Tuesday

Tuesday 11/02/03Old 8-bit computers never die, they simply slip into cyberspace. It doesn't matter how obscure the machine of your childhood dreams was, there'll be an emulator -- or a hundred, in the case of the Spectrum -- out there for the PC.

Tuesday 11/02/03
Old 8-bit computers never die, they simply slip into cyberspace. It doesn't matter how obscure the machine of your childhood dreams was, there'll be an emulator -- or a hundred, in the case of the Spectrum -- out there for the PC. For the price of a little Googling and a download or two, you can recreate your adolescent gaming dreams in the privacy and comfort of your current personal computer, and if you really like it you can find like obsessives out there to trade nostalgia, and even some new games, for as long as you wish. It's an anorak's dream -- but for some, it's not enough.

There is a breed of bitheads so committed to the cause that they are rebuilding the old computers in new hardware. There are two ways to go -- minimalism and over the top. The minimalists seek to rebuild their dream hardware using modern techniques, cramming an entire square metre of 1980s technology into one postage-stamp sized chip. These days, the tools and techniques of chip design are so ubiquitous that this is a viable home project, and I blame the education system for turning out people twisted enough to want to do this while having the skills to make it so. Nevertheless, even those un-eightbitten by the bug can appreciate the bonsai-like elegance of the result.

Not so for those addicted to the cult of the overblown. The latest monstrosity, which is actually quite a restrained example of the genre, is the C-One. This is an 'enhanced adaptation' of the Commodore 64, a machine so named because it had 64k of memory, an amazing amount when it was introduced in January of 1982. The processor, a 6502 variant, ran at a modest 1 MHz, and the video stretched to 16 colours at 320x200 pixels. You get icons bigger than that these days. It cost around six hundred quid when it was introduced, rapidly falling to a couple of hundred, and only finally got killed in the mid-90s.

And now there's the C-One. Compatible with the original, It has five hundred and twelve times as much memory, Super VGA resolution, twenty times the clock speed, oodles of inputs and outputs, and will cost around 200 euros (about £120) -- it is, almost inevitably, the product of some deranged Germans. All reasonable enough, if you buy into their insane logic, except for one thing. It's designed, like many of the others of its ilk, to fit into a standard PC case.

On the surface, this is logical: it's what everyone has, there are no tooling costs involved, all the design standards are centred on this so it's cheap, easy and efficient. But hel-lo? Who let Mr Logic into this wonderland of digital daftness? The best thing about early home computers was that they all looked different -- the low-slung futuristic black slab of the Spectrum, the we-mean-business clackiness of a Memotech, the frankly under-designed beige pillow of the Commodore 64. Now, no matter how bonkers the bits inside, everything looks identical. The true spirit of eccentric eyefuls of design has passed to the PC case modders.

No good, chaps. If you want to keep the flag flying, you'd better go the whole hog.