Ah, the Atari 5200. It's basically the same hardware as the Atari 8-bit computers, repackaged as a gigantic, over-the-top, "Big is Better" gaming system. Consider it an Atari 400 with no keyboard, but with some very "interesting" controllers.
Love it or hate it, it's the perfect system to buy a multi-cart for. The original library is reasonably small -- easy to fit on a multi-cart. But what's really special here is the number of homebrews, and hacked 8-bit ROMS that really expand the library of games. A lot of this stuff isn't available on the 5200 unless you use a multi-cart.
The multi-cart I have is from AtariMax, and it's called the "128-in-1 USB Flash Multi-Cart". This particular model isn't available for purchase anymore (replaced by the newer "Ultimate SD" model). But it can be found on ebay if you prefer a slightly less expensive option.
AtariMax 128-in-1 USB Flash Multi-Cart
- Holds 128 Games
- Beautiful, easy to use menu selection system.
This older model is programmed using a PC, the AtariMax 5200 Flash Studio software, and a USB cable. It's really pretty easy to load up with ROMS, and honestly, once you fill up the 128 slots, you probably won't use the studio software very often. It's a drag and drop interface. Simply drag a ROM file into one of the 128 available slots. Once you are satisfied, hit the "Synchronize" button. Simple. Below is a shot of the software on my laptop:
And a few pictures of the multi-cart itself. It's got a very nice sticker--very professional looking. And there is a USB port on top for connecting it to your PC. Again, very well done. They must cannibalize more common carts to make these things, as the case is 100% authentic Atari.
Once you are done programming the cart, you unhook the USB cable, plug the cart into your 5200, and an amazing menu system appears. Choose a game by either using up/down to select a game (left/write move the list by a full page), and then hitting the lower button on the controller to select. This is the perfect interface for a multi-cart. Fast and easy. Here's a few shots of the interface:
Let's talk about the games. You can load in any ROM, but check out a few of the choices on mine. 8-bit conversions, hacked versions, prototypes, homebrews. It is awesome! Here are screen shots of a two 8-bit conversions (Donkey Kong and MULE).
In my opinion, games on the 5200 are excellent. Most of the arcade conversions are really good. My favorite games are Berzerk (it talks!) and Realsports Baseball (probably the best baseball game on any classic console). But (don't get mad at me, this is just my opinion) the controllers are TERRIBLE. Mushy buttons, a non-centerering stick -- what was Atari thinking with this thing? On the bright side, the controllers have a pause button, which I think was a first for home consoles. To sum it up -- great games, bad controller.
The newer multi-cart is even easier to use than mine -- it has an SD cart slot. Load up the ROMS on the SD card, put the card into the cartridge, and away you go. Same great menu interface.
Let's talk costs--this multi-cart isn't cheap. The newer version is $130 plus shipping. The older one I have was $100 when I bought it new. I've seen them on ebay for around $80-$100. Both options are costly. But it's a lot easier to use your console without having to find and insert cartridges. And did I mention the hacks, conversions, and homebrews?
Would you rather deal with this:
To summarize, the AtariMax multi-cart is totally awesome. It's easy to load ROMS, has a beautiful and fast interface, and just plain works. Huge thumbs up.
Please send any questions you have in the comments!