While the Commodore 64 was an immensely popular computer for its time, and still remains a strong favorite within the retrocomputing community, there’s a reason we’re not using modern Commodore-branded computers today. Intense competition, company mismanagement, and advancing beyond 8-bit computers too late in the game all led to the company’s eventual downfall. But if you’re still a Commodore enthusiast and always wished you were able to get an upgraded C64, you might want to take a look at the Commander X16, a modern take on this classic computer.
We’ve actually seen the Commander X16 before, but this was back in its early days of prototyping and design. This video from [Adrian’s Digital Basement], also linked below the break, takes a look at how it’s come in the four years since [David Murray] started this project. At its core, it’s an 8-bit 6502-based computer like you’d find in the 1980s but built with new components. There are some more modern updates as well such as the ability to use an SD card as well as built-in SNES controller ports, but the real magic here is the VERA module. Built around an FPGA, this module handles graphics, some of the audio, and the storage capabilities and does all of these things much better than the original Commodore, while still being faithful to what made these computer great.
While the inclusion of the FPGA might offend some of the most staunch 8-bit purists, it turns out to be necessary due to the lack of off-the-shelf video chips and really makes this build shine in the end. It’s also capable of running 6502-based software from other machines too, including the original NES. The VERA module makes it possible to run other software too, including a sample of Sonic the Hedgehog from the Sega Genesis which [Adrian] demonstrates in his video. 6502-based computers are quite versatile as the Commander X16 demonstrates, and it’s even possible to build a rudimentary 6502 on a breadboard with just a few parts.
50 thoughts on “Commodore 64 Upgrade In Modern Package”
I expect the price of this huge board to be over 1000USD. They sell the keyboard for over 200USD.
Not surprising. Nostalgia is the business model since it’s absurdly obsolete hardware.
Absolutely not. It was already confirmed that these boards with 512k of banked RAM and without the user port chip will be available for around $350 and will be bundled with a picoPSU, a membrane keyboard with custom key caps and a mouse. What you are referring to is an optional $205 deluxe mechanical keyboard but you can buy just those full sized key caps for $67.
Honestly though – compared to $500 for a modern console plus $100 per game plus $10/mo subscription for the privilege of being allowed to play it plus the inevitable shutting-down of the servers I’d take a $1000 box that plays hundreds of really great classic games that will never get DRM’d out of existence.
I don’t think this is purely nostalgia, older consoles especially were so great when you just wanted to pick a controller up for a quick game of something with no messing around. Switch on, press start, BAM! you’re having fun!
$500 for the early bird premium when the first batch goes on sale, ~$350 regular price. The regular keyboard is included with the board — the $200 one is an optional mechanical switch keyboard
The 8-Bit Guy specifically names the VIC-20 as the start point of the Commander X-16 and not the C64… C64 in the name is probably flashier :(
great, time to find another money-growing tree so I can afford to get Commander x16 and the separate keyboard with PETSCII graphic on key caps. If I read everything correctly, it’d be about $500 and $205 for them.
Wrong. It will be $350 with a custom membrane keyboard included. $500 is for the first batch of around 80 hand made units. $205 is for an optional custom deluxe mechanical keyboard but you can buy just the key caps on the same site for $67.
You wrote “hand made units” like its a good thing :) Its hand made because there was no adult engineer in the room. That $350-500 is paying for Davids education (thru hole in 2023 – oh look pcbs are bending, plenty of original parts – oh its all fake, fpga is bad – oh fpga is good now).
Sure. All of that is a part of the story of this machine and people who decided to make it. Nobody forces you to take a part in it.
Damn you’re rude.
Phuuu, I hand assembled some pretty complex high-density PCBs and can do it with ok yields, but 80 pieces, wow! Shipped some in customer units too :p
Why does he not have them assembled professionally? For 80 pcs it will be worth it…
Only maybe 20 were hand built. Rest were assembled via automation by a place in the DFW area.
“FPGA is bad / oh look it’s good now” is buying the troll video made by the designer of the Agon light … the famous misleading “no FPGA or MCU” clip from the first X16 video is from the description of the original blog post that got the ball rolling, but at the time of the first X16 video, the X16 project was committed to using an FPGA to implement the Video Display Chip, since it was clear that no 8bit style scanline by scanline display ASIC chip was available.
Building a circuit board with a 65xx and a sid chip doesnt make it a c64. If you want an upgrade to a c64 buy a pc. Anything that isn’r a true c64 only leads to compatibility issues and frustration if you expect it to work like a real c64.
However, that doesnt mean that the board is useless, in the contrary, just don’t promote it as a machine it wasn’t intended to be. That is where the c128 failed… Nobody used it as a c128.
Its an “upgrade” in the same way that a SNES is an “upgrade” to the NES. The x16 can do everything the C64 can and more but yes calling it an actual upgrade is wrong (in that it can’t run C64 software although its designed to make porting that software easy)
Except it can’t. One of the benefits of the c64 was that everything with user serviceable. Good luck with that on the x16 which relies on several black box fpgas. The original design goals were that it would be an upgrade like that, but the reality is unfortunately that due to several really bad decisions, the project is essentially doomed to failure.
Eh… C64 is chock full of custom silicon.
But yeah, this x16 is too expensive and nothing like the original concept.
It uses exactly one FPGA for graphics. The source for the FPGA is public (https://github.com/fvdhoef/vera-module) and released under an MIT license.
It literally could not be less black box.
He’s probably going to end up going to need a second FPGA to have the YM2151 (yamaha OPM) he specced as second sound chip.
I’m one of those weirdos who did run the C128 in 128 mode. Although I had a special use-case for it: I was using it to run a BBS and needed the extra disk space afforded by the 1571 drive in 128 mode, and the 80 column text was nice too.
I miss my old C128…
I used my 128 for several years as a 128. Nemory expansion and geos 128. I did alot of productivity. Of course I spent a small fortune on hardware and software. Loved it til I didn’t.
if you want an upgrade to a c64 buy an amiga.
They should make this with the W65C256S microcontroller. Would put a few more dollars on the BOM, but this machine is already some $500, so that’s trivial. But it would give a lot more bang for the buck. Basically more bang for the buck than the MEGA65. Albeit less compatible with the C64 (but might be able to emulate one).
In any case: for me the price is way too high, for just a fun thing. The BASIC Engine is in the order of $50. It’s not C64 compatible, but just as fun. It’s lacking community support, though, which is a shame.
Or if you don’t fancy to build something, while getting more performance as well, you can try the BASIC Engine NextGen (running on an Allwinner H3 SoC):
It’s an interesting product, but I’m not going to shell out $350+ on it.
Lots of comments about price. The price will come down and it’s open source so anything is possible. You can emulate it for free.
It is not open source.
Given one of David Murry’s original stated goals was to make something that was price competitive with single board computers? Feature bloat has made it well beyond what it shouldh ave been and put the price point well past what is practical to expect someone wanting an 8 bit micro to get when (in saner times) they could get a pi way cheaper.
Look at the Agon Light instead.
Design goals change based on the circumstances around you. Covid didn’t help either. Also, have you seen the price of RaspPi’s lately? And he never claimed to be an expert on any of this, relying on help from other enthusiasts. No one needs to buy one, but I will likely get one because it’s a real cool project and to support the guys. As they get better with production the price will come down, including using surface mount components on smaller versions (which was stated in one of the early videos on the project)
Design particulars change with circumstance. Design goals change upon failure.
The through hole board has to be made first, but it is the hardware reference platform for the cost reduced SMB version and the FPGA version. Nobody ever expected the through hole version to sell for $50-$100.
As far as feature bloat, more features have been trimmed than added over the course of the project. The only main added feature since the first 65816 based design is the cartridge port, and that involves adding a gate to the internal ROM select and bringing the ROM window latch lines out to the already existing expansion slot, so it was a real strong bang for the buck added feature.
I love the idea of the X-16 but it’s expensive and not really available. On the other hand, right now you can get an Agon Light 2 (fully open source, high speed Z80, BBC basic, gpio, esp32 microcontroller for sound and video) for about $50.
Yeah, you can buy that computer for cheap. And you will get subpar sound and graphics and basically no software ecosystem. X16 is not even out yet and it has more games and software already available. It’s not always just about the price. X16 should start selling in around two weeks for $350 for a bundle with a PSU, custom keyboard and mouse.
I guess it depends on what you’re after. The X-16 is a cool package with a great community. But if what I wanted was graphics and games an SBC would be way better and cost a fraction of the price of an X-16. I want to get in and bang around on the machine the Agon lets me do that today for cheap. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with being into the X-16 but, for me, there’s better options.
That’s fair. To me it’s all about the community. Making software and games for a retro computer which could be completely forgotten in a couple of years is not really fun to me.
Yeah, I’ll be curious to see how things shake out over the next few years for these neo-retro systems. I think its community may end up being the X-16’s biggest asset and that, like you say, might give it a lot more long term viability. But, the Agon is a strange duck. It was only announced 7 months ago and I’m already playing with one. It’s a different development strategy from the X-16’s to be sure. It’s actually pretty exciting to have all these very different systems dropping. Much better than waiting around for the next minor iteration of UNIX or Windows. :-D
The Agon Light has a native ez80 assembler – with builds for Windows, MacOS and Linux.
It also has an emulator and games and CP/M.
The software ecosystem is being rapidly developed by a group of dedicated programmers.
That’s great. Once there are a bunch of programs and games publicly available customers will be actually able to compare these two computers by something else than just price and claims of what they can do.
Once again Hackaday fails miserably in its analysis. This sham computer has nothing to do with the Commodore computer – if anything, it parasites on Commodore’s legacy while splitting and diluting the Commodore community at the same time.
If you’re looking for a true successor of the Commodore 64 and the Commodore 128, them the brand new (and backwards compatible) MEGA 65 is the only same, respectful and official way to go.
This article is just dishonest. You can a lot better than this, Hackaday 😑.
They never talked about being a “successor” of any commodore machine, but more like a “WHAT IF…” commodore wouldn’t have gone bankrupt and “WHAT COULD” have been produced at the age. Of course David’s patreons, and people he consulted wanted something different and so, the CX16 was born. David even licensed the Kernal from the actual copyright owners so you can run programs developed in Commodore Basic, back in the day. But still it’s HIS DREAM MACHINE. Just not as cheap he was pursuing (Even he demoed the Commander X8, which was a credit card size version of the CX16 with less features, less memory, just a FPGA but with similar features of the big board at a very reduced price: Almost nobody wanted it back then.).
Of course, a DREAM MACHINE definition varies from people to people, but to each it’s own.
Calling is a “Commodore upgrade” implies that it’s a successor of sorts.
The only issue I take with commander 16 is how it seams to be intentionally crippled making life harder. the video board packs more power than the rest of the system and thats weird to me. I understand he wanted some C64 similarities, but intentionally making life hard doesnt make sense. now I know this is just my opinion and I should just go make my own… if I did, I would ditch the 6502 and put z8000, flat address space and life is nice, or heck a pic24e at 70mips emulating a hybrid instruction set. Sadly, they guy who designed it is not a hardware guy and stuck in the 70/80’s 8bit micro way of solving issues that are not issues today.
Another victim of Dunning Kruger, I mean how hard is it to make better commodore 16, right? and here we are at almost twice the cost of MiSTer.
A few months ago I bought the C64 Mini + joystick which is about as close as I need to get to a C64 . Upgraded the firmware and off and running games and running Basic. Brought back a bunch of memories.
Nice job though. Looks like it was a fun project.
Lol this board can’t be an upgrade to C64 , not even the proper form factor , yes you can run emulated commodore OS , but that’s not a C64
There seems to be a modern C64 in existence, called the F256 Jr that has a W65C02S, upgradeable to a 65C816, 256K of RAM, 512K of Flash, DVI port, IEC port, SD Card to store programs, PS/2 keyboard, Atari joystick ports on a Mini-ITX board for $199.99 at https://c256foenix.com
This system was displayed at the recent VCF East
What is the point? And $350. Really? For that price I’d just buy a laptop and run C64 flawlessly emulated.
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