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C > COMMODORE  > PLUS 4 - C232/264/364

PLUS 4 - C232/264/364

Very interesting extra information from Dave Haynie who designed the Commodore Plus-4:

I was one of priviledged few to actually help develop this little gem. I started work at Commodore in October of 1983, my second job out of college, after four months of boredom at General Electric. I was hired to help out on the "TED" project.

TED, you see, was an all-in-one cheap computer chip. It improved on a number of the things that were done in the C64, so you didn't need extra SRAMs, you got more color, etc. Ok, so the sound sucked. Anyway, this project was started by Jack Tramiel as an answer to the Timex Sinclair, as well as a replacement for the VIC-20 (eg, a real computer that sold for about $100). The basic idea was to sell a 64K computer, or close, to that market. The result was the membrane keyboard version called the C116.

By the time I was hired, big nonsense was in full swing. For unknown reasons, the TED project was split into several machines. There was the C264, which had the full complement of stuff, 64K of RAM, etc. The C232 was a scaled-down version, with 32K and no serial port (TED systems, unlike C64s, has a real 6551 hardware ACIA).

Eventually, there was the CV364, which I was in charge of for the two weeks between it becoming an official, for production unit, and it being cancelled forever. Take the C264, add a new version of the Magic Voice (we called it Tragic Voice) speech synthesizer module, add a numeric keypad, and you have your CV364. I think I still have one of the two units actually made with production plastic (it was shown at the '84 Winter CES, but with mock-up casework).

The TED systems had some advantages over the C64. BASIC 3.5 has real graphics commands in it. It used a dynamic ROM banking scheme, so you got nearly 64K in BASIC (this was later used on the C128). ROM cartridges, and an internal ROM slot, could also be banked. Orginally, the C264 was to be offered with Your Choice of ROM option; EasyCalc, LOGO, etc. Later, it got the horrible 3+1 package, and was redubbed the PLUS/4. Some time later, a scaled down 16K version was introduced as the C16.

All in all, the PLUS/4 wasn't a bad computer, when compared to others at the same price range. What was wrong with it? The C64. Why make an incremental, incompatible step above the C64. Everyone who tried to take on the C64 was laid to waste: Atari, Coleco Adam, Mattel Aquarius, etc. How could the PLUS/4 do any better.

The rational becomes clear when you look at the company politics. Summer of 1983, TED is the answer to Sinclair and replacing the VIC-20. Fall 1983, we have an explosion of TED models. Winter 1984, Jack Tramiel leaves Commodore. Summer 1984, his sons follow him, after pushing the PLUS/4 through. The result: Commodore is left confused about product.

PLUS/4 in Germany and Hungary, by Kitling (Germany):
In 1986-87 or thereabouts, the Plus/4 (and the C 16 and even 116) enjoyed a brief renaissance when they were sold in various bundles for ~$50-150 (depending) by German supermarket chains.

German software mailorder/publisher/vendor Kingsoft released a number of surprisingly nonawful games as well as tools and add-ons such as an 80 character cartridge.

In Hungary, the Plus/4 was widely used in schools and a hobbyist scene evolved around it, writing display hacks and sound demos, tools and games, porting classics like Elite or Bard's Tale over from the C 64, and building expansions such as a SID soundcard giving the Plus/4 the synthesizer capabilities of the C 64.

The C 16 "BASIC programming tutorial" bundle was my first own computer. Came with crude but amusing learning software and a positively horrible book focusing pretty much exclusively on compound interest calculation and structure charts (particularly thrilling when you're 12 years old).

Still, the dearth of freely available (i.e. pirated) software encouraged programming your own and the Plus/4's BASIC 3.5 with its graphics, sound, floppy disk and DO/LOOP/WHILE/UNTIL commands was a lot less frustrating than the C 64 that in its out-of-the-box state couldn't even display a disk directory without overwriting any BASIC code present in RAM. The full-screen "editor" supported windowing and other "tricks" via Esc codes and the built-in machine code monitor/(dis)assembler allowed further poking around.

It was a fun little computer. Nothing that'd have blown anyone's mind even back then, but accessible and kind of friendly.

Anonymous opinion about the +4 main page:
Obviously written by someone who never used a Plus/4. The Plus/4 was vastely superior to anything of it's time. but lost it's CBM sponsership with a management change. Hugely popular in Europe. It was an unfortunate victim.

Another opinion from Scott Burg:
I finally talked my parents into buying me one of this, thinking it would be the successor to the C-64 only to learn later that Commodore just scrapped the project and discontinued software development for it almost immediately. So, there was almost NO programs available for this machine, and with the above noted uselessness of the included software it was a complete waste of money.

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