What is the Commander X16? (And what it isn’t) Edit
The Commander X16 is 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, and unreliability of 30-year old hardware.
The X16 will be made entirely of off-the-shelf modern parts, ensuring perpetual availability without reliability issues, but in keeping with the vision, it will house a real CPU rather than using emulation or an FPGA recreation of a processor. Running Commodore BASIC v2, 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.
Feel free to watch the Commander X16 project videos for further details:
What CPU/sound/video chip will you be using? Edit
Please see the Features & Specifications doc.
Why BASIC? Why Commodore BASIC? Edit
This entire computer is meant to be a close relative of the Commodore systems. While technically Commodore BASIC is actually Microsoft BASIC, I want it to be as similar as possible to programming on a VIC-20, C64, or Plus/4.
What about other languages? Edit
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.
Why PS/2 Keyboard and not USB? Edit
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 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? Edit
I would love for it to have composite as a secondary option. But it can’t be the only option. I’d prefer something that could handle more than 40 columns clearly. 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.
Why don’t you shoot for a 100% compatibility with the C64? Edit
There are already plenty of products and emulators that do this. And while it would be nice, it would make this project considerably more complicated, expensive, and most likely would never get finished.
What sort of expansions would be possible? Edit
There will be 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? Edit
At the moment, the plan is to go with NES style game controllers. There are numerous reasons for this:
- The controllers, or at least clones are still manufactured.
- They offer more buttons, allowing more complex games.
- They require fewer I/O lines to operate them.
- Joysticks have sort of fallen out of favor and most people these days prefer controllers.
What do you need help with the most? Edit
At the moment we need software development. The emulator is now available and people can start writing their own code.
Will it be sold as a kit or pre-assembled? Edit
We haven’t decided for sure. 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 with zero warranty or support. If people assemble it and it doesn’t work, they will have to ask for community support on the facebook group or other forums to figure out what they did wrong.
Will there be a case, keyboard, mouse? Edit
The current plan is to offer a case and PS/2 keyboard/mouse options. Initially the prototype case will be Micro ATX, but might reduce 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/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. Look at delayed projects like the ZX Spectrum Next or Mega 65 for example. We aren't looking to add a 1-year delay and $120 more to your price tag, or to reinvent the wheel.
- That also rules out an all-in-one keyboard-case combo like the C64, although we considered it carefully & did create some 3D renders early on. We have heard comments like "retro computers are all-in-one!"... then again there was the Amiga 1000, Apple Macintosh, Commodore 128D, Amstrad PCW, & many more. Beautiful machines. Plus, we feel the flexibility of being able to position the case away from the keyboard on your desk, without wires trailing across the desk, is a functional bonus.
- We also aren't going with 3D printing due to speed, cost, & quality concerns. The technology and cost just isn’t ready yet.
- What we are doing here is highly customizing 3 existing, high quality, already FCC & CE certified products, into a bespoke, unique case/keyboard/mouse 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 a little retro but fresh and clean. We hope you’ll love it!
Will user guides be included? Edit
We plan to offer a traditional spiral bound Getting Started guide, including a BASIC programming guide. The working title is “Just the BASICs: Getting started with the Commander X16”. There will also be “Assembling Assembly” and a programmer’s reference guide. The guides are already being written. PDFs will be an option too.
Why not use the Parallax Propeller chip? Edit
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
Please see here for a more detailed answer: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CommanderX16/permalink/413315816086185/
Will there be a GUI? Edit
This is not planned to be built-in, although we anticipate the community may produce one. The ideal GUI would use the text character set, rather than graphics - see http://www.c64os.com/c64os as a reference.
Will there be an emulator? Edit
Yes, you can download it here along with the source code: https://github.com/commanderx16/x16-emulator
When will the computer be released? Edit
There is no release date set. ‘It’ll be ready when it’s ready’ :-) Once we have a viable prototype, we will announce purchase options.
Will there be a software library webpage? Edit
Yes, this will become part of www.CommanderX16.com. We need website development assistance from someone proficient in creating software libraries, forums, and online stores.
Will the X16 become open source? Edit
At some point, most likely yes.
Who is involved at the moment? Edit
At the moment it is somewhat disorganized. And this may change over time as we figure out what aspects people want to do. But 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/Logo/Case/Keyboard
- Michael Steil - Kernal design and Emulator
- Frank van den Hoef - Video chip design
- Michael Allison - Assembler environment