The Commodore 16

The Commodore 16 home computer was another of Jack Trammels creations.  To be honest it was not one of his greatest ventures by any means, but still it was made by Commodore computers and released in 1984. The system came in a starter pack which consisted of a Commodore 16 computer, a 1531 cassette player and an Introduction to Basic part 1  that was on 2 cassettes as the basic language was made easier to use than that of the Vic 20 and the C64.  The Commodore 16 was mainly known by users as the C16 and the system was one of three computers in its family, with its bread-bin style casing and a keyboard similar to the Vic 20 & C64, but in different colours.  That is where the similarities end.

On the Commodore 16s release I didn’t know much about the system and its hardware.  However I  still seriously wanted to own one when it made its appearance in the local high street stores, mainly because the C16 arrived after the C64 so I assumed it would exceed the C64’s capabilities and it would automatically be a far superior system (nothing wrong in wishful thinking ).  After a bit of research I abandoned the idea of buying a C16 and it wasn’t until a few years back when i found a fairly nice boxed system to add to my collection. . .

As a games machine, there was eventually quite a large library of games available and later some of the great classics arrived like Beach-head, Jet Set Willy, Ghost & Goblins, Exploding Fist and Airwolf etc due to them ported from the Commodore 64.  A plus point was that due to the size of the memory being smaller than that of the C64 the games loaded quite quickly.  I did feel rather disappointed to discover that the C16 was not backward compatible with the Vic 20 or forward compatible with the Commodore 64.  However it was somewhat compatible with the Commodore plus 4.  It might just be me but  I could never understand why the C16 was born as it seemed to be a backward step (good old Mr. Trammel).

From a practical user’s point of view where three tangible features that the C16 lacked.  They were a modem port, a VIC-20 and C64-compatible Datassette and a game port on rear of the computer.  Commodore did sell a C16 family-specific cassette player (the Commodore 1531) and joysticks, but third-party converters allowed the use of the abundant, and hence much less expensive, VIC-20 and C64-type units that soon appeared on the market.   Apparently the official reason for changing the joystick ports was to reduce RF interference.

The C16s serial port (Commodore’s proprietary “serial IEEE-488 bus”, no relation to RS-232 and the like) was the same as that of the VIC-20 and C64, which meant that printers and disk drives, at least, were interchangeable with the older machines although.  The Commodore 1551 was made solely for the C16 and is very similar to the mark I 1541 used by C64 users except for one major difference. . . . speed!  The 1551 uses a parallel port (in the attached cartridge) instead of the machine’s serial port, the net result of which is much better transfer speeds and of course , it is colour- coded to match the C16/+4 range.

The latter two models never made it to production. All these computers used a 6502 compatible MOS 8501 that was clocked approximately 75% faster than the 6502 and 6510 used in the VIC-20 and C64 respectively, and a MOS Technology TED all-in-one video, sound, and I/O chip. The Plus/4’s design is thus philosophically closer to that of the VIC-20 than of the C64.

Performance-wise the system slotted quite comfortably between the VIC-20 and 64, with 16 KB of RAM having 12 KB available to its built-in BASIC interpreter.  A new sound and video chipset called TED was introduced offering a palette of 128 colours (in reality 121, since the system had a 16 base colors and 8 shades but black always remained black, with all 8 shades), the TED was better than the VIC chip used in the VIC-20, it still lacked  the sprite capability of the VIC-II and the advanced sound capabilities of the SID chip, both used in the C64.  The ROM resident BASIC 3.5, however, was more powerful than the VIC-20’s and C64’s BASIC 2.0, in that it had commands for sound and bit-mapped graphics (320×200 pixels), as well as simple program tracing/debugging.

TOP TIP:

A good tip for collectors was that the joystick ports on early models are labelled Joy 0 and Joy 1 as apposed to being labelled Joy 1 and Joy 2.  The fore-mentioned are the ones to look for as they are are climbing in price and are becoming quite rare.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type Home computer
Release date 1984
Media ROM Cartridge, Cassette tape
Operating system Commodore BASIC 3.5
CPU MOS Technology 8501
@ 0.89 MHz or 1.76 MHz
Memory 16 KB RAM + 32 KB ROM
Display 320×200, 320×160 (with 5 lines of text), 160×200, 160×160 (with 5 lines of text)
Graphics TED (320 × 200, 121 colors)
Sound TED (2 channels, 4 octaves + white noise)
Input Keyboard (66 keys, 4 function keys, 4 cursor keys), Joystick
Dimensions 40.7 x 20.4 x 7.7cm

Written by: Tony Lyon

5 Comments Added

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  1. Wanduhr August 25, 2011 |

    Hey ho, have been looking on Google for that topic, finally found your post! First informative story. Well written and researched. Will check your other post now and will for sure come back in the future! Ciou

  2. wytryski August 28, 2011 |

    I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one today..

  3. Tony Lyon August 28, 2011 |

    Hi, thanks for your kindness and im glad your enjoying the many hours of hard work i have put into the site. Regarding the building of the site i have a very good friend Ian Harmon whos job is with computers (marketing, web sites and promoting businesses etc). Some years ago i showed him part of my collection and he introduced me to ‘wordpress’ which is the main engine behind the site. He suggested writing about my hobby and this was were i began to share my journey with the likes of yourself and many others. I purchased my web domain and then passed on a basic design that i had been working on i.e. the header and the console pictures for the main site page. Then he passed them to one of his designers who, for a small fee, smoothed out the edges and gave me the finished article and the site was up and running. Most importantly although i try and show as many relevant pictures of boxed machines, games and accessories i have collected i do not show everything due to the quantity i have (i.e. just on commodore 64 items approx 16 Commodore 64s various models 20 or so disk drives,20 or so cassette decks, sound expander packs, music keyboards, over ten various loading/copier cartridges,design tablets, boxed joysticks, mice, hundreds of original disk games and well over a thousand games, it soon mounts up lol. Although i have a large collection of consoles i cant obviously collect them all due to space issues but believe it or not i am still collecting as there is some i still do not have i.e. a zx80, jupiter ace, vectrex etc and as you can imagine it gets expensive to source these in mint to pristine condition like the ones i do have. There is also quite a few i still havent written about which will appear in the months to come and towards the end of the consoles i aim to start writing about some of the games that made the computers and console what the are today because without the games the systems would not have become what they are today. Any how thanks again, Regards Tony

  4. Azhee January 3, 2013 |

    Thanks! I really liked your write-up. Very ironfmative and descriptive. Yeah, I have that as well as a Gyruss and a Gorf, if you know those games too. They have all sort of multi boards out there for Arcade machines, some good, some bad. The Elevator Action cabinet (which is actually converted from Jungle Hunt) is without the original board or harness so it suits having it with the multi Taito. It soon will be able to play 20 games on it including Elevator Action, Jungle Hunt, and Zookeeper, which are my favorite arcade games that Taito made.

  5. Ian Y March 3, 2013 |

    Hi Tony,

    Its been fun reading through some of your articles, its been a ride on the nostalgia train and learnt some things i never knew about some of these old systems!! i started my computing life on a c=16, learning to write programs in basic and then getting hooked on the games, quickly moving onto a 64 and then strayed down the atari ST route instead of amiga (mistake!!)
    I’m pretty sure that if i’d got something else for xmas in 1984 age 10 i wouldn’t now be working as a technical architect after a long history of IT jobs, i wish i still had that little black doorstop, i owe it a lot.

    keep up the good work, all the best 🙂

    Ian.

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