C64 vs TS 2068

While wandering the webspaces, I ran into a great little troll post at compgroups.net by “The Starglider”, hereafter called SG.

In the mood for some fun, why not take the troll at face value and work through the facts?

The Commodore 64 is a specific make and model of machine and is unambiguous.

The poster says “Spectrum” over and over - which leads me to think he's specifically meaning the Timex Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

I will generally assume the ZX Spectrum (1982) is the specific beast - but since I have a C64 and a Timex Sinclair 2068 I will also throw in some notes relevant to the TS 2068.

The Claims

SG: Let's look at the evidence:

Yes. Let's.


SG: Slow. A poxy slow processor, hence the reliance on hardware based sprites to
make sure games don't turn out utterly crap.
Machine Microprocessor Speed
Commodore 64 Motorola 6510 1.023 MHz (NTSC) 0.985 MHz (PAL)
ZX Spectrum Zilog Z80 3.5 MHz and equivalent (?)
TS 2068 Zilog Z80A 3.5 MHz

So, if you're silly and ignorant enough to think that basic clock speed means anything by itself, that claim could be considered “true” - however - clock speed is really less important than processor throughput in the form of cycles per instruction, and the overall step PC - fetch opcode - decode opcode - fetch datas - execute - store result cycle.

What I mean

Here you can see in the “Shootout at the 0K Corral” table where Z80 vs C64 were compared. While the exact reproducible methodology isn't there, the idea of where the truth lies is… when the Z80 takes 1.6-4.4 times as much time to perform a comparable operation, that ratio wipes out the 3:1 MHz “advantage” and in many places - the Z80 is not nearly as efficient at getting things done.

And finally, I apply my finishing move - it must suck to have to compare your 16-bit machine running 3.5x more clocks just to keep up with an 8-bit machine. Oh yeah - how lame! Your 16-bit proc doesn't come close to comparing to other 16-bit, so let's go try to bully our 8-bit rival we're jealous of? Call the wahhhhhhmbulance since it doesn't fly.

Should I get into the tri-state bus and memory fetch/store… nah…


SUB-CLAIM: Sprites

SG: Slow. A poxy slow processor, hence the reliance on hardware based sprites to
make sure games don't turn out utterly crap.

Returning to What I mean

My best laugh there was note 11 about comparing sprite operations and string print.

Without a text mode - the Speccy never stood a chance in text mode where the C64 had a bitmapped character rom, hardware support to transfer the bitmaps onto screen as needed, and the ability to map the 4K ROM out and replace it with a custom character set. These custom character sets and the VIC-II hardware scrolling capabilities were the efficient, fast heart of MANY games which would have choked the bitmap-only Speccy to death on data load/move operations.

Now, let's add in hardware support of bitmap sprites compared to software-driven screen region copies, mask-off, bitwise operations to paste the sprite pixels onto the screen, screen write, and reverse the whole process before moving the sprite… ugh, let's not. That's like clubbing a baby seal to death with a foam cushion. It was hideous when I had to do it.

C64 offloaded a common graphics operation to a hardware co-processor, which is strangely like exactly what all the big fancy graphics cards in people's PCs do today.

Many performance minded programmers will extol the virtues of hardware offloading and decry the sins of having to do a task solely on the CPU, stealing cycles… compare DMA to polled IRQ services, TCP offloading engines on NICs, GPUs compared to driving the graphics output directly from CPU, and on and on and on.

Speaking of free cycles - if you wanted more than 8 hardware sprites … you could still OPT to spend CPU cycles on the C64 to throw in an interrupt routine to cycle sprite register sets based on screen line.


CLAIM: Graphics

SG: Terrible graphics - 15 shades of brown, and really *REALLY* blocky graphics.

Fix your TV. Your brightness, contrast, and color balance might be off.
Or switch to RGB out and a monitor which both computers supported.
In any case, I had 16 distinct colors even on my TV, but maybe that's because I read the book that came with it and knew what the knobs did.

SG: How I laugh whenever I see digitised pictures on a commode 64!

Compared to pictures of a standard TS 2068 “unfixed” composite output?
Put your optometrist on danger money, baby.

My new-in-box TS2068 had a hardware “glitch” (surprise surprise) that involved fixing a couple of simple components on the mainboard to stabilize the composite out and clear up static that made it almost unreadable.

Based on the zeitgeist of reading through many Speccy owner posts, MOST Speccy's seem to need to be cracked open and tinkered with just to get it to fire up right.

However, my first C64 from 1982 still boots just fine, with the caveat that the power supply is aftermarket after the stupid Commodore epoxy brick folded up like they do.


CLAIM: Crap Games

SG: Crap games - Paradroid Vs. Quazatron. No contest.

This one killed me with laughter. It still does. So, let's look at this opinion from a couple of other perspectives:
Quazatron was the sequel to Paradroid to start with. Quazatron would be NON-EXISTENT unless Andrew Braybrook hadn't had THAT stroke of genius first. And for proof, how can you explain away the AB Andrewoid in Quazatron? Oh that's right, you can't.

Now, for the beatdown - people still play Paradroid, especially after it was included in the C64 DTV

And, well this is almost embarrassing: it seems Paradroid was still being sold commercially in 2004 and 2005 as part of the DTV. But where was your vaunted Quazatron? Only In the hearts and minds of the die-hards but NOT selling commercially.

Disclaimer: I love both games, by the way. Both programmers built amazing games. But to claim one was so much better than the one that all the core ideas and game play came from, is just a bit much.

SG: Carrier Command Lovely fast 3D shaded graphics on the Speccy.

Yawn. Sorry I was too busy kicking ass in ELITE which was 3D about a decade (exaggeration) earlier.

And oh yeah - Carrier Command for C64 exists - Given it was actually a game for 16 bit machines (like the Z80, 68xxxx etc) the fact that it runs on C64 (8-bit) is a bit… unusual.

And speaking of Graphics in general - ZX Spectrum video looks basically like something designed by Fisher-Price for toddlers. Vomit-inducing YELLOW on RED with maybe some CYAN thrown in from pinstriping. Awful.

Compare your vaunted ZX Spectrum game to a C64 classic:
Carrier Command on ZX Spectrum (MobyGames)
Mayhem in Monsterland on C64 (MobyGames)

Hands down, the Mayhem in Monsterland “collect magic stars” image totally destroys the look of the Carrier Command “buzzing the carrier” screenshot… not to mention I'd put the contrast changes from the SAD worlds in Mayhem which grow more colorful and bright as you collect the stars… against that 3D “shaded” (stippled is a better word) Carrier Command look.

SG: What the **** went wrong on the Commode?

Your 18th century UK plumbing is like that. Can't help you there.


CLAIM: Sound

SG: Sound - My god. My ears bleed every time I hear that damned SID chip
grating away at some tune.

You want bleeding ears? Two words: Manic. Miner. ZING!

But, son, really, you got a bad SID chip: the Achilles heel of the C64 - the SID synth chip was extremely vulnerable to static discharge damage.

And since it was a hybrid analog/digital chip, it was subject a great deal of variance.

I am willing to grant yours may have sounded bad. Mine doesn't.

SG: It's not clean, and you people think that's superior???

Then again, thinking about how your speakers must have been damaged by Manic Miner music, I am thinking MAYBE you blew your speaker before hooking up the C64 for your “review.”

You might also have a ground loop hum or something - get a scuff mat, try some grounding, and maybe an RF choke or two… or stop listening to it over your bad composite line - run a video and audio cable to a monitor and external speaker amp and try again.

SG: What are you all on? Or are you all tine deaf?

Actually - no. NOW comes smack down.

Machine Sound Generator Capabilities
C64 MOS 6581 “SID” 3 x oscillators, 4 x wave, filtering, ADSR, ring
ZX Spectrum beeper 1 channel 10 octaves
TS 2068 General Instrument AY-3-8910 3 voice, envelope controls, ADSR

The Spectrum beeper just needs to get off the bus and hide compared to the SID, even with the “two-channel” sound software later available.

The TS 2068 is a bit better with one of the GI AY-3-8910 synth chips in it. However, you have to rapidly cycle the PSG settings (not easy with all that register address then register data loading) to get something like simultaneous voices of an 6581, whereas the 6581 had all registers exposed on the bus to allow direct control without the additional “register address THEN register data” cycling.

So, the TS 2068 chip was okay, being used in arcade games too - but you only get 1 whereas many arcade games packed several to get the necessary number of simultaneous sounds. And it took multiple 8910's to get something really close to a single 6581, each costing more cycles on address, then data register cycles.

But when we look through the prism of history - people still pay homage to Bob Yannes' (6581 designer, later founder of Ensoniq) chip in all sorts of retro circles. The more utilitarian AY-3-8910 doesn't get nearly the same love these days, but there are a few die-hards like AY-Riders who can kick it old school.



SG: 64K Ram - Lies! You never had access to the full 64K of RAM.

And… neither did you… let's see: ZX Spectrum RAM: 16K, 48K, or 128K?
Which ZX are you even on about again? Are we talking 1982 machines apples to apples, or are you sort of handwaving all the various ZX Spectrum up to 1987 or 1992 or whenever your personal favorite was actually made?

The 1982 ZX Spectrum had… 16 or 48 - not 64. Ooops.

The C64 had I/O ports to bank memory sections in and out as the software designer chose. Don't need BASIC? turn it off - free the RAM. No need for character rom? turn that off too. No need for kernal? Kill that as well. Result: different memory map configurations

C64 Memory Map (wikispaces)

You could use the LORAM, HIRAM, GAME, and EXROM bits to map a number of memory configurations - some offering UP TO 64KB (but you had to bank the I/O range back to do I/O)

So - while the ZX Spectrum of the same era didn't even HAVE 64K, topping out at 48… the C64 could easily configure up to 64K for programmer use.



SG: Crap Basic - Who's bright idea was it to incluse what I consider to be the worst
basic I have ever seen on any computer.

Well let's see - CBM BASIC V2 started as MS BASIC - also used as the base for Apples, Ataris and many more. Microsoft BASIC was a de-facto standard from the introduction of the Altair 8800 on and MS is still around. Timex went their own way, and well, you see their resulting market share…

Those who learned MS BASIC went on to GW BASIC, QBASIC, Visual BASIC, etc.

Those who learned Timex BASIC went on to learn MS BASIC, GW BASIC, QBASIC, Visual BASIC, etc. *evilgrin*

Given that your next foamy sentence implies you couldn't even get to line 10 of a CBM BASIC program, I can't really imagine you actually DID any C64 BASIC programming. You certainly didn't read the book as your next statement proves…

SG: Even typing nothing on it get's that stupid Syntax Error message on the Commode.

Hahaha! Baffled by the built in screen editor function which was vastly superior to the “we'll only use the bottom line of the screen” mode on the Speccy.

Yeah look sport: READY. is not a valid BASIC line. Neither is * COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 * or 64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE.

Next time, sport, make sure the cursor is on a valid line of BASIC then make valid syntax changes and press ENTER to see the magic.

Read the book that came with the C64 which also explained how the screen editor worked too.

SG: At least we could type a program in basic 15 times faster on the Speccy, with a
decent system for finding mistakes.

Ah yes the vaunted “typo-ahead” mode of the Speccy Basic that was so irritating and frustrating to newbs on the machine. K? D? L? W? T? F? HELP! Back to the book. Power off and on. Get lost again. Yeah.

To actually use that, you had to learn to think like the 85% badly-guessing robot trying to anticipate what you wanted, and its rules were unkind, unforgiving, and generally not based on how you typed in BASIC.

Now that I think about it - that's probably where Apple stole their “auto correct” for iOS - causing such hilarity on http://damnyouautocorrect.com

Of course, if you mean the shortcut factor only - bad news - CBM BASIC had that too… except you opted-IN by typing a letter, then the shifted next letter of what you wanted, RATHER than typing a letter and getting whatever “guess” the Speccy wanted you to type instead of what you might have wanted.

Lern2Reed: CBM BASIC Keyword Abbreviations (c64-wiki)

Combined with the lost efficiency from the lack of a full screen editor capability to just cursor up into the visible listing, start changing things, and press enter on the line to commit the new line to memory… the Speccy doesn't stack up nearly as well as you wish it did.


CLAIM: Sales

SG: Sales - The commode is dead.

Wrong-o the C64 DTV already nailed that one dead.

SG: At least Spectrums are still being sold around the world.

If eBay counts, then it counts for C64 too.

SG: Speccy sales now up to about 25 million.

Um, you're playing fast and loose with all generations of Spectrum from 1982 to 1992 - not the apples to apples ZX Spectrum 1982 to the C64 1982 - reissued as the C64C again as basically the same machine - not an upgrade.

Now, when you really want to compare - you have NOTHING on the C64 DTV which sold the first run of 250,000 in *1 DAY* C64 DTV

SG: The commode could only manage about 22 million.

Playing fast and loose again: 1982-1994 SAME MACHINE: 12.5-17 million - NO DTV numbers.
1982 ZX Spectrum (not every other generation too): 5 million.

You're trying to count unofficial clones and Eastern Bloc knock-offs - if we're counting everything made that even looks like a C64 such as the many hobbyist variants - all those Clone Wars count for nothing.

And no counting clones because I've seen the email list - they are HARDLY compatible without mods in some direction or another. Baltica, I am looking at you.

And some of those clones may have been rebadged unsold Speccies from UK. Delta, I'm looking at you.

So, let's not cook the books here, like counting the Hobbits, just to try to force a fake point.

And all that died out in early 1990's where the C64 gets wave after wave of reissue like the DTV.


CLAIM: Load Times

SG: Loading times - Oh how I laugh when your commode disk drive takes longer to load
a program than it does to load a program by cassette on the speccy.

Yep totally agreed.

However, its only 1/3rd of a claim/point - since the C64 and Spectrums also supported Cartidge media - zero load time there for both - as well as tape drives (both dog slow) - and a variety of disk drives, NOT just the C1541.

Parallel and expansion port drives were vastly different performers, much like various Speccy drives.

CLAIM: 1/3rd point granted. 2/3rd point counted off. Gimme on the availability of various drives.


SG: Cost - the commodes were sold at rip off prices.

My DTV was US$20 in 2004 - beat that.

SG: The speccy, being superbly designed, meant that it was sold at a fraction
of the price.

Which Speccy? some rebadged clone?

Assuming you mean 1982 lauch pricing: Commodore 64 (Aug 1982) US$595 Aug 1982
ZX Spectrum (April 1982): 16K £125 * USD exchange rate 1.75 on Aug 2) = ~US$218
48K £175 * 1.75 = ~US$306 - price starting to climb and you're still not onto real keys OR 64K!

1982 Dollar Pound Exchange Rates

Of course as shown above - you got more machine with a C64 - better graphics, better sound, more memory, additional KERNAL ROM, keys you can press, and more.

The 16K/48K Speccy was (not much) cheaper because you really got less of everything.

Assuming it worked at all when you plugged it in and didn't get bitten by the shoddy build quality that caused innumerable “glitches” …



SG: Looks - let's face it, the commode was ugly.

Oh godzilla no argument there. GIVEN. AGREED. Finally you got one right!

SG: A huge beige thing with huge keys (required for your neanderthal fingers
so you wouldn't mistype).

Gotcha here. Keys? The ZX Spectrum rubber keys were mushy, sloppy, wobbly, gummy, NASTY little nubs suitable only as a form of torture for any extended basic entry session… which is why Sinclair had to upgrade them on the Spectrum + and make a it big selling point in the commercials.

Remember that “professional feel” spiel? At least the '64 had injection moulded, spring-loaded keyswitches from the start, which is part of why C64 cost more - you pay for quality. Notice how the Spectrum+ cost MORE than the Spectrum

And the tan breadloaf C64 look was fixed in the C64c with a clean futuristic white case and wedge front sloping into a nice clean vent grill along the back.

I ♥ the look of the C64c/C128/Amigas.

SG: Spectrum, small, light, powerful!

Well you got 2 out of 3 right on that one. It was small and light. Felt cheap too, because it was made that way, which is where that cheap cost per unit really shines through *cough cough*

CLAIM: Half correct. It's ugly. But it came with real keys. 1/2 point granted.


So, all told, I think “The Starglider” scored 1/2 and 1/3rd of a point out of the 10 overall points he tried valiantly to troll on about make.

Let's round that big 0.83 score up to 1.0 whole points leaving an error rate of 90% WELL DONE!

This was fun - taking two machines I love to the mat on the pretext of resurrecting yet another classical argument.

The Starglider, whereever you are, I hope you get some laugh from this too if you run across it!

Meanwhile, this classic debate rages on:
Debunking Commodore Speed Myth another hilarious pile of mythinformation…


A second opinion on SID vs. AY-3-891x:
Rob Hubbard, Golden Days of Computer Music (youtube)
Skip up to 8:30 to hear Rob's opinion of the Spectrum, if you dare.