Marko Mäkelä’s old computers: Commodore

My Commodore career on the Internet

As you might guess, I own several Commodore computers. Like many Commodore enthusiasts, I started with the Commodore 64 in 1986, and almost abandoned it when I bought my first PC compatible in 1991. I took the first steps in enhancing my Commodore collection by buying my first VIC-20 in 1991, with some cartridges and tapes. As I joined the Internet in 1992, I found the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.cbm and some possibilities to transfer files between my dear Commodores and the outer world.

On the Internet I found lots of software on the FTP site maintained by Robert A. Knop, Jr. Back then, there were no major 8-bit Commodore FTP sites in Europe (and no WWW sites, for that matter), so I asked if FUNET could create a subdirectory /pub/cbm for files related to Commodore 8-bit computers. The request was fulfilled in the spring of 1993, and Pasi Ojala and me started collecting programs on the site, first mainly by restructuring and documenting the content from ccosun, whose Commodore section was closed in late 1993 or during 1994. The CP/M archive at /pub/cpm was created some time later. The result of our work is still among the biggest archives of freely distributable Commodore software and documentation.

Since the Commodore 64 emulator boom in late 1993 or early 1994, other sites have been formed, mainly for demos and unauthorised copies of games. Not to mention the WWW boom: my Commodore related web pages predate most web sites that exist today.

I have written quite many utilities mainly for use with other computers to ease program development, file transfers and so on. I haven’t written many programs entirely for a Commodore computer. In December 1996, I was proud to present a demo for the VIC-20, Veni vidi Vic!, a joint project by me and some other VIC-20 lovers. All of my code is freely distributable and available with source code. I do not expect that anyone would pay for software written for practically dead computers.

The End of an Era

Since about 1995, I felt that I do not have enough resources to maintain the site. I made updates every now and then, but the backlog of new uploads (often files without any descriptions accompanying them) was growing. After I completed my doctoral thesis in 2003 and left the university, it started to become clear that I do not have time to maintain the Commodore file archive any longer.

On June 15, 2005, I announced on the cbm-hackers mailing list (which I originally founded in the early 1990s and maintained until 2003) that the archives will live in Bo Zimmerman’s hands from now on.

My Commodore collection

Below you will find a list of my Commodores. They are listed in the order I have acquired them.

Commodore 64, serial number ~300000.
My father bought this one for me and for my brothers. If I remember correctly, it costed about 2500 Finnish marks at the time (early 1986), with an 1530 or C2N cassette drive clone by Taihaho. It was a grey imported unit from Germany.
This was my only Commodore 64 until 1993 or so. By now, all important chips except the video chip have been replaced at least once (CIAs, processor, SID), and you can hardly find any chip in it that is not socketed. I expanded this unit to 256 kilobytes of memory in 1993. (Creating the document was the reason why I switched to Linux (kernel 0.94 back then): no TeX distribution on MS-DOS could satisfy me.)
Since 1996 or 1997, this unit suffers from the black screen disease. I think that there is something wrong with the bus drivers.
Commodore 1541, short board.
The cassette drive was simply too slow and error-prone. At last my father bought a 1541 disk drive as a Christmas present (1986). It was also grey imported from Germany and costed around 2000 Finnish marks.
Oceanic OC-118N, 1541 clone
I won this drive in a C=lehti programming contest. (C=lehti was a Finnish magazine for the Commodores that was published in 1987-1991.) This drive is very nicely constructed. It has an external power supply, and the electronics are scattered on three boards around the mechanics. Unlike the 1541, this drive doesn’t contain any custom chips, and it is only a quarter of the size of an old-style 1541!
For copyright reasons, the drive uses CMD JiffyDOS instead of the original Commodore firmware.
Commodore VIC-20CR, C64-style keyboard
Somehow, as a class mate told me that he has a VIC-20, I decided that I must have it. So, I bought his VIC-20CR, the transformer, some cartridge games (including the classics Jupiter Lander and Omega Race) and a BASIC programming course for a bargain price of 50 Finnish marks in 1991. This unit was originally used in England, and the TV modulator was broken in the way that it doesn’t produce any sound, just noise.
Commodore 128D, Finnish/Swedish keyboard, serial number DA4 100328
I always wanted to have a C128, but the price/performance ratio was too high at the time they were marketed. I bought my C128D from my little brother’s classmate in August 1993. After I cleaned the keyboard and replaced the broken 1571 drive mechanics, it was like new again! I expanded it to 64 kB of VDC memory on its 7th anniversary (the case said 08 Okt. 1986) and 1 megabyte of main memory shortly after that. Now the C128D is my main machine, since it is so compact with its built-in drive.
Commodore 64, serial number WG B 34727.
I got this one for free from my brother’s friend who had found it on a flea market in Spain. Some keys were torn off, and the processor was broken. I replaced the processor and the keyboard, and it worked like charm! The memory chips in this units have the access time of 300 nanoseconds, the slowest I have ever seen in a working computer! The other Commodores I have seen have had 200, 150 or 120 nanoseconds DRAM. Also, this unit has an old 6569R1 videochip, manufactured in the last week of 1982.
Commodore 64, serial number UK B 770563.
I got this one for free from a German guy in summer 1994, but the fault is next to impossible to repair. Something is broken in the clock generator circuit.
Commodore 64c, serial number HB 420454 B3.
I got this one for free from Timo Raita. This unit is the first 64c generation; it has the 3rd revision circuit board (with the 8701 as the clock generator), not the BN/E board that was used in newer 64c and 64G models.
Commodore 16, expanded to 61 kB.
Only the Commodore 264 series was missing from my line of Commodore 8-bit home computers, when I bought the Commodore 16 from a German Commodore enthusiast. I haven’t done much programming on the C16 yet; only wrote a raster routine that measures the video timings.
I payed maybe 20 DM for this one in the summer of 1994, and got a joystick adapter and a cassette drive with this, and some tapes I still haven’t tested.
Commodore 1541, short board.
I got this one for free in summer 1994 or winter 1995, as I was in Germany. Only a serial bus driver (7406) was broken; everything else worked in this drive. I may have donated this one to Turo Heikkinen.
Commodore VC-20CR, with square keyboard markings
I always wanted to have a square key Commodore, like the one that was presented in the pictures of my German C64 user’s manual. This VC-20 (the German name for VIC-20) has the same key shape as the C64, but the markings on the keys are more like square. For example, the O key on the VC-20 keyboard is marked with a rounded square, while it’s marked with a rounded rectangle on the Commodore 64 keyboards.
Like for my first VIC-20, I payed 50 FIM for this one. Also included with the deal were lots of game cartridges and a 16 kB RAM expansion cartridge that I expanded to 32 kB.
Commodore VIC-20 NTSC-M motherboard
My special thanks go to Daniel Dallmann who donated his NTSC-M VIC-20 (non-CR) board to me in the summer of 1996. (I donated him some money in return, because I couldn’t accept such a valuable thing as a gift.)
Commodore MPS1250 dot matrix printer
I got this one for free from a colleague. It is manufactured by Citizen, and its interface cartridge has two connectors: Centronics and Commodore serial bus.
Commodore 1700 RAM Expansion Unit (REU)
I bought this 128-kilobyte expansion from Asger Alstrup, a Danish Commodore user, in early 1998. This is an external expansion for the Commodore 64 and the 128, and it has an on-board DMA controller, which makes the memory accesses fast. Later I desoldered the 16 old 16-pin memory chips and upgraded the expansion to 512 kilobytes.
Commodore 1581 disk drive
I bought this one from Larry Anderson when I visited San Francisco in October 1998. Timo Raita donated me an european 1541-II power supply, as the 110-volt power supply that I got with the drive was useless for me.
Commodore 200 a.k.a. 8032-SK
I bought this one late 1998 from an Austrian architect who was writing his doctoral thesis in Finland. He had found the computer in a warehouse in Nummela and decided to buy it because of its nice look. Since the transport cost to Austria would have been too high for him, he sold me the computer for the same price he paid for it, 20 FIM. The computer was pretty dirty, but after I took it apart, all the keys work perfectly.
Commodore 8050 dual disk drive unit
In 2000, I was approached by someone from Betoni-Kärjä, a company that produces readily mixed concrete. They wanted to transfer their old Commodore PET application Valmisbetoni that computes their recipes to more modern hardware. First, they mailed me the disk drive, the program disks and the dongle that was plugged in the cassette port. The program code looked like compiled BASIC. I did not figure out how the dongle works, but I located the routine that checks for the copy protection. The jump to the routine could not simply be commented out from the binary, as the program computed some sort of a checksum from itself. Luckily, I was able to compensate the checksum difference by altering another byte in the program code. The modified program works in VICE.
Commodore 8023P printer and Commodore 8032 computer
In the autumn of 2001, when Jukka Kärjä, the director of Betoni-Kärjä, was travelling to Helsinki with a relatively empty car, he brought the rest of their now useless PET equipment to me. Later, Tomi Engdahl gave me some wide tractor feed paper for the printer.
Commodore 720 computer, 4022 printer and 8250 dual disk drive
In late 2001, Turo Heikkinen and I fetched these computers from Vaasa from a collector and radio amateur whose wife apparently was unsatisfied with his large collection. We also got two Intergraph 2000 workstations and other stuff we managed to fill the car with.
Various calculators, a SuperPET and two Commodore B-128 computers
George Page had sold his disk drive collection to someone, and he sold the rest of his to Bo Zimmerman, who drove them in 2002 with a rental trailer to his home. Bo was kind enough to sell me this part of the collection at a low price. The shipping costs were all but negligible, though: for some reason, the SuperPET could not be sent by surface mail. The air mail fare was well over 200 USD.
Commodore 220
In September 2004, Tapani Liukkonen asked me for repair instructions for a Commodore 220, which is also known as CBM 8296D. The computer looked otherwise okay, but the analog circuit board of the disk drive controller had been cut in half. Luckily, Ruud Baltissen had a spare part from a drive whose mechanics was broken beyond repair. I ended up buying the computer from Tapani, and Ruud sent me the circuit board. I cleaned the keyboard and had to reseat a chip on the disk controller’s digital board in order to get the drives to work.

The alert reader might notice that I don’t have the C64GS, C64G or even a C65 in my collections, nor the 1541-II disk drive. I never liked these products. They didn’t add any real functionality to the existing products, and they were only designed in order to drop the production costs. (I got the 64c as a donation, and I do not refuse further donations, though.) VLSI custom chips are not hacker-friendly! But I must admit that I like the C64G case design, and I even bought an empty C64GS game console case in 1994 or 1995, as I noticed them being sold at Conrad Electronic in Hamburg.

I haven’t listed my Commodore video chip collection here. I have probably all revisions of C64 PAL-B 12 volt (NMOS) video chips ever produced, namely the 6569R1, R3, R4 and R5. Of the C64 NTSC-M chips I have the 6567R5, 6567R56A and the 6567R8. Of the VIC-20 NTSC-M chips I have the 6560-101 and 6560R2-101. For the C128 I have both PAL-B and NTSC-M (8564R5C) chips, but most revision numbers have escaped from my mind. Because the TED of the Commodore 264 series knows both PAL-B and NTSC-M, I can use both NTSC-M and PAL-B video possibility on all my Commodores.

Technical details

  1. Commodore VIC-20 a.k.a. VC-20
  2. Commodore 64
  3. Commodore 264 Series
  4. Commodore 128
  5. Commodore 1540/1541 floppy disk drive
  6. Commodore 1570/1571 floppy disk drive