Commodore versus Atari

Debunking Commodore v Atari

When Commodore launched the VIC-20, that was the first indication they were moving towards games and other non business uses. Later on, the Commodore 64 was a further step towards games and away from business.

We begin with yet another of the author’s broken history lessons… Commodore’s full name comes from their incorporation in 1955 and “business machines” doesn’t refer to computers at all; they made typewriters, adding machines and electronic calculators (that’s right, actual machines used by businesses) for a long time before starting on computers.

[The C64] also used a 6510 CPU, which was compatible with the Atari’s 6502. Commodore had been using 6502 CPU’s since their first computer the Commodore PET, though. To uninformed members of the public, they looked very similar.

One of the main reasons they used the 6502 and variants was that Commodore owned MOS Technologies, the designers of the 6502; getting the CPU and custom ICs essentially at cost helped considerably towards keeping the C64’s price down. The author notes that “At first, the Commodore 64 was much cheaper than the Atari 800, but Atari’s prices soon came down” prior to this point in the post but forgets that the C64’s price wasn’t static either.

There the similarities ended, because the Commodore 64 only had 16 colours, compared to Atari’s 128 (later upgraded to 256), 3 channel sound, compared to Atari’s 4 channel sound

Simple statistics like these look great on paper but don’t get even halfway into telling the actual story; 128 colours sounds like a lot until you realise that none of the display modes can put more than five onto the screen at a time without (machine code driven) help or relying on hardware sprites. Similarly, the POKEY outputs four 8-bit channels whilst the SID manages three 16-bit channels with more waveforms and filters available.

the VIC-20 had only a 20 column display.

The VIC defaults to 22 columns.

[The author’s dad] also thought [the C64] had 64K RAM, although there was only 38K free to BASIC and even some Machine Code programmers thought the limit was 54K, after turning off the BASIC and Kernal ROMs, while other Machine Code programmers thought the limit was only 39K.

The author’s dad was, of course, right because it does indeed have 64K but your correspondent doesn’t believe he’s ever spoken to a C64 assembly language programmer who thought there was only 39K available; even the most doltish beginner who utterly ignored everything in the programming references had immediate access to 42K. It would be interesting to know the actual source these claims are based on.

During my time as a Commodore 64 owner, I didn’t manage to find any cartridge or cassette based word processing software, or at least not for a price I could afford.

This isn’t the fault of the C64 or its software library and completely down to the author’s inability to actually look properly; affordable tape-based word processors did indeed exist in the UK and were regularly advertised in computer magazine, even the gaming-oriented titles like Zzap! 64. It could perhaps be argued by the author that he personally couldn’t purchase these titles over the counter but, whilst some people were lucky enough to live near an Atari specialist, for the majority of Atari 8-bit owners the software was very thin on the ground and the non-gaming titles nowhere to be seen so the cartridge he’s about to mention wouldn’t have been an option without going to mail order either.

On the other hand, Atari and third parties had produced all the software for their games consoles on cartridge and they continued to produce lots of software on cartridge for their computers instead of users having to buy a disk drive. This included the “Atari Writer” word processor.

And then they’d have to spend twenty or thirty minutes saving their work to cassette (Atari 8-bit tape access is painfully slow and can’t be significantly accelerated in software) or more likely be sensible and get a disk drive.

The Spectrum had Tasword, available on cassette.

And Tasword 64 for the C64 was available on cassette or disk, as was Mini Office (also on the Spectrum) which contained a word processor. As already noted several times elsewhere in this blog, the fault here lies squarely with the author.

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