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Atari VCS games really are just plain Linux desktop builds

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Now that the Atari VCS is out in the wild for plenty of IndieGoGo backers, we've seen plenty of reports of how it works and one GamingOnLinux reader gave us plenty of info.

Currently, it seems like the whole thing is still in something of a Beta stage. The software seems a little on the buggy side, and there's still not much in the way of games available for it. However, it actually does sound like a reasonable good little device - which I am sure will surprise plenty of naysayers.

User slaapliedje in our Forum has been going through details including how, yes, you really can load a plain Linux distribution up with Debian Buster tested working (once you do a couple small tweaks). All very interesting but even more so is how their own Atari World OS is clearly a normal Linux distribution with a fancy console interface on top.

Pictured: Atari 5200, 7800 and the Jaguar+CD with the Atari VCS - credit to slaapliedje

Very interesting to know just how close the VCS really is to a traditional Linux box. I thought they would have customized it more, but they appear to have stuck to what they originally said about keeping it reasonably open to the point of not even protecting the games you get on it. In an email to us, user slaapliedje mentioned how they've been able to move games on their Atari VCS over to an external drive, and then launch those games on their normal Linux desktop.

You can connect another drive to it (I am currently using a Samsung USB 3 SSD drive) and hit ESC on a keyboard, boot to USB. I installed Debian on it, which you have to use a distro that has signed keys for secure boot (so my attempt with GamerOS failed). But with the drive connected, you can copy the games from within AtariOS to other storage.

Keeping in mind this is the backer release, not the retail release, they still have time to fix up lingering issues. 

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Hardware, Misc
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45 comments
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inlinuxdude 30 Dec, 2020
Quoting: slaapliedje
Quoting: RafiLinuxThis is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
Anything in particular you'd like to see?

GamerOS (to make a Steam machine)? Kodi?
slaapliedje 30 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: inlinuxdude
Quoting: slaapliedje
Quoting: RafiLinuxThis is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
Anything in particular you'd like to see?

GamerOS (to make a Steam machine)? Kodi?
Apparently there is a tool called Ventoy that lets you inject a secure boot key into an installer. So I'll probably try something like that again (once I get my m.2 ssd, which should arrive today.)
slaapliedje 30 Dec, 2020
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Within RetroPie, the Atari 'modern' controller acts a little odd. Hotkey seems to sort of work (EmulationStation detected it, but the emulators don't). But you can set it to xbox 360 mode and it works as expected that way.

jstest-gtk detects the Atari controller as having 9 axis / 9 buttons, whereas the xbox 360 controller shows up as 8 axis / 11 buttons. Granted it still has that weird issue I've seen in all xbox 360 controllers where the right analog stick is confused with the triggers.

The thing that has always annoyed me about RetroPie and similar of course is that if I try to use a controller that isn't the new standard (xbox/ps2+ style) then you have an issue with navigating. I'll have to try the Atari Joystick to see if I can get a good set up especially for 2600 / 5200 / 7800. Though I do have a 5200 to USB adapter on the way, so will have to try some 5200 games that way! (even though my 5200 is sitting inches from my VCS).
sarmad 31 Dec, 2020
Excellent news. A locked customized OS is that last thing we want to see. Normal Linux distro with some customzied UI is all we need.
Shame this couldn't sell for $99usd or something, I think it would actually be quite a success at that price point, but at the price point just short of next-gen consoles, its a bit much. I'd rather buy a Nvidia Shield TV box.
Narvarth 1 Jan
Quoting: TheRiddickShame this couldn't sell for $99usd or something

I don't see how that would be possible. The processor alone costs about $100. Even a raspberry pi with a box, memory and storage would be more expensive...
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Quoting: TheRiddickShame this couldn't sell for $99usd or something, I think it would actually be quite a success at that price point, but at the price point just short of next-gen consoles, its a bit much. I'd rather buy a Nvidia Shield TV box.
Well I mean if you add in the price of the 32gb memory upgrade and slapping in an m.2 SATA drive, it becomes the same price. But this is a nice little Linux game box with some personality to it. And the fan isn't as whiny as every playstation I have ever heard!
johndoe 1 Jan
Quoting: slaapliedje
Quoting: RafiLinuxThis is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
Anything in particular you'd like to see?

I'm interested, too.

1. Price is not that bad...
a) Free Access to 100 games.
b) Two controllers instead of the "usual" one.

2. How many bluetooth devices can be connected... 4?

3. Did you test Rise... and Shadow of the Tomb Raider? Can you get stable 30-60 FPS @720 or even @1080 with low, mid, high settings? I think these are the most demanding games in my lib.

4. Is the 32GB eMMC fixed internal storage fast? How long does it need to boot into Atari OS (Debian 10)?

5. Are there 2 RAM slots or only one?

6. Can you access BIOS and enable PXE?
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Quoting: johndoe
Quoting: slaapliedje
Quoting: RafiLinuxThis is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
Anything in particular you'd like to see?

I'm interested, too.

1. Price is not that bad...
a) Free Access to 100 games.
b) Two controllers instead of the "usual" one.

2. How many bluetooth devices can be connected... 4?

3. Did you test Rise... and Shadow of the Tomb Raider? Can you get stable 30-60 FPS @720 or even @1080 with low, mid, high settings? I think these are the most demanding games in my lib.

4. Is the 32GB eMMC fixed internal storage fast? How long does it need to boot into Atari OS (Debian 10)?

5. Are there 2 RAM slots or only one?

6. Can you access BIOS and enable PXE?
1) a) Yeah, and it comes with a free month or year (can't remember if the year was for backers only) of Antstream, which has thousands of games to stream?
b) controllers are nice too!

2) I have connected 3 (the two controllers and a Thinkpad bluetooth keyboard that has the little trackpoint on it) haven't tried more.

3) installing Shadow, will get back to you on that...

4) it certainly feels fast. It has a little animation as it boots up. Seems zippier niw that I have 32gb of ram.

5) two slots. Uses DDR4 2400

6) The UEFI is password protected, about the only thing open currently is the boot manager selection. Which basically means you can boit to either the primary or backup Atari partitions, USB devices or something that was inserted there by an installer. I assume that means you could feasibly inject a PXE startup in there somehow. (It has been my experience that PXE doesn't work well in UEFI, but that just may have been particular Dell models.)

Edit: Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Average FPS: 19
Frames Rendered: 3035
1289x720@60hz low settings.


Last edited by slaapliedje on 2 January 2021 at 8:51 am UTC
emphy 2 Jan
Quoting: Narvarth
Quoting: TheRiddickShame this couldn't sell for $99usd or something

I don't see how that would be possible. The processor alone costs about $100. Even a raspberry pi with a box, memory and storage would be more expensive...

The processor is an Embedded R1606G, a slower version of the athlon 3000g, that cost below $75 boxed at the time atari was negotiating their deals with amd. I suspect $50 for this embedded processor is nearer to the price they paid.

I agree with the sentiment, though. $100 would have been rather ambitious for the whole system.


Last edited by emphy on 3 January 2021 at 6:39 am UTC
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