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Guest Post: The Real Story of Hacking Together the Commodore C128

Before Apple there was Commodore

Behind the C-128 from a 1985 Ad

The most popular computer ever sold to-date, the Commodore C-64, sold 27 Million units total back in the 1980’s.  Little is left to show of those times, the 8-bit “retro” years when a young long-haired self-taught engineer could, through sheer chance and a fair amount of determination, sit down and design a computer from scratch using a mechanical pencil, a pile of data books, and a lot of paper.

My name is Bil Herd and I was that long-haired, self-educated kid who lived and dreamed electronics and, with the passion of youth, found himself designing the Commodore C-128, the last of the 8-bit computers which somehow was able to include many firsts for home computing. The team I worked with had an opportunity to slam out one last 8 bit computer, providing we accepted the fact that whatever we did had to be completed in 5 months… in time for the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

We (Commodore) could do what no other computer company of the day could easily do; we made our own Integrated Circuits (ICs) and we owned the two powerhouse ICs of the day; the 6502 microprocessor and the VIC Video Display IC.  This strength would result in a powerful computer but at a cost; the custom IC’s for the C-128 would not be ready for at least 3 of the 5 months, and in the case of one IC, it would actually be tricked into working in spite of itself.

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Hackaday retro roundup, this time with a PowerPC and a PET

Thought we forgot about this, didn’t you? Well, the Hackaday Retro Edition is still going strong, and this time we have a few more retro successes that were able to load our retro site with ancient hardware.

First up is a submission by [rusbus]. He had a Power Macintosh 6100/60 lying around – the first Macintosh with a PowerPC processor instead of the Motorola 68k – and loaded up our retro site. There are some weird quirks about the 6100, notably the AAUI Ethernet tranceiver connected to a 10BASE-T network.

Although some browsers are available for the 6100, notably iCab (it’s not great, but it also works on 68k machines), [rusbus] had to settle for Internet Explorer 3.01. He eventually got it working and has a picture to prove it.

On the subject of finding a proper web browser, [azog] loaded up the retro site with a Commodore PET. There aren’t any web browsers for a PET, you say? Well, [azog] had to make one.

The network adapter is a Retroswitch Flyer Internet Modem, and after finding some network-aware projects on the Retroswitch site such as an IRC and Telnet client, [azog] put together an extremely crude web browser. In BASIC. Old BASIC. We’re impressed.

With [azog]‘s browser, the PET opens up a channel to a URL, reads the text coming in, and processes it. There’s only 1kb of video RAM and 32kb of system RAM, so small luxuries like scrolling are nearly impossible. An amazing piece of work, really.

Finally, [Bob] from Portugal sent in a neat Flickr gallery of a Schneider euro XT he found in his basement. It’s based on the IBM PC/XT running an Intel 8088 processor, but is enclosed in a ‘the keyboard is the computer’ form factor reminiscent of a C64 or TRS-80. He hasn’t gotten it on the Internet yet, but it’s still a cool piece of kit.

Giving an old Atari computer a much needed upgrade

As a kid, [Boisy] cut his teeth on the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was a wonderful machine for its day, featuring a relatively powerful Motorola 6809 CPU. Although his CoCo was theoretically more powerful than its Commodore and Apple contemporaries, the graphics and sound capabilities of [Boisy]‘s first love paled in comparison to his friends 6502-based machines. A little jealously and thirty years go a long way, because now [Boisy] is adding a 6809 microprocessor to the 6502-based machines Atari put out.

[Boisy]‘s goal for his Liber809 project was simple: Put a 6809 CPU in an Atari XEGS and get NitrOS-9, the Unix-like OS for the TRS-80 CoCo running on his Frankenputer. After a few months of work, [Boisy] completed his goal and more so: the Liber809 also works on the Atari 1200XL.

To put [Boisy]‘s work in perspective, it’s like he took a Macintosh from 1993 and made it run on an Intel 486. While that’s not a terribly accurate analogy, we hope our readers will understand the fortitude needed to make a computer run on a completely different processor.

After the break, you can check out a neat demo app written by [SLOR] from the AtariAge forums showcasing a 6809 running in a machine designed for a 6502. Awesome work for all involved

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Recreating the Commodore PET with an FPGA


[Thomas’] love affair with Commodore computers spans well over 30 years, and not too long ago he decided to recreate one of his favorite Commodore offerings, the PET. As we have seen with similar undertakings, this sort of project is no easy task, but [Thomas] seems to be making his way along nicely.

Using a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA on the Digilent Nexys3 dev board, he has implemented the Pet in Verilog. Like the original, his clone contains 16K of both ROM and RAM, utilizing the same simulated 6502 microprocessor he used on a previous Apple ][+ project. The FPGA version of the computer sports a 640x400 resolution which is twice that of the original, so [Thomas] simply doubled the size of each of the PET’s pixels to fill in the extra space.

[Thomas] has made some great progress so far, including the ability to load games and other programs from cassette images over a serial connection. He says that there are still a few loose ends to tie up, but it all looks good from here!

Continue reading to see a short video of Space Invaders running on he PET recreation.

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Commodore 64 USB controller adapter for your PC


[Frank], like many people, has a soft spot in his heart for the Commodore 64. He prefers to play his C64 games on his computer nowadays, but likes using his old school Competition Pro rather than some modern controller with remapped buttons. The only problem with using the controller is that his new computer doesn’t have any ports that accommodate its 9-pin D-sub connector.

The VICE emulator maps keyboard inputs to controller actions, so he decided to build himself a D-sub to USB adapter that implements a virtual USB keyboard. He wrote a firmware package for the Freescale MC9S08JS16L microcontroller that allows him to send keypresses to his emulator whenever he performs an action with his Competition Pro joystick.

The circuit looks easier to duplicate than some other C64 interfaces we have seen before, and as you can see in the video below, it works quite well. We imagine that this setup can be used to connect all sorts of old input devices to modern PCs with little to no tweaking.

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Modded C64 eye candy

“Everyone needs a hobby,” they tell us. For the blogger mysteriously identified only as “R,” that hobby would be an almost fanatical nostalgia for the Commodore 64 computer.

At first we thought this was a fan community site, but apparently it’s all the work of a single person. [R] has tweaked, extended, repackaged and resurfaced this 1980’s icon in nearly every imaginable way. They tend to gloss over the technical aspects of these mods, but that’s okay – the C64 is such an exhaustively documented system now that the site dwells mainly on the aesthetics and meaning of these reborn devices.

The 64 has made an indelible impression on electronic music, and the machines are still sought after by collectors, composers and circuit-benders. [R] pays homage by housing these vintage systems in styles reminiscent of even vintage-er synthesizers. Any one of these would warrant a post here, yet there’s a whole collection to browse. Check it out!

[via Retro Thing]

C64 interface for your computer

Before we get started, lets just point out that this C64 was broken. He did not take a functional C64 out of operation for this. What he did do, was to build a hardware interface for for his VICE system. For those unfamiliar, VICE is a cross platform C64 emulator. [Simon] points out that the old games just weren’t as much fun without the original hardware. Having a broken C64 lying around, he put it to good use. It now acts as the interface for all the original fun stuff.

If you are a fan of the hardware, but just want to interface it as a normal USB keyboard, that is possible as well.