Ask LH: Are These Old Atari Chips Worth Anything?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a collection of chips belonging to old Atari game carts. (Photo attached.) My dad's friend used to work for Atari as a developer of Atari games and he gave these chips to us. Do you know if it is worth anything? I have 11 games. Thanks, Nova

Hi Nova,

As the old adage goes, a product is worth what someone's willing to pay for it. The trick is finding those who are willing to pay.

There's less of an overall market for retro Atari stuff compared to, say, Nintendo rarities, but that very much depends on what you've actually got. There's not that much to go on from the supplied image — I'm guessing they're Atari 2600 internals, but Atari did dabble in cartridges for their other computer formats as well. If it's for the 400/800 series, for example, they're probably worth a whole lot less, simply because there's far fewer rabid collectors for that particular set of systems.

Realistically, you're looking at value from two different sources, one of which is arguably going to be far more lucrative than the other. There's the collector set that enjoys having the physical object, especially if it has rarity. These are the mobs who tend to display rather than play, and would most likely buy your chips to encase in a box as a trophy somewhere.

However, that's very much conditional on what's actually on the chips. This is where the real potential value lies. If what you've got, is, say, Atari 2600 Pac-Man, an incredibly common cart, then you're sitting on almost no value at all, unless you could somehow prove they came in prototype form from Atari itself.

If, however, you're sitting on rare software, or even better an unreleased game, then there's potential for them to be worth quite a bit more, depending on what you have.

Were I you, I'd chase down this friend of your Dad's and see if he's still got something that can read the content of the chips to determine what actual software, if any, is present. It's most likely that they wouldn't run on a straight production machine, and I'd be wary of automatically trying that, because a fried chip isn't going to be worth anything.

If it's a previously unknown game it could be worth thousands, but if it's common, or the chips haven't actually been burnt with any actual software, then they're not going to be worth much at all. If it's a game that's still regarded as rare, and you can back up the provenance of where it's from, you could be looking at a decent little sum of money. But the first step has to be working out what's actually on those chips.

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Comments

    From th pin spacing and count, it looks like a 2600 cart and not an Atari Computer cart.
    Don't put it in a 2600 though, pop it in a development machine and check it there.
    I have some dev models here if you need help.

    I'm guessing the editor is under 30, because Atari did more than "dabble" with cartridge formats (they were synonymous with it).

    Yes these are worth something. The prototype board is worth something to a collector. The contents of the cart MAY contain only copy of some unreleased or unfinished game... or the contents could be junk.

    The folks at atari-forum.com can help you out, as well as the Facebook group "Atari Museum" (whose members include many of the original Atari devs).

      Then you'd be guessing dead wrong (though I guess I should take it as a compliment). Not like the ST was a cart-based system, though ;)

      (and at no point did I say they weren't worth anything -- but knowing what's on them is the first step!)

        Although the ST was based upon 3.5" discs [whether 360K single-sided or 720K double-sided discs], it did have a cartridge port as well.

    co11224 = Basketball for the 2600. 2600 cart list here http://atariage.com/forums/topic/174743-atari-2600-rom-part-numbers/. One would think a lifehack page could do a little research.

    This doesn't seem to be anything special -- just a cart without its case.

    Atari was the largest video game company - and also a large computer company - prior to the North American video game crash which ultimately led to the original Atari Inc being broken up in July 1984. There are plenty of "Atari" collectors out there whether we're talking about pre-cartridge systems, the 2600 VCS, the 5200, the 7800, the Lynx, the Jaguar, the 8-bit computers [400/800/XL/XE], the 16/32-bit computers [ST/STe/Mega/TT/Falcon], the arcade machines, or any of the other things Atari built.

    The question is, are these cartridge boards prototypes? Are they known? Are they unknown? Unreleased titles will obviously be worth more.

    One of the good websites around for prototypes is atariprotos.com. It's associated with atariage.com. Both are invaluable resources for learning about the history of all things Atari as well as the current Atari scene amongst its enthusiasts as well as retro gaming and retro computing in general.

    Even if those carts aren't worth a lot of money, if they are developer versions/variations/prototypes, they could be sold to collectors. Hopefully, if that's the case, the collectors will copy the ROMs and make them available to the community. AtariAge even has a Marketplace for such transactions especially if the seller wishes to avoid ePay fees.

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