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The Commodore 64 turns 30

The Commodore 64 turns 30

The Commodore 64, that musically-talented 16-colour 8-bit marvel, turns 30 years old today.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Commodore 64, a computer which launched the careers of many coders and hackers and which remains to this day the single best-selling model of computer in history.

Released in 1982 in the US at a price of $595 (around £379.68 excluding taxes, or a whopping £1,146.63 when corrected for inflation) the Commodore 64 took the world by storm. Total lifetime sales are generally believed to have been between 12.5 million and 17 million units world-wide, with the Commodore 64 easily outselling rivals including those from the up-and-coming Apple. The system was so successful, in fact, it would continue to be manufactured and sold until 1994 - the equivalent to Intel being able to sell systems based on a Pentium III 866MHz chip today.

The C64 was the brainchild of Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, an immigrant to the US who worked his way up from taxi driver to owner of a typewriter repair company, giving up typewriters for a successful line of calculators when the digital revolution was truly underway and then moving sideways into microcomputers following the flood of cheap Chinese devices into the calculator market. Early systems, including the MOS KIM-1 and the Commodore PET, had inspired Steve Wozniak to build his Apple Computer from the 6502 processor created by Commodore subsidiary MOS Technology - with MOS staff actually helping Wozniak design the system, a fact frequently forgotten by fans of Apple's supposedly self-contained innovation.

The Commodore 64 was Tramiel's answer to the demand for more capabilities. Based on a MOS Technologies 6510 processor running at just under 1MHz in PAL regions and just over in NTSC regions, the C64 included - as the name suggests - 64KB of RAM and a 20KB ROM containing a modified copy of Microsoft BASIC as the operating system and chief programming language. Microsoft, for its part, received no royalties on Commodore sales, having sold the rights to BASIC for a fixed sum years prior.

The processor and memory weren't the key features of the C64, however. A graphics chip, the VIC-II, provided a 320x200 resolution display with 16 colours, in-built sprite handling and collision detection and a raster interrupt system - all evidence of the VIC's origins as a chip designed for use in arcade machines. These impressive graphics capabilities - for the era - were joined by the SID 6581 sound chip, capable of three-voice synthesis with full user control. Bugs in the original SID 6581 would allow coders to sneak in a fourth voice and play back sampled audio - a feature which, combined with the chip's distinctive sound, makes the SID 6581 a popular choice today for electronic musicians.

Not everything about the C64 was great, however. The version of BASIC purchased from Microsoft was sorely outdated, but used nearly unmodified at Tramiel's insistence in order to save on licensing costs. Another cost-saving measure in the original production run was to use the same case design as the preceding VIC-20, meaning shortcuts had to be taken in the printed circuit board layout - shortcuts which led directly to the C64's famously slow serial port and painful tape loading mechanism.

The pros outweighed the cons, however, and the C64 dominated the early home computing revolution. Its popularity continued well past the launch of Commodore's 16-bit successor, the Amiga, with the company producing upwards of 400,000 models a month. Later, the 64C - a revised C64 design in an Amiga-style casing - would drive down costs and increase reliability, while the C128 and disk drive equipped C128D provided double the memory, a numeric keypad and an upgraded copy of BASIC, along with a Z80 co-processor which was capable of running the business-oriented CP/M operating system in 40 or 80 column mode.

Few of Commodore's eight-bit spin-offs would enjoy the same success of the C64, sadly - with the luggable SX64 and keyboardless 64GS console particularly sought-after now as rarities thanks to poor sales - and Tramiel's exit from the company and subsequent purchase of the Atari brand would lead to bitter rivalry in the 16-bit era. These days, Commodore is no more - although Commodore USA produces modern PCs designed along the same lines as the C64, having licensed the rights to the name.

That's not to say the C64 isn't still popular, however: the company may have long since vanished, but the system remains much-loved. Synthesised sounds from a C64's SID chip can still be heard in the background of songs from big-name acts - albeit sometimes in an uncredited form - while hackers like Jeri Ellsworth have taken the original C64 design and recreated it for the modern era, along with some less commercially viable projects.

Meanwhile, if you want to remember what life was like before Windows, OS X and memory measured in megabytes, Commodore 64s remain readily available second-hand - or you could just fire up one of the many emulators.

24 Comments

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azrael- 1st August 2012, 11:27 Quote
I still have mine! Including the original Datasette and a 1541 floppy drive. Lots of disks and tapes as well, but they're probably damaged beyond repair these days.
Harlequin 1st August 2012, 11:37 Quote
remember having 1!! - loading `jet set willy` on the tape drive , and programming games from magazines :D
techhead 1st August 2012, 12:04 Quote
I also had Commodore 64 A long time ago . I do remember playing Daley Thompson's Decathlon, Bruce Lee, baperboy the good old days
loftie 1st August 2012, 12:09 Quote
I miss my C64. Ahh those were the days ^^
runadumb 1st August 2012, 12:20 Quote
Only 30? Geez, as I am also 30 the C64 must have been ancient by the time I got my jam covered hands on one. Ah I still remember that Christmas morning, I didn't move all day :)

I still revisit some games now and again. Recently played through puff the dragon which was much easier than I remember as a kid.
Treasure Island dizzy was another one and it was scary how much I remembered but I couldn't finish it due to a bug underwater. Need to find a working version.
I also haven't gotten turrican 2 to work. I keep saying I will sort that out but never do :(
l3v1ck 1st August 2012, 12:32 Quote
I've still got mine in the loft. For some reason the floppy drive that came with it weighs several times more than the C64 itself.
mi1ez 1st August 2012, 13:06 Quote
Really need to get my hands on one for my music. All about Martin Galway's original C64 themes though! http://open.spotify.com/album/7k6YLltoSXW8KXgLHgSqDb
XXAOSICXX 1st August 2012, 13:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by techhead
I also had Commodore 64 A long time ago . I do remember playing Daley Thompson's Decathlon, Bruce Lee, baperboy the good old days

I loved the Bruce Lee game. Amazing :)
Coltch 1st August 2012, 15:51 Quote
I'm still toying with the idea of getting a C64 again (my original one bust in the late eighties by which time I had a PC), although my other half thinks I've already got enough old computers (3 x Amiga & 2 x Speccy) - but to re-live those times on Summer/Winter/World Games and listening to SID tunes without resorting to emulation is starting to grow on me.
RichCreedy 1st August 2012, 16:32 Quote
poking and peeking on the vic20/c64 was fun, especially if you added things to the io and joystick ports.

computerised bedroom security device anyone? you know those scrolling led signs, i once created one for my c64 via io port, i also did a 2 button with flashing lights buzzer system for quizzes, my dad says he thinks that is still in the garage
LordLuciendar 1st August 2012, 16:39 Quote
Not a single mention of my Uncle Chuck... psht.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Peddle

The guy made this stuff happen. Without his processors, personal computing would never have gotten off the ground.
Mrmelon98 1st August 2012, 17:10 Quote
Tramiel is a genius. End of.
Gareth Halfacree 1st August 2012, 19:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by LordLuciendar
Not a single mention of my Uncle Chuck... psht.
Simple lack of room, and no slight on Peddle's contribution - or, indeed, any of the other Commodore and MOS Technology employees who were so instrumental in the creation of the KIM, PET, C64, Amiga and all the various spin-offs, clones and successors.

Is he really your uncle? Cool!
Star*Dagger 2nd August 2012, 19:30 Quote
This was one of the factors in who I decided to be friends with as a kid. I had a TRS-80 Color Computer, and a kid a few houses up had this one, I taught him how to use it, being, even then, much more intelligent than my peers.

Once our neighborhood was inundated with normal PCs (this being the sub-urbs outside NYC, and many parents worked at IBM), we all moved happily to them. Our schools were lucky to be given IBM PCs from the very beginning and I have been playing Games on them ever since. We also had the ubiquitous Apple IIs...

A disk drive for these (Commodore and TRS-80) ancient machines cost 400$ in the early 80s, which is serious money 2012 dollars.

I must truly say that while I had a great time, I do not miss those computers! I do wish that people could code as efficiently as they were forced to in those days, 8 gig games are the norm now.

Yours in Halcyon Plasma,
Star*Dagger
Star*Dagger 2nd August 2012, 19:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by LordLuciendar
Not a single mention of my Uncle Chuck... psht.
Simple lack of room, and no slight on Peddle's contribution - or, indeed, any of the other Commodore and MOS Technology employees who were so instrumental in the creation of the KIM, PET, C64, Amiga and all the various spin-offs, clones and successors.

Is he really your uncle? Cool!

Duke Nuke'em is my RL Uncle.


S*D
PingCrosby 4th August 2012, 09:59 Quote
' Stay a while.......staaaaaaay FOREVER!'
Nexxo 4th August 2012, 10:33 Quote
^^^ Ah, Impossible Mission: good times. :D

I still have my (heavily modded) C64 somewhere. Added CPU activity light, reset button, five switchable OS ROMs (so you could run several different programs from boot), floppy upgraded from serial to parallel interface. There was some interesting aftermarket stuff for it. Even more for the Speccy.

Now I have a C64 emulator on my PC.
CrazyBlade 4th August 2012, 13:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by loftie
I miss my C64. Ahh those were the days ^^

Right there with ya. I'd love to get another one.
Jimbob 4th August 2012, 15:46 Quote
Recetly sold my Commodore C128D and Amiga Tower due to lack of space. If anyone is interested the book "The spectacular rise and fall of commodore" is a fantastic read.
Dude111 4th August 2012, 20:18 Quote
I love my C64,its right next to me here :)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
Now I have a C64 emulator on my PC.
Which one do you recommend bud? (I have tried a few but they dont work well)
Pookeyhead 5th August 2012, 14:45 Quote
It used the same case as the PET? Surely you mean VIC20?
Gareth Halfacree 6th August 2012, 07:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pookeyhead
It used the same case as the PET? Surely you mean VIC20?
Yes. Yes, I do.

(For those who don't remember: the PET was an all-in-one design rather like the terminals in Fallout 3, with the display built in to the casing; the VIC-20 was the more familiar computer-in-keyboard design affectionately known as the 'breadbin.')
LordLuciendar 7th August 2012, 22:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by LordLuciendar
Not a single mention of my Uncle Chuck... psht.
Simple lack of room, and no slight on Peddle's contribution - or, indeed, any of the other Commodore and MOS Technology employees who were so instrumental in the creation of the KIM, PET, C64, Amiga and all the various spin-offs, clones and successors.

Is he really your uncle? Cool!

Lol. Yes, he is my great uncle (my grandfather's brother). I only mention his lack of mention because he seems to be the unsung hero of Commodore. Most articles skim over his involvement if they mention it at all, yet he was the engineering force that brought it all together.

Anywho, otherwise a great shout out to a monolith of the tech industry. It's unlikely, but just imagine what things would be like if the products produced by the modern computer industry were as revolutionary...
chrismarkham1982 8th August 2012, 00:54 Quote
Still remember Ace and Hawkeye, 2 brilliant games I would buy in a shot if they ever came to smartphone or Xbox Live Arcade.

Edit: And Emlyn Hughes Soccer
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