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Commodore 16

From Academic Kids

The Commodore 16 was a home computer made by Commodore with a 6502-compatible 7501 CPU, released in 1984. It was intended to be an entry-level computer to replace the VIC-20 and it often sold for US$99. A cost-reduced version, the Commodore 116, was sold only in Europe.

The C16's raison d'etre

The C16 was intended to compete with other sub-$100 computers from Timex Corporation, Mattel, and Texas Instruments. Timex's and Mattel's computers were less expensive than the VIC, and although the VIC offered better expandability, a full-travel keyboard, and in some cases more memory, the C16 offered a chance to improve upon those advantages. The Texas Instruments TI-99/4A was priced in between the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, and was somewhat between them in capability, but TI was lowering its prices. On paper, the C16 was a closer match for the TI-99/4A than the aging VIC-20.

Additionally, Commodore president Jack Tramiel feared that one or more Japanese companies would introduce a consumer-oriented computer and undercut everyone's prices. The VIC-20 was Commodore's first pre-emptive strike; the C16 was the second. Although the Japanese would soon dominate the U.S. video game console market, the feared dominance of the home computer field never materialized. Additionally, Timex, Mattel, and TI departed the market before the C16 was released.

Description

Outwardly the C16 resembled the VIC-20 and the C64, but with a black case and white/light gray keys. Performance-wise located between the VIC and 64, it had 16 Kilobytes of RAM with 12K available to its built-in BASIC interpreter, and a new sound and video chipset offering a palette of 128 colors (in reality 121, since all gradients of black were rendered as black), the TED (better than the VIC used in the VIC-20, but lacking the sprite capability of the VIC-II and advanced sound capabilities of the SID, both used in the C64). The ROM resident BASIC 3.5, however, was more powerful than the VIC-20's and C64's BASIC 2.0, in that it had commands for sound and bitmapped graphics (320×200 pixels), as well as simple program tracing/debugging.

From a practical user's point of view, three tangible features the C16 lacked were a modem port and VIC/C64-compatible Datassette and game ports. Commodore sold a C16 family-specific cassette player (the Commodore 1531) and joysticks, but third-party converters to allow the use of the abundant, and hence much less expensive, VIC/C64-type units soon appeared. The official reason for changing the joystick ports was to reduce RF interference. The C16's serial port¹ was the same as that of the VIC and C64, which meant that printers and disk drives, at least, were interchangeable with the older machines.

The Commodore 16 was one of three computers in its family. The even less successful Commodore 116 was functionally and technically similar but shipped in a smaller case with a rubber chiclet keyboard and was only available in Europe. The family's flagship, the Commodore Plus/4, shipped in a smaller case but had a 59-key full-travel keyboard (with a specifically advertised "cursor key diamond" of four keys, contrasted with the C64's two + shift key scheme), 64K of RAM, a modem port, and built-in entry-level office suite software.

( ¹ Commodore's proprietary "serial IEEE-488 bus", no relation to RS-232 and the like )

Market performance

Since the problem the C16 was designed to solve disappeared before its release, and given the lack of commercial software for the machine, the C16 sold poorly in the United States, where it was quickly discontinued and the C64 repositioned as the entry-level machine. However, it enjoyed some popularity in Europe as a cheap games machine, with an array of games released in 1531 cassette format.


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