The price was right

Debunking Computer prices before the Commodore 64

The author has decided to wade through some old magazines to wibble on about American prices of home computers from the early 1980s and subsequently ended up with a bee in his bonnet about the ZX81 and Atari 400. The entire post is irrelevant since it goes against the author’s previous stated brief of “trying to limit [his] blog to the period early 1984 to April 1985” but, since your correspondent is still not bound by the author’s “rules”, he can comment on what was written just for the amusement of himself and, hopefully, you too dear reader.

Both these computers were widely criticised for having only touch sensitive, flat keyboards, not even with calculator type keys, but various people managed to type on these keyboards, which were similar to the keyboards used in fast food restaurants.

Ignoring another instance of the author using “various” when he can’t be bothered to put in any real research[1], it’s not impossible to type on these keyboards no, but it’s significantly harder and made both machines far less user friendly. And yes, that’s “user friendly” both by the actual dictionary definition which is “easy to use, operate, understand, etc.” and what the author erroneously insists it means, which usually amounts to having a BASIC with graphics and sound commands.

And then there’s the issue of memory size; with a 1K ZX81 there are overheads for BASIC and the screen memory so very little room remains for user programs, whilst a 16K Atari 8-bit could offer a slightly more comfortable 13K to BASIC programs but had to lose a significant chunk of that space when switching to a bitmapped screen mode. The author has complained at truly ridiculous length about the C64 having 38K available to BASIC as though he feels it would be an issue to programmers and yet we don’t see him complaining whilst talking about machines with significantly less free space.

Later on, dealers such as Silica Shop managed to fit replacement keyboards to the Atari 800, giving a similar feel and quality to the Atari 800, and third parties managed to upgrade its RAM beyond 16K as mentioned on http://www.myoldcomputers.com/museum/comp/atari_400.htm , but I’m not sure what the maximum amount of RAM was, but I seem to remember reading recently that 48K was possible.

48K seems to be the maximum for the 400 and 800 from what your correspondent has read and, presumably, this is one of the reasons why the majority of Atari 8-bit software from the 1980s doesn’t take advantage of larger memory capacities.

So much for the Commodore 64 with its original price of $595 making computers cheap enough for more people to buy!

This is just another false argument from the author since the claims made by Commodore were about offering a 64K computer at a price their competitors couldn’t match. For example, here’s a 1982 advert for the C64 comparing it to the Apple II…

…and a second which also includes the Atari 800.

At that point in time in 1982 the memory was an expensive component and nobody else was shipping a 64K-equipped computer at the price point hit by Commodore with the C64. And it’s worth noting again that adverts contain hyperbole regardless of who paid for them and Commodore’s competitors were just as willing to make questionable claims.

Atari computers. You don’t have to be a genius to use one, unlike the Commodore 64!

It is of course very nice of the author to declare your correspondent and the millions if not tens of millions who used the C64 regularly a “genius”. Presumably that doesn’t apply to people like the author who couldn’t work with the C64…

[1] Your correspondent will do some research for the author; Atari developers Philip Price (The Tail of Beta Lyrae, Alternate Reality) and Adam Billyard (Elektra Glide) both started on an Atari 400 but had traded up for an 800 by the time the games they’re most famous for were created. Similarly, the ZX80 and ZX81 were the starting point for UK-based Spectrum programmers like Bob Pape (R-Type) or Julian Gollop (Laser Squad, Lords Of Chaos).

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