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WhatMicroFeb83“What Micro?” magazine February 1983 issue

Recently, as part of my extensive research, I’ve been searching online archives, as well as eBay, to find some magazines with reviews of the Commodore 64 which gave potential computer buyers, who were deciding which computer to buy, some warning about the Commodore 64, unlike the review I read in “The A-Z of Personal Computers”, which listed full reviews of lots of computers in a single volume, but no other magazine seemed to do this. I’ll be dealing with that magazine in a separate post. I think I’ve found THREE magazines which gave people some warning about the shortcomings of the Commodore 64.

Unfortunately for me, two of these three magazines weren’t available to me back in 1984, because they were published in different parts of the World. These magazines were “Bytes & Pieces” from New Zealand and “The Transactor” from Canada. I only heard of “Bytes & Pieces” recently from watching YouTube videos of Tezza’s Classic Computers, so well done Terry “Tezza” Stewart! The other magazine was “What Micro”, published here in Britain. In 1984, I actually read the buyers’ guide “The A-Z of Personal Computers” and it was the totally biased, misleading drivel they wrote that made me think it was OK to buy a Commodore 64. I’ll be posting the full story about this in another article in the near future.

“The Transactor”, which I posted recently fixed Commodore BASIC V2 in 750 bytes, was a Canadian magazine which had catered for Commodore PET users since the early days of 1978, including lots of short 6502 Assembler/Machine Code listings. It took its name from the T in PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) and for some time was available only by subscription, not in newsagents. It was published by Commodore, which had their HQ in Canada, but they eventually cancelled it in favour of their US magazine, although it managed to continue after one of their advertisers agreed to sponsor them! In their Vol. 4 Issue 1 (September 1982) they did a “preliminary review” of the Commodore 64. This review mentioned a few important things. It pointed out that the Commodore 64 only had 38K of RAM available to BASIC. Another important disclosure was that they thought it should have had BASIC 4 instead of BASIC 2, because of the additional disk commands, presumably CATALOG and DIRECTORY, instead of the pathetic LOAD”$”,8 followed by LIST. Their review also mentioned plans for an extended BASIC with support for graphics and sound! I think all of this knowledge would have prevented me from buying a Commodore 64, but that issue of this magazine wasn’t generally available, not even in Canada! Apart from this, The Transactor also had a news item later on, saying that less than a year after being released, the Commodore 64 was already being fitted with a THIRD version of its Kernal ROM to fix bugs in the first two versions! Of course, some early software wouldn’t work with the new ROMs. Furthermore, the monitor port was about to be changed from 5 pins to 8 pins! So much for the “Commodore 64” being the World’s best selling “single model” of computer produced from 1982 to 1994!! As it was already incompatible with earlier production versions, Commodore may as well have upgraded its BASIC ROM as well!!!! A Machine Code listing of 750 bytes in The Transactor managed to provide the most essential five graphics routines to turn on the graphics screen and set a palette of four colours, detect the colour of a pixel, plot a point, draw a line, and return to the text screen! Of course, lots of people reading this will already know that the SID chip was also upgraded to fix a bug or “improve” it, although this upgrade didn’t meet with everyone’s approval. I think there may even have been as many as THREE different versions of the SID chip!

“Bytes & Pieces” was a New Zealand magazine, catering to the local computer market. I doubt it was sold in any other countries. In New Zealand there were problems caused by the low population of 2-3 million, as well as that country not being very close to any other large land masses, so it was expensive to import computers and it seems that all computers arrived later in New Zealand than to most other developed countries. To get round this, a few computers were designed and manufactured in New Zealand although the economy was mainly agricultural. These included the Poly, mainly for education, and the Aamber Pegasus, which was fairly innovative with switchable language ROMs, but may have sold only about 100 units. In their Issue 2-04 (December 1983-January 1984), where they printed a buyers’ guide chart listing the features of all computers available in New Zealand, “Bytes & Pieces” magazine said of the Commodore 64 that “most graphics programming needs to be POKEd and PEEKed from BASIC”, as well as “the machine includes 64K RAM, not all of which is available under BASIC (39K”), so this revelation could have been enough to save me from buying one. My Dad would probably have been put off just by the disclosure that only 39K was available to BASIC. The magazine also praised the new Spectravideo 318 as having the best BASIC of any computer, which was described as a 32K version of Microsoft BASIC, with an on screen display of the function key definitions, that very impressively changed when the user pressed the SHIFT key “usually only found on upmarket business machines”. The review was complete with three BASIC listings covering interrupts from BASIC, sprite collisions, as well as using DRAW and PLAY with the built in graphics macro and music macro commands. As you should remember, it was the inability of the Commodore 64 Group Leader at my local computer club to add a routine to make sprites bounce off each other to my existing program of two TARDIS shaped sprites crossing each other’s paths which made me finally give up on the Commodore 64! Unfortunately, the Spectravideo 318 wasn’t available widely and not for long before the very similar MSX standard computers were released. The Spectravideo 318 and 328 seem to have made an impression in Australia and New Zealand, though. Some of these computers were sold off after the MSX launch by Silica Shop in London and via mail order, advertised as one of several cheap computers, saying they were “fairly new to the UK”. Spectravideo brought out an adaptor to convert their 318 and 328 computers to MSX, as well as releasing the Spectravideo 728 and the Spectravideo X’Press, which were both MSX computers.

“What Micro?” was a monthly computer magazine published in Britain, which was available at most newsagents, so this means it probably had a bigger circulation than “The Transactor” and “Bytes and Pieces” put together. It published reviews of computers which had recently been released or which hadn’t just been released, but were proving popular, such as the Sinclair Spectrum. They also had a guide listing all computers available under £6,000, which compared their facilities, but only said a few words about each of them. I couldn’t find any scanned editions online, but I recently managed to buy a copy of the “What Micro” February 1983 issue from eBay to see exactly what advice they gave. The Commodore 64 was listed in their “35 page guide to micros and equipment”, which they published every month. The most revealing part of the listing came under the column marked “Comments”. This said “Simons’ Basic (extended Basic using full colour/sound/Basic tool kit), Prestel, Sprites” , which may have led me to find out just enough information to avoid buying a Commodore 64 complete with its crappy BASIC V2 and a total of only 71 or 72 commands!

So, congratulations to “The Transactor”, “Bytes & Pieces”, and “What Micro?” magazines! Shame on you “The A-Z of Personal Computers”!


Posted April 21, 2014 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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