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Atari 5200 owners: How many 5200 controllers have you gone through?


HDN
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I've heard the controllers are garbage in many ways. Some say it's uncomfortable, some hate the analog, non self-centering joysticks, some hate the buttons always sticking, but most of all I hear of them breaking. How many of your Atari 5200 controllers bit the dust, and what are your overall opinions on the controller?

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It's the flex circuit used for the buttons that is a terrible design choice.  Oxidation on the flex circuit or the buttons make them stop working over time.  I've fixed them using foil dots.  Others use "gold" updates from Best Electronics.

The sticks are different.  Non-self-centering is weird.  Using a rubber boot that tears to help self center is cheap. 

But I've only seen a few sticks that were truly "broken" (meaning that the wire or plastic or potentiometer broke).  Mostly those ones were heavily used. 

 

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I think I've only had 3 actual controllers that went bad beyond repair. 2 of them for sure was due to wiring within the controller cable breaking somewhere internally as they are really thin. Another one I think was due to the plastic that the directional pots sit in breaking so the pot didn't sit properly anymore.

The main issue as @RickR stated is the flex circuits inside loose conductivity due to corrosion very easy. Quick fixes are to simply use a pencil eraser and some alcohol on the flex but that will likely only last for a little while and you will find that you have to do it again soon. The foil dots metheod in combination with a good cleaning of the flex is he method I use and my controllers seems to work fine for several years before I have to go through the refurb process on them again. But for the 30min or so per controller it might take to do that, I'm okay with it.

 

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I'm a new 5200 owner so I have very little usage on the controllers. I bought 2 Atari controllers rebuilt by Best Electronics. The joystick actually feels good. The rubber boot does a decent job of re-centering the joystick. I'm sure that will change over time with more usage, but I don't feel like these are fragile. I actually like it.

I also bought the Wico joystick. I'm not too sure how to calibrate it. It feels ok. I need more time with it.

Yesterday, I received the adapters made by AtariAge user ikonsgr. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but I expect that this will be at the center of my daily setup -- using a digital joystick in conjunction with the Atari 5200 controller. The adapter is relatively cheap, so with it, I feel controller trepidations about the Atari 5200 should be a thing of the past.

DSC07098.JPG

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My original "owned" 5200 4-port we lost one controller during a move.  The sole surviving controller never gave any issues.  The console itself blew a resistor and went out. The current 5200 I have now I've had to rebuild the controllers once before I could use them.  Then again they probably sat for a very long time because the dust that was caked up on them was nasty.  Most used 5200's I have found had controllers someone either tried to repair and broke the flex circuit or were simply neglected.  Those are the controllers I have discovered need major TLC to get going again.

BONUS:  There's a third potentiometer inside the 5200 that I've discovered exercising it can sometimes revitalize the analog nature of the controllers.  All I did was quickly rotate it both ways and I put it right back to where Atari set it.  It seems like doing this removes any aged build up on it and allows the controllers to work very well again.

The 5200 is a beast...but it's a shy beast or a delicate beast.  Unlike most consoles you can't let it sit for very long.  It seems like letting it sit without using it does it, and the controllers, more harm than good.  My first 5200 got used every day for hours on end.  It rarely sat for more than a day.  The 5200 I have now gets used often but not as often as my first one and I've noticed letting it sit and not using it causes the controls to be a bit erratic for a few minutes.  For that reason I highly recommend exercising the system and its controllers for a few minutes between a week or a month.  I wouldn't go any longer than that.  

I've also learned not every 5200 does the same thing and one person's experience with it won't be the same as the next person's.  When working well it's an awesome console.  

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36 minutes ago, HDN said:

@Atari 5200 Guy So basically it's like watering a plant? The plant being the 5200 controller of course and the water being using the controller. Or perhaps how silver naturally tarnishes due to oxygen and you're just buffing it out by using the controller?

Also like those old analog stereo knobs that get static when not touched much.  It is the same concept.

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10 hours ago, intellicolecovisonary said:

 but gold and aluminum are much less conductive than either copper or silver.

True,

However, they are way more conductive than the original carbon coated pads ever were and it doesn't take much for the console to register the key presses. I only used aluminum as I was under the impression that mixing metals is bad. However, I'm no chemist but as the original flex traces use aluminum, I figure it is less likely to cause any issues in the future using aluminum as the replacement surface on the pads. Besides, HVAC duct repair tape is much cheaper than rolls of copper.

 

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1 minute ago, CrossBow said:

True,

However, they are way more conductive than the original carbon coated pads ever were and it doesn't take much for the console to register the key presses. I only used aluminum as I was under the impression that mixing metals is bad. However, I'm no chemist but as the original flex traces use aluminum, I figure it is less likely to cause any issues in the future using aluminum as the replacement surface on the pads. Besides, HVAC duct repair tape is much cheaper than rolls of copper.

 

I used aluminum foil on mine years ago, and all the controllers still work just fine. 

What's interesting is how many other modern controllers use the same design.  Even the NES has those carbon dots on rubber buttons.  But somehow, they almost always work.  Atari's design must have been slightly different in some way. 

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On 5/28/2021 at 3:35 PM, CrossBow said:

True,

However, they are way more conductive than the original carbon coated pads ever were and it doesn't take much for the console to register the key presses. I only used aluminum as I was under the impression that mixing metals is bad. However, I'm no chemist but as the original flex traces use aluminum, I figure it is less likely to cause any issues in the future using aluminum as the replacement surface on the pads. Besides, HVAC duct repair tape is much cheaper than rolls of copper.

 

I've got a controller with the white flex circuit.  I believe all the traces are black on it so I'm not sure what the traces are made with.  Most likely aluminum since it can flex easier without damage or cracking.

Yes...oxidation is a huge system killer when it comes to the 5200.  Dust is its worst enemy.

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On 5/28/2021 at 3:39 PM, RickR said:

I used aluminum foil on mine years ago, and all the controllers still work just fine. 

What's interesting is how many other modern controllers use the same design.  Even the NES has those carbon dots on rubber buttons.  But somehow, they almost always work.  Atari's design must have been slightly different in some way. 

I think the difference is in manufacturing.  The carbon dots on the more modern consoles post 5200 I think were manufactured in the buttons whereas the 5200 must have been dipped or something.  The 5200 was the first console I know of to use the carbon dot buttons on a game console.  Knowing that I think the 5200 was more of a trial and error system: it either worked or it didn't.  It was a rushed product.  Beautiful machine with 1980's styling all over it...but it wasn't ready when it was released.

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Since getting back into the 5200, @Airshack has been my lifeline on the 5200.  If it were not for him, I would have chucked the 5200 in the landfill because of those Cr&**% A## joysticks.  Now, with a proper joystick, the 5200 is actually enjoyable.  So, in my humble opinion, don't give up on the console just because the joysticks suck, go third party sticks!

 

RZyGF1D.png 

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2 hours ago, Atari 5200 Guy said:

You've got some great games for your 5200!  I see Tempest, an instant winner.  I'm digging those end labels.

 

Thanks!  The Atarimax is what I use most of the time, but the Tempest cartridge has to be used because the version I have for the Atarimax does not quite act properly.

My next goal is to get the UAV mod done.  I originally waited because I thought someone would make a VGA mod, but it's never happened.  I'm a little reticent to send off my 5200 in the mail as I'm afraid it could get destroyed and I've heard horror stories of people keeping units for months.   I also know it'll be an expensive upgrade with shipping both ways and the cost of labor and the unit itself.  Someone left me a message years ago saying they could do it, but sadly I don't remember who it was.

I am starting to get a little itchy on the 5200 though since I've not been spent much time with the TI lately.  Maybe someone know a ballpark figure of what I can expect to pay?  

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One option for the 5200, is to sent it without the top half of the console shell. The way I do the UAV I would only need the mainboard and the lower portion of the case. That is what Al did when he sent me his 5200s to get the old AV upgrade in them redone as the original wiring had some loose in a few places. He also wanted me to power convert them so they didn't need the switch box anymore. The point was to reduce the weight slightly in shipping, and make it less prone to breaking since the top half is what is usually most a risk. Al used some painters tape to hold the mainboards in place of the lower case shell during shipping. 

Although I don't like the idea as much. If you just sent the mainboard and the expansion plate, I could fully mod up that much and it could be reassembled into the case plastics after. But the expansion plates once removed, tend to pop out really easily after that and I usually apply some epoxy inside around the edge of the plate to make sure it doesn't come loose afterwards.

And @- Ω - you do know about the Sophia upgrade right? While not VGA, it does provide a DVI digital output and you could use a DVI to VGA adapter or whatever you needed at that point. The Sophia is expensive though. And while I haven't installed one, it doesn't look to be that bad. Worse part is where to route the DVI connector. Most seem to route it through the center back through the controller storage area but I' don't like that idea at all and would rather route it to the expansion plate or something.

 

Edited by CrossBow
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15 hours ago, - Ω - said:

@CrossBow I think the UAV would probably be adequate for my taste.  It may not be "VGA sharp", but it's still better than the blurry fuzzy RF.  Do you accept PayPal?  Please PM me with a quote and details for a two port unit, it just might be time to upgrade my 5200!  I'll can wrap it with tons of bubble wrap!

@- Ω - I will send you a PM on this with the specifics of requesting services. Thanks!

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I got it and will get you the estimate invoice out later when I'm home from work.

And I was serious above about shipping it without the top half of the shell. If you have ever removed the top cover of the 5200 before, you will find that 75% of the entire main board is pretty much within a large RF shield. So if you remove the top cover, it is easy to just use some painters tape or other masking tape to tape it all down from the RF shield and then around the sides to the bottom of the console to help keep it all in place and then wrap that up in bubble wrap. This way, the controller cover and front controller cover plastics aren't at risk for getting damaged in shipping.

And in the case of these older consoles, softer padding using material that can absorb shocks is best. I've had a few clients send me their 5200s and other consoles using stiff Styrofoam, and then wonder why the consoles arrived in pieces.

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You know, this might actually be a decent topic for my first Atari 5200 video.  Sure, the UAV has been out there for a while, but not everyone has one even knows about it.  Heck, some of my TI videos shook a few TI users out of the bushes over the years.  If a few YouTube watchers stumble over the video in the coming years, who knows, they may have one in the basement all ready to be put back in service.  So, I'll also include a plug for Atari.io too!

So I guess I'll have to film a before and after.

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1 hour ago, CrossBow said:

Let me know what games you plan to film as a before, and I can get you direct captures from the After through my AV setup.

 

Thanks, but I figured I'd take the before images right before I disconnect the unit, then again on the same screen once it comes back.  I have a lot of video and camera equipment, but have not had much of a chance to use it all lately, I'm kinda chomping at the bit to make a cool 5200 video.  

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