Compared to contemporary consoles by Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, the Atari 2600 wasn't much to look at. But in 1977, when it was released, it was state of the art technology. It ran with a 128 bytes of memory and a 1.19 MHz processor. It was one of the forerunners of microprocessor technology that featured ROM cartridges, unlike PONG, which included a few built in games. For those of us who owned PONG and got sick of it quick, being able to buy new games was definitely a plus.
All in all, there were about 30 million units of the Atari sold, with an initial price of $199. Early units game bundled with the game Combat, while later versions came with Pac-man. As Atari licensed arcade hits like Space Invaders in 1980, the 2600's popularity began to sky rocket. With the video game crash of 1983, and the continued improvement of new video game consoles, the Atari 2600 began a steep decline in sales. It is worth noting that the Atari 2600 remained popularity outside of the USA, and it wasn't until 1992 that Atari Corporation actually quit producing it (by 1984 there was a smaller version called the 2600 Jr.). We feature the game Pole Position above, and if you look at the Atari 5200 and Atari 7800 pages you can see how the game got better as technology improved. Below are screen shots of the games Frogger and Pitfall.
As the 2000's rolled around, companies began packing the Atari 2600 into small electronic devices that would plug into a television, such as the Jakk's Pacific Atari 2600 joystick version. Although at first it seemed pretty amazing, considering what can be packed into an I-Phone these days, it really wasn't. But still tons of fun.