Strange peripherals… the C64 network

Back in 1988, who could have predicted the power of networks, and especially the power of worldwide networks like the web… no-one would be a good guess.
Nevertheless, networking for PCs was definitely something that was happening and also the ability to network your C64 seemed to be an interesting option, as it would allow multiple Commodores hooked-up in real-time and would guarantee the C64’s position in schools as the platform to introduce youngsters to the wonderful world of computing.  It would also open up an entire network of C64’s to the world of BBS systems… so let’s dive a bit deeper in the technology that was provided to our old beige beasts in this week’s installment of “Strange peripherals”.

In the 80’s, when schools were putting more and emphasis on introductory computer courses in schools, the C64 was in many ways regarded as the computer of choice for the lessons provided.  It was the most affordable computer on the market, it had found its way to many living rooms and provided an easily accessible computer language, Basic.  Nevertheless, when it came to computer networking in the late 80’s, which became more and more important with the advent of the world-wide web, the PC seemed to be taking the C64’s place in the classroom.

Not in the books of a certain German computer professional, Claus Friederichs.  He knew the capabilities of the C64 and set to work on bringing a networked world to the C64.  Late in the year 1987, he had devised the “C64-Teach-Net”.  A powerful, yet easy to install network solution that allowed up to 31(!!) C64’s to be connected to each other.
His solution consisted of a small cartridge that you could slide into the expansion port and that was basically it.  Every cartridge consisted of 2 connection points, that you could use to hook your C64 to another in a ring-topology, using a thin 2.5mm mono cable.
Transfer speeds, although serial, could reach up to 2400bits/sec… not bad!
A neat feature of the system was that when you wanted to transfer data, it was a direct memory to memory transfer running as a background process, in which the data was accompanied by small machine language programs, that took care of the data transfer and operations on that data, without interfering with the programs running on the C64.

The solution provided by Claus Friederichs would allow schools, that had in the past invested in the purchase of the Commodores in their classrooms, to get some more life out of the machines as this C64-Teach-Net setup would cost roughly, calculated in today’s Euro, 70 Euro.  A small investment compared to the purchase of a PC computer network with new PCs.
A C64 connected to a hard drive or a RAM-disk would also be able to serve as a real fileserver, speeding up the transfer of exercises and making the tedious process of walking around the room with a handful of floppy’s from machine to machine a thing of the past.

The Commodore network… a true “strange peripheral”, but one that demonstrated the capabilities of the C64 to be able to be part of a bigger network… even one as big as the world-wide web (see my “Bringing the C64 online” article series on the site).
Thank you Claus for showing that it is all possible on our trusty old machines!

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3 Responses to Strange peripherals… the C64 network

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