What’s the best 8 bit computer?

This is a question that always gets the classic computer enthusiasts talking – what’s your best/favorite 8 bit computer? Is it because it has the best graphics, best sound, best choice of hardware, best selection of games etc?

Please leave a comment below explaining your choice!

Let the 8 bit war commence. I’ve left a ‘other’ category as I’ve bound to miss out someones favorite system.

41 thoughts on “What’s the best 8 bit computer?

    1. This appears to be a popularity contest instead of an unbiased opinion. In the day I had a Commodore 64 and loved but was always envious of the kids that had Apple ][s. The Apples had all kinds of expansion options and a huge software library other than just games. There’s a reason why they had a longer production run than any of the others. In 1983 you bought a C64 if you couldn’t afford an Apple ][.

  1. I voted for the speccy! Filled many happy days in my teens, dizzy series, chase HQ, type in adventures, yoursinclair mag…..!

  2. For me it has to be the BBC micro. Built in assembler, well designed basic, good solid hardware with lots of expansion options suitable for hacking, and best of all, a very well designed OS that taught me lessons about how computing _should_ be done that still hold true today. Eg, write once and keep it simple but reusable, make it open and well documented and allow the community to extend it (sideways roms designed in from the start).

    Sure, other machines had some bits of hardware that were better (C64 sound, CPC just because it was later), but the 6502 used in the Beeb was a delight to learn how to write really tight optimised code on, the teletext graphics chip was practically unique and Fred and Shelia became like old friends.

    The games often came out first on platforms with more sales, but the Beeb ports were almost always crisper and more polished.

    It also spawned truly innovative games such as Elite and Exile which were ported to other platforms.

    The Social significance and impact of the C64 and Spectrum can’t be dismissed, but their popularity was built on price and games, they didn’t have the elegance of the Beeb which as a computing scientist I still appreciate today.

  3. Voted for c64, but i was thinking about Speccy and A8. Also, Apple II is good. I wanted to vote for Commodore Plus/4 (excellent!), but when i thought about it, i already voted for C-64.

  4. Do you want the right answer, or the real one?

    Naturally the Spectrum was the best computer ever, because it was just like the ZX81, only with some colours, and a noise, and it was surprisingly cheap for all that. Even the keyboard was better, feeling like recently deceased flesh instead of the fossilised flesh of million year old dead plastic dinosours.

    But then again the Commodore 64 really amped things up with its 16 shades of brown and properly arcade quality synthesizer, even though the BASIC couldn’t actually do anything and the floppy drive was slower than a three legged rocking horse.

    Atari did a pretty good job with the 800 and the XLs, and really let things rip with the XEs – which in practical terms didn’t seem to do anything mush different from the original 400 other than have BASIC in an actual ROM and a keyboard you didn’t want to puke on. At least the 400 looked like something Buck Rogers would land on.

    The Apple IIs, at least in our market, were horrendously expensive and didn’t seem to be especially functional for the money. They were like the giant beige plastic battletanks of the moderately expensive home computer world.

    Then there were the Beebs. Cheaper than Apples, beiger than Speccys and more educational than an evening out with my 5th Form maths teacher they had one of the best BASICs on the market, the best game ever made (Elite of course) and the most Owly logo known to mankind. The pinnacle of 8-bit computer has to be the Master 512 – a BBC Master 128 with more RAM and a 80186 co-pro built in.

    So, in conclusion, I vote for the ZX81. ‘Coz it was my first computer, dammit, and nothing beats that.

  5. Tough call between the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC – Speccy wins on nostalgia value alone, simply because of the design of the system, but I think on merit the Amstrad is a better machine.

  6. The great thing was that me and my friends all had different machines. I had an Amstrad 6128 whilst others had spectrum or C64’s. We enjoyed the fact we could play on the different machines and there wasn’t the fatboy mentality that accompanies consoles. The Amstrad was let down by the strange mode set up whereby the more colours you had, the blocking the graphics. But some games still managed to look gorgeous. The Speccy had great innovative and payable games despite the hardware limitations whereas the Commodore was probably the best overall machine. Can I.vote for all three as they all trigger an immense sense of nostalgia and a huge smile on my face.

  7. Voted for the spectrum.
    Any poll like this is likely to have a high degree of bias based on what systems people owned at the time. I think that having all the BASIC keywords show on the keyboard of the speccy was a good way to encourage programming (when it was still called programming and not ‘coding’).
    Eventually moved onto BBC’s. A much better basic and more powerfully system overall but high cost and out of the reach for many at home.
    Would be interesting to see what 8 bit machines people who now have IT careers started with.

  8. C64, because of it’s SID chip and full-colour graphics. It did have it’s faults, such as ‘blocky graphics’, slow running speed and also it was hard to program. However, despite this it was most definitely the best 8-bit computer.

  9. Spectrum. The BBC Micro was technically more capable, but it always seemed to me to be although solidly designed, somewhat over-engineered, with too much TTL.

    The Spectrum gave access to computing for millions of children in a way the Beeb couldn’t – because it was cheap, because the design was more efficient. Or maybe it was ‘cos I had one and I actually liked the single keyword entry 🙂

    -cheers from julz

  10. the c64 ,it had great games like exploding fist and barbarian etc way ahead of the the others in terms of graphics and awesome sound.
    Although i did enjoy looking at different versions of games on other machines ,you could usually tell which machine a game was for just by looking at a screenshot .Anyway i’m sure there were great games for other micro’s ,but me i had a c64 which is probably why it will always be the best 8bit in my book

  11. Don’t forget non gaming software, the CPC had a great mode for word processing and wrote a lot of college work back in the day on it. You could run your business on it (and if I ever start one I just might to be an awkward bugger). So CPC for me as an all rounder although if you judge it on games only… then too close to call, so many playable games on C64 and Speccy… I just think the 640×200 mode and CP/M gives it an extra edge… what you think? PS I’m now a programmer and learned how to on this machine so yes I’m biased but wow, what an amazing time to get a computer for christmas.. whichever one

  12. Definitely the C64. It had hands down the most sophisticated sound and graphics hardware of the lot.

    The Amstrad CPC was a nice machine with more colours than the C64, but poorer sound and no sprite hardware etc.

    The BBC was very well built with the most powerful native Basic language and incredable upgrade options.

    Actually the only machine in the list that “wasn’t much chop” is the poor old Speccy. It had the most primitive graphics hardware and sound hardware, was incredably cheaply made with un unusable keyboard, no built in joystick ports, limited expandibility etc etc. It’s ONLY saving grace is that it was dirt cheap, but realistically, if you look at VALUE FOR MONEY, it wasn’t actually cheap at all – you just got a LOT LESS for your money.

    Anywho, definitely the C64 – it was also quite cheap, but with a decvent build quality, nice keyboard, expandibility, two built in joyports, a full 64 kb ram, dedicated sprite and scrolling hardware and the mighty sid chip. Nothing else could compare.

  13. It was the Sam Coupe actually.

    It ran at 6Mhz, had compatibility with 48K Spectrum games and had games with graphics almost on par with the Atari ST. They could have up to a full megabyte of RAM as standard and I think it could even be upgraded above that. They also had pretty good disk drives (after all, the original manufacturer Miles Gordon Technology were a disk drive maker) and the design of the machine was pretty nice.

    The only problem was that there wasn’t a huge amount of software available specifically for the machine but certain companies did work a lot on it and Enigma Variations were the dominant publisher on the machine. Games like Prince of Persia, Defenders of the Earth and Lemmings were converted.

  14. I voted for “other” and typed in Tandy’s Color Computer 3, abbreviated as CoCo3. It had better graphics than the Commodore 64 or 128, better disk speed, and could run a multi user OS, OS9. The Commodore had more software and a better sound chip though.

  15. Didn’t realize I was voting on a two year old thread, but CoCo 3 for me, w/ maybe T/S 1500 as a second choice, or Tandy 100 portable, or, ,

  16. The Atari 800 was the best machine ever. Multiple graphics and text modes that could be mixed on the same screen via the display list. The ability to get 256 colors on the screen using vertical blank interrupts. Color indirection. Sprite graphics with collision detection that could be the full height of the screen. Redefinable character graphics. Fine scrolling in hardware. Four channel sound. The first true plug-and-play peripheral bus. Easily expandable memory. The ability to take software on cartridges. Actual S-Video style Luma and Chroma signals before S-Video was even a thing! Four joystick ports! Which could also serve up to 8 paddle controllers. Which could also act as serial or parallel I/O ports! Which could also take a lightpen or gun controller!
    When it came out, it was the only machine that had bloody LOWERCASE LETTERS! (Apple ][ and TRS-80 didn’t have them until awhile later unless you modded the machine).
    Atari actually had a concept of device drivers way ahead of their time; some devices actually defined themselves by letters the same as disk drives and then you could use all the standard file I/O commands with them.
    Seriously, this was one beast of a machine!

  17. I chose the Atari. It was years ahead of its time. It wasn’t until the C64 came out a few years later that another computer came close to being as technically advanced, The A8 had several custom chips, some of which were used in arcade machines of the time.

    Even when the C64 came out there was an article in one magazine which asked some of the most prominent developers of the day which they thought was the best system on the market. I think it may even have been a Commodore magazine celebrating the launch of the 64. Most actually out the Atari 800 ahead of the 64.

  18. I voted for the Vic-20. I long for it still. I was joyfully writing real programs with it. It was small enough to wrap my little mind around. Getting a C64 actually ended my career prematurely, I think. If I hadn’t replaced my Vic, I might still be a programmer.

  19. (These old threads are still cool)

    Ah the 80’s and the 8 bit computers. C64 (C128 was cool too), TRS 80, TI994A the Atari computers. Wow! What an era.
    Each had strengths and weaknesses. I think for gaming the C64 probably was the best.
    Now for a poll on the 16 and 32 bit machines. 🙂 Amiga’s and Atari’s

  20. Technically it’s probably the Enterprise 64/128. Out of the mainstream successful computers, it has to be the Commodore 64, though, due to its hardware scrolling, sprites and advanced sound chip (for the time). The C64 didn’t have “blocky graphics”; it had the same resolution as the spectrum when not in multicolour mode. The more pixelated graphics were caused by the decreased resolution when showing more colours in multicolour mode. Skilled programmers could get around this using sprite masking, which was used in later games.

  21. Having owned, used and programmed the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and C64 over the years, my vote is for the Spectrum simply for its all-roundedness and efficient design compared to the others. There is no one thing that it does better than the others but it excels with everything working in unison. For example the combination of CPU and screen buffer memory is genius in its design.

  22. The Radioshack tandy color computer 2 is my favorite. It had the best keyboard & form factor by far. Programming it was about as simple as possible & it seems as if it’s built out of high quality components. Fun little machine. Also the texas instruments ti99 is an awesome machine due to the fact that now they can be had cheap with a ton of games and a lot of great educational stuff. Plus the voice synthesizer works really well.

  23. My very first computer was the ZX Spectrum+ and I would say that but…
    If your talking about the best technology wise then it has to be either the Enterprise 128 or MSX2+ I would say

  24. My first “home” computer was a chiclet PET 2001.
    But my first “gaming” experience was Dungeon on a DEC teletype. And I actually played the arcade Space War for 10¢ a go.

  25. I voted for Amstrad CPC because of its personal computing capabilities (cp/m etc) and because of Tennis Cup from French software house Loriciels which game is almost the same as on Atari ST. However the real best 8-bit computer was definitely Enterprise 128 as someone mentioned earlier here.

  26. I was a very big Atari fan when I was young and still own my first computer Atari 800XL. I also own several other retro computers, but I chose the Apple II as the best 8-bit computer, and here is why. The Apple II may have lacked the graphics, sound and speed of other computers, but what it made up with is the vast software library and peripherals. The apple II line of computers continues up till the early 90’s! No other 8-bit computer can claim that life span. Apple also invented Apple Talk to work with the Apple II, which allowed these computer to network and talk to each other.
    With so much expand-ability and capability, it’s probably the reason why today Apple is only 2nd to Windows PC.

    If businesses today had to resort to using an 8-bit computer, most would no doubt choose the Apple II.

  27. The ‘best’ was almost certainly the TRS-80 CoCo3. Which I was lucky enough to have at the time. However the C64 was the dominant games machine, and wonderful in general. And the Amstrad CPC series had the best basic programming and DOS (CPM) available, challenging the early PCs.

    Possibly though, a fully upgraded AppleII system was superior to all, my best friend had one. It had the Hanyee voice synthesiser, 9 voice music generator, and all the other upgrades possible. His dad was a university professor of computer science, and the machine, with all it’s upgrades (all slots were full), was worth well over AU$4,000 in the days when that was literally the the cost of a new car. So I don’t think this counted as a ‘home computer’.

    So in summary: Commodore 64 for games, Amstrad CPC for basic programming, and TRS-80 CoCo3 for raw hardware.

    (For those that don’t know, the CoCo3 and the C128 were the last machines of the 8-bit era, but where the C128 is a lovable mish-mash of components (I have one myself now, I didnt at the time), the CoCo3 was the final expression of what 8-bit hardware could do. Of course, it came out when 16 bit machines were already around, and just couldn’t compete, making it a total market failure. :'( I had one in the day, and luckily it was an upgrade to my CoCo2 and I was using it to program, because it certainly didn’t get any support, similar to the C128.

  28. The Commodore had nothing on the Atari 8-bit (XL / XE). The Atari had a faster CPU, a far more vibrant colour palette, and four channels of POKEY excellent sound (as opposed to the C64’s 3 channels). Check out how much smoother Rescue on Fractalus is on the Atari, or how much better Electra Glide looks (and you can hear the sound of the engine, as well as the music, unlike the C64 version, which is limited to three channels, therefore no engine sound). Or check out the intro to Alternate Reality.
    As the famous programmer of IK+ said, the Atari was the “Porsche of home computers”, and pointed out how much slower the C64 was in comparison. The only reason the C64 is more popular is because Atari dropped the ball with marketing in the 80s, therefore more people have nostalgia towards the C64. But was it a better computer than the Atari? Absolutely not.

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