Commodore 64 Project: Part 3: Parts Unknown

31 08 2015

As I said in the first part of the series, I’m not the only one who still holds enthusiasm for the Commodore 64. One of the companies still making products for the old girl is Individual Computers. And one of the products they still make that works with the Commodore 64 is the Keyrah.

The Keyrah provides an interface between the Commodore’s proprietary keyboard connector and allows it to be used as a USB keyboard. This is essential for this project as it allows me to, inside the case connect the keyboard to the motherboard. As an added bonus, the Keyrah has two joystick ports mostly compatible with the original C64/Atari 2600 joysticks.


My Keyrah was purchased at the start of this project, and thus is the V1 version of the hardware. The more recent version incorporates added features, most notably a switch where the C64’s original power switch was located that acts as a ACPI power button. On my version that switch is a toggle between two keymaps.

I also managed to salvage the old DVD drive from my HTPC project and planned to reuse it for the Commodore. Like in the project, I would have the DVD tray pop out of the left side of the case.


However not salvaged from the older project was the hard drive. An alternative had to be found. Keeping with the ongoing theme of obsolete technology, I purchased a IDE compact flash adapter and a 64 GB Compact Flash card. The price point and the fact it was a “64” made me a little giddy. Also, as I had anticipated I would probably want more USB ports than the EPIA provided, I also bought an internal USB hub.



As the power supply was very specific to the old case and also very dead I bought a Pico-PSU. These devices are amazingly compact and perfect for the job.


At this point in the project the single greatest expense has been the Keyrah, and the total bill (if the EPIA is discounted) was under $100. I’m feeling pretty confident and happy about where this is all heading.

Commodore 64 Project: Part 2: Abby Normal

19 08 2015

Computers just keep getting smaller. In the days of the Commodore 64, things were bulky, not 1950s-takes-up-a-whole-room huge mind you, just not particularly compact for the capability. Inside that brown case, the C64 itself had a scant 64 kilobytes of memory, a 1 Mhz 6510 cpu, video adapter and sound interface. Power was provided by an external brick power supply. Storage either came in the form of a tape drive or floppy drive, I had both growing up. The floppy drive was roughly the same size as the computer itself and had its own CPU and memory. Back in the day I made a turn based strategy that offloaded some of the work to the floppy drive. If you had multiple floppy drives it was even faster, but I digress.

For a number of reasons, the 1984 introduction of the IBM PC AT became the blueprint for the clone market that sprang up after it. As they were clones, they patterned themselves after their progenitor. This resulted in the “AT Standard”, which was never truly formalized and just existed as the de facto. Intel supplanted that in 1995 with the introduction of the ATX standard. They had solved a bunch of issues that arose from the older AT standard. No longer could you plug in the power to the motherboard backward and potentially destroy everything, and there were many other improvements. Most desktop computers today now use the ATX standard.

Fast forward to 2002, and VIA Technologies introduced their own standard. Dubbed “Mini ITX”, it was, for the time, an impossibly small motherboard with a lot of features packed in. The versatility of the small form factor gave rise to a bunch of experimenters that managed to do interesting things with the board. Around that time I discovered the site This is a fascinating site and one that I’ve watched grow and expand over the years. The early community at the site began with shoving the Mini ITX boards in a variety of objects that weren’t really meant to have computers in them. There was the NES PC which put a PC emulating the NES into an actual Nintendo Entertainment System case. There’s the Biscuit Tin PC and countless others.

In 2003, I was interested in the mini-itx form factor largely for building my own home theater PC (HTPC for short). I had it all planned out. I’d use the latest VIA mini ITX board, the EPIA M-1000, it would fit into a black set top box case. Inside I’d have a Happauge WinTV capture card and this $700 DVR machine would replace my aging VCR. It would run the fantastic MythTV software on Linux.

What I hadn’t accounted for was that the EPIA M-1000 was slow. The forums emphasized this, but I figured with the hardware MPEG support it would still muddle through. However, because it was running on Linux and it was new the drivers just weren’t there at the time. I spent a few months learning to write drivers on Linux, but ultimately gave in. The machine that resulted served briefly as an emulation system. I bought a couple of Logitech controllers to play various old games, but it never truly met its potential.

After several years of light use, the power supply simply died on the machine. Since the machine wasn’t very useful, I ended up giving up on it and it just collected dust in my closet. I never stopped looking at though, and one project published on there had got me thinking: The Commodore 64 project.


Now with a dead C64 with which to conduct my experiments, I would soon be bringing things to life. A 12 year old computer in a 30 year old case! Muhahaha!



Commodore 64 Project: Part 1: It Begins

18 08 2015

So I’m going to admit something about myself here. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Commodore 64, and I’m not alone.

First produced in large quantity in 1982, the Commodore 64 is the most classic of all the 8 bit computers. When IBM PCs had green screens and emitted noisy beeps, the Commodore 64 had full color and the sonorous SID chip producing music that today still feeds a thriving chiptune subculture. It remains the best selling computer of all time and to this day has an active community of people still writing new software.

Alas, in the 90s my C64 and my vast collection of magazines, hardware and software found its way into a landfill. Ever since that happened, I’ve messed around with emulators trying to recapture some of that magic that was lost. Emulators are great, especially the amazing VICE emulator, but nothing truly beats the feel of the real keyboard and the look of the real machine. Since those days I’ve tried to find a cheaply priced Commodore 64 and as it turned out, I was in luck.

Recently, one of my coworkers was cleaning out his basement where he had stored a lot of old Commodore gear. Knowing my love for the machine, he offered me, free of charge, 3 breadbox C64s. Now the Commodore 64 came in several varieties, the original version nicknamed ‘the breadbox’ is this brown blocky looking machine. The C64s of my past were all of this style, so I jumped at the opportunity.

My initial goal was to get a working original machine and of the three given to me by my coworker, two worked great. The third on however had completely died. The fuse on the motherboard is an obvious item to fix, but even after replacing the fuse the machine would not turn on.

From these ashes, the Commodore 64 would soon be reborn.

Here’s the box:

The underside:

Yeah that warranty is not going to be good for much longer: