a gallon of milk
  • A/V output jack, like all my old portables used to have
  • Black paint

For the making-of story and more pics than I usually post, click below. There’s also a video where I describe the functions. Now that this is done I can allot more of my time to “Possumus Man 2: Possumus Woman!” (Working title)

Unfortunately the flashback scene in Possumus Man 2 now takes place in the 60’s, rendering my bumper sticker props useless.

Ben Heckendorn’s Atari 7800 Photos and Making Of

Let’s take a look inside this bad boy, shall we? It starts with a fairly typical laser-cut case, which I painted with several layers and rounded the corners.

A blank canvas on which to paint!

Next up was the driving controller. Originally it looks like just a paddle but the insides are different – instead of a potentiometer there’s a gray box which contains a simple encoder wheel, attached to the up and down signals to the joystick. And it was made in America! (30 years ago)

I wonder if this company is still around?

I rounded one corner, took out the original shaft, and stuck a 1 meg-ohm potentiometer through it. Having this control increased the total depth of the unit but it’s what the customer wanted so, so be it!

Before the wiring mess begins...

Inside of the top of the case. The screen is a 7″ model from AEI components. You can also see the volume control potentiometer near the base.

Hot glue will outlive us all!

A close-up of the potentiometer/driving controller combo. Oh yeah, it’s hot glue again. Just imagine how much I’ll use on the Possumus Woman costume!

The main parts – rear of case, with battery slots, motherboard with cartridge connector, and front of case with screen.

I wish I would have used DRV instead of DRIV... argh!

A close-up of the controller switch. This is a 3 position multiple pole switch from Digi-Key, which gave me enough configuration options to do the switching manually, rather than use an electronic bus switch.

Far from the messiest wiring I've done

The top of the unit insides. There is a simple LM386 audio amp over on the right, and lots of wiring throughout. As is my current fashion, I try to group as many signals as possible into a single ribbon cable cluster with header plugs, so it’s easy to take the unit apart.

This side looks nice and clean

Insides of the rear, with motherboard. I discovered that the 7800 has a color tint adjustment pot for both the TIA (2600) and Mario (7800) graphics.

Opens easily for public viewing

Overview of the insides.

The unit when slightly opened.

Gran Turismo Prologue Beta 0.0001

Unit running Indy 500 (at which point Harrison Ford will be 1200 years old)

Unless you're Flava Flav

You can never have enough giant clocks.

Unit sitting around in OFF mode. As with the original Atari 7800 this uses the “soft” on/off switch, which was about 16 years ahead of its time for a games console.

44 thoughts on “Atari 7800 Portable”

  1. It looks great, as always Ben.

    But why would you put a wide display on it, when the Atari is only outputting at 4:3? I understand that the handheld looks better as a wide device, but I cannot bear warped images.

  2. Haha, “Possumus Man 2: Possumus Woman!” great sounding sequel! 😀
    I like the 7″, looking forward to the making of.

  3. Cool part is, this one doubtless controls better than the original console. Those 7800 joysticks were tough to use.

  4. Very nice. Love you comment about the made in America we don’t see many of those do we. All your projects show real talent.

  5. I’ve always wondered how do you make the enclosures/cases… If you don’t mind my asking: Are you milling them from a large piece of solid plastic, are they painted SLAs, molded (e.g., you make the case out of clay first, then create a plaster mold, then pour a liquid acrylic/resin into the mold). Some other technique?

    Inquiring minds want to know…



  6. Second on the Widescreen, at least tell me it has a pillarbox mode. Or, if not, that the A/V is inputs as well as outputs, so that it would be conceivably possible to watch a widescreen movie on this.

    I am not complaining so much as asking, you are already OK in my book for using an actual 1280x720p display in the portable xbox360, the only one I know of in existence, the Gateway FPD1775W (besides the eMachines clone, sadly vga only without DVI/HDMI or HDCP)

  7. The stretching really isn’t noticeable… these are 20 year old videogames, not news shows shot in 4:3 that make everyone look fat when they’re plopped on 16:9.

  8. As always outstanding. Unless I missed it somewhere, this is the first one of your items that I want, that doesn’t say “…and don’t ask because it’s sold and I’m not making more”.

    e-mail me 🙂

  9. OMG!

    I loved the Little Shop of Horrors reference! And here I thought I was the only theater-loving geek here!

  10. #JohnBJuice
    I think most people know “Little Shop of Horrors” from the movie of the same name, which is kind of kult… even in Denmark where I live.

  11. The only thing left to make this perfect is a Cuttle Cart 2 with RS-MMC card.

  12. I thought it was impossible! I can’t believe that Ben was able to make a portable out of that enormous thing. Kodos Ben.

  13. Does it mean I’ve been a fan of your site long enough and learned enough if the electronics inside don’t seem too intimidating to me anymore? Awesome portable!

  14. Well it’s about freakin’ time you made a 7800 portable! My favorite of ALL the classic Atari systems. Not that 7800 was a great platform or anything, but it’s kinda like having a 2600 that plays Food Fight! And really, Food Fight was the best reason to own that system!

  15. Why waste the bumper stickers? Its not like people don’t leave bumperstickers on their cars for decades after whatever election. Just scuff ’em up a bit and use them. 🙂

  16. That is awesome how much would you charge to build another one. I have a good size Atari 7800 collection and would die to have protable version, did you make it for yourself or a costumer, if it was for a customer how much would it cost and how long does it take to make.

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