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Commodore 116

The Commodore 116 was a home computer made by Commodore, released in 1984. It was intended to be an entry-level computer to counter other budget machines and the threat of a Japanese invasion of cheap computers, the home video and audio markets had already been largely wiped out by Japanese companies.
 
The C116 is one of three computers in the 264 family.

The original design for the computer was born from a meeting sometime in late 1982, where one of the designers, Bil Herd was given a Timex computer from a filing cabinet (also made by Commodore), and told to come up with something for $49.

The machine his team produced was the Commodore 116 with its TED chip (Text Editing Device), which contained all the functions of the computer from the graphics and sound, right down to the joystick ports. The computer was slightly larger than a ZX Spectrum, with a similar, but even more awkward rubber keyboard, the machine had no sprite capabilities, being built entirely as a cheap business machine, its case was similar to the later Commodore Plus 4, both designed by Ira Velinsky.

Performance-wise located between the VIC and C64, it had an 8501 CPU, similar to the 6510 processor, (which actually ran 3 times faster than that in the C64, but with no extra hardware to back it up) 16 KB of RAM with 12 KB available to its built-in BASIC interpreter, and a new sound and video chipset offering a palette of 128 colours, far more than the 8 of the C64.

However, use of the computers hi res graphics mode would reduce the memory further to just 4K, also the computer was completely incompatible with either the VIC-20 or C64. This incompatibility continued with the ports on the machine now using tiny Din sockets for the joysticks and cassette deck, this was due to the small size of the C116 not being able to have the standard Atari sockets.

This incompatibility was a deliberate plan by Jack Tramiel, who did not want the new machines to compete at all with the already established Commodore 64.

The ROM resident BASIC 3.5, 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.

More machines were added to the range, as Commodore wrestled internally with itself, the Commodore 232, 264 and V364, none of which made it to market. If the plan had come to fruition, there would have been a budget machine, two middle models, and then the top end flagship, all costing less than the C64.

By 1984, Timex and Texas Instruments had left the computer scene, and the Japanese invasion did not happen, this was due in part to Commodore’s own scorched earth policy, where their incredibly aggressive price cuts, and ownership of MOS technology, meant they had the advantage of cheaper chips, and assured supply of those chips.

This left the 264 machine with no market. In mid 1984, the 50,000 manufactured C116 machines were sent to Europe, mainly Germany, where it was not a great success, partly due to the price being raised to over one hundred dollars more than intended, and no more were produced. The machine is now a rare collector's item, and quite hard to find in a working condition.

The last act Jack Tramiel performed for Commodore was at the CES show in 1983, where he was to launch the Commodore 264 and V364, (the 232 had been dropped at a European show earlier in the year). Just three days later he had been ousted from the Commodore board.

Our Commodore Plus 4 entry covers the fate of these machines in detail.

Commodore sat on the chipset for a good while, before deciding that an opportunity was there for the aged VIC-20 to be replaced, so the Commodore 16 was conceived. Bil Herd was later to describe the machine as an abomination, and inbred, it shipped in an identical case to the C64 and VIC-20, but was charcoal black with grey keys. The Commodore 16 replaced both the Vic 20 and 116.

Despite having less memory than the C64, the 116 did not lack any of it’s features. A cartridge socket sits at the middle rear, though this is quite different to the one in the Vic and C64 machines, and the cartridges were not compatible, it was also where RAM packs could be inserted to give the machine much needed extra memory, but perhaps the most useful aspect of the port was the C16/Plus4 exclusive 1551 Disk Drive, this had a parallel interface that was much faster than the standard serial Disk Drives such as the 1541 or 1570. The machine could also use these other drives through the serial port also on the back.

Looking at the machine from the rear, connections from left to right are the power socket, reset button, serial port, cassette din, cartridge slot, two joystick port, and finally the AV out. The power switch is on the right hand side, and an RF socket is on the left side.

With only 12k of available RAM for programs it must be said that a good deal of conversions from other systems fared very badly on the C116, games such as Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Beach Head and Green Beret were inferior in just about every way possible, some bordering on unplayable, at a time when the latest games required more memory, not less. The RAM in the C116 was simply not enough, and RAM packs were not cheap or widely available.

A few authors and companies did fly the flag for the machines, most notably Udo Gertz (Summer and Winter Games, Tom Thumb) and a particularly prolific C16 coder was Shaun Southern (Pacmania, Arthur Noid, Trailblazer, Jet Brix, KickStart).

The C116 is simply a case of not getting product to market fast enough, with the in fighting at Commodore not helping matters.

After Jack Tramiel left the company, it was a rudderless ship run by finance people, haemorrhaging some of their best technical and design staff, including Ira Velinsky, many of whom followed Jack Tramiel to Atari.

Instead of releasing a budget computer range, Commodore ended up launching a new range of machines, the C16 and Plus 4 in direct competition with their already established computers, neither of which was technically as good, both were an absolute disaster in the US, but did better in Europe, Mexico and Argentina.

 

 

Manufacturer: Commodore
Date: June 1984



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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH60678. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

 

Commodore 116


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