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The new Atari VCS system is a strange oddity, one I cannot help but admire. On the outside, it looks like a modern reimagining of the original 2600 hardware. On the inside, it is a PC running AMD Ryzen and Vega components. That combination makes it a whole lot more than something like the Super NES Classic Edition, but it’s not exactly your next gaming PC, either.

As a modern consumer-electronics device, the $300 VCS (or $400 with controllers) is maybe closest to an Nvidia Shield. It’s a set-top box that you can turn into a whole lot more if you so choose. That means you can run Chrome-based apps for Netflix, Disney+, and more. But you can, if you want, actually run Windows, ChromeOS, or Linux off of a USB stick.

And as a PC, it’s a decent little $300 computer with a Ryzen CPU and Vega 3 graphics. Just don’t expect to run modern 3D releases.

And all of those features are on top of some included Atari console and arcade classics as well as a store with original, new games.

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My biggest issue with the VCS is that it sits between too many other devices that are better at certain tasks. The Shield is much better for playing 4K media. If you want a cheap, little computer, you should get the much more affordable Raspberry Pi. If you want access to a store with original games, you should get an iPad.

I suppose it is unique to get a Windows-capable machine in an Atari form factor. And all of that is even more valuable if you have nostalgia for the Atari brand. But don’t feel bad if you look at the VCS and cannot figure out why you would want it. I expect that’s how most people will react.

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