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New 65C816 Kit, Back to BASIC

Let's divide those that use computers into three groups:

  1. The ones that remember the computers of the 1980's and early 1990's.
  2. Those that only think that a computer is a Windows PC or Apple Mac.
  3. The current generation who do all their computing tasks (messaging, YouTubing, shopping, email) on a smartphone.

The first group remember the simplicity and immediacy of using a computer. The second group lost that behind a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and bloated Operating Systems. The third group are often unaware they are using a computer at all. In this post new projects that are attempting to re-introduce the simpler 1980's style of computing are covered, mainly based upon the venerable (but still available) 65C02 8-bit processor, or its slightly bigger brother, the 65C816 8/16-bit processor. Read on if you are interested in getting back to BASIC computing with new 65C816 kit being built by those who want a simpler way to tinker with the bits and bytes inside a computer.


A return to BASIC simplicity

With 1980s computers you could turn them on and instantly a prompt would appear to allow for programming and machine manipulation. They had an easy to use computer language built in, BASIC, Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. Whilst BASIC is often sneered at by macho uber-programmers, it is a great language to start tinkering with programming as it was designed for ease of use.

BASIC is largely overlooked today despite its strengths. It can be argued that the modern world is lacking in providing an easy to use experience for those that want to tinker with software and hardware. BASIC was designed for that task. Despite the multi-GHz and multi-core processors, and fast SSDs of modern PCs and laptops, it can take minutes to get to the position of being ready to write a line of code, and a large learning curve is needed to get to the point of writing a useful program. Even hardware that has been designed to provide an easier tinkering experience, such as Arduino or the Raspberry PI, is missing the simplicity of early computing. However, the message of simplicity and immediacy has not been entirely lost.

Commodore 64 BASIC

The retro computing scene has kept the machines and memories of the 1980's and 1990's going. Many involved in the retro scene, including many young new recruits, have dabbled with building new machines based on the 8-bit processors seen in the computers of the 1980's. There is now some serious commitment to bring newer 8-bit machines to market.

Some of the latest projects attempting to reboot the simpler style of computers include:

The C256 Foenix by Stefany Allaire

The C256 Foenix by Stefany Allaire - On the website it states: 'The C256 Foenix is a "new" retro computer based on the WDC 65C816 running @ 14Mhz. The idea behind this creation is to come up with a computer that could have possibly followed the Commodore 128 if things would have been different at Commodore at the time.' There is the FeonixIDE available to aid development of the C256 Feonix.

The Commander X16 by David Murray and his team

The Commander X16 - This is being lead by The 8-bit Guy (David Murray), although the design is being discussed on their Facebook group, there is a video on the rational for a new 8-bit computer on his YouTube channel - Building my dream computer - Part 1. Although originally intending to use the 65C816 processor, the Commander X16 is now going to use the 65C02 processor. The Commander X16 GitHub pages have an emulator to allow software development to take place prior to hardware availability. The Commander X16 emulator can be compiled via Emscripten for running in a web page. It can be tried at the Commander X16 Web IDE.

The Neon816 by Lenore Byron

The Neon816 by Lenore Byron - from the Hackaday.io project page: '...the design of an 8-bit/16-bit nostalgia motherboard using currently in-production parts, and designed to interface primarily with modern peripherals.' The Neon816 also has a group on Facebook, it is using the 65C816 processor and a Mini-ITX sized board. Lenore's Neon816 Developer Edition is currently available for order at tindie.

The above projects demonstrate the appetite for a simpler form of computing that allows for people to get their hands dirty with the hardware without having to deal will all the bloat of a modern PC, laptop or smartphone. If you want to get involved in 65C816 kit, or even 65C02 processors, there are numerous resources available. The 65C02 and 65C816 processors have been used in many different types of products and applications. Thus, the new projects above are not the first time 65C816 computers have been designed, at BCS Technology Limited they document their efforts. Furthermore, do not forget the manufacturers of the 65C816, Western Design Center, they have their W65C816SXB single board computer, and others, available if you want to jump straight in with programming a 65C816.

The widespread use of the 65C02 and 65C816 means that the Internet is full of useful knowledge for those wanting to spin up their own 65C816 computer, program an existing computer board, or write a new version of BASIC or a custom kernal (or for non-Commodore fans - kernel). Here is a list of useful resources to get going on whatever 65C816 project you want to tinker with.

A List of 65C816 (and 65C02) Resources

See Also

  • For a full list of all the articles in Tek Eye see the full site alphabetical Index.

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