Commodore 64 vs 64c

The Commodore 64 went through a number of revisions throughout its long life. The most outwardly visible of those revisions was the transition from the tan, boxy C-64 to the thinner, lighter-colored 64c. If you’e wondering about the Commodore 64 vs 64c, here’s what you need to know.

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Recommended DD-WRT settings

I’ve been asked a few times now for my recommended DD-WRT settings, or at least my good-enough settings. I think that’s a great idea, so I’ll walk through how I configure a DD-WRT router. Follow these steps and I can almost guarantee you’ll have the most secure network on your block.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I am going to assume you are configuring DD-WRT as your primary router.

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Commodore 64 vs VIC-20

How do you compare the Commodore 64 vs VIC-20?

The Commodore 64 and its predecessor, the VIC-20, look a lot alike, and the VIC-20’s design certainly influenced the 64. The 64 is the best selling computer model of all time, and I argue the VIC-20 was the first really successful home computer.

But even though the two machines are closely related, there are significant differences between them. Let’s compare and contrast the two venerable machines.

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Commodore 16 and Commodore Plus/4

Dan Bowman kindly pointed out to me that former Commodore engineer Bil Herd wrapped up his discussion of the ill-fated Commodore TED machines on Hackaday this week. Here in the States, few remember the TED specifically, but some people may remember that oddball Commodore Plus/4 that closeout companies sold for $79 in 1985 and 1986. The Plus/4 was one of those TED machines. So was the Commodore 16.

What went wrong with those machines? Commodore miscalculated what the market was doing. The TED was a solution to too many problems, and ended up not solving any of them all that well. Read more

“Why do we have a server named ‘Vicious?'”

My first non-food service, non-retail job was working desktop support for my college, the University of Missouri-Columbia. They were doing a massive computer upgrade and needed some part-time help. When they realized they’d found a journalism student who knew PC hardware and already knew OS/2, they cut the interview short and showed me around. I started work the next day.

My job was, initially, to unbox a few hundred IBM PC 330s and 350s, install network cards and memory, then install OS/2 on them. We had room for me to set up about 10 of them at a time, on long folding tables on opposite sides of a long room. It was lonely work at times, but I got to work with computers, and they were paying me $8 an hour. I liked it better than retail.

After a few days I had enough time to watch the boot process. OS/2 had a facility called Configuruation, Installation and Distribution (CID), similar to Microsoft’s unattended installation that appeared in later versions of Windows NT, that automated much of the process. An administrator configured machines in advance, and then when build time came, I booted off a floppy, entered a computer name, and the process pulled down what it needed from the network. After 30 minutes or so, we had a functional machine. CID probably saved a couple of hours of repetitive work. On this particular day, after I got nine machines going, I watched the 10th go through its the CID process. I noticed the machine kept addressing a server named \\VICIOUS.

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RIP, Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore

Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, the orchestrator of the first line of affordable personal computers, died this weekend at the age of 83.

I don’t know exactly what to think about it, and I’m probably not alone, though it didn’t take long for tributes to pour in. Read more

So why didn’t Commodore make the Commodore 128 differently?

I grew up on the Commodore 128. We got one for Christmas 1985 (an upgrade from a Commodore 64). It was a bit of a quirky machine, but I liked it.

On the retro computing forums, it might be the most controversial thing Commodore ever did. Which says something, seeing as some computer historians have summed up Commodore’s history in four words: Irving Gould‘s stock scam. But that’s another story.

The cool thing about Commodore was that its engineers weren’t shy about talking about their projects. Bil Herd, Fred Bowen, and Dave Haynie have all weighed in over the years, talking about what they did and why and what they would have done differently.

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Upgrade diary: Compaq Evo D51S

Compaq Evo D51S
The Compaq Evo D51S is a well-built, small computer and it offers a few upgrade options

I upgraded a Compaq Evo D51S today. This was also sold under the name D510, and may have also been sold under the HP or Hewlett Packard brand. It was intended to be a low-profile, relatively affordable business computer.

Upgrading it poses some challenges, but there are some things you can do with it.This one has a 2.0 GHz Celeron in it. It will support a 2.4 GHz P4 without any issues (and a lot of them were sold with that chip), but I think that’s as high as you can go with the CPU.

The 2.0 GHz Celeron that came in this system will bog down with a heavy Photoshop filter and I’m sure some of the things I do in Adobe Premiere would bring it to its knees at times, but if your primary use of the machine is word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing and e-mail, it’s plenty fast. I would max out the system RAM before I replaced the CPU.

You can forget about motherboard replacements in this machine. Everything about the motherboard inside is odd, to get everything to fit in a smaller case. Compaq used to be criticized (sometimes unfairly) for using proprietary motherboards, but this one’s definitely proprietary.

Inside, you’re limited to two DIMM slots. I pulled the memory and replaced it with a pair of PC2100 DDR 1 GB DIMMs, which is the maximum the system supports. According to Crucial, PC3200 memory is compatible. Of course if you’re buying new memory, it makes sense to buy the faster stuff, in case you ever want to put the memory in another system.

In late 2010, 2 GB of PC3200 RAM sells for about $90. That’s close to the price of the computer itself, but more memory is probably the best thing you can buy for one of these machines, especially if it came with 256 MB of RAM.

The onboard video is the Intel 845G integrated video. It was better than I expected, but it steals system memory and, at least theoretically, it reduces memory bandwidth. The AGP slot is oriented vertically, so there’s only room for a low-profile card. That limits your choices somewhat. I had a low-profile ATI card with an early Radeon chipset on it. It’s not the most exciting card in the world, and may not even be better than the integrated Intel video, but it freed up some system memory for me. For what I want to do with this system, it will be fine. I’m not sure that Sid Meier’s Railroads! will run on it, but Railroad Tycoon 3 will, and from what I understand that’s the better game anyway.

There are a number of low-profile AGP video cards on the market that would be a suitable upgrade for this machine. None of them are cutting edge, but there are a few that are DirectX 9-capable, and prices range from $20 to $40. The built-in video is adequate, and while my first impression of it was that it didn’t bog the system down nearly as badly as the integrated video in the P3 days did, I’m still not a big fan of it. I think adding a discrete video card is a good move.

The stock Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 is a pretty good performer. At 40 GB it’s relatively small, and it won’t keep up with a brand-new drive, but for a lot of uses it’s plenty fast. From what I understand it will support hard drives larger than 137 GB but you may have to mess with IDE modes in the BIOS to make it happen. The trick appears to be to set the BIOS to use bit shift instead of LBA. Additionally, you have to be running Windows 2000 SP4 or XP SP2 to see the full capacity of the drive. I don’t have a large drive to put in it, so I haven’t tested that.

There’s no room for a second drive in there, so if you want additional storage beyond what’s already there, it will have to be external. Or you can jettison the floppy drive, but then you’ll have a goofy-looking hole in the front of the computer. That’s the price you pay for a low-profile system.

The CD-ROM drive in my particular unit was pretty balky. I’m going to replace it with a CD-R/RW drive for the short term, and eventually (probably early next year) put a DVD burner in it. I’m primarily interested in putting home movies on DVD. For backup and data transfer, I pretty much use USB flash drives exclusively now. They’re a lot faster and more convenient than messing around with CD/DVD burning software. Any drive with an old-school 40-pin IDE connector will work.

Speaking of USB, the USB ports all seem to be USB 2.0, which is nice (installing software off a USB 2.0-based flash drive makes you want to swear off optical media forever), but the ports on the front are recessed far enough that only a standard cable or a very low-profile flash drive can plug into them. My SD reader would only plug into the back, which is inconvenient.

The system has two full-size PCI slots for expansion. I put an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) card in one of the slots, since I want to do some light video work with it. The other slot will probably get an 802.11b wireless card. If I needed that PCI slot for something else, I could plug in a USB adapter for wireless networking.

I used to be in the habit of buying the biggest case I could afford or find (they weren’t always the same thing), so a really low-profile desktop like this Evo 510 feels a little strange. But a lot of things are different now. I could put a 1 TB hard drive in this system if I needed an obscene amount of storage. USB ports eliminate the need for Zip or Jaz or Syquest drives and even, to a large extent, for CD or DVD burners. If it weren’t for my interest in video, I wouldn’t bother with a burner in this machine at all. And since sound and networking are built in, there’s no need for a lot of expansion slots. It would be nice to have three PCI slots instead of just two, but I would imagine a lot of people never even fill two.

As it is, this computer fits on a small desk, and if you put an LCD monitor on top of it, the combination will take less real estate than a 17-inch CRT monitor does.

There are a lot of these machines on the market now, either coming off lease or being replaced due to business upgrade policy. They’re cheap ($75-$150 depending on configuration) and I think they make an excellent home PC. They’re cheap, unobtrusive, and surprisingly expandable.

A decked-out 510 probably won’t run Vista all that well, but a lot of new PCs don’t run it very well either. I think a 510 running Windows XP or Linux can be a very useful computer for a good number of years.

Linux kernel 2.6.0 is in Debian Unstable

Fresh on the heels of the Linux Kernel 2.6.1 release, Kernel 2.6.0 made it into Debian Sid (unstable). I haven’t tried it yet, as I messed things up on my main Linux box when I tried to upgrade to a pre-release version of 2.6.
I really ought to put a Linux partition on my Athlon system and upgrade it to Debian Unstable with a 2.6 kernel.

For those of you who currently have a working Debian box, it might be apt-get upgrade time. See why I like Debian? You can upgrade to all the latest stuff with, at worst, two commands: apt-get update and apt-get upgrade, or apt-get update and apt-get distupgrade. No chasing down RPMs and dependencies, no waiting around for stuff to compile and wondering if it’ll work on your system. It lets you be cutting edge, yet conservative.

Finally–GPL antivirus for Linux

Clamav is a free (GPL) virus scanner for Linux and other Unix systems. It seems to work well. The price is right.
There are very few viruses for Linux, so few that most people don’t waste their time with virus scanning. But if the machine is acting as a server for clients that are vulnerable to viruses–cough–Windows–cough–it’s a good idea to have antivirus software on your server, just so you know your clients are safe.

Debian packages are in Sarge and Sid. Source can be downloaded and built from the link above. Once it becomes better known, it should appear in RPM distributions such as Red Hat in time.

It’s just a scanner, but if it finds an infected file, you can clean it manually with free tools you download elsewhere. Clamav will take care of alerting you, the price is right, and the platform’s right. It’s always been hard to find antivirus software for Linux of any sort, so Clamav is a welcome addition to the family.

We’ll talk a lot more about servers in the coming days.