Commodore v Atari   1 comment

Atari 800

An Atari 800 computer


Commodore’s full name was Commodore Business Machines (CBM), while Atari started off in games, although they had a company called Atari Games and another company which dealt with their computers.

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.

Atari started out as purely a games company, selling games consoles and producing arcade game machines. Later on, in 1979, they were one of the first few companies to bring out a computer system, though.

Their first computers in 1979 were the Atari 400 and 800. Each of them was housed in a case which looked a bit like an Apple II, which even opened up to plug things in, but there the similarity ended, because they didn’t take plug in cards.

Some advantages the Atari computers had over the Apple II were 128 colours (increasing to 256 later on), a wide variety of display modes, and 4 channel sound synthesis, compared to the Apple II’s beep.

The Commodore 64 didn’t come out until 1982. At first, the Commodore 64 was much cheaper than the Atari 800, but Atari’s prices soon came down, and there was a new range of XL computers released in 1983.

The Commodore 64 looked similar to the Atari 800 in various ways, including having four function keys to the right of the main keyboard, Atari style joystick ports, and a blue screen showing a “READY” prompt. Even the monitor port was the same as used by Atari! It had “sprites”, similar to the Atari’s “player missile graphics”. It 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.

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, but the worst feature of all was that Commodore had ported standard PET BASIC onto the machine, with no commands for colour, graphics, or sound! This meant that budding BASIC programmers wanting to display more than coloured text would be severely disappointed with this computer!

At the same time or not long after the Commodore 64 came out, Commodore were also marketing lots of other computers, apart from the VIC-20. These were dedicated “business” computers, had streamlined cases, and separate keyboards. The Commodore 64 wasn’t a dedicated business machine, although it could be used to carry out some business, the same as all other “home computers”. Commodore even boasted that programs written in BASIC on one type of Commodore computer could run on any other other Commodore computer, so long as programmers took into account that some Commodore computers had 80 column displays, while others had only 40 column displays, and the VIC-20 had only a 20 column display.


A Commodore 8296D “business computer”

Unfortunately, my Dad was one of the people fooled by the name “Commodore Business Machines”, as opposed to Atari with their games background. He even thought that potential employers would be put off if I told them I owned an Atari computer. He pushed me into getting a Commodore 64 as my first computer, even though he was only LENDING me the money to buy it. He also thought it 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. I remember that in the department store John Lewis, Oxford Street, London W1, they had a sign saying that the Commodore 64 had 38K. Even the “48K” Sinclair Spectrum had more than 40K free to BASIC!

Another thing my Dad thought would be good for me about owning a computer was WORD PROCESSING, which he thought would be an easy way into employment. Unfortunately, I thought that word processing was such a basic task that it was built in to all computers on the market, although I’m not sure where I got that idea from. Apart from this, various customers in department stores also thought this, because I often saw them typing a load of text into computers running BASIC, only to get a “Syntax error” or “String too long” error in return. Some time later computers did come with word processing software built in, though. 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. I didn’t even find a type in word processor listing. I only remember that when someone pointed out to me that I needed to buy a word processing “package”, he then pointed out one called “Easy Script”, which was on disk anyway. Of course, the Commodore 1541 disk drive cost more than the computer, so that was out. The Atari computers were so superior to the Commodore 64 in this respect that they could do word processing with a simple Atari BASIC listing, which involved dimensioning a string of up to 32K, then inputting this string, while waiting for a certain combination of key presses to tell the computer that the user had finished writing the letter and would like to save it!

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. They even produced other programming languages on cartridge, such as Atari Logo! To see these programs being used, click on the link below.

The Spectrum had Tasword, available on cassette.

So, to sum up, Commodore liked to give people the impression that the Commodore 64 was somehow a business computer, when actually the Commodore 64, as well as the Atari 8 bit computers were all “home computers”, which could be used for games, business, and other uses.


Posted August 22, 2012 by C64hater in Uncategorized

One response to “Commodore v Atari

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  1. Just like all your other silly ramblings, there are so many factual inaccuracies in this article, not to mention opinions expressed as facts, that you might as well not have written it. Do some research, stop blaming the world for all your problems and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be taken more seriously. Use your energy more wisely and you might even get a few more positive replies.

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