Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 1st Aug 2012 22:45 UTC, submitted by MOS6510
Hardware, Embedded Systems "It is 30 years since the Commodore 64 went on sale to the public. The machine was hugely successful for its time, helping to encourage personal computing, popularise video games and pioneer homemade computer-created music. [...] BBC News invited Commodore enthusiast Mat Allen to show schoolchildren his carefully preserved computer, at a primary school and secondary school in London."
Thread beginning with comment 529256
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 05:13 UTC
MOS6510
Member since:
2011-05-12

The C64 was great, but I could have been much better. Of course you could add stuff or upgrade components, but that would have added to the cost. So without increasing the price I think these changes would have made the C64 the undisputed king during the 8 bit era:

* Its chips (video and sound) were great, but they could not be accessed from BASIC without POKEing. Apart from that its BASIC wasn't very good, being almost the same as the VIC-20. Not everybody likes Simon's BASIC, but it would have been an improvement and provide a way to do video and sound stuff from BASIC.

* Fix the bug preventing fast disk access! Disk access was very slow compared to other systems. Fastloaders proved disk access could have been much faster.

* Tape access was slow too. A program was saved twice and also loaded twice. After the program was loaded it was loaded again and compared, if the two copies didn't match a ?LOAD ERROR was displayed. Not sure how that would help, but it made tape access twice as slow as it could be. When loading a game I used to stop it when I thought it was past the half way point and type RUN. 9 out 10 times I would get it right. It's nice to know something is wrong with your saved program, but there wasn't a way to perform recovery. How could you load the 2nd version? I don't know.

* There was no reset button. When a game got boring you had to power cycle the machine. Not very elegant or healthy. The RESTORE button was huge and mostly unused, apart from the RUN/STOP + RESTORE combination. What about a C= + RESTORE to reset the computer?

* The C64 would have been much easier to type on (and look at) had they used the C64-C model from the start.

* When a C64 was turned on LETTERS WERE CAPS. A bit ugly. You could turn it to lower case, but that messed up using all the graphical characters you'd use in your programs to draw lines and simple graphics. I would have been nice if it started with lower case, shift for upper and using C= and CTRL for all the graphical characters.

Reply Score: 7

RE: Comment by MOS6510
by moondevil on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 06:56 in reply to "Comment by MOS6510"
moondevil Member since:
2005-07-08

In Portugal and Spain the Spectrum family ruled, and I only got to know the C64 thanks to the Amiga.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 06:59 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
MOS6510 Member since:
2011-05-12

IIRC it also was very popular in the UK. It's also a great and fun computer.

I have a ZX Spectrum 128K. It's easy to detach its keys, clean them and put them back!

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by judgen on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 15:30 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
judgen Member since:
2006-07-12

In Sweden, the Spectrum never made it. C64 was the first major home machine over here. Even regular food retailers had c64 casettes on the shelf. That was awesome, games for everyone! hehe.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by zima on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 17:46 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Spectrum clones ruled the day also in the former Soviet Union: many ~Russian clones among http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ZX_Spectrum_clones#Unofficial_... - also quite a few from other Warsaw Pact countries, but from what I know those didn't catch on to the extent they did in former Soviet republics.

I guess the simple architecture played a role, some of them apparently even made in cottage-like fashion - in a report from a trip made 2 decades ago to Russia, to secure some of their treasures for the National Museum of Science and Industry, in London ( http://www.inc.com/magazine/19960615/1967.html ):

Prized among the loot are reverse-engineered Sinclair ZX-Spectrum clones [...] with Russian documentation and games stored on audiocassette tapes. The clones come in a variety of shapes, colors, and designs, and bear little resemblance to their Western counterparts. Their motherboards were made unofficially in state electronics plants by underemployed workers, who then assembled the computers at home and sold them in ones or twos either privately or at flea markets. We end up purchasing two Sinclair clones; one of them comes with a guarantee -- a handwritten note with the telephone number of the teenager who assembled the device. Cost: the equivalent of $19 U.S.


In the late 90s I got a CD collection of ~Russian Spectrum demos, with matching emulator - they did some insane things on those machines. Now http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZX_Spectrum_demos#External_links could be a good starting point, I suppose (and RU version of that article appears to have a list of presumably most notable productions).
edit: w8, Youtube must be the most straightforward way to check them out now, lots of demoscene stuff uploaded there (yeah, it feels kinda "bad", but...)

Edited 2012-08-02 17:49 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE: Comment by MOS6510
by Kroc on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 07:31 in reply to "Comment by MOS6510"
Kroc Member since:
2005-11-10

* Fix the bug preventing fast disk access! Disk access was very slow compared to other systems. Fastloaders proved disk access could have been much faster.


If the slow disk access hadn’t been there, then fastloaders would not have caught on and been improved as quickly as they did. If anything, the slow disk access helped improve load times in the long run as well as pushing compression algorithms forward, allowing for more content than before.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by henderson101 on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 10:01 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
henderson101 Member since:
2006-05-30

But if disk access had been on a par with other systems, one wouldn't have required fast loaders. Chicken, meet egg. Disk access has a finite speed that is capped by a number of factors, physical disk hardware being the one hardest to work around. But with limited RAM, the fast loaders were a trade off between clever programming and cramming in bits where ever you could fit them.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Comment by MOS6510
by zima on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 13:30 in reply to "Comment by MOS6510"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Of course you could add stuff or upgrade components, but that would have added to the cost.
[...]
* Fix the bug preventing fast disk access! Disk access was very slow compared to other systems. Fastloaders proved disk access could have been much faster. [...]
* Tape access was slow too. [...] It's nice to know something is wrong with your saved program, but there wasn't a way to perform recovery. How could you load the 2nd version? I don't know.
* There was no reset button.

Well, those issues were largely rectified with cartridges later on - which at least in some places were essentially included in the package, you getting a cart without requesting it, or even without really knowing then what it was. And the whole package still remained definitely the least expensive computer available at retail.
(the few ~regions sort of standardising on particular series, it seems; here it was http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackbox3.jpg - largely about tape fast loader)

It's nice to know something is wrong with your saved program, but there wasn't a way to perform recovery. How could you load the 2nd version? I don't know.

Hm, the few "non-mixtape" (and no fast loader - so using the default routines) official releases of games that I had, essentially filled their tape with multiple copies of the game... which did come handy once, when the first track of one game got corrupted.
(w8, I still have them somewhere - too bad my C64 is most likely kaput)

* The C64 would have been much easier to type on (and look at) had they used the C64-C model from the start.

Hey, it's not like they could choose to use that shape from the start (versus just giving a bit more time to correct faults, such as with floppy controller chip), it came half a decade later for Commodore designs - but OTOH maybe the "soap dish" (that's what it was called at my place) shape gave it distinctive visual identity, in the period critical for adoption? ;p

* When a C64 was turned on LETTERS WERE CAPS. A bit ugly.

Hm, that never bothered me. Just how it was, the standard way - not like typography was particularly crucial (not many people had printers - plus they would likely type & print in some software, I think). OTOH, capital letters probably greatly helped the legibility on the standard-issue small CRT TVs, so it's good they were the default. Oh, and not used that much beyond loading software.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Thu 2nd Aug 2012 15:03 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
MOS6510 Member since:
2011-05-12

Cartridges, in large part, fixed my suggestions to make the C64 better. I.e. they provided what the C64 lacked and the users missed.

If the C64 already had these things it made room for other stuff in the cart or the user may not need a cart at all. You could only insert one. If I inserted my Simon's BASIC cart I didn't have the fast loader and the reset button, if I inserted my Final Cartridge III I couldn't run my Simon's BASIC programs.

The shape could have been better if they did some testing, but instead they used the VIC-20 design (the breadbox). Commodore made typewriters and the PET computers before the VIC-20/C64, so they should have had some experience with professional typists and keyboards. The C128 keyboard was great.

The CAPS never bothered me either, but looking back now it did seem a bit weird.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Comment by MOS6510
by Zbigniew on Mon 6th Aug 2012 10:22 in reply to "Comment by MOS6510"
Zbigniew Member since:
2008-08-28

* Its chips (video and sound) were great, but they could not be accessed from BASIC without POKEing. Apart from that its BASIC wasn't very good, being almost the same as the VIC-20. Not everybody likes Simon's BASIC, but it would have been an improvement and provide a way to do video and sound stuff from BASIC.
Of course you're right, that it would be better to have it "out of the box" - but, on the other hand, it made a place for variety of extensions: not everyone preferred BASIC (remember Logo, Comal, variety of BASIC extensions, etc.?).

* Fix the bug preventing fast disk access! Disk access was very slow compared to other systems. Fastloaders proved disk access could have been much faster.
It wasn't possible. Commodore engineers too late realized, that VIA6522 (used in 1541 floppy disk station) has "hardware bug". Only the later models (1571) had VIA6522 replaced with CIA6526, having the transfer 5x faster since the very beginning (burst mode).

And once more "of course": as we all saw, it could be "fixed in software" anyway (variety of free "fastloaders") - but most probably they had no time.

* Tape access was slow too.
Indeed it was. But almost every commercial program/game used its own "fast-load" routine.

* There was no reset button.
Yes, actually it was strange, that one had to build it in by himself.

* The C64 would have been much easier to type on (and look at) had they used the C64-C model from the start.
...but maybe more expensive as well. Remember: Tramiel always was going to cut the costs.

* When a C64 was turned on LETTERS WERE CAPS. A bit ugly.
...but also standard behaviour for 8-bitters at these days.

There is another thing, that attracted my attention: fixed colour pallette. It seems to me, that it would be quite easy to make it selectable, e.g. by reserving a few memory cells for intensity of red, green, blue (for every of 16 colours available at the same time), and such solution doesn't seem to raise the costs. Maybe they thought "16 colours will be enough"?

P.S. It could be only 16 cells, each one reserving 2 bits for R,G,B intensity value, respectively. Such way we could have 16 colours at the same time, selectable out of 4*4*4=64 possible colours pallette. And if the remaining 2 bits were used for e.g. "overall intensity", then we could have even more.

Edited 2012-08-06 10:37 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[2]: Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Mon 6th Aug 2012 11:37 in reply to "RE: Comment by MOS6510"
MOS6510 Member since:
2011-05-12

Of course you're right, that it would be better to have it "out of the box" - but, on the other hand, it made a place for variety of extensions: not everyone preferred BASIC (remember Logo, Comal, variety of BASIC extensions, etc.?).


Anything else but the default made you either load it first or use the cartridge port, which means you couldn't use it for anything else.

Almost every home computer had BASIC standard, even the IBM PC had it. It would have been cool if Commodore had opted for Pascal for example, but commercially BASIC would be the best choice, just a shame they didn't update/extend it compared to the VIC-20.

"* Fix the bug preventing fast disk access! Disk access was very slow compared to other systems. Fastloaders proved disk access could have been much faster.
It wasn't possible. Commodore engineers too late realized, that VIA6522 (used in 1541 floppy disk station) has "hardware bug". Only the later models (1571) had VIA6522 replaced with CIA6526, having the transfer 5x faster since the very beginning (burst mode).

And once more "of course": as we all saw, it could be "fixed in software" anyway (variety of free "fastloaders") - but most probably they had no time.
"

I know, but I was just theorizing how the same computer could have been (much) better without adding to the cost. It was supposed to have much quicker disk access if they hadn't messed it up and only discovered after production had started.

"* Tape access was slow too.
Indeed it was. But almost every commercial program/game used its own "fast-load" routine. "

Indeed, but your own programs didn't. :-p


There is another thing, that attracted my attention: fixed colour pallette. It seems to me, that it would be quite easy to make it selectable, e.g. by reserving a few memory cells for intensity of red, green, blue (for every of 16 colours available at the same time), and such solution doesn't seem to raise the costs. Maybe they thought "16 colours will be enough"?

P.S. It could be only 16 cells, each one reserving 2 bits for R,G,B intensity value, respectively. Such way we could have 16 colours at the same time, selectable out of 4*4*4=64 possible colours pallette. And if the remaining 2 bits were used for e.g. "overall intensity", then we could have even more.


During C64 vs ZX Spectrum wars colors often show up. The C64 had a number of pretty ugly colors, while the Spectrum had very nice ones. The advantage in serious software would be for the Spectrum, but I think the ugly C64 colors worked very well in game graphics. They could very easily be combined to make very nice graphics, while the Spectrum colors were all so bright and distinct that combining them wasn't so easy.

Minds you 16 colors was a very acceptable number those days.

Reply Parent Score: 2