Interestingly, this argument is still ongoing today in some newsgroups and messageboards. This is odd, as the Spectrum is clearly inferior, and you'd think that people would have the maturity to realise this by now. ;)

Oh alright! this isn't entirely true. So here's my handy guide to the 'spectrum vs C64' war to help you choose sides if you're too young to have been there first time around:

Cost

The ZX Spectrum was consistantly cheaper than it's CBM made rival. This was always true, right across the model range, and even when you include disc drives for both machines. This factor alone is probably responsible for more Spectrum sales than any other.

Spectrum 1, Commodore 0

CPU

The C64 was based upon the popular (at the time) 6502 CPU, which ran at an amazing 1.0MHz. Well, actually, not so amazing, as the Spectrum's Z80 ran at 3.5MHz, giving it a clear advantage for CPU intensive games. Like it or not, this generally made 3D games *much* more playable on the Spectrum.

Spectrum 2, Commodore 0

Graphics

Oh dear. It was all going so well for Sinclair, until now. You see, the Spectrum had only one graphics mode. 256x192, in 16 colours. You were limited to two colours per 8x8 block, which gave Commodore owners endless opportunities to laugh at the dreaded attribute clash in games which attempted to use more than 2 colours on screen.

The C64, however, had a custom graphics chip which could handle 320x200 with 16 colours in a similar fashion to the Spectrum, but also offered a 160x200 mode which allowed for four colours per 8x8 pixel. Of course, a side-effect of this was that everything looked chunky, giving the Spectrum owners something to laugh at.

What really made the C64 the better computer in terms of graphics though, was the implementation of hardware scrolling and sprite graphics. Sprites are graphics which are overlaid on top of the normal screen without affecting the colours below, so there was no Speccy-style attribute clash in Commodore games. As they were handled by custom hardware they also moved around much more smoothly than the Spectrum could usually manage, as it had to rely on it's CPU to do everything

Spectrum 2, Commodore 1

Sound

Custom hardware to the rescue of the C64 again! While the Speccy had only a single tone generator linked to a loudspeaker (Beep!), the Commodore had the infamous SID chip- basically a small but powerful three channel synthesizer which was output through the modulator to the TV. Listening to Spectrum games after owning a C64 is likely to make your ears bleed. If you need proof as to the quality of music in C64 games, look no further than the recently released dance track "Zombie Nation" in which the main riff was 'borrowed' (Although without the authors consent) from the C64 game "Lazy Jones". Incidentally, the threat of legal action did result in the author receiving a cash settlement, which was nice.

Spectrum 2, Commodore 2

Playability

Grow up, they're both equal in this respect! :)

Spectrum 3, Commodore 3

BASIC

If you wanted to learn to program on your home computer, you'd have to spend extra cash to do anything useful with your Commodore. While the Speccy had graphics commands as standard, the C64 did not, thanks partly to it's PET roots and partly to Commodore's rush to get it released.

Spectrum 4, Commodore 3

Non-games applications

The rubber nightmare that was the early Spectrum's keyboard did little to convince the buying public that they were getting anything other than a cheap games machine that you could program. The C64 on the other hand, was marketed as a business machine. It had a real keyboard, real disk drives and real printers (As compared to the Speccy's tiny thermal silver roll thing).

Eventually this lead to real applications being developed for it- Word processors, art packages, and even a GUI in the form of GEOS, which can still be purchased today!

Final score: Spectrum 4, Commodore 4

So there you have it- In keeping with almost every playground argument since the dawn of time, there's no clear "winner" because it depends what you want. Want the cheapest? Buy the Spectrum. Want better graphics & sound? Buy the C64.


I still think the C64 is the better computer. ;)

Note: Before anyone asks, I haven't mentioned RAM for the simple reason that it depends on what year you're doing the comparison. The spectrum range had 16k,48k and then 128k, and the C64/C128 had 64k and then 128k. In the end, it didn't make a lot of difference!


Updated 24th May.


I wanted to keep this neutral, I really did. But I must address fondue's points or my C64 friends might stop talking to me. :)

The Commodore Community was easily as strong as that of the Spectrum, and not only in England; In many other countries as well. The community is still strong: www.lemon64.com hosts a very active messageboard from which I'm never far away, and a recent nightclub event reunited some famous C64 programmers/composers with their obsessive fans here in Birmingham.

The spectrum community is still also strong, and is currently centered around www.void.jump.org, a seriously impressive site.

The Commodore magazine Zzap! 64 again still has a cult following. A lot of scanned issues can be found at www.zzap64.co.uk and ex-editor Gordon Houghton has devoted a part of his current website to the magazine. Incidentally, he worked for Spectrum magazine Crash before joining Zzap! and hated it... But that's just his opinion I guess. :)

There were undoubtedly some good Spectrum Only games, but then Spectrum owners couldn't play classic C64 games such as Parallax, Paradroid or perhaps Jeff Minter's games such as Revenge of the Mutant Camels or Hovver Bovver.

As for the Spectrum being English, I can't argue with that, I'm English. But so is the Reliant Robin and I wouldn't buy one of those. (Errr, assuming I still could if I wanted to of course!)

Finally, in answer to "To program the Speccy you really had to be quite skillful.", I can only ask:- Have you ever seen C64 IFLI images? http://www.classicgaming.com/area64/gallery/gfxmodes.htm is a good place to start.

I hope that all of this arguing doesn't sound too childish... Because now it's time to address ariels' points!

The BBC B was common in schools in England, but it's success as a home computer was somewhat limited by it's high price, which was difficult to justify given that it was less well equipped than the C64 in terms of graphics and sound. It did have some advantages graphically- Most notably an 80 column mode as standard and a Teletext graphics mode, but it had no hardware sprites and the colour palette was limited to just 8 colours.

The argument about disc drives is slightly misleading- Yes, Commodore drives were more expensive than their BBC counterparts, but then you didn't have to install an (A)DFS ROM into the C64 to make it know what a disc drive was. Neither were C64 drives 'single source'- Commodore, NEC and Oceanic manufactured 1541 compatible drives to name just a few, and 3.5" drives were also available, though much less common.

The Spectrum range also gained real (although slightly odd) 3" floppy drives when the company was bought by Amstrad.

The only point that I totally agree with was that the BBC Basic was as powerful as you could possibly hope to find on an 8-bit computer; It even had a build-in assembler which worked extremely well.


Final thoughts:The thing to remember is that I actually like them all to a certain extent. In fact, I think I own them all, so I'm not in a bad position to argue technical merits. :)
At the risk of wandering into GTKY territory, I have to register my support for the humble Speccy.

As well as being cheaper than the C64 for most of its life, the ZX Spectrum also was first to market. The humble 16K model could be upgraded to 48K, which was generally considered to be the 'baseline' machine (that most of the games were written for). Unfortunately, most games were effectively monochrome affairs with limited use of the full palette (although I can still remember some eye-popping barbarian game that used cleverly designed sprites to cram all the colours on screen with no discernable attribute clash). To program the Speccy you really had to be quite skillful.

There are some other elements that the Spectrum had and the C64 lacked however:

  • Community, for want of a better word: The Speccy had the best games mag of all time, Your Sinclair, which spent less and less time concerning itself with Speccy games (because, let's face it, most were crap) and developed its own little cult following. Readers sent in their nifty programs (such as fast tape loaders, and routines to draw a circle more quickly), cartoons, and generally partook in lots of off-topic wibble.
  • Ultimate Play The Game: The Speccy was the native territory of super-geniuses Ultimate (who went on to form Rare, makers of numerous popular Nintendo titles). They stunned the world with their revolutionary isometric graphics system and fiendishly playable arcade adventures.
  • It did have some applications: There were all kinds of 'hobbyist' applications and wierd bits of hardware you could bolt onto the Spectrum. Like a robot arm. And a light pen. And many "Game Genie"-like devices.
  • Last but not least, it was English (dons Union Jack underpants and hums national anthem). It was, in fact, the last decent piece of hardware ever to come out of this country, before our international reputation was annihilated by Amstrad.
In defence of the C64, it did have those nifty games you could play while waiting for the 'main attraction' to load. But on the other hand, it was beige.
A common argument among those unfortunate enough not to have chosen the beeb.

With less memory, a better keyboard, a sane architecture, sound almost as good as a C64's, it might sound like a close tie with the worse of the two.

But BBC BASIC was both more structured and faster, there were numerous display modes, and the followers were more fanatical than the benighted owners of these two lesser models.

Not to mention you couldn't really get disk drives for either computer (the 1541 for the commies meant buying another computer, and was single source; the speccies had various almost-floppies available, but nothing real).

Someday the BBC shall arise and reclaim the world!

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