The WiC64 Brings Classic Commodores Online, Google Maps Included

A Commodore 64 accessing an online service

A computing platform is never really dead unless people stop developing new software for it. By that measure, the Commodore 64 is alive and well: new games, demos, and utilities are still being released on a regular basis. Getting those new programs onto an old computer was always a bit of a hassle though, requiring either an SD card adapter for the Commodore or a direct cable connection from an internet-connected PC. Luckily, there’s now a simpler way to get your latest software updates thanks to a WiFi adapter called WiC64.  This adapter plugs into the expansion port of a classic Commodore and lets you download programs directly into memory. [Tommy Ovesen] over at [Arctic Retro] bought one and explored its many features.

The basic design of the WiC64 is straightforward: an ESP32 mounted on an adapter board that connects its data bus to that of the Commodore 64, 128 or VIC-20. A simple program, which you still need to transfer the old way, lets you configure the device and connect to a WiFi network. Once that’s done, an interactive BBS-style program is launched that allows you to access a range of online services. The WiC64 developers provide these, but since the system is fully open-source there’s nothing stopping you from running your own servers as well.

A street on Google Maps, rendered on a Commodore 64 Services currently available include an RSS reader, several multiplayer online games, and even a radio station that plays non-stop SID tunes. There’s also a direct link to CSDB, an online database of Commodore 64 programs and demos which you can now simply download and run directly on your C64 – in effect, a modern app store for a classic computer.

One feature that really seems to defy the C64’s hardware limitations is a fully functional version of Google Maps. Even with the Commodore’s limited resolution and color depth, it does a pretty decent job of showing maps, satellite photos, and even Street View images.

Using the WiC64 requires no hardware modifications to the Commodore 64, but a custom ROM is available that enables a few convenient features such as LOADing programs directly from a web address. There have been several attempts at getting classic Commodores online, but none so far that managed to get complex apps like Google Maps running. We have seen YouTube videos being played on a Commodore PET though.

29 thoughts on “The WiC64 Brings Classic Commodores Online, Google Maps Included

  1. Google maps looks like Win XP with the basic VGA driver. 🥲

    Still impressive, though. Looking forward to a native C128 version which takes fully advantage of its enhanced features. 🙂👍

      1. Oh, and let’s don’t forget about CompuServe! AOL’s arch rival. It had the CB Simulator, an ICQ before ICQ..

        Other popular services in old Europe were the Videotex systems. Minitel/Teletel, BTX/Datex-J, Videotex.. They evolved out of British Prestel..

        1. Cool thing about CompuServe is that they started in the 60s from a Life Insurance company leasing out spare compute capacity and ultimately pivoting to hosted apps. The original cloud provider :D

      1. +1

        That’s why we played “the ground is lava” in our childhood.
        It was not real, just a game of our imagination.
        Yet it was (among) the best time in our life. Especially if we played with others (if they were nice).

    1. None of this had a “point.” Retro computing? It’s pointless.

      People still like doing it. I mean, I’m an amateur radio operator, and that’s just pointless too, in a world where TCP/IP exists with 4g, 5g etc — there’s no reason to be talking to people via RF using Morse code. It’s just kinda silly in comparison.

      But I *like* it! It’s fun, for me. Retro computing is fun for people.

      Don’t yuck anyone else’s yums. People are always going to do whatever they like. It doesn’t have to be done for money — it just is for joy. Same with my radio habit.

      1. Well, yes and no I think. Learning is learning, even if we spend time with obsolete stuff. There are many kind souls out there that read novels and books of the past but can apply the outdated knowledge learnt to other situations.

        You train your mind, for example, you may learn to speak in an eloquent way. Especially Americans can learn to evolve their tongue from imitating speech they find old or foreign books. With a bit of training, they can upgrade to Canadian English. Or Australian accent. ;)

        Speaking of retro computing.. Repairing old systems teaches you the very basics of electronics and IT. Even if you’re just a layman, you will soon learn more from maintaining old toy computers such as the C64, ZX81 or CPC than most “gamerz” which think they’re pros because they can stick together PCIe cards, cables and turn a screwdriver in the right direction. :)

    2. This was what bothers me about the article – you’re connecting the classic computer to a computer that’s orders of magnitude more powerful (the “adapter”) which does all the work, then feeding output back to what’s basically a dumb terminal. Neat trick, I guess?

      1. Let’s think of it as props of a show.
        Who didn’t want to be Captain Kirk on the bridge on the Enterprise or Michael Knight cruising around in the Knight 2000?

        Being able to access Google Maps from your former children computer brings joy to your inner child.

        It’s the same reason why fans build replicas of the LCARS computer terminals, I think.

        Also, the C64 is a very weak computer. It’s a wonder if it could act as dumb terminal, at all.
        It’s serial port is totally broken and very slow. 300 to 1200 Baud, can be used under normal circumstances in real life, I suppose..
        And the 40×25 characters are sub standard by 1970s standards, even.

      2. That’s all most computing is today. One less powerful computer connecting to another one with orders of magnitude more bandwidth, processing power and information stored on it remotely (i.e. a web server). What’s amazing about this is that the creator of the Wic64 managed to get a 40 year old, 8-bit machine to play to. If it “bothers” you, then tinkering with retro computers isn’t for you – but it is for a lot of people.

        1. This absolutely, there is basically no new invention that is more powerful than the original device.
          Ultimate 1541, Kung fu flash, easyflash, most modern kernal switcher, or even things like the snes2c64 all use chips that are more powerfull then the c64, and it’s great!

  2. > A simple program, which you still need to transfer the old way, lets you configure the device and connect to a WiFi network.

    Aw dang, it can’t enumerate as a cartridge and just boot into this configurator?

      1. But the article stated that it plugs into the expansion port, which does have the capability to supply its own ROM to boot from.
        As far as I recall, doing so changes the memory layout, which may not be compatible with the programs that you intend to download and run, though.

          1. also that’s how it’s such a simple hardware design.
            and it makes it compatible with lots of cartridges. It would be too bad if you couldn’t run software from a U1541, KFF EF3 using the wic!

    1. Too much hassle, I suppose. The USER port is used as an interface.
      If a boot ROM was installed, it would need to transfer the code into RAM and then disable itself to make way for the interface.

      This may or may not cause trouble with the other electronics on the device.
      What if it already streams some data to the C64 after it gets power?

      It would interfere with the boot ROM circuit. Another auxiliary circuit would be needed that connects the device to the USER port after the ROM code was copied into RAM.

      Sure, it’s possible. But nowadays, avout everyone has an SD2IEC or how it is called.
      Also, the C64 datasette is still there, har har. ;)

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