To some, the idea of a computer that didn’t ship with a screen is simply bizarre. To others, Commodore’s computers were where their obsession with technology and gadgets began, and those with fond memories of banging away on those old clackety keys will be happy to hear that a simple adapter turns the Commodore 128 into a USB keyboard compatible with modern PCs.
With a processor that topped out at a blazing 4 MHz and a whopping 128 KB of RAM (that’s kilobytes, not megabytes) even your smart watch, smart fridge, or smart faucet can run circles around the performance of the Commodore 128, released way back in 1985. As a result—unless you’re a die-hard M.U.L.E. fan who refuses to run the game under emulation for authenticity reasons—the C128 you grew up with as a kid is probably buried in a box somewhere in your parents’ basement. But there’s finally a good reason to dig it out again that has nothing to do with retro gaming.
Over the years, as computers and laptops have gotten slimmer and sleeker, the usability of keyboards has been sacrificed to the cause. Apple is now infamously known for taking things too far, resulting in ultra-thin laptop keyboards that are not only far from ideal for extended typing sessions, as Hollywood has lamented, but also for redesigned key mechanisms that have been failing en masse. The keyboard on the Commodore 128 is the exact opposite of that. The keys are giant, there’s a lot of travel when they’re pressed, and it makes that wonderful clickety-clack sound that keyboard enthusiasts now cherish.
Developed by a company named Tynemouth Software, this adapter has a couple of things going for it that should help justify dropping $75 for it over on Tindie. For starters, it’s easy to install, even inside the housing of an old Commodore 128 if you want all the wires and circuit boards hidden away. It’s also plug and play, which means you can plug it into a USB port on a modern PC running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, without having to install special drivers first. In other words, you don’t need any hacking skills to repurpose your old machine.
The adapter also includes a pair of controller ports that will make any Commodore-compatible joystick or gamepad function as a modern USB controller, which could justify the price tag alone if you’re a big fan of emulating C64 or C128 games on your PC. The only caveat is that given the scarcity of working Commodore 128 machines out there, it’s recommended that you only convert a computer that’s completely dead and beyond repair. If yours still works or needs minor repairs, please instead consider donating or making it available to vintage computing enthusiasts.