Vintage Commodore 128 Personal Computer Handbook Review

Vintage Commodore 128 Personal Computer Handbook Review

Before I get into my review of the book, I
wanted to speak a little about the Commodore 128 for those of you who may not be that familiar
with the Computer. Maybe you heard of the Commodore 64 and played
it’s games but just what is the Commodore 128. Well, The Commodore 128, was the successor
to the Commodore 64, sort of its big brother, and it surpassed it’s little sibling, technically
in nearly every way. The Commodore 128 is really three computers
built into one. It had double the memory capacity of the Commodore
64, is expandable to 512K and can fully emulate it in 64 mode. It has a Zilog Z80 CPU built in allowing it
to run the CP/M operating system and it has a vastly expanded and well architected Commodore
Basic version 7.0 The “Vintage Commodore 128 Personal Computer
Handbook”, by Margaret G. Morabito, covers all the details of the Commodore 128, from
her perspective as one of the systems designers. The handbook which was initially written with
the intent to be published way back in 1985, has been updated to include pertinent information
from a modern, 2019 perspective. These tidbits are sprinkled in throughout
the book and are written in an italicized font. It’s really nice having that contrast. The author mentioned the manuscript has been
sitting untouched in a box for nearly 33 years! The paperback weighs in at a total of 298
pages. It comes in a light blue or dark blue cover
stock with an attractive photo of a Commodore 128 in the lower middle section. I haven’t really been dabbling much with the
Commodore 128 since it’s release in the mid 80’s, so I found this book to be a great refresher. Before the book even begins, I learned in
the forward there is a nice Easter egg built into the Commodore 128. If you type in the Command “sys32800,123,45,6”
the screen will clear and will display the following message. “Brought to you by…Software: Fred Bowan,
Terry Ryan, Von Ertwine, Hardware: Bil Herd, Dave Haynie, Frank Palaia”, accompanied by
the political message “Link arms, don’t make them.”. I did notice in the book Franks name is spelled
“Palia” which is slightly different than on the Commodore 128. The Commodore 128 Wiki page spelling for Frank
seems to match the Easter egg page. As does the website. However on the C64 Wiki and Wikipedia pages
for The Commodore Expansion module, his spelling matches the handbook, so on this point I am
really not sure. In the forward, the book lists a few more
members of the original design team, “Dave DiOrio, Greg Berlin, Dave Siracusa, Terry
Fisher and of course the books author, Margaret Morabito. There are a total of 10 chapters in the book
and six appendices. Even having read the book, the appendices
can be used as a sort of Commodore 128 reference guide, to look up things such as Computer
terms, Commodore BASIC Commands, and screen editing commands. Chapter one contains a nice history of the
128. Chapter two has several comparisons to a couple
of competitors of the Commodore 128 which at the time were the IBM PC Jr., and the Apple
2C. Spoiler, the Commodore 128 blew them both
away. Chapters 3 and 4 dive deep into the system,
it’s hardware and peripherals, including discussions on modern hardware such connecting the Commodore
128 to compatible modern televisions as well as SD2IEC disk drive replacements. Chapter 5 covered the three operating modes
of the 128. The “128 Mode”, “CP/M” mode and “64 Mode”. What I found most interesting in this chapter
was there is software available in CP/M mode such as the Infocom collection which will
allow you to play the old text adventure games in 80 column mode. The author outlines the precise steps starting
on page 102. Chapters 6 and 7 cover productivity software
and telecommunications. Chapter 8 is dedicated to programming, covering
the extended BASIC 7.0 command language. In this chapter we learn all about the new
commands available for the Commodore 128. Commodore basic 7.0 is amazing and includes
many new commands that were not available on the earlier Commodore computers, such as
commands for directly manipulating sprites, graphics and sounds. Also the fact that there is a built in command
to re-number your basic programs was a big deal when released. Chapters 9 and 10 close out the book, covering
where to find software collections for the system both old and new as well as a piece
on the proper maintenance of the Commodore 128. Overall I really enjoyed reading the Vintage
Commodore 128 Personal Computer Handbook, 2019 Survival Edition. It’s a great book. I have a strong nostalgic connection to the
Commodore 128 as I used it as my primary computer back in the mid to late 80’s. I learned to program using the Commodore 128. I had a 1902 monitor and 80 column mode with
the Merlin 128 assembler to write programs. This handbook has reminded me how neat and
original the 128 really was and continues to be. I enjoyed how the book was laid out with dual
perspectives, both old and new. There are dozens of photos and screen shots
included within the book which help bring it to life. I contacted Margaret Morabito to find more
out her. She sent me to this link, Which outlines what she has been up to all
these years… “Seeing the potential for combining computers,
modems, and teaching, Morabito designed and operated CALC as an exclusively online learning
center for the purpose of providing instruction to individual learners from diverse locations
through the use of computer telecommunications. ” She was gracious enough to send me a couple
of photos that were not in the book which I will share with you here. This one was taken from Commodore Magazine
in October, 1988 Her present day Commodore 128, notice the
modern Television and SD2IEC drive. And finally this awesome current 2019 image
of Margaret and her Commodore 128 workspace. Notice her handbook, dot matrix printer, the
Run magazine, SD2IEC device, and modern TV with the “Commodore Nut” sticker. I wanted to thank Margaret Morabito for answering
all my questions and for sharing these photographs. You can pick up your copy of the paperback
over at the website for about $15 dollars or the Kindle digital format for about
$10 if you prefer. Thanks for watching…


  1. Based on this review I placed an order om Amazon about 10 p.m last Sunday night. The book was in my office by Monday noon! Took a lot of ribbing from my younger cohorts…Sadly they'll never know the sheer joy and excitement of programming in BASIC 7.0. I'd give the book a 4.5 out of 5. It will never replace the extensive C128 documentation that came with the computer, but on the whole it's really worth while having. Thanks, Ms. Morabito. This makes an old f*rt happy.

  2. Technically the 128 can be expanded to 640k. The 1750 is 512K, added to the build in 128K you get 640K :-p

    Not to mention what a SuperCPU 128 brings 😉

  3. I just ordered the book thank you very much 👍 The C128D was my third computer in the 80s after a Sinclair ZX81 and a Sinclair Spectrum. I used it mostly in C64 mode but I remember the much advanced C128 Basic.

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