The Atari 2600 VCS, part code number CX2600, (internal codename "Stella"), came to market in Oct 1977, shortly after Atari founder Nolan Bushnell sold the company to Warner Communications, and having been beaten by the Fairchild Channel F as the first cartridge based games console.
This model is known by collectors as the "Sunnyvale", (it was made in Sunnyvale, California), "Heavy Sixer" or "Heavy Six" (it weighs more than the later six switch model) and "Woody" (all woodgrain models tend to be called this).
How to spot them
This first model of 2600 is the most desirable among collectors, and was only produced for one year. It looks very similar to the second model, having the same six switches and wood grain effect, and indeed, the two are often confused by both buyers and sellers.
Checking the location of manufacture (Sunnyvale CA) is not the best way to tell them apart, as some of the later, lighter model, were also made there, before Atari moved production to Hong Kong.
The most reliable way to tell the two models apart is to look closely at the body mouldings on the sides. Notice how they're much thicker than on the Vader model below, which has the same mouldings as the 2nd edition woody model. They're also more curved on the Heavy Sixer, which can't really be seen from this photo. The 3rd difference is the weight. The Heavy Sixer contains much more electrical shielding which was not included in later models, and consequently, it weighs noticeably more.
Heavy Sixer's, when they come up, can be seen to sell for around £100+ on ebay uk (2007) , compared to around £20 - £30 for the 2nd edition six switch woody,
so it really is worth checking exactly what you are looking at. I was personally very fortunate when it came to buying this example, as the seller didn't know what they had got, and none of the
other bidders appeared to have noticed either.
In 1980 Atari intorduced the CX2600A, which had identical functionality to the CX2600, but for cost cutting purposes moved the two difficulty level
switches to the back of the 'head' of the console and made them of much simpler design. These have become known by collectors as 4 switch woodies.
Then in 1982, Atari launched a restyled version which did away with the now unfashionable woodgrain front, and was entirely black.
This is the first time the Atari VCS was officially referred to as the 2600, no doubt to differentiate it from the newly released Atari 5200 console.
This all black 4 switcher has become known by collectors and enthusiasts as the "Vader" or "Darth Vader Model", no doubt because its look is reminiscent of that
famous Star Wars character's mask and costume.
Vader models of 2600 tend to be slightly more desirable than standard (non-heavy sixer) woody models, possibly due to their more stylish looks, and because they're
slightly less common (though still fairly easy to find).
You could reasonably expect to pay around £30 - £40 on ebay uk (2007) .
In 1984, after ill advised investment in various R&D projects, huge over production of poor quality games, and a general slump in the console games market,
Atari was losing money on a massive scale. Consequently, Warner Communications sold the company to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel.
Tramiel was less interested in games consoles than in home computers, and so the 2600 was de-emphasised in the Atari product range.
As a cost cutting move, in 1986, the 2600 was redesigned in a new smaller, simpler form (internal codename "Bonnie") and marketed as a low cost child's console.
And so was born the machine which has come to be known unofficially as the Atari 2600Jr, or Junior.
How To Spot Them
The original 2600Jr looks much like the one in the photo above, except that the coloured strip is only around 3 inches long, and the Atari logo and name are positioned the same
as on the black model below.
The Rev A, is identical to the original, except for the length of the coloured strip and positioning of the Atari name and logo, which brought their style into
line with the new Atari 7800.
The original redesigned 2600 has come to be known as the Atari 2600Jr "Short Rainbow", due to the shorter band of colours on the silver strip,
while predictably, the Rev A has come to be known as the "Long Rainbow".
The least desirable model for collectors, as they're generally seen as little more than a cheap toy, you could expect to pay as little as £10 on ebay uk (2007.)
The final model of 2600, the black model, was made in Ireland, and some sources suggest only sold in Ireland (though this is unconfirmed).
It's probable that the removal of the silver strip was another cost cutting move, and not beyond the bounds of reason to speculate that these models were only produced to use up remaining stocks of components.
On Jan 1st 1992, the Atari 2600 was finally discontinued, making its 14 year production run the longest of any games console, and around 3 times longer than that of your average console.
Only slightly more desirable than the two "Rainbow" models, you could expect to see these sell on ebay uk (2007) for around £15.
All Atari 2600 models are internally identical.
CPU: MOS Technology 6507 at 1.19 MHz Audio and Video: TIA chip, 160 x 192 pixel, 128 colors, 2 channel mono audio.(Designed by Jay Miner, who later went on to design the Commodore Amiga). RAM: 128 bytes. (Extra RAM can be included within games cartridges). ROM: 4k (In games cartridges... though up to 32k can be used by utilising bank switching).