Strange peripherals… meet the Spartan

Earlier today, whilst browsing the twitter feeds, I noticed an interesting post about a “Spartan” peripheral for the C64 that’s on sale on eBay. Now the word Spartan immediately brings to mind scenes of limbs and torsos flying all over the place (as in the movie “300”), so I didn’t really know what to expect for this peripheral.

Checking out the auction on eBay revealed what was on offer: An Apple II hardware emulator that you could attach to your breadbox. Now there’s something you don’t see every day and it sure is something I’ve never seen over here.
A little research revealed that it was manufactured by Mimic Systems Canada back in the early 80s and the idea was to bring the power, features and software of the Apple II+ to the Commodore 64 at a very low cost (being $599), or as it reads on the box:
“We think the Commodore 64 is an excellent introductory computer system. Our goal in designing the Spartan was simple. To take what you already have and give you more”.

Well, it did not really have your breadbox run Apple applications, but rather, it created some sort of Commodore-Apple hybrid or co-computing system that would be capable of running both systems software and basically operate the two modes at the same time (you could switch from one system to the other by the press of a button).

Basically, it’s a motherboard that has the Apple II+ features on a card that slots into the board, and that also provides additional expansion slots for your C64 – handy if you want to use stuff like a REU and a Power Cartridge at the same time.
The Apple on a Card concept was not new as many far eastern Apple II clones employed this concept as well. Partially as a dodge against the copyright/infringement claims, as the computer chassis would be sold at one vendor, and the CPU cards would be sold at another.

The motherboard also shared several features between the Apple II+ and the C64 like the port for the datasette, an internal C64 compatible joystick connector that allowed the same joystick to be used with either platform. It further boasts three reset switches, A/V, Parallel (DIN), and Audio Cassette (DIN) connectors.

Hooking it up was relatively easy as the Spartan basically plugged into practically every available port on the back of the C64. This also turned your C64 into the Apple’s keyboard, as the Mimic system itself came without one (you could however play around with the system’s jumpers and attach an external keyboard if you wanted to).

You could also opt to turn your 1541 disk drive into an Apple II drive by inserting a PCB, the ‘DOS card’ (an Apple II disk controller) inside the Commodore 1541 disk drive, between the drive mechanism and the 1541 logic board. In regular 1541 mode, the ‘DOS Card’ simply passed signals through from the 1541 logic, but at the flick of a switch it would take over the mechanism and turn it into an Apple II drive. The software on the system contained a ‘slave mode’ where by using custom commands you could transfer data between the two systems and even execute programs on the slave system. The most interesting example of the use of this feature was a 3-D graphics demo in which some of the calculation tasks were offloaded to the slave machine – now that’s some real co-op between the two systems!

Compute!’s Gazette (Issue 31, Vol. 4, No. 1), January 1986

So all in all, a very rare piece of equipment, something that bridged the worlds of Commodore and Apple. From what I’ve read, it didn’t really sell all that well back in the day, but it’s a piece of tech I would love the own, so you can be sure I’ll be putting in a bid on eBay!

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3 Responses to Strange peripherals… meet the Spartan

  1. Robby "The C= guy"

    The Spartan sold for US $1.552,00 (about 1.197,53 Eur).
    Someone really wanted this item!

  2. I was talking to the seller this system had over 1700 views, i would say more than one really wanted it, it’s a real nice piece of 8bit goodness.


  3. It seems like this was basically an Apple computer that used the c64 as an attachable keyboard.

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