Archive Commodore
22. December 2013

After showing the Commodore disk and tape drives I think it’s now time to have a look at the computer itself, the venerable Commodore 64. The one you see in this photo (as usual, click on it to enlarge) is my actual own C64 from March 1989. This is of course the newest and last ever produced version, the C64C or C64-II with an optimized mainboard and the streamlined case modeled after the C128. The first incarnation of the new model came out in 1986 and this slightly modified version with a differently labeled keyboard and a modernized mainboard was sold from 1987 on. At that time the computer was already nearly five years old and had been long technically overshadowed by the Commodore Amiga, which debuted in 1985 – but the C64 proved to be so popular that it was still in production until 1994 when the company itself collapsed.

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15. December 2013

Last Sunday’s post about the Floppy Drive Mountain was a lot of fun and got an amazing amount of feedback and comments over on Google+, but today I’m going for something much more mundane: the Commodore Datasette. It was the cheap alternative to the floppy drive – using regular audio cassettes for data storage was a pretty good idea going back to the earlier Commodore computers like the PET, which actually had a built-in tape drive in its first incarnation. So it was only logical that the Commodore 64 should also benefit from this simple and inexpensive alternative to the much more expensive disk drive, but it didn’t last long until the floppy drive took over and the cassette drive was almost obsolete in the Commodore world. But many other 8-bit home computers like the Atari 400/800 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum also relied on cassette data storage, the Amstrad CPC even came equipped with a tape drive in the computer itself.

[Note: also shared on Google+, already lots of comments with amazing memories there!]

When I got my Commodore 64 back in March 1989, I actually got it together with the Datasette pictured above. It’s the 1530 or C2N, one of only two different models produced for the Commodore 64 – it was actually a pretty cheap affair, a somewhat rickety and noisy cassette drive with some basic electronics inside. It was extremely cumbersome to use, the loading and saving of programs took a long, long time, sometimes up to 20 minutes – the speed was actually about 50 bytes per second. It was possible to fit up to 120-130 kilobytes on a 30-minute cassette side, so the storage space was actually quite roomy. The datasette was also very reliable if you used good tapes, but finding your program on a cassette full of saved files could take some time because you had to load through all the files saved before it if you didn’t write down a counter number to spool to.

Together with my C64 and Datasette, I got a few games on tape just to try out the computer, but these were actually quite boring and disappointing. Later I found out that I had accidentially grabbed some from a line of cheap budget releases from a british company called Mastertronic – the best thing with these games, which would load for more than ten or fifteen minutes, were the cassette covers, title graphics and tunes! Some of the games even had a Space Invaders mini-game clone running during the loading process, which was a pretty nifty programming trick, but the games themselves were still rubbish. This was mainly because all the really good Commodore 64 games at that time were not even sold on tape here in Germany anymore and only some cheap stuff was still available.

Because of the limited software available on cassette, the Datasette didn’t last long and I got a proper floppy drive, the famous 1541-II, only about four or five weeks after the computer itself. The Datasette was simply a beginner’s mistake and the floppy drive finally made my Commodore 64 a proper computer. I still held on to the Datasette and I’ve still got it today, but I think it doesn’t work properly anymore – when I pulled it out of its package a few years ago, the motor refused to start. Maybe it just clogged up after not having been used for so long, something which never happened to my floppy drives!

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8. December 2013

As a followup to the first photo and article about Floppy Disks, here is an old image from 2003 when I had four different Commodore drives here. Back then I was hunting on Ebay for all the Commodore hardware I was still missing and got some wonderful stuff for very little money. In addition to my original Commodore 64 and its 1541-II floppy drive and the Commodore 128D I bought almost by accident in the mid-1990s, I found two more C64s and a huge set of another C128D and a C128, plus more drives you could shake a stick at. (This posting is also mirrored here on Google+.)

From the bottom to the top, the drives on this image are:

The 1571, which was also built into the C128D. It’s a double-sided 5.25″ drive with two read/write heads that was introduced in 1985 shortly after the C128, but it is also compatible with the C64. It has a built-in power unit, making it much larger and heavier than the 1541-II, although the case looks somewhat similar. The capacity, when used in its double-side mode, was about 340 kilobytes. This particular drive came with the C128D and C128 I bought in 2003. I gave this one away together with the C128 and the 1570 to a friend a long time ago, but got another 1571 later from Ebay.

The 1570 was the predecessor of the 1571 and is actually more shaped like the original 1541 with its frontal latch rather than a handle to lock the disk. This drive was produced before the 1571 was ready to give the C128 a faster drive than the C64, although it only has one read-write head and a capacity of 170 kilobytes like the 1541. It also has an internal power unit, which makes it weigh even more than the 1571 because of its heavier drive mechanics. I got this drive also together with the C128D and C128 in 2003.

The 1541-II was introduced in 1988 after two previous versions of the original 1541, which had a much larger case similar to the 1570. This is the garden-variety single-headed drive which you can use with every Commodore 64 and it is also the most long-living of all 1541s, because it has an external power brick and very robust mechanics. This drive is actually my original one from 1989, which I can recognize from the swapped LED colours of green for power and red for the drive. Despite its robustness, the head motor of this one died sometime in 1994, but I soon got a replacement with my first C128D. Thanks to the several Ebay auctions today I have three other working 1541-IIs, one even in its original packing.

The 1581 made its first appearance in 1986 and was, like the 1571, specially designed to work with the C128 with a special high-speed burst mode, but also worked with the C64. It was the only 3.5″ drive for the 8-bit computers from Commodore and with its giant 800 kilobyte capacity of more than two and a half double-sided 5.25″ disks made it seemed almost like a harddrive. Originally, the drive was much more expensive than its 5.25″ counterparts, but to my surprise I found a 1581 in a local supermarket for a surprisingly low price when I was still using my Commodore 64 in early 1990. The drive became very useful with the graphical operating system GEOS, meaning that I did not have to switch disks at all anymore. I haven’t used it in a long time because it has a broken power switch which I have not been able to properly bypass, but I assume it’s still in good condition. When I used it together with one of my C128Ds to transfer all my disks to the PC, it still worked perfectly.

So this is my mountain of Floppy Drives. I took this photo shortly before I sent the bottom two drives together with the C128 away, so I can’t recreate it today, but save for the 1570 (which is not actually very useful) I still got all these drives here in good working condition.

Bonus picture, but after the fold so the article doesn’t get too long in the main list: some more 5.25″ disks, this time empty ones I bought on Ebay some time back just in case.

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6. December 2013

On Sunday, I posted the image on the right (which you can click to make it bigger!) of a 5.25" and 3.5" floppy disk on Google+ to show some of the younger people I've met there how these now antiqued methods of data storage used to look like. It's not a very good photo and I took it just for fun, but I was amazed at the response - the young people found it interesting, but more amazingly the post triggered a lot of memories from older members of the photography community on Google+ who shared some of their encounters with floppy disks and older computers. Because of this unexpected response I decided to preserve this article here on the blog, but you can also still read the original Google+ post with the comments. Maybe I will also turn this into a regular series, since I have a lot more old computer stuff to show. The rest of this article is the original post I wrote.

The big one on the right is a 5.25" disk from a Commodore 1541-II disk drive, my original one from early 1989. This is the reason they're called a Floppy Disk - they actually bend, because they're just a plastic disc with magnetic coating in a more or less protective sleeve. The storage capacity on the Commodore drives was 170 kilobytes on each side - to use the second side, you had to turn the disk around. There were some drives like the 1571 which had two heads and could read both sides simultaneously, doubling the capacity to a whopping 340 kilobytes. Just as a comparison: this image is about 400 kilobytes big and it would not even fit on a double-sided 5.25" disk!

The 3.5" disk on the left is more sturdy, the inner magnetic disc is protected by a hard plastic case with a metal slider for read/write-head access. This disc came with a relatively rare 3.5" drive for the Commodore 64 and 128 I accidentially found in a local supermarket back then. The drive had an amazing capacity of about 800 kilobytes, this was almost like a harddrive for the Commodore 64. The downside was that you could not run any software on it which used so called Floppy Speeders, programs relying on the hardware of the 5.25" drives itself to speed up loading, but on the other hand it worked especially well with the graphical operating system GEOS, which was a kind of Windows for the old 8-bit-machines.

Yes, those were the days... I can't say I miss them, because I've still got all the disks and computers, supplemented by some additional hardware from Ebay. All of my Commodore computers still work, even the drives and disks - which is especially amazing since they are around 25 years old now.