A $12 Computer?

The Boston Herald published an interesting article recently: Designers on quest to build $12 computer. The idea seems to be to develop educational software for inexpensive 8-bit computers that are commonly available in China and India. What caught my attention was the mention that those 8-bit computer are based on the Apple II.

That didn’t make much sense to me. The ROMs inside an Apple II are very important for compatibility and they are still copyrighted. I would consider it unlikely that Apple would license them, even at this late date. Not only that, but the Applesoft BASIC ROM is owned by Microsoft, not Apple, making that idea even less likely. Any computer with copied ROMs would be illegal, making the whole project suspect.

But a later Computerworld article gave more details: $12 Indian ‘TV computer’ a knockoff of ’80s Nintendo system, not Apple II. According to that article, the computer mentioned is manufactured by Victor and named the Victor-70. It is actually a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) clone. Both the Apple II and the NES used a 6502 processor, which was probably the basis for the confusion. I don’t know how large a boot ROM the NES used, but it would probably have been easier to reverse engineer than the Apple II. Of course, that assumes that the Victor-70 doesn’t just include a copy of the NES ROM.

All of the information available is somewhat contradictory, but you can see a wiki with more details here: The $10 TV Computer Project. I would have thought that NES clones are rare, but there seem to be at least three of them available for sale in the United States:

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