Retro Home Computers – Commodore 64


Commodore 64,
1982-1994

The Commodore 64 is the best selling single personal computer model of all time. Released in August 1982 by Commodore Business Machines, the Commodore 64 is commonly referred to as the C64.

Commodore 64C GEOS

Above: Commodore 64

The original Commodore 64 casing has affectionately been nicknamed the “breadbox” and “bullnose” due to its shape. Introduced by Commodore Business Machines in August 1982 at a price of US$595, it offered 64KB of RAM with sound and graphics performance that compared favorably with IBM-compatible computers of that time. During the Commodore 64’s lifetime (between 1982 and 1994), sales totalled around 17 million units.

Like the Vic-20, the Commodore 64 was sold through department stores and toy stores. The unit could be plugged directly into a television set to play games, giving it much of the appeal of dedicated video game consoles like the Atari 2600. Its affordable pricing contributed to the video game market crash of 1983.

Approximately 10,000 commercial software titles were made for the Commodore 64 including development tools, office applications, and games. The machine is also credited with popularizing the computer demo scene. The Commodore 64 is still used today by many computer hobbyists, and emulators allow anyone with a modern computer to run these programs on their desktop.

The Commodore 64 is commonly seen as an icon of the 1980s. An example is the introductory movie of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which features a Commodore 64 screen which later reveals the Rockstar North logo.

Sound and Graphics

CBM introduced the Commodore 64 in 1982 as the successor to the VIC-20. Thanks to a well-integrated series of chips designed by MOS, the C64 possessed remarkably-capable sound and graphics for its time and is often credited with starting the computer demo scene.

IN 1986, Commodore released the 64 as a redesigned Commodore 64C. When it had the same specifications as the previous version. However, the relaunch was significant not for the hardware but for the software released with the Commodore 64C. Commodore bundled GEOS, by Berkley Software, to provide a graphics based user environment much like that of the Mac. It also provided software inclduing word processing, paint and a file structure silimar to that of the Mac.

Commodore 64C GEOS

Above: Commodore 64C

Commodore 64C GEOS

Above: GEOS

Its US$595 price was high compared to the VIC-20, but it was still much less expensive than any other 64K computer on the market. Early C64 ads boasted, “You can’t buy a better computer at twice the price.”

Price War

In 1983 Tramiel decided to focus on market share and cut the price of the VIC-20 and C64 dramatically. TI responded by cutting prices on its TI-99/4A, which had been introduced in 1981. Soon there was an all-out price war involving Commodore, TI, Atari and practically every vendor other than Apple Computer.

This price war likely contributed to the video game crash of 1983. By the end of this conflict, Commodore had shipped somewhere around 22 million C64s, and in the process drove TI out of the home-computer market, almost destroyed Atari, bankrupted most smaller companies, and wiped out its own savings. Tramiel’s motto, “Business is war,” had taken its toll.