A progammable keyboard for the C64

Ever tried to work on a large Excel spreadsheet and not use the numeric keypad of your keyboard (especially if you have an “AZERTY” model)?
Ever tried to do accounting and avoid using the numeric keys on the right hand side?

Indeed, many of us have grown accustomed to the quick entry of numbers with the 789 or 123 keypad and have forgotten how cumbersome it all was back in the days when our C64 only had the numeric keys at the top.
Back in the 80s, when the C64 was also widely used by accountants, shopkeepers, salesmen, … all of whom had to enter a lot of numbers –  every day – the C64 did not have the easiest of keyboards.  The coming of the C128, with its 789-keypad was going to take away the pain of number crunching, but surely, not everyone was going to replace his or her C64 overnight.

Next to that, you had the hobbyists who were using I/O boards to steer things like external electronic circuits, who either had to remember which keys they programmatically had assigned to steer their peripherals or use cardboard/plastic overlays on the C64’s keyboard.
Surely, an extra keypad that they could modify as they would see fit would be very helpful!

So in 1984-85, the German company EDS (the company that would also make a completely redesigned C64 – more on that in a later “Friday Commodore” article) produced a series of “add-on” keyboards.

The most popular, the TA3 keyboard, had 22 programmable keys and had to be connected to the C64’s keyboard connector on the mainboard.  The C64’s keyboard would then connect on top off the keyboard plug of the TA3.
The 22 keys could hold a total of 50 characters that even when disconnected from the C64 would be maintained, thanks to an internal battery.  When connected to the computer, it would take its power directly from the C64 (100mA).
It had two indicators, showing whether the keypad was in normal or programmable mode.
The keys themselves had a protective transparent cap, under which you could place the description (i.e. text, symbol) for the keys.

The price was roughly 80 Euro, so if you were serious about having a separate keypad to steer your circuits or allow a quick numeric input, the EDS TA3 was the way to go!

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