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  • About Commander X16

     

    What is the Commander X16?

    Welcome! The Commander X16 is David Murray aka The 8-Bit Guy’s dream computer, designed to evoke the same fondness and nostalgia many of us had for 8-Bit computers, whilst retaining closeness to the hardware from a programming perspective, unlike the Raspberry Pi and others. But more than that, it is intended not only as an educational tool but to solve some of the issues of finding an 8-Bit system to tinker with today; namely ever-increasing costs, auction site price gouging/sniping, lack of replacement parts, and unreliability of 30-year old hardware.
    The X16 will be made entirely with parts that are still readily available today, ensuring perpetual availability without reliability issues, but in keeping with David's vision, it will house a real CPU rather than using emulation or an FPGA recreation of a processor. Running Commodore BASIC V2 (with some additions), the X16 will be inexpensive enough to allow a critical mass of users to create an expansive software ecosystem, but simple enough that a single person can understand all of the chips and components that allow that software to run.
    Three phases of the computer are planned under the "Commander X16" brand umbrella, each phase decreasing in size and cost. Please see David's 2nd video below for information on the phases.
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    Please watch David's Commander X16 project videos for further details:
     
        

    Commander X16P Features & Specifications (subject to change)

    • CPU
      • WDC 65C02S @ 8 MHz
      • 40-pin DIP package
      • Protoype board currently running stable at 8 MHz
    • RAM
      • 40K of "Low RAM":
        • As 39.75K + 256 bytes of IO space
        • 8 IO spaces of 32 bytes each; one for the VERA, one for the VIAs, one for the audio
      • 512K of "High RAM" standard:
        • As 64 banks of 8K
      • Expandable to 1 MB, 1.5 MB, or 2 MB by adding additional RAM chips to 3 empty sockets
        • Up to 256 banks of 8K
    • ROM
      • 512K of Flash ROM
        • As 32 banks of 16K (TBD: Could be expanded to 128 banks RAM or ROM)
      • Standard Commodore Kernal
      • Microsoft BASIC version 2.0
      • Machine Language Monitor
      • TBD: May be able to be flashed from the X16
    • Expansion
      • Four expansion slots with access to CPU databus
      • Each slot has its own 32-bytes of mapped RAM
      • Each slot can select from one or more of 5 addressable 32 bytes of IO space
      • 13 general-purpose I/O lines available (user port)
    • Input Devices
      • PS/2 Keyboard
      • PS/2 Mouse
      • Two SNES style game ports (two more as pin headers)
    • Storage
      • IEC compatible (Commodore) disk drive port
      • Internal SD card slot on VERA
    • Audio
      • There are 2 designs in final testing and one or both will remain:
        • Yamaha YM2151 sound chip
        • SID-like implementation in the VERA FPGA chip
        • (SAA1099 has been retired)
    • "VERA" module specifications
      • Video generator featuring:
        • Multiple output formats (VGA, NTSC Composite, NTSC S-Video, RGB video) at a fixed resolution of 640x480@60Hz
        • Support for 2 layers, both supporting:
          • 1/2/4/8 bpp tile and bitmap modes
          • Support for up to 128 sprites (with inter-sprite collision detection).
        • Embedded video RAM of 128 KB.
        • Palette with 256 colors selected from a total range of 4096 colors.
      • 16-channel stereo Programmable Sound Generator with multiple waveforms (Pulse, Sawtooth, Triangle, Noise)
      • High quality PCM audio playback from an 4 KB FIFO buffer featuring up to 48kHz 16-bit stereo sound.
      • SecureDigital storage.
    • Board power consumption: ~15W
    • PSU: 180W (to allow for expansion possibilities)

    When will the X16 be released?

    There is no firm release date or price set for Phase 1 yet. Phases 2 & 3 (X16C, X16E) will follow on, with different specs and price.
    The issues with the Coronavirus are delaying aspects of the product that depend on China such as the keyboard, case, and more, with factories switching to manufacturing PPE and prioritizing higher-income projects. The full impact to the project remains to be seen.
    Meanwhile development, testing, and bug fixing of the prototypes continue. Ultimately, “It’ll be ready when it’s ready” :-)🙂 Once we have a viable prototype, we will announce the crowdfunding, which is likely to take place at this website. Please look out for updates, and kindly do not ask for pricing, release date updates, or update videos as these requests put unnecessary pressure on David and the team. Thank you.

    How much will it cost?

    Pricing has not been announced yet. The goal is to make the most affordable modern retro computer possible. The hope is still that Phase 3 (the X16E) will be available under $99 as indicated in David's first video.

    Why Commodore BASIC?

    This entire computer is meant to be a close relative of the Commodore systems. While technically Commodore BASIC is actually Microsoft BASIC, David wants it to be as similar as possible to programming on a VIC-20, C64, or Plus/4. It will run BASIC v2 with some additions. We have reached agreement with the rights holder to license it for this purpose.

    What about other languages?

    There’s no reason you couldn’t program in C++ or whatever on this computer if somebody wants to port over a compiler. Alternatively, you can use a cross-compiler like cc65.

    Will it be compatible with Commodore 64 software?

    Although it runs Commodore BASIC (itself based on Microsoft BASIC as many machines were) it was never intended to be an "emulator" or compatible with the C64 or any other machine. It is its own machine, just as the ZX Spectrum, Atari 800, etc. were also distinct from the C64. There are also already several existing options for users looking for a C64 compatible machine with no need to add to that growing/crowded market. While it might be nice, it would make this project considerably more complicated, expensive, and most likely it would never get finished. Ultimately C64 compatibility is not the aim of this product. However, most C64 and other 8-Bit games should be easy to port to the X16 ecosystem if desired.

    Why the name "X16"?

    "Commander 16" would be abbreviated to "C16" and too easily confused with the Commodore "C16", so we went for the always cool "X". As for "16" the original design was to use an 816 processor, however the machine still has a 16-bit address space. But above all, the X16 is an 8-bit machine with 16-bit tendencies. Commander X16!

    Why PS/2 Keyboard and not USB?

    USB is tremendously more difficult to implement than PS/2. A good analogy is like the difference between implementing RS-232 or Ethernet. PS/2 keyboards (and mice) are still manufactured, easy to find, and inexpensive. And, since the kernel is going to handle keyboard input, there’s no reason we can’t upgrade to USB later when we have the resources for that - and it shouldn’t break compatibility.

    Why VGA instead of Composite or HDMI?

    VGA is fairly easy to implement as compared to HDMI. And worst case, there are low-cost chips that can convert VGA to HDMI. And if you have to convert to HDMI, far better to convert from VGA than from composite.

    What sort of expansions would be possible?

    There will be up to 4 expansion slots that could be used for just about anything. One drawback of running at 8 MHz will be that many chips like SID chips will not run that fast, so additional logic would have to be implemented on the card in order to communicate with the chip.

    What sort of joysticks will you use and why?

    SNES style game controllers. There are a few reasons for this:
    • The controllers, or at least clones are still manufactured.
    • They offer more buttons, allowing more complex games for the X16 than the Atari 9-pin standard which only supports one fire button.
    • They require fewer I/O lines to operate them.
    • Joysticks have sort of fallen out of favor and most people these days prefer gamepad style controllers.

    Will a floppy or CD-ROM drive be included?

    Whilst they are not included, Phase 1 at the least does include an IEC compatible Commodore-style floppy disk drive port for those who wish to use it. A drive is not included as both technologies are largely obsolete. The X16 will use standard SD Cards, with a slot located at the back of the machine (because most people when polled stated they rarely switch out the card once inserted.) Part of David's vision is that the X16 is made with still-available parts, and this extends to the storage media availability. Floppy disks are rarely if at all made any more. We do understand the nostalgic importance of those media, however they can still be enjoyed with 80s hardware or our IEC port.

    What do you need help with the most?

    At the moment we need software development. The emulator is now available and people can start writing their own code. You can upload your creations to the software library at this website.

    Will it be available as a kit/pre-assembled/motherboard only?

    Whilst it will definitely be available pre-assembled, we haven't decided about a kit or motherboard for certain. The problem with selling it as a kit is that the design team will not have time for being end-user tech support. So, while the kit may end up being cheaper, it will also be sold without official technical support - although this website has been set up so people can still obtain support from the community and/or developers. If people assemble it and it doesn’t work, they can ask for support there. We will update the FAQ once a decision has been reached about whether to provide a kit option. As for a motherboard only option, our focus now is on releasing the computer. Once the project is launched and established, we will revisit these kind of options.

    Will a keyboard be included?

    A keyboard will be included with the X16P and X16C and you can see the design at the homepage. The standard keyboard will be the good value mini keyboard supplied with the machine.
    By popular demand from keyboard connoisseurs there is also a premium microswitch keyboard option available from WASD available now and compatible with the emulator and X16 itself.

    Will a case be included?

    A case is planned for the X16P and X16C at least, and you can see the design at the homepage. The case can be stored horizontally or vertically, and the area on the right doubles as a carry handle for easy storage/removal. 
    The Phase 1 X16P case will be Micro ATX, with the Phase 2 X16C shrinking to Mini ITX.
    The vision has always been to make this computer using off-the-shelf components at the best price possible, therefore we are doing the same with the case and keyboard. We aren't going down a custom injection molding route. That would cost over $120,000 to set up the designs and factory, FCC & CE certification, design patents, endless testing and refining, etc. You only have to look at other delayed retrocomputer projects to see why we are keen to avoid adding a 1-year delay and $120 to your price tag. Instead we are going for the best balance to get the machine to you at the best value and in the fastest time possible.
    You can see more of the exciting design progress at Perifractic's update video:

    Why are the case & keyboard separate not integrated like a C64?

    There are a few reasons:

    • The Phase 1 motherboard is likely too large to fit inside a keyboard-case, and doing so would also rule out having full height internal expansion cards like an Apple ][.
    • We have heard comments like "retro computers are all-in-one with integrated keyboard!"... then again there was the Amiga 1000, A2000, A2500, A3000, A4000, Apple Macintosh, Apple III, Apple IIGS, Commodore 128D, Amstrad PCW, Amstrad PC1512, Amstrad PC1640, Acorn Archimedes, Sony MSX, Atari Mega ST, Atari TT030, Coleco Adam, & many more beautiful retro machines with separate keyboards.
    • We and many users believe that the flexibility of being able to position the case away from the keyboard on your desk, without multiple wires trailing across the desk between, is actually a functional bonus and why Apple went this route with the Macintosh, with the others following suit.
    • We also aren't going with 3D printing due to speed, cost, & quality concerns. The technology just isn’t ready yet.
    • What we are doing here is highly customizing existing, high quality, already FCC & CE certified products, into a bespoke, unique case/keyboard package, using retro color-schemes & our unique branding. Just as the computer itself will do things old computers couldn't, for the styling we also don't want to regurgitate the past or design something outdated. We want to forge exciting new ground with something somewhat retro but also fresh and clean. The modern retro computer.

    What about expansion cards for each phase?

    Phase 1: 4 expansion card slots in the case
    Phase 2: Undecided but there may be 1 or more slots inside that can use a 90-degree riser to still allow a card to be inserted in the lower case. Another option may be an external expansion card slot that can take a 4-in-1 adapter (similar to those C64 cartridge port expanders).
    Phase 3: No expansion slots but expansion options are yet to be determined.

    Can the case support a CRT monitor?

    Yes, whilst the front panel is high quality injection molded plastic, the rest of the case is solid steel. There are vents on all sides of the case so blocking the "top" one shouldn't be of concern.

    Why isn't a monitor included?

    Many enthusiasts already have a compatible monitor (see specs at top) however they do not already have an X16! The goal is to deliver the most affordable package to get people up and running. Plenty of third party options are available. We have not ruled out providing a monitor in the future.

    How about a mouse?

    Whilst there is a dedicated PS/2 mouse port at the back, we haven't decided if a mouse will be included as standard. It would increase the cost and some users may not need one. It may be an option at the store.

    Will it be available in the USA, Europe, & beyond?

    The 180W internal PSU has a switch for 110V/220V to support all regions. We have not decided if dedicated power cables will be provided for each region, so at the very worst you may need to use a simple "travel plug" adapter. You should not need a voltage adapter.
    Our crowdfunding campaign will allow international shipping from the USA.

    Will user guides be included?

    We are designing a nostalgic and traditional spiral bound Getting Started guide, including a BASIC programming guide. You can see a teaser in the homepage image. Further docs are already available in the Downloads section of this website. The working title for the spiral bound guide is “Just the BASICs: Getting started with the Commander X16”. There will also be “Assembling Assembly” and the programmer’s reference guide. The guides are already being written. PDFs will be an option too.

    Why not use the Parallax Propeller chip?

    We will not be using the Propeller for these reasons:
    • Most of its capabilities are on par with or inferior to our custom FPGA.
    • There are issues when putting it on the system bus related to CPU read attempt speed call and answer
    • The Propeller costs the same as if not more than the faster FPGA

    Will there be a GUI?

    We are exploring this option. An ideal GUI might use a text character set, rather than graphics - see http://www.c64os.com/c64os as a reference. The emulator also already incorporates GEOS. Type "GEOS" to get started, although it is still in beta and you will need a GEOS disk image file to get started.

    Is there an emulator?

    Yes, you can download it from via the Downloads section of this site or try the web-based emulator from the home page!

    Is there a software library webpage?

    Yes, just click Downloads above to get started!

    What is the correct short-name for the Commander X16?

    We call it the "X16".

    Will the X16 become open source?

    At some point, most likely yes. However we have to consider that part of the code that makes the whole system work is owned by other rights holders who inherited it from Commodore/Microsoft and whom we have licensed it from (only some parts of the emulator are covered by the BSD-2 Clause License, not all parts). Before making the entire X16 open source or allowing custom machine builds based around our code, we will need to get the necessary additional permissions or work out a way that is acceptable to all parties. This will happen some time after the machine's physical releases. Until then, we cannot encourage clone machines based on the X16 code as it may jeopardize the license relationships we worked hard to forge. Thanks for your understanding.

    Is this a commercial or not-for-profit venture?

    The Commander X16 is being developed by a team of enthusiasts who share David's vision to create a reliable, low cost, modern retro computer for the benefit of the retro community. The team is committed to launching the Commander X16 at the lowest price possible while still ensuring that the team will be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses incurred during the 2+ year development process (such as parts, prototypes, shipping, web hosting, etc.) David and the team are not looking to profit from the project and instead seek to strike a balance between continuing to produce the Commander X16 at an affordable price while also meeting the ongoing costs associated with continued development, manufacture, and infrastructure (e.g., website, over-priced IP attorneys, and so on).

    Who is involved at the moment?

    The main people on board right now are:
    • David Murray aka The 8-Bit Guy - Ringleader and software development
    • Kevin Williams aka TexElec - Board design/Prototyping/Manufacturing
    • Christian Simpson aka Perifractic - Visual design & Branding
    • Michael Steil - ROM (KERNAL, BASIC) and Emulator
    • Frank van den Hoef - VERA Video chip design
    • Michael Allison - Assembler environment

    (FAQ last updated: 6-Feb-2021)

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