My Commodore Story

This is a story about my experience with Commodore computers.

Of all the computers I've collected over the past decade or so, the most prolific brand has to be Commodore. I currently have six different models, five of which belong to the Commodore 64/128 series. Generally, they've all been excellent computers, though it took several attempts to get a decent-working example with some of them.

The Beginnings: Commodore 64
By and far, the Commodore 64 is the most common computer in the world (I doubt Dell has manufactured more than 30 million of any one model of computer, though I could be wrong). However, I ended up going through several machines before I ended up with a decent one. My very first Commodore 64, acquired in the summer of 1997, came up pretty garbled. The second one, acquired a year later, worked somewhat, but overheated after a half-hour or so. The third (acquired not too long after that) worked continuously, but a blown 6526 chip prevented the joysticks from operating properly, limiting me to productivity applications. Fortunately, around the same time, I also managed to find a Commodore MPS-1250 dot-matrix printer, allowing me to print out things from those word processors. Finally, a few years later, I acquired one which mostly worked, and allowed me to put together a working machine from all the spare parts I'd accumulated.

The Commodore 128D
In early 1999, while I tried to find a working C64, a classmate at my high school, who knew about my computer hobby, donated a Commodore 128D to me. The Commodore 128D (actually the 128DCR, standing for Desktop, Cost-Reduced) was a Commodore 128 (the successor to the Commodore 64 series; compatible with most C64 programs, and also able to run the CP/M operating system without any additional hardware) in a flat desktop case, along with a 1571 double-sided disk drive. Unlike the Commodore 64 I had at the time, the 128D was able to play all the games I had, and also came with an actual monitor (I was forced to use a small television set with the 64).

The Big Haul
During all this, I had known someone whose family had been Commodore fans for several years. They owned several models, including a Commodore 64C (a more compact version of the original "breadbox" 64), a Commodore 128 (the successor to the 64), and a Commodore Amiga 1000 (Commodore's answer to the Apple Macintosh), along with a slew of accessories and software for each computer. In mid 1999, they decided to get rid of the collection, and asked me if I wanted it; I accepted their offer without hesitation! Though much of it had seen better days, it was still in fairly good shape, and worked (though the 128 needed the keyboard cleaned).

Included with the computers were enough accessories to make for a "power user" system, circa 1986: a Commodore model 1351 mouse, a set of Commodore 1700-series RAM expander units, and a Commodore model 1084 monitor. Able to make full use of all these things (and more) was the included GEOS software. GEOS (Graphical Environment Operating System) gave the Commodore 64 and 128 a Macintosh-like operating system, with icons and pull-down menus, with the 1351 mouse acting just as a Mac mouse would. In addition, it utilized the Commodore RAM Expandsion Units (particularly the 1750, with it's 512KB of RAM) as virtual disk drives; with applications and files loaded into it's space, programs and files loaded up very quickly. Included with GEOS were productivity programs like the geoWrite word processor (which utilized a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" display, uncommon in it's day) and the geoPaint graphics program (akin to the Paintbrush program later included with Windows); also available was a desktop publishing program called geoPublish, and a spreadsheet program called geoCalc. GEOS served me quite well for typing up papers for school and such for several years.

Commodore 128, pt. 2
A few years after the haul, a friend of mine found a Commodore 128 and a Commodore 1571 disk drive, both with box, at a flea market. The boxed C=128 replaced my old one, missing a few keys after a move, and the 1571 replaced my old one, which had a nasty tendency to corrupt GEOS disks left inside it when being turned off. Using these, along with my old peripherals and GEOS software, I was able to print out a letter-quality version of a Zenith Trans-Oceanic article I had written some time before. It ended up getting printed in an antique radio club newsletter, where it went over quite well.

Luggable: The SX-64
After several years of collecting Commodore computers, as well as reading countless articles on the series, I was finally able to complete my C=64/128 collection in mid 2006. At a local flea market, I managed to spot a Commodore SX-64 priced at $20, which I snapped up immediately. The SX-64, a computer which I had wanted to find for a long time, was introduced in 1984 as a 'portable' version of the Commodore 64. Well, portable in the sense that it was completely self-contained, with computer, disk drive, and 5" color monitor (it's considered the first color portable computer) all in one box; weighing in at 24 pounds, carrying one of these things around is not for the faint-at-heart. Not too many of these were made, as the $995 price tag was considered too high by most. However, it was popular among those who frequented Commodore users groups, as well as software developers. As for mine, it was a bit cranky when first tried out, but managed to work like a charm without too much work.

Though I'm not as much of a Commodore user as I was when I wrote my original C=64 article, I continue to have a fondness for the computers. Though they're not too useful on the internet (though a few might beg to differ), and they were passed by several generations ago, many Commodore computers are still chugging along, faithfully running the thousands of game programs which were released for them, as well as productivity programs. I plan to continue playing around with the Commodore computers I have amassed until they break down, at which point I will get replacements.

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