Every enthusiast has their own reasons for taking up retro computing as a hobby. Some do it for nostalgia’s sake and to relive their formative years with computers. Others do it for the challenge of working with old hardware. Still others do it because they appreciate the history of computing, and want to experience it. But, virtually all of them can agree that one of the most enticing aspects of retro computing is the low-level access to the hardware. That’s why YouTuber The 8-Bit Guy has started a quest to produce a low-cost, retro computer that’s close to the metal.
The 8-Bit Guy, AKA David, started his computing journey with classic 8-bit computers like the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64. As such, he learned how to program in BASIC “close to the metal,” meaning he had low-level access to the hardware that allowed him to do things like modify data bits directly in the registers. That’s not really possible with our modern computers and programming languages that are highly abstracted away from the actual hardware.
So, David decided he wanted to create his own modernized version of a retro computer that would offer the capabilities he grew up with. The requirements for his dream computer, dubbed the Commander 16, were that it be built with modern parts, have both VGA and HDMI video output, run on a real 6502 CPU, not use an FPGA or microcontrollers, run Commodore BASIC, and cost around $50. That’s a very ambitious set of goals for the project, and David has only just started to tackle it.
So far, he has experimented with a 16-bit development board that runs on a WDC 65816 processor, but which is fully backwards-capable with 8-bit MOS 6502 code. He also got video output working from a Commodore 64 through a Gameduino that’s normally intended to add VGA output to an Arduino. He still has a long way to go, and likely even has to write an entirely new kernel, but his quest to build a dream retro computer is one you’ll definitely want to follow.