The Atari VCS is a modern take on a classic game console. With a design inspired by the 1980s-era Atari 2600, the new version is designed to play games designed for the original as well as newer titles. And it can do a lot more.

Under the hood, the Atari VCS is basically a Linux computer with a TV-friendly user interface and support for media streaming apps like YouTube and Plex as well as support for games.

It’s been in development in one form or another since 2017, and after a name change, some spec changes, and a bunch of delays and setbacks, the Atari VCS is finally shipping to backers of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

Early reviews suggest that while the hardware is pretty much what was expected, the software for this PC/console/nostalgia play could use some work.

The makers of the Atari VCS seem to know that. The device ships with a disclaimer explaining that media streaming comes courtesy of a pre-loaded Chrome web browser… and there are a few limitations at the moment:

  • You can only use a keyboard and mouse to navigate Chrome at launch. In the future you may be able to use a game controller. There is a mobile companion app that lets you use your Android or iOS device as a keyboard and mouse though.
  • Chrome login details are not linked to individual user accounts. So if you have a few different Atari user profiles for different members of your household, they’ll all use the same Chrome login credentials at launch. That means other users may be able to open the browser and read your Gmail or access other Google services. A future Atari VCS update should resolve this issue by tying Chrome login details to Atari VCS user accounts.
  • Saved games are not currently linked to individual user accounts – “games will treat players with different VCS logins as a single player.” A future software update should resolve this issue.

Another issue that’s acknowledged by the device maker? At launch some games register key presses differently depending on whether you’re using a wired or Bluetooth controller, which is… strange, to say the least.

The good news is that there’s already a day one software update that will be installed when users  first connect the Atari VCS to the internet, and new OS updates are expected to be released every 2-3 weeks “for the foreseeable future.”

Another bit of good news is that, as mentioned above, the Atari VCS is really a Linux PC with a custom user interface rather than a single-purpose device like other recent retro consoles from companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Sega. So in addition to purchasing games from the Atari VCS store front, you can install an alternate operating system.

The system is designed with the following boot device priority:

  1. External USB drive
  2. Atari Native OS
  3. Internal M.2 SATA SSD (NVMe not supported)

So all you need to do to try an alternate operating system is prepare a bootable USB drive and connect it to the Atari VCS before hitting the power button. If you decide to install that operating system to internal storage, you can hold the Esc key at startup to access the UEFI menu and choose the SSD option from the Boot Manager options.

The Atari VCS should support Windows 10 (64-bit), or most GNU/Linux distributions compatible with recent AMD processors.

Here’s a run-down of key specs for the system:

CPUAMD Ryzen Embedded R1606G
GPURadeon Vega 3
RAM4GB or 8GB (user upgradeable with support for up to 32GB)
Storage32GB eMMC (with support for M.2 SATA and/or USB and cloud storage)
Connectivity802.11a/b/g/n (dual-band), Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet
VideoHDMI 2.0
USB ports4 x USB 3.1 (2 x front, 2 x back)
ControllersClassic Joystick, modern controller, mic input, works with keyboard
MaterialsPlastic, wood, and metal
Dimensions11.6″ x 5.9″ x 1.9″
Weight~3 pounds

If you didn’t get in on the crowdfunding campaign, you can still pre-order the Atari VCS. An entry-level model with 4GB of RAM is available for pre-order from Walmart for $250, while the Atari VCS Shop has an 8GB model priced at $390 (which is also available from GameStop for $400).

But before spending money on one, you might want to peruse the comments of the crowdfunding campaign and/or check out this video from TwinBlasters showing the day one out-of-box experience:

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  1. ROFL! The Atari VCS. I can’t imagine who this is supposed to be for. It’s far too weak to play last gen games let alone current and that hard drive will fill up in minutes. Nothing less than 1TB of storage can possibly handle todays games. Most new tv’s have apps like Netflix already built in. 250 is a lot to play a bunch of 40 year old games you can get on Steam in a couple bundles for 5-10 dollars. What an absolute joke.

    1. It plays streaming games wonderfully. Stadia is awesome on the VCS. Plays Cyberpunk better than the PlayStation. You want a TB? Just pop in a SSD inside. The VCS is extremely versatile. It can do a lot of things and will make a lot of people very happy. The joke is people that don’t understand it.

  2. So I still don’t understand much how this works so where do you get the games from? I don’t see a cartridge port or a disk port, so I’m assuming you would download the games from somewhere???? If this is the case, I’m not really interested, I have smart TVs so I don’t need any streaming devices, and I have plenty of computers and tablets, so I’m interested in a game conse and it seems to me that this the least that this machine is.

    1. If you determine a ‘console’ as being only physical media with no download- then you need to go back 25 years- and get a N64 and be locked into what the cartridge gives you.

      Anyone logical would understand downloads allow updates and improvements.

      This ‘console’ will allow people to do things that no other home video game system has EVER done before….

  3. Ryzen 3?

    What processor is in this console?

    This seems like a complete pc to me. I’m in the market for a new linux pc and I was looking for something simple.

    Is this it?

    Steven

    1. Depends on what exactly you mean when you say “simple”. The “linux experience” is usually anything but.
      However, comparing the CPU to Simplynuc boxes, the GMK nucbox, and a recent chromebox, it’s really not a bad deal if you get the cheap one and upgrade the RAM yourself (4GB of ram does NOT cost over $100).

      1. base 4gb model is $250, base 8gb model is $280

        Out of the box- the Atari OS will be simple, click the store to add options and use built in apps.. but you can run windows if you want as well.

        Here is a quick video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBarf4q9lvE

        Many more features will be pushed out before the VCS releases to retail in March.

    1. Thanks. I knew there was supposed to be a 4GB VCS 400 model, but I didn’t see it on the Atari VCS website when I wrote this article this morning. I’ve updated the post with the price and a link to Walmart.

      1. It is exclusive to Walmart, and I would assume Walmart required a lower priced option as part of the agreement to carry the product- as well as the Walmart exclusive carbon gold option-

        https://www.walmart.com/ip/Atari-VCS-800-Carbon-Gold-All-In-Bundle-with-Classic-Joystick-and-Modern-Controller-Walmart-Exclusive/344097754

        Guess you should also add- the 4GB model won’t do 4k until you upgrade the RAM to 8GB or above.

        The VCS will support up to 32GB RAM, and of that 16GB will go to the video! I suggest this- https://www.amazon.com/HyperX-Impact-2666MHz-HX426S16IB2K2-32-dp-B08K9CM32Z/dp/B08K9CM32Z

        The controllers are available to purchase separately and this article just released today- https://twitter.com/engadgetgaming/status/1339241398302814214 The Atari VCS will feature Google Chrome as its built-in browser — the first time Google has ever given approval for Chrome to be included in a console environment.