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Commodore 128

Pete Brown - 24 February 2009

Over the weekend I acquired, through Craig’s List, a real blast from the past:

  • One Commodore 128, still close to the original coloration (many get very yellow over time due to chemical changes in the plastic)
  • One Commodore 64 in great condition
  • Two Commodore 1541 Disk Drives
  • A Commodore 1902a composite + RBGI monitor
  • Two large boxes of 5 1/4” disks with tons of programs, all of which that I’ve tried so far (despite being well over 20 years old with labels rotting off) work
  • A few cartridges including Simon’s Basic, two FastLoad carts and others
  • Cables, power supplies, manuals, joysticks etc.

It’s not quite the setup I had in high school, but it’s close. My setup back then was a C128 with GEOS/128, a 1571 drive, mouse, joystick, 1902 monitor (not 1902a), and an Okidata color printer that ate through expensive thermal transfer ribbon like me with a box of saltines. (As an aside, I can remember setting that thing to start printing a paper before I went to bed and having it just finishing up when I got up in the morning)

The only game system we had was an Atari 2600, and that was around the time when they were falling out of favor and you could find the cartridges in bargain bins for dirt cheap. We weren’t a Nintendo or Coleco family. Later when we got the C128, I picked up a boatload of games on disk, and *ahem* spent quite a bit less on them than one would have to spend on game cartridges for any other system.

I forget when we picked up the Atari, but the C128 we (ok, it was mostly for me as my sisters had little to no interest in it, and I didn’t exactly encourage them to try it out) got for Christmas my Sophomore year – 1987. The C128 was one of the only times I’ve ever been truly surprised for Christmas (I have this annoying ability to figure out my gifts just by looking at the boxes under the tree – just ask my wife). I had been using the C64s (and VIC-20s) in school since 6th grade, but wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as a C128.

A CPU in your Floppy Drive?

For grins, I’ve been working on a C64 emulator in Silverlight that I’ll show to folks at or after MIX09. Through that, I’ve learned a lot about the internals of the C64 and related products. For example, while most of us know that the C64 had a MOS 6510 CPU, did you know that the 1541 disk drive was a full computer in itself, with a MOS 6502 processor and built-in disk operating system? That would be like having a Core 2 on every hard drive in your modern system (yes, I know HDs are pretty smart these days). In fact, some folks in the demo scene managed to find ways to use the CPU in the 1541 to do some really interesting things. If you had dual floppies, you had three CPUs to play with.

SID Sound

Thorsten Klose MIDIbox SID V2 in MB-6582 case by WilbaDid you know that the sound chip (the “SID”) on the C64 was basically a complete analog synthesizer? The chip was even more powerful than was surfaced through the C64 itself. In fact, it’s getting a little harder to find complete C64s these days because they’re being destroyed to create new products that use the old synthesizer chips. I have mixed feelings about that, as the new products are actually really really good. Here are a couple:

  • HardSID 4U (you supply up to 4 SID chips)
  • MIDIBox SID – DYI Synthesizer (listen to the Bassline engine and Superpoly examples for some cool examples of what the SID is capable of). Here’s a beautiful one base on what Thorsten Klose created in a great build by Wilba.
  • Elektron SID Station (used chips from stock, not old C64s)


More Power in Your Phone

As I type this, I look over to where I have the new old computer sitting and notice that my AT&T Fuze and my Zune 80 are sitting right next to it. Both the Fuze and the Zune have orders of magnitude more processing power and storage than the C128; in fact, there are C64 emulators for Windows Mobile. You can’t beat that original SID sound, though.

Oh, and I just love the label on one of the disks “Apx loading time 4 minutes”. Ahh, we’re so spoiled now :)

posted by Pete Brown on Tuesday, February 24, 2009
filed under:      

11 comments for “Commodore 128”

  1. Danielsays:
    Hey Pete, next time you want a book to read, I reckon you'd love <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Commodore-Story-Company-Edge/dp/0973864966/">Brian Bagnall's history of Commodore</a>. It had me utterly riveted.
  2. Pete Brownsays:
    I read that book a bit ago. Great info and stories but the worst editing I've ever seen. I wrote as much in my review of it on Amazon :) I'm looking forward to the sequel Brian's putting out, but I hope he actually lets someone edit it this time.

    Thanks! My home office looks like a slow motion explosion right now. I'll definitely post some pics once I get the mess sorted out, though. You forget just how big a desktop footprint a 1980s era home computer, monitor, and disk drive have :)
  3. Stacysays:
    Pete, somewhere all of your pages are loading a facebook gadget that takes forever to time out on DoD networks. Is it one of those add to facebook things? If so, I've seen other sites that implement it differenty, they don't time out.

    The most frustrating part is that I can't read the content while waiting as it is obviously downloaded before the content.

    Great article! My 64 and 128 are still ticking. My wife would love to toss them out though. :)

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