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If you were in charge of Commodore 128 development in 1984-1985 at Commodore, how would you design the computer?

 

If you ask me, I would've axe the flat model and go straight from the 128D model.

I would make sure 80-column video RAM would be 64KB from the get-go and the ability to have better bitmap mode.

I would take the 121-color palette from the Plus/4 series and adapt it into C128.

Then, for sound, either two enhanced versions of SID chips, or one enhanced SID chip and an YM3812.

Of course, it will be compatible with Commodore 64, but with no need for 'special mode', a la IBM PC compatibles, Atari and even Apple II.

The 1571 disk drive would be same, although I would add my own fastloader design similar to Epyx Fastload cartridge in case it emulates the 1541 disk drive.

And a faster Z80 too, making the CP/M mode more useful.

How would you design the Commodore 128 if you were in charge of its development at Commodore back then?

Edited by xanthrou
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Some of what you're stipulating is impossible: you can't make a machine fully compatible with the C64 without the "special" mode. Otherwise, Herd would have done just that. The same goes for the 121 color palette. That was part of the TED chip, and incorporating that into the VIC chip might have been possible, but it would have further eroded compatibility. 

The problem with the 128 was that they were trying to make an 8 bit computer compete in a 16 bit world. Commodore really should have either fully embraced the Amiga or released the 128 as a 68K PC. Either way, I feel like the biggest mistake with the 128 was making yet another 8 bit computer. 

So what I would have done is not bought Amiga Inc and instead:

  1. Built a 68K based system with modern Centronics parallel port, 2 serial ports, and parallel IEEE support for external disk drives. 
  2. High resolution video interface standard, with TV and composite as backup options.
  3. Put this in a PC sized case with multiple internal expansion slots.
  4. Hard drive option. From day one. As part of the standard boot sequence.
  5. Build a 64-on-a-card to allow backward compatibility with C64 software
  6. BIOS like system, instead of OS or GUI toolkit in ROM.

Keep the 64 as the "cheap computer you hook up to a TV" and add the 128 as the "Commodore PC" that would have squarely taken on the Mac and PC as a productivity machine. I don't know that it would have saved Commodore, but it would have been a better machine than either the Amiga (which wasn't designed by Commodore at all) or the 128 that we actually got.

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I think Tom's right.  The Commodore 65 was far too late, but even the 128 was too late... Commodore just hadn't realized it yet. 

DIGRESSION

I suppose Trameil sowed the seeds of his own destruction when Chuck Peddle was sent packing... Chuck saw higher-tech business machines as the future, and Jack saw a cheap game console in every home.  (Of course the C64 WAS that cheap game console, so what do you do after you realize your dream?). Granted the Atari ST was a great system, so maybe I'm missing something there.

OK BACK

A 68K would have helped, quite a lot.  And Tom's plan seems like a good possibility.

Now let's get to work on that time machine.

 

Edited by rje
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3 hours ago, xanthrou said:

If you were in charge of Commodore 128 development in 1984-1985 at Commodore, how would you design the computer?

 

If you ask me, I would've axe the flat model and go straight from the 128D model.

I would make sure 80-column video RAM would be 64KB from the get-go and the ability to have better bitmap mode.

I would take the 121-color palette from the Plus/4 series and adapt it into C128.

Then, for sound, either two enhanced versions of SID chips, or one enhanced SID chip and an YM3812.

Of course, it will be compatible with Commodore 64, but with no need for 'special mode', a la IBM PC compatibles, Atari and even Apple II.

The 1571 disk drive would be same, although I would add my own fastloader design similar to Epyx Fastload cartridge in case it emulates the 1541 disk drive.

How would you design the Commodore 128 if you were in charge of its development at Commodore back then?

Z80 / CP/M compatibility was just a marketing point that was not used much as far as I can tell. Sure, some people loved it, but it was always a hobbled CP/M that just made for a more complicated / expensive system. Should have done away with it.

Should have allowed access to the extra RAM from C=64 mode in some way, just as the 80 col VDC and 2 MHz mode were accessible if not supported.

The REUs were nice, but an internally RAM expandable machine that could support more than 128 on the board would have been nice.

65816 to eliminate the complex banking schemes.

I wonder how many Commodore 64 "expansion cards" could have sold? I don't mean cards to put in a C=64, I mean a C=64 on a card that could be plugged into a PC, just like Apple II cards were available to plug into Macs. Given that Commodore got into the PC game, it would have made for an interesting differentiator: A fully IBM PC compatible computer running MS DOS that also can run Commodore 64 software (glossing over the copy protected diskettes).

Note: Not all of these ideas are compatible, and I recognize that. I also can't go back in time and actually do any of them, so incompatible ideas are the least of my problems. 🙂

Edited by Scott Robison
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I think the idea of having every machine being a 128D is a good one. That means that it would already have 64K of VRAM. Maybe give it a stereo SID. But otherwise I'd leave it alone.

Instead I'd be thinking about the next evolution, and not the C65/C64DX. Or at least I wouldn't call it that. Maybe the "Commodore 256." It would be in the same form factor as the 128D, but with a 3.5" floppy drive (it would still have an IEC port to hook up older drives). I would want a video chip that is some sort of weird three-way hybrid between VIC-II, VDC, and TED. High resolution up to 640×400 and up to 121 colors, with 256K of VRAM so that the tradeoff between colors and resolution wasn't so onerous. I would expand the SID chip to eight voices, with each voice having the ability to be panned left or right, and adding an 8-bit sample generator with a max sample rate the same as the horizontal scan rate (15625 Hz for PAL and 15750 Hz for NTSC).

In keeping with its name, it would come standard with 256K of RAM as well, with a hatch allowing access to a slot where the user could insert an extra RAM module that would fit entirely inside the case, available in sizes up to 4MB. The CPU would be able to access all of this RAM concurrently, and then some, because it would be a 65C816. Eventually as RAM became cheaper the modules might eventually reach sizes up to 16MB.

It would have compatibility modes for the 64 and the 128, but in a nod to the rest of the world, it would also have an ASCII mode. It might even have a hybrid mode where the character codes from 32 through 128 would be their ASCII equivalents but everything else would remain as their PETSCII definitions. It would also have a Centronics-compatible parallel port and a serial port that used proper RS-232 voltages. Lastly, it would have a reasonable cursor key layout, probably something like the Amiga 1000's instead of ↕↔ or ⬅⬆⬇➡.

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5 hours ago, kelli217 said:

I think the idea of having every machine being a 128D is a good one. That means that it would already have 64K of VRAM. Maybe give it a stereo SID. But otherwise I'd leave it alone.

Instead I'd be thinking about the next evolution, and not the C65/C64DX. Or at least I wouldn't call it that. Maybe the "Commodore 256." It would be in the same form factor as the 128D, but with a 3.5" floppy drive (it would still have an IEC port to hook up older drives). I would want a video chip that is some sort of weird three-way hybrid between VIC-II, VDC, and TED. High resolution up to 640×400 and up to 121 colors, with 256K of VRAM so that the tradeoff between colors and resolution wasn't so onerous. I would expand the SID chip to eight voices, with each voice having the ability to be panned left or right, and adding an 8-bit sample generator with a max sample rate the same as the horizontal scan rate (15625 Hz for PAL and 15750 Hz for NTSC).

In keeping with its name, it would come standard with 256K of RAM as well, with a hatch allowing access to a slot where the user could insert an extra RAM module that would fit entirely inside the case, available in sizes up to 4MB. The CPU would be able to access all of this RAM concurrently, and then some, because it would be a 65C816. Eventually as RAM became cheaper the modules might eventually reach sizes up to 16MB.

It would have compatibility modes for the 64 and the 128, but in a nod to the rest of the world, it would also have an ASCII mode. It might even have a hybrid mode where the character codes from 32 through 128 would be their ASCII equivalents but everything else would remain as their PETSCII definitions. It would also have a Centronics-compatible parallel port and a serial port that used proper RS-232 voltages. Lastly, it would have a reasonable cursor key layout, probably something like the Amiga 1000's instead of ↕↔ or ⬅⬆⬇➡.

Brilliant idea, though I would tweak some things, by adding a YM3812 (and maybe even Paula sound chip from Amiga) in addition to the stereo, 8-voice, PCM-added SID enhancements, as well as keeping CP/M mode.

 

And okay, I'll make my C128 version's enhanced SID be stereo as well. 

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12 hours ago, Scott Robison said:

Z80 / CP/M compatibility was just a marketing point that was not used much as far as I can tell. Sure, some people loved it, but it was always a hobbled CP/M that just made for a more complicated / expensive system. Should have done away with it.

Should have allowed access to the extra RAM from C=64 mode in some way, just as the 80 col VDC and 2 MHz mode were accessible if not supported.

The REUs were nice, but an internally RAM expandable machine that could support more than 128 on the board would have been nice.

65816 to eliminate the complex banking schemes.

I wonder how many Commodore 64 "expansion cards" could have sold? I don't mean cards to put in a C=64, I mean a C=64 on a card that could be plugged into a PC, just like Apple II cards were available to plug into Macs. Given that Commodore got into the PC game, it would have made for an interesting differentiator: A fully IBM PC compatible computer running MS DOS that also can run Commodore 64 software (glossing over the copy protected diskettes).

Note: Not all of these ideas are compatible, and I recognize that. I also can't go back in time and actually do any of them, so incompatible ideas are the least of my problems. 🙂

I agree that Commodore COULD have done that, making IBM PC compatibles C64-compatible too, would make the software library nearly endless, at least for the games. Though the cartridge-based software might be rendered incompatible if they didn't provide external hardware solution, sort of Amiga sidecar solution.

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14 hours ago, rje said:

I suppose Trameil sowed the seeds of his own destruction when Chuck Peddle was sent packing... Chuck saw higher-tech business machines as the future, and Jack saw a cheap game console in every home.  (Of course the C64 WAS that cheap game console, so what do you do after you realize your dream?). Granted the Atari ST was a great system, so maybe I'm missing something there.

 

It would have been interesting to see what Tramiel would have done with the Amiga which I understand he very nearly got.

My first thought on reading this was ; is this working under Tramiel or someone else ?

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27 minutes ago, xanthrou said:

I agree that Commodore COULD have done that, making IBM PC compatibles C64-compatible too, would make the software library nearly endless, at least for the games. Though the cartridge-based software might be rendered incompatible if they didn't provide external hardware solution, sort of Amiga sidecar solution.

Have a ribbon cable that connects the C=64 (the C stands for Card, as in ISA Card ... #haha) to a 5 1/4" drive bay and provides an expansion slot for cartridges. I mean, as long as I'm dreaming ... 🙂

But I had very few cartridges, and never did I really like any of the cartridges I had, so I would not have missed out on anything other than perhaps a fast load cartridge. The C=64 would of course have an IEC connection coming out of the back of the PC so you could connect your 1541 to be able to load all your copy protected games.

I'm much more excited about my Cardidore=64 concept that any C=128 fantasizing at the moment. 🙂

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1 hour ago, Scott Robison said:

Have a ribbon cable that connects the C=64 (the C stands for Card, as in ISA Card ... #haha) to a 5 1/4" drive bay and provides an expansion slot for cartridges. I mean, as long as I'm dreaming ... 🙂

But I had very few cartridges, and never did I really like any of the cartridges I had, so I would not have missed out on anything other than perhaps a fast load cartridge. The C=64 would of course have an IEC connection coming out of the back of the PC so you could connect your 1541 to be able to load all your copy protected games.

I'm much more excited about my Cardidore=64 concept that any C=128 fantasizing at the moment. 🙂

"Cardidore 64" though. XD

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7 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

It would have been interesting to see what Tramiel would have done with the Amiga which I understand he very nearly got.

My first thought on reading this was ; is this working under Tramiel or someone else ?

Yeah, I'm at best an "armchair" historian with anything, so.

Edited by rje
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On 9/1/2021 at 1:05 PM, Scott Robison said:

I wonder how many Commodore 64 "expansion cards" could have sold? I don't mean cards to put in a C=64, I mean a C=64 on a card that could be plugged into a PC, just like Apple II cards were available to plug into Macs. Given that Commodore got into the PC game, it would have made for an interesting differentiator: A fully IBM PC compatible computer running MS DOS that also can run Commodore 64 software (glossing over the copy protected diskettes).

I think it's hard to say how well it would sell.  Are you thinking that this alternate-timeline successor to the C64 would have been released around the same time as the C128?

Also if it were me I'd just call it the "Go64", since it's the alternate timeline replacement to the BASIC command that accomplished the same thing. 

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1 minute ago, Calculon said:

I think it's hard to say how well it would sell.  Are you thinking that this alternate-timeline successor to the C64 would have been released around the same time as the C128?

Also if it were me I'd just call it the "Go64", since it's the alternate timeline replacement to the BASIC command that accomplished the same thing. 

Honestly haven't given it that much thought, it was just an idea that popped into my head. Probably influenced by recent videos I've watched with Mac Apple II cards and Amiga Bridgeboard / Sidecar / whatever they called it.

A card with its own RAM / ROM / chips and one little range of IO ports to allow the PC and Card=64 to talk. The video and audio would be handled by the native subsystems (in my imagination, that was easily doable circa 1985).

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1 minute ago, Scott Robison said:

Honestly haven't given it that much thought, it was just an idea that popped into my head. Probably influenced by recent videos I've watched with Mac Apple II cards and Amiga Bridgeboard / Sidecar / whatever they called it.

A card with its own RAM / ROM / chips and one little range of IO ports to allow the PC and Card=64 to talk. The video and audio would be handled by the native subsystems (in my imagination, that was easily doable circa 1985).

I think a more period-accurate example would be the Apple IIGS's Mega II chip which wasn't on a card, but certainly could be (you would need to add a 6502 if the new platform wasn't running a 65816).  The issue with the idea is that if were released in 1985, it would probably just cannibalize sales of the C64.  Not that that's a bad thing, since the point would be to get people to eventually adopt the new platform that provides the "8-bit exit strategy".  That was, in fact, the point of the Apple IIe card for Macs.  It wasn't released until 1991, seven years after the Mac came out, and just two years before the Apple II was discontinued.  It was very much a "retirement plan" for users that still relied on older software.  It was also half the price of a real Apple IIe at that point.

 

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58 minutes ago, Calculon said:

I think a more period-accurate example would be the Apple IIGS's Mega II chip which wasn't on a card, but certainly could be (you would need to add a 6502 if the new platform wasn't running a 65816).  The issue with the idea is that if were released in 1985, it would probably just cannibalize sales of the C64.  Not that that's a bad thing, since the point would be to get people to eventually adopt the new platform that provides the "8-bit exit strategy".  That was, in fact, the point of the Apple IIe card for Macs.  It wasn't released until 1991, seven years after the Mac came out, and just two years before the Apple II was discontinued.  It was very much a "retirement plan" for users that still relied on older software.  It was also half the price of a real Apple IIe at that point.

MEGA II (or its successor, Gemini) was on a board for Mac. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIe_Card

I didn't realize my fantasy things of how Commodore might have done things differently also had to make strict economic sense. 🙂

Edited by Scott Robison
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On 9/2/2021 at 4:05 AM, Scott Robison said:

Z80 / CP/M compatibility was just a marketing point that was not used much as far as I can tell. Sure, some people loved it, but it was always a hobbled CP/M that just made for a more complicated / expensive system. Should have done away with it.

Or fixed ... the Z80 part was a horrible kludge, with the clock driven by the 12V line and then capped at 5v because the edges of the 6502 clock were too soft on the rising cycle for the Z80 to work on the original 5v system PHI2. And AFAIU, rather than wait states, it just stole clock cycles from the z80 whenever the boarded wanted that phase of the clock, which is silly since over half of the time the Z80 is running an internal cycle and doesn't need to access the board. But the z80 is the start up processor, so it can decide whether to start up in C64 or C128 mode.

If you could get an 8MHz frequency source, sharpen it into a proper z80 clock at 4MHz with a flip flop circuit, use that to generate the 2MHz and 1MHz clocks and generate a proper wait state system for Z80 access to RAM, and put it in a keyboard case with a built in 1581 or a C128D case with a built in 1571, you could have a unit you'd be able to sell a discount bundle of C128, second drive, monitor and CP/M productivity software with, as it would be price competitive and have similar performance with the 4MHz Kaypro's etc. at the time.

Otherwise likely fewer than 5% of users ever actually the z80 for anything other than hitting or not hitting the Commodore key on power up.

 

On 9/2/2021 at 4:05 AM, Scott Robison said:

Should have allowed access to the extra RAM from C=64 mode in some way, just as the 80 col VDC and 2 MHz mode were accessible if not supported.

This is the key, though ... a C128+ would have a switch of some sort that made the extra 64K available as a GEORam, with a 256 byte window in the EXIO2 page and the address register in the EXIO1 page. With C128's running in C64 mode 80%+ of the time, being able to run as a BETTER C64 out of the box would have sold more units, which would have increased the C128 install base, which, in a twist, would have had a shot of improving the C128 ecosystem and giving people a reason to run them more often in C128 mode.

A 65816 would be nice, but it would have to replace the Z80 as the start up processor, and when C64 mode was selected, start up the 6510, for C64 software that used the undocumented accidental opcodes of the 6510, and with the C128 operating in C64 a majority of the time, most people would not see the resulting benefits for most of their use.

Edited by BruceMcF
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1 hour ago, Scott Robison said:

MEGA II (or its successor, Gemini) was on a board for Mac. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIe_Card

I didn't realize my fantasy things of how Commodore might have done things differently also had to make strict economic sense. 🙂

Yes the Gemini was on that board several years later.  I was just throwing out the Mega II as something that actually existed in 1985, to say that "yes, it could be done back then, and didn't require advances that didn't exist yet".  The best fantasies have at least some grounding in reality. 😉

Your flights of fancy don't need to make sense (economic, or otherwise), of course!  But sometimes its interesting to muse on why such a product did (or didn't) get made.

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1 hour ago, BruceMcF said:

Or fixed ... the Z80 part was a horrible kludge, with the clock driven by the 12V line and then capped at 5v because the edges of the 6502 clock were too soft on the rising cycle for the Z80 to work on the original 5v system PHI2. And AFAIU, rather than wait states, it just stole clock cycles from the z80 whenever the boarded wanted that phase of the clock, which is silly since over half of the time the Z80 is running an internal cycle and doesn't need to access the board. But the z80 is the start up processor, so it can decide whether to start up in C64 or C128 mode.

If you could get an 8MHz frequency course, sharpen it into a proper z80 clock at 4MHz with a flip flop circuit, use that to generate the 2MHz and 1MHz clocks and generate a proper wait state system for Z80 access to RAM, and put it in a keyboard case with a built in 1581 or a C128D case with a built in 1571, you could have a unit you'd be able to sell a discount bundle of C128, second drive, monitor and CP/M productivity software with, as it would be price competitive and have similar performance with the 4MHz Kaypro's etc. at the time.

Otherwise likely fewer than 5% of users ever actually the z80 for anything other than hitting or not hitting the Commodore key on power up.

This is the key, though ... a C128+ would have a switch of some sort that made the extra 64K available as a GEORam, with a 256 byte window in the EXIO2 page and the address register in the EXIO1 page. With C128's running in C64 mode 80%+ of the time, being able to run as a BETTER C64 out of the box would have sold more units, which would have increased the C128 install base, which, in a twist, would have had a shot of improving the C128 ecosystem and giving people a reason to run them more often in C128 mode.

A 65816 would be nice, but it would have to replace the Z80 as the start up processor, and when C64 mode was selected, start up the 6510, for C64 software that used the undocumented accidental opcodes of the 6510, and with the C128 operating in C64 a majority of the time, most people would not see the resulting benefits for most of their use.

Even if Z80 hadn't been such a horrible kludge, CP/M was still dying at that point. If they wanted to make a computer that appealed to potential business users going forward, it would have been smarter to have a 8088 as the second processor so they could run some version of MS-DOS. Of course, it would not have been PC compatible, so none of the "fast best" apps would have run on it, so still wouldn't have helped. Hence my thought about a C=64 on a card!

As for the extra RAM being available ... that would work. Even just a bit to prevent the MMU from removing itself from the C=64 address space would have been nice. But as we know from all the requests to do VERA RAM differently "just a bit" isn't always as easy as it seems (though I think at their level they could have done it).

BUT! There was no need. If you wanted an extended C=64 machine, you had a C=128! I did my gaming on C=64 mode, and everything else I did in C=128 mode. But I wasn't limited to what software I could buy, either.

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1 hour ago, Calculon said:

Yes the Gemini was on that board several years later.  I was just throwing out the Mega II as something that actually existed in 1985, to say that "yes, it could be done back then, and didn't require advances that didn't exist yet".  The best fantasies have at least some grounding in reality. 😉

Your flights of fancy don't need to make sense (economic, or otherwise), of course!  But sometimes its interesting to muse on why such a product did (or didn't) get made.

Ah, I see. Sorry I didn't understand what you meant. But given that we're in the realm of alternate history / time travel scenarios at this point ... eh.

As for why Commodore did anything: They were the discount store computer company. Everything had to be inexpensive and/or cheap (which aren't always the same thing). So anything that would have cost more than minimal functionality their marketing people came up with was DOA.

Creating a C=64 card to plug into an ISA slot would cost a lot of development time and effort just to give people a way to run C=64 software on a PC. Far less expensive to keep cost reducing the platform than to try to come up with a board that would work in the vast landscape of IBM PCs and compatibles with huge variations in hardware. Picking your hardware so that it all works together is much "easier" then supporting every combination of hardware in the world.

But I still want a C=64 on a card. Given the resources that are available today, I have to believe there is a FPGA dev board that fits into a PCI slot with some IO pins that could be redirected out to an expansion slot in a 5 1/4" bay. Maybe a couple of bays to have a user port, expansion slot, a couple old time joystick ports. 🙂 MiSTer has already done the hard work and the assets are available to port. Some software to embed the VIC II video into a window on a desktop and remap the keyboard.

But I don't have enough hours in the day as it is, and I'm not an FPGA or industrial design expert.

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12 hours ago, Scott Robison said:

BUT! There was no need. If you wanted an extended C=64 machine, you had a C=128! I did my gaming on C=64 mode, and everything else I did in C=128 mode. But I wasn't limited to what software I could buy, either.

Yeah, but that's only going to be a small part of the user base for a system with millions sold.

If the Z80 has been dropped in favor of the 65816, then it would need a new name, as it would no longer be CP/M Plus compatible. If it had 256KB base RAM and 64KB 80 column video RAM, it could be the Commodore 256. Or the Commodore 320. That would also make the geoRAM access of the extra RAM in legacy 6510/C64 mode 192KB, rather than a mere 64KB, so, eg, able to hold a 1541 disk's worth of data.

It would be an even bigger selling point if as you mentioned the "C256" allowed the easy addition of extra internal memory modules, and those also could be accessed geoRAM style in C64 mode, so that someone with two 256KB internal RAM expansion modules would have the equivalent of a geoRAM 704KB expansion.

There would have been a possibility of a virtuous loop of C64 programs taking advantage of geoRAM memory expansion, which would then help sell both more geoRAM cartridges and more C256 systems, which would increase the install base to run C64 programs that could take advantage of geoRAM.

And the 65816 replacing the z80 with direct banked access to the extended RAM would have been a shorter learning curve for 6502 programmers used to programming for the C64 ... but then again, Jack Tramiel would never have gone for a CPU that he had to pay a license fee on for every unit sold. As he said, he got married once, he didn't intend to repeat that in the computer business.

But I've seen the time travel movies ... if someone goes back and Ghost of Christmas Future's Commodore into phasing out the C128 in favor of the C256, and pushing the cheaper geoRAM memory expansions for the C64 over the more expensive (and more capable) REU's ... then that will change some detail of somebody's childhood in some way, and half of us disappear because of the nuclear war of 1998.

Edited by BruceMcF
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(OK so here we go again)

Let Peddle develop the CBM line in the manner of his Victor-9000.  Thus they have inroads to education and a solid 16 bit business line as the VIC-20 softens and C64 saturates the home and lower-end market.

Commodore then creates a sound and graphics card for the PET/CBM line.

Then the 128D with a sixteen bit CPU becomes a natural evolution of that high-end line.

* * *

So that time machine has to send a cadre of us back to 1980 regardless. 

 

Edited by rje
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