Retro Computers - Commodore Plus/4 - Retro Computer

Commodore Plus/4
Commodore Plus 4
No-one looks good in Plus 4's.

The Commodore Plus/4 was an 8-bit home computer which was sold by Commodore Business Machines (CBM) and was released in 1984.

The 'Plus/4' name refers to the four application ROM resident office suite including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a database, and a graphing package.

Billed as 'the productivity computer with software built in', this snippet was soon laughed at as the shortcomings of the machine became apparent.

The Plus/4 was a total flop in the United States and it was jokingly labelled as the 'Minus/60', a pun on the difference between the Plus/4 and the dominant Commodore 64. The machine did gain some level of popularity in some parts of Europe though, but it never really took off in the UK.

Blessed with a decent amount of RAM (64KB with 60KB available to the user) and a 7501 CPU running at a 0.89 MHz (or 1.76 MHz depending on mode of use), the machine was not exactly total rubbish, it was just a strange piece of hardware for Commodore to put out there.

It was not meant to replace the C64, and in some ways it was an inferior machine (even though it was released two years later). It was just another machine out on the market, and there was nothing about it to really make it stand out from the crowd. It would never effectively compete against the likes of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum either.

It did not have the fantastic SID sound chip and was only capable of producing 2 channel sound over 4 octaves plus white noise. This did not go down well with fans of Commodore machines, especially C64 fanboys. None of the C64 hardware sprite generation was present either, so it lost yet more appeal because of this. Oh - and no-one could play the existing library of C64 classic games!

The software that was in-built was not worth memory it was stored in:
The 'word processor' only had 40 columns and could manage documents with only 99 lines of 77 columns. Not even enough to do your homework.

A miniscule spreadsheet with only 17 columns and 50 lines - you'd have been better off with one of those calculator watches.

A completely ridiculous graph generator program, which could graphically display data from the sheets. Only in text mode though.

A microscopic database that could hold a whopping 999 records with 17 fields each. 38 characters was the maximum amount you could put into a field too.
Sounds like something your local council would use.

If all of this wasn't bad enough, most of these programs could only be used with a floppy drive. All in all, it made about as much sense as sensless thing from planet flim-flam.

It wasn't all bad though. The keyboard was okay. The colour palette offered was very good providing 15 colors with 8 luminance levels plus a standard shade of black. Only Atari Computers offered similar colour choices at the time.

The 320×200 video resolution was competent enough and was standard for computers intended to be connected to a television. Also the Plus/4 could use some of the peripherals of the C64 or the VIC-20, such as the well known MPS-801 dot-matrix printer and the 1541 Disk Drive.

Mind you, in another moment of genious, it was not compatible for use with C64 programs (the hardware was too different), so any existing library that you may have had was of no use to you. C64 joysticks were not compatible and existing C64 classic games could not be played on it.

This was a bad move as the C64 already had a huge library of classic arcade games and text adventures.

One further 'Plus' point, was that it had an improved BASIC (version 3.5) when compared to the C64’s. This version featured graphic and sound instructions and a built-in assembler, but many home user's were not THAT interested in these features. Computer games is where it's at eh?
To top it all off, it never even had that 'Commodore look' to it. The grey brown case and cream coloured keys with the banded logo across the top looked kind of cheap and tacky - yet another slip up.

Due to the hardware deficiencies (poor graphics capabilities, average sound generation) games developers in the main, stayed away from the Plus/4. There were a few arcade games and text adventures released for the machine - but nowhere near enough.

The machine was not fancied by many people, and it disappeared off into the giant computer junkyard in the sky.

If you owned one, you really did not want to admit it. Unless you drove a Lada.

Not one of Commodores better offerings. A not so fine retro computer.

We recommend trying to pick up one of these machines.
Look at computers for sale online or even locally.

If you don't want to get hold of the real hardware then try and download an emulator and
download those classic games. Alternatively you could try and play them online.

COMPUTER NAME: PLUS 4 - C232/264/364
MACHINE TYPE: Home Computer or door stop
BUILT IN LANGUAGE(S): Commodore BASIC 3.5. Built-in machine code monitor with 12 commands
KEYBOARD: Full stroke 67 keys with 4 function keys and 4 'arrow design' cursor keys
CPU: 7501
SPEED: 0.89 MHz or 1.76 MHz
RAM: 64KB with 60KB free for user and 48KB free when used in high resolution mode
TEXT MODES: 40 chars x 25 lines
GRAPHIC MODES: Several modes. The maximum was 320 x 200 dots
COLORS: 121 (15 colours x 8 luminances plus black)
SOUND: 2 channels over 4 octaves plus white noise
SIZE / WEIGHT: 42.3 (W) x 23.9 (D) x 6.7 (H) cm
I/O PORTS: Not bad. Tape, Cardridge, 2 Joystick ports, Floppy Disk, Printer, User port, RGB, expansion bus port, serial bus
BUILT IN MEDIA: Cassette unit. Provision for 170 KB 5.25'' floppy disc unit
PRICE: £249 - They should have paid you!

Retro Computers and classic games


Damian Walker said...

Maybe not a good games machine back in the day, but it was one of the better 8-bit machines for budding programmers to mess about on, probably second only to the BBC Micro and Electron in this respect. As well as having a better BASIC than the C64 (with actual graphics and sound support, and a bit of structured programming), its machine code monitor included a rudimentary assembler too, making it easy to get into machine code on this machine.

If ever I do any retro-game development on the C64 it'll be because my old Plus/4 led me gently into 6502 coding back in the 80s.