Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

The Runt Of The Commodore Litter

[Here's a guest piece from Ireland. Tom Cremins drops by with his first computer, the quirky Commodore 16. He lost touch with his roots for a few years before hooking up with another C-16 on eBay. -Ed.]

The Commodore 16 really was the runt of the Commodore litter. Released in 1984 alongside the Plus/4 as part of the 264 series, it was heralded as The World's Learning Machine. It taught Commodore Business Machines a very expensive lesson in marketing. 

The C16 was perhaps the last thing the market needed at the time. It had a number of crucial design flaws that crippled it. The restricted amount of RAM (a pitiful 12k) really hobbled its potential. There were no hardware sprites like those on the C64's VIC II chip, so animation and collision detection were hard to do. It had no backwards compatability with either the Vic-20 or C64. The new machine couldnt even use the same peripherals such as cassette deck, disk drive or joysticks, alienating it further.

Given the power of its contemporaries, it couldn't compete as a games machine, nor did it live up to its hype as an educational tool. Its drawbacks made it too hard to sell, even with a price tag of $99 in the US. The record-breaking C64 was already well established and there was no compelling reason to buy the cheaper computer, or for publishers to develop software for it. By 1985 it was clear that the era of the 8-bit was coming to an end as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST awaited release. The black Vic-20 and C64 look-alike never threatened to repeat CBMs earlier successes.

Whatever its commercial viability, there were a few things going for it in the engineering department. The C16 and Plus/4s hardware was based on the 7501 or TED (Text EDitor) chip. This combined a 6510 processor with a two channel sound generator and a graphics generator that could display 320 * 200 pixels in 121 colors, or 40*25 text characters. The graphic capability was an improvement on existing computers, but the sound left something to be desired. The chip ran at 1.76 Mhz, while the MOS 6510 chip used in the C64 ran at around 1 Mhz.

The C16 came with a higher level version of the Basic programming language.  Sound and graphics were much easier to program than on its predecessors. The feature was irrelevant for most users who preferred to play games rather than learn to program. Professional developers were hardly impressed either, as they worked in machine code. 

Surprisingly, over one million C16 and Plus/4s were sold. This had little to do with CBMs marketing prowess. The C16 retailed at bargain prices in supermarkets such as Aldi in West Germany and Aurrera in Mexico.  The Plus/4 was dumped into the Eastern European market, where it was adopted as a low-cost alternative to the C64. In Hungary it was chosen to be the official computer for  schools. 

You can expect to pay in the region of $15-$30 for the C16 starter kit on eBay.  There are a number of websites devoted to the C16 and Plus/4, the best of the bunch being commodore16.com and Commodore Plus/4 World.


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