Re: Commodore LCD Firmware

From: Andrew Wiskow (
Date: 2008-10-05 00:50:23

When asked about the Commodore LCD on the Commodore 128 Alive! forum,
Bil Herd wrote this:

I forget how the idea came about other than we had purchased Eagle
Pitcher and were the only US manufactures of LCD "glass".  Some of the
engineers that appeared in the halls were LCD types and I one time
slammed into one guy named Dave (forget the last name) while flying
around a corner too fast, that turned out to be one of the inventors
of the thin film transistors used for LCD.  So we had LCD and we
decided to make a machine with it.

Roughly it went that we came up with the idea which became
management's idea which became marketing's.  I hand drew the first
schematic on B sized .1" grid paper over the course of a week and
basically designed a the system and a spec for a paging MMU that also
allowed the LCD to show a "window" of memory.  The idea was that when
editing or displaying a file, you just slid the window around in it.
Later I found that they dropped this feature because the chip guys
made an excuse and the designers bought it when they should have hung
the chip guy by the ankles and beat the crap out of him.  Seriously
the excuse was that the "function key display line" couldn't be
accommodated (a non-moving line) when the reality is they could have
made that a separate "window".

At any rate we were working on that and a guy named Jeff Porter had
joined CBM from AT&T in Indiana.  He was a rare breed that already
knew all of the regulations and design practices for making a modem
approved to go on the phone lines (when I was growing up you could
only "lease" you phone and it was against the phone company's rules to
put any other non-approved phone device on _their_ phone lines).  The
LCD was going to have a built in modem so it was a good fit for Jeff.

Some time in July or August I was in the lab, working on something or
other and I kept hearing a commotion behind me.  I kept hearing the
phrase "but I don't understand" coming from the engineer working with
Freddy Bowen on the B128 or D128 or some such thing.  It was 6845
based and used a 6809 if I remember.  Finally I turned around and
exclaimed that it was quite obvious that the problem the guy was
having was caused by contention, snatched the PLA terms from him and
showed him that he had photocopied it crooked causing the last column
to get cut off at the bottom and that he didn't have enough terms to
do the decode correctly.  Basically I found the problem that had been
annoying them, hence me, all morning in about 45 seconds (okay, I knew
that analyzer REAL well, the 7D02, and knew from experience that
contention causes it to hiccup a certain way).  Freddy looked at me, I
looked at him, a week later I was the co-designer on the project, a
week later the designer.  I threw out the design while I was still
co-designer and started over with a 6510 and the idea that something
could be C64 compatible and it led to the C128.

Meanwhile Jeff was a senior guy and took over LCD without missing a
beat.  Him and a guy named Ian Kirschmen did the hardware, Hedley
Davis, Andy Finkle, Carolyn Scheppner and Judy Braddick (and others
form the games group I think such as Ric Cotten, etc) did the code.
They got the LCD ready by CES also which  wasn't all that easy as the
C128 did steal priority a lot, depending on whatever state of
emergency had been cooked up by the way the chips worked, etc.

Jeff tirelessly gave demos as can be seen at
Ian can be seen at

If you look at the rest of the pics you can clearly see that the LCD
was a major part of that years booth, though they had about 4
computers to the 20-30 C128's the core of the booth touted them

Jeff had orders/promises  in hand for tens of thousands of units he
took personally at the next CES from what I understand, but Marshal
Smith, as the story goes, was convinced by the CEO of Tandy that there
was no future in mobile little computers.  I hung an article outside
my office later that year that showed that the SINGLE HIGHEST selling
item of the Tandy product line was that stupid little gold and blue
colored LCD computer that had half of the resolution of the CBM LCD.

The keyboard was also really cool, designed by Mitsumi for the LCD, it
had the beveled look and feel of a full sized keyboard back when
everything was membrane or chicklet.

We could have started something new, we had already done the hard part
and made one...

Bil Herd

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