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Commodore Plus 4 Found in Thrift Store

geneb

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If they do, they're wrong. D is the shell type, E is the shell size and that is followed by the pin count. You CAN make a DB9, but you're going to have 9 pins spread around the space normally occupied by 25 pins. That and you'll pay through the nose for a custom connector casting. :)

g.
 

Dave Farquhar

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In the late 1970s/early 1980s, companies were a lot less patent-happy than they are today, so that's one possible explanation. At least from ex-Commodore engineer Dave Haynie's recollections, it was sometime in the mid/late 1980s that companies with a lot of patents (not to name names, IBM) started realizing that a pile of patents could be a revenue stream.

But I'm not sure a connector and a pinout is really patentable. Most of the systems that came after the 2600 use weird connectors and that slows down the third-party controller makers, but it doesn't stop them forever. Eventually the aftermarket vendors find suppliers, figure everything out, and release knockoff controllers. I would think if they could patent the connectors, that would lock out the aftermarket controllers, in addition to keeping their rivals from using them.
 

Chuck(G)

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I'm trying hard to follow this discussion. Is someone claiming that the DE9 connector patent was somehow owned by someone other than Amphenol?

AFAIK, using a current-art connector for some specific application isn't patentable. That would be like filing separate patents for the use of a sippy cup to hold apple juice and another to hold milk.
 

carlsson

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What I was trying to figure out is whether it is possible to patent or copyright a particular use of an existing connector. From what I've read so far, the consensus seems to be it is not possible to do that, only patent chips handling the input from said connector. If that is true, as long as every hardware manufacturer would use their own electronic solution how to handle input from e.g. a joystick, there was no stopping them from using a popular pinout once "invented" by a competitor. After all, Atari could not know on beforehand that their VCS would become so popular and would set a standard before it was too late.

I'm also kind of trying to figure out who was the first manufacturer aside from Atari themselves to use the same pinout, or a majority of it. As one can see from the linked pinouts, there are plenty of options how to route up, down, left, right, fire, ground and possibly additional signals within nine pins. No design is logically more "correct" than the other. If e.g. Fairchild had made an improved Channel F II in 1978 that would have been superior to the Atari VCS, chances are that Commodore and the others would've made their joysticks Fairchild compatible instead, including the rotation and pull functions. Of course it would have made it more difficult to add analog controllers like paddles as most of the pins would already have been used up.
 

Chuck(G)

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IANAL, but it appears that the use of a connector to conduct a certain set of signals is not patentable because it fails the "uniqueness/non-obvious" test. Namely:

Is there any teaching in the prior art, as a whole, that would, not simply could, have prompted the skilled person, faced with the objective technical problem formulated when considering the technical features not disclosed by the closest prior art, to modify or adapt said closest prior art while taking account of that teaching [the teaching of the prior art, not just the teaching of the closest prior art], thereby arriving at something falling within the terms of the claims, and thus achieving what the invention achieves?

I haven't read the patent on the original D-sub connector (I suspect it goes back to the early 1950s), but use of a D-sub connector to conduct electrical signals from a joystick is not a unique or inventive solution.

Note that Atari on the ST did use some strange connectors, include a 19 pin D-sub with a nonstandard shell size.
 

Pet Rescue

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One thing I can never understand is why they used the male connector on the computer and the female on the joystick? :dontgeti:

Surely it would have been better the other way around due to the potential risks.:confused:

You would not have the static issues that blow the CIA's as you would not be able to touch the pins!

Also you have 5v out on a bare pin so surely it was asking for trouble?
 

carlsson

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Yeah, I understand the non-patentness. I still think though that temporarily holding off (unlicensed) 3rd party manufacturers would be a reason good enough for Commodore to try new connectors.

As some of you may remember, I happen to own a TED prototype/developers board. Unfortunately it doesn't work, and the EPROMs partly read out as mush.
tedmb.jpg


It is dated August 1983 and confirmed over email by Bil Herd to have his handwriting on it. As you can see, it has "standard" DE9 joystick ports and the card-edge cassette port, yet it is significantly smaller than a VIC or C64 motherboard. This board supposedly was meant for early software developers to produce software for the Commodore 232/264/364 series that later came to be renamed as Commodore 16 and Plus/4. Obviously it was more practical for developers to have the old kind of connectors on this board, but it seems to me there would have been room also on production models about a year later without replacing the connectors.
 

Dave Farquhar

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I'm not convinced Commodore cared about other companies making controllers for their computers, especially seeing as I don't even remember seeing Commodore-branded joysticks or paddles for the Plus/4 and 16. I did see the computers themselves in stores, however briefly... But by late 1984, it was hard to find Commodore's joysticks for the 64 and VIC, even. It was much easier to find products from the likes of Suncom and Wico, which were much better quality anyway.

I do remember in the Plus/4 reviews that appeared in the US magazines, Commodore saying the mini DIN connectors emitted less RF interference than the more traditional DE9 connectors.

Interestingly, Atari used the MOS (aka Commodore Semiconductor Group) 6532 RIOT for I/O in the 2600....
 

Unknown_K

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I would probably pick up a plus 4 for $5 and never do anything with it (like my free boxed C16 I tested and stuck in a corner since). Can't play games on them, and no decent sound chip so pretty much a C64 minus all the good points.
 

Eudimorphodon

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I still think the Plus/4 is one of the *prettiest* computers Commodore ever made, and if I saw one for $5 I'd probably bite. But, as I said in another thread, I'd be afraid to ever turn it on given the not-particularly-great reputation of the TED chip has for lasting through the ages. That goes and it's a pretty doorstop.

I guess to be honest most of the favorite eight-bits are starting to get into "should I turn it on?" territory if chip availability is your benchmark. The one reason I feel reasonably safe poking around inside my beater Commodore PETs is that just about everything in those things is either still rolling off an assembly line or can be pretty easily subbed for by something that is.
 

barythrin

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Well in those terms then it would make sense to start buying them up cheaply when you do see them for spare parts. But then it ends up as clutter that sits unused anyway.
 

Vint

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I would probably pick up a plus 4 for $5 and never do anything with it (like my free boxed C16 I tested and stuck in a corner since). Can't play games on them, and no decent sound chip so pretty much a C64 minus all the good points.

Therein lies the problem. Many think that the Plus/4 should/could have been a 'better C64'. It wasn't. Commodore's main purpose for the Plus/4 was to 'make money' from it. They messed up, admittedly. Now, the Plus/4 is a handsome machine with a much nicer case than the egg carton style of the VIC-20 and C-64. Sleeker looking function keys but with a mushier keyboard. The keys sort of wobble, giving the keyboard a cheaper feel, but they are accurate and seem to hold up well. When you turn on a Plus/4 it greets you with a far better looking startup screen of black letters on a white background rather than the blue on blue screen of the C64, and with 60K of user memory vs. the 38K of the C64, or the puny 3.5K of the VIC20, with it's paltry 22 column screen. I owned a VIC20 for years and I owned and used a C64 daily for 10 years and I still favor the Plus/4. Games, Music, and overall versatility certainly go to the C64 and it keeps many of the peripherals of the VIC20 also, but if you're having fun with BASIC and learning, as we did back in the 80's, you can write some very fun programs on your own to enjoy with the Plus/4. If you just want a game machine, well that's different. But there's a wealth of online 'stuff' and complete websites devoted just to the Plus/4 too. What I'm trying to say is that the Plus/4 is it's 'own machine'. Don't compare it to others. Enjoy it for it's uniqueness and it's special place in history. It doesn't have to be a world class computer to be liked and admired. Heck, how many collectors own one of those dud Mattel Aquarius machines and are totally happy with having one in their collection? One of the great pleasures I took was in buying up nice old 8-bit machines and messing around with them. I didn't need them to play games on, unless I wrote my own for it - and mostly in text style BASIC. If you think text is silly, people might still remember all the text based adventure games of yesteryear. They were pretty darn popular. Today there's the Playstations and Wii's and Xbox 360's not to mention fine PC games. I for one like to go back and just enjoy the simple times of writing a well tuned BASIC text based game. Certainly I'm in the minority, but I believe the Plus/4 deserves a place right along with the other members of the Commodore line in the museum of computer history, (if based on my criteria:) But then we 'all' have our own opinions on what's cool and what isn't.

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Unknown_K

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The VIC-20 means little to me, its like the Timex 1000 (a computer you can do basically nothing with out of the box). I think the C-16 looks nicer then a C64, but because of the design is also worthless.

Let me put it to you this way. If Ferrari had never existed and somebody came out with a Ford Pinto but it was a Ferrari Pinto I would think look at that shitty car. But since Ferrari does exists and I have some expectations of their models look and act like, if they made a Ferrari Pinto after the Boxer came out that would just put me on tilt wondering what the hell they were thinking (even if the car was half way decent). You would think companies have learned from past mistakes and successes as to what they were good at and what they should stay away from. The whole C16/TED design was just a stupid waste of recourses especially as the C64 was getting cheaper by the day and the C128 was around (plus the Amiga would be out soon). I have some respect for Apple avoiding the low end (hell the mini is too expensive to be low end) computer business, they know it would ruin their marketing and not make money. Commodore on the other hand had a habbit of finacing total crap out of the profits of their accidental super successes.
 

Druid6900

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I have some respect for Apple avoiding the low end (hell the mini is too expensive to be low end) computer business, they know it would ruin their marketing and not make money. Commodore on the other hand had a habit of financing total crap out of the profits of their accidental super successes.

I totally agree. Apple's total failures (The Apple /// and the Apple Lisa) were VERY expensive following their decreasingly successful Apple ][ series successes.
 

carlsson

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The reason why Commodore didn't release a greatly improved C64 already in 1984 probably was due to the C64 still sold very well, perhaps the most sold (home) computer at the time. An improved model would only have caused confusion among 3rd party developers and customers: should we aim for the new machine or is there still a market for C64 versions? Indeed many games came in versions for several different computers/consoles, but not so many producers maintained multiple models which were similar but not compatible. Actually, I think an earlier "C128" with two banks of 64K, 32 sprites, dual SIDs, perhaps an improved 6509/6510 that could address 1 MB and faster peripherals would have hampered Commodore's overall sales. It would have been more expensive, at the same time customers hesitating to get the 2nd best Commodore unless it was priced at VIC levels.

Regarding Unknown K's statement that you basically can do nothing with an unexpanded VIC-20 of course is incorrect. Just the other week, a real time 3D first-person shooter (!) was released for the unexpanded VIC. Yes, it came 30 years too late but the hardware hasn't changed.
 

Unknown_K

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Regarding Unknown K's statement that you basically can do nothing with an unexpanded VIC-20 of course is incorrect. Just the other week, a real time 3D first-person shooter (!) was released for the unexpanded VIC. Yes, it came 30 years too late but the hardware hasn't changed.

Kind of like finding the cure for a deadly form of cancer 30 years AFTER you get it, doesn't do you much good does it? There are plenty of systems that launched with one good title that ended up dead because of the lack of a good selection of software.
 

Dave Farquhar

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Well, the VIC served its purpose. At the time it was released, a color computer for $300 simply didn't exist. Commodore sold about 3 million of them, and by the time the VIC-20 was played out, after about three years, they quietly discontinued it. It was short-lived, but it gave people something to do, affordably, until something better was available for less than $600.

And yes, in 1984 the C-64 was the best-selling computer on the market. The problem with the "Super 64" argument is that the designers of the SID and VIC-II left not long after the 64 was released, so designing the "super VIC-II" and "super SID" that would have been necessary to really do that machine right wasn't feasible. Commodore burned through their engineers too quickly. They treated engineers as totally interchangeable, which they weren't.

The 128 came out in 1985, partly due to the lessons of the Plus/4. Most of the 128's designers did time on the Plus/4, and this time they got to design something a lot closer to what they really wanted. They understood the need for backward compatibility, and it was one of the few times management listened to the engineers. It was designed to survive on the market for about two years, as a bridge from the 64 to the Amiga. It ended up lasting a couple of years longer than that.

Commodore's biggest problem was that they spent too little on infrastructure. They were able to price the VIC and 64 the way they did because of their vertical integration. They made everything but the memory chips and the glue logic chips. But they didn't modernize their chip plants the way Intel did, so Intel's chips kept getting cheaper and cheaper while Commodore's didn't. So Commodore couldn't continue the price war they started. By the early 1990s, they couldn't produce the AGA Amiga custom chips, so they couldn't price those machines competitively.

Of course Commodore wasn't going to win the war, ultimately, against the PC clone, but had they continued to invest in their chip plant, they may have been able to make their own PC chipsets, and fight on that front, and at least last longer than they did.

I really don't think Commodore gets the credit they deserve. Look at Intel today, and what they really did was perfect Commodore's vertical integration, and avoid most of the exposure to those pesky retail sales. I'm not saying Intel deliberately copied Commodore--I think they found a parallel path on their own--but Commodore was onto that path in 1982. Their management just didn't understand how to finish the job.
 

Eudimorphodon

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(Various hates on the VIC-20...)

Kind of like finding the cure for a deadly form of cancer 30 years AFTER you get it, doesn't do you much good does it? There are plenty of systems that launched with one good title that ended up dead because of the lack of a good selection of software.

No one really remembers, given how the VIC-20 was so completely eclipsed by the C64 in popularity, but the VIC-20 had a perfectly good software library at the time. Commodore positioned the unexpanded VIC-20 essentially as an alternative to cartridge game machines like the Atari 2600 that could also teach basic computer literacy, and in that light it was a great bargain. It had a good selection of cartridge games, a decent BASIC for such a cheap machine, and with a few peripherals it could actually do some "real computer" things. Many people got their first taste of online computing thanks to the inexpensive VICmodem, for instance.

Yes, the VIC-20 looks like a toy today but a 5k computer for $299 was a heck of a bargain in 1980. About the only thing substantially cheaper than the VIC-20 on the market at the time was the Sinclair ZX-80 which cost almost $200 US and came with *ONE KILOBYTE* of RAM; A 4K TRS-80 CoCo was $399 and an 8K Atari 400 was around $500. The VIC-20 had a better keyboard than any of them, a much better BASIC than the ZX-80, and it was roughly as expandable as its more expensive rivals. For what the VIC was built for it was a success. It didn't age well (in particular its nasty 22 column screen format doomed it to be replaced en-mass when the C64 came out) but at the time it filled its niche competently. Linus Torvalds' first computer was a VIC-20 so clearly it was possible to learn *something* playing with one.

As for the TED machines: The machines themselves were capable enough in a vacuum. The graphics and sound hardware was inferior to the C64 and Atari 800-class machines (mainly because of the lack of sprites), but measured against the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which is what Jack Tramiel was targeting with them, they look pretty good. But nothing exists in a vacuum, and by this time Commodore was clearly having "direction issues". Commodore over the course of about seven years introduced no less than five vaguely-sorta-BASIC-compatible-but-hardware-incompatible 6502 computer lines; PET/CBM, VIC-20, C64, CBM-II, and the TED line. (This isn't even counting stillborns like the TOI/Color PET.) It's really bizarre how they kept reinventing the same wheel over and over again. Commodore machines rarely evolved along a sensible "line of ascent". It seems like the engineers would cook up a random design, drop it on the market, and then simply sell it until it was played out. Outside of the C-128 it's hard to think of a case where Commodore really produced an 8-bit "successor machine" that was fully, or even very, compatible with a previous model.

(Maybe you could call the various generations of PET Commodore's best example of an evolving product line; probably a better example than the C-128, since the 128 was sort of a mishmash of random features grafted onto the C64 that couldn't really be used without switching to an incompatible new mode. There's more of a continuum between the various vintage PETs and Commodore did offer things like BASIC upgrades for older models.)

One could argue that compatibility wasn't that important if the new machine were sufficiently advanced over the previous model (take the VIC-20 vs. C64), but the TED failed that test because by the time it premiered everyone was comparing it to the C64 instead of the VIC-20. If they'd come out in 1982, possibly as late as 1983, *maybe* the 16K TEDs would of made sense. (At the cost of potentially fragmenting the VIC-20 upgrade market between them and the C64.) But the Plus/4... no. It's really hard to understand what they were thinking as a 1984 introduction. With Commodore's vertical manufacturing the RAM was the most expensive part of the C64. Thus if you put the TED in a 64k machine you've pretty much blown the entire justification for the TED chip in the first place.

If Commodore had taken better care of its designers and engineers they really might of gone somewhere leveraging their manufacturing power, but as it was they sort of turned into a home computer puppy mill. A very successful one, thanks to the singular success of the C64, but still ultimately a dead-end road.
 
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