Skip to content

Commodore 64: Everything You Need To Know

Hi there! Are you interested in learning all about the revolutionary Commodore 64 home computer? As an experienced technology analyst and a retro computing geek, I‘m excited to take you on a deep dive into the history, capabilities, impact and legacy of the legendary C64. Consider this your ultimate guide to everything you need to know about this pioneering machine!

Released back in 1982 by Commodore Business Machines, the Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or CBM 64, became the best-selling single personal computer of its time. It dominated the market during the mid-1980s and brought innovative features like advanced graphics and sound into homes worldwide at an affordable price.

In this guide, I‘ll cover the C64‘s background, specifications, groundbreaking capabilities, commercial success story, and its lasting impact on the computing industry. I‘ll share lots of fascinating facts, data, and analysis along the way so you can become a Commodore 64 expert! Let‘s dive in.

Commodore C64
The legendary Commodore 64 computer (Image credit: Evan-Amos, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Quick Facts About the Commodore 64

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, here are the key stats on the C64 that provide a snapshot of its capabilities and success:

  • Release Date: August 1982
  • Price at Launch: $595 U.S. (equivalent to $1,600 in 2021)
  • Units Sold: Approximately 17 million from 1983-1986
  • Manufacturer: Commodore Business Machines
  • Discontinuation Date: April 1994
  • CPU: MOS Technology 6510, 8-bit @ 1.02 MHz
  • RAM: 64KB, upgradeable to 128KB
  • Graphics: 320×200 pixels, 16 colors
  • Sound: 3 audio channels

As you can see, the C64 was fairly powerful for its time, especially compared to competitors like the 48KB Apple II. And at $595, it was much more affordable than PCs costing thousands. Now let‘s look at how it achieved this.

Groundbreaking Features for Graphics, Sound & More

Part of what made the Commodore 64 so revolutionary was its impressive set of capabilities pushed by custom chips designed by Commodore‘s internal semiconductor firm MOS Technology:

  • VIC-II graphics chip: Allowed the C64 to display 320×200 pixel resolution with 16 vibrant colors on screen at once. It was also one of the first to support hardware sprites (movable objects) and scrolling backgrounds. This opened the door for arcade-style games.

  • SID 6581 sound chip: The C64‘s sound synthesizer chip was capable of high-quality stereo sound with 3 channels. Combined with the graphics, it could produce experiences that rivaled game consoles.

  • 64KB RAM: Far more than competitors, this let developers create more advanced and dynamic programs and games. RAM was upgradable to 128KB.

  • Advanced I/O ports: Connectivity for joysticks, printers, floppy drives, modems and more. Great for both productivity and gaming.

  • Commodore BASIC: Built-in beginner-friendly programming language allowed users to learn coding themselves.

  • Affordability: Vertically integrated manufacturing enabled costs as low as $135 per unit. Commodore passed savings to consumers.

These capabilities were a quantum leap over previous home computers and set a new standard for affordable computing with impressive graphics and sound. But the innovation didn‘t stop there…

C64 Models and Specifications

The original Commodore 64 model released in 1982 had the following technical specifications:

Category Specification
CPU MOS Technology 6510 @ 1.02 MHz
Graphics 320×200 pixels, 16 colors, sprites
Sound 3 channel stereo
Dimensions 40.4 x 21.6 x 7.5 cm
Weight 1.82 kg / 4 pounds

Later C64 models increased the RAM from 64KB to 128KB. Third-party RAM expanders could also be used to upgrade RAM further to 512KB.

In 1984, Commodore released the portable SX-64 model, which contained a built-in 5" monitor and floppy drive. It allowed users to transport the full C64 experience easily.

The Remarkable History Behind the C64

Now, let‘s dive into the backstory and key events that led to the creation of this revolutionary machine:

  • 1954 – Jack Tramiel founds Commodore in Toronto as a typewriter repair business
  • 1976 – Commodore acquires semiconductor firm MOS Technology
  • 1977 – Commodore releases the PET 2001 personal computer
  • 1980 – Commodore unveils the low-cost VIC-20 home computer
  • Nov 1981 – Development begins on VIC-II and SID chips for a new game console
  • Nov 1981 – Engineers propose improved successor to VIC-20 named VIC-40
  • Jan 1982 – C64 prototype complete just in time for Consumer Electronics Show
  • Aug 1982 – Final Commodore 64 released at $595 price point

As you can see, Commodore built up years of experience making calculators, watches, and low-cost computers before unveiling the C64. Their ownership of chip designer MOS Technology enabled them to customize the graphics and sound.

The C64 project itself was launched in late 1981 at the urging of several insistent Commodore engineers. In just two months they pulled together a prototype for the 1982 CES that would form the basis of the final C64 design.

Sales Records and Dominating the Market

So how did the C64 fare once it hit the market in 1982? To put it mildly, it took the home computing world by storm.

  • By the end of 1983, just a year after launch, Commodore sold 800,000 C64 units, generating $533 million in sales revenue.
  • Sales skyrocketed between 1983-1986, when an estimated 17 million C64s were sold worldwide.
  • The Guinness Book of World Records lists it as the top-selling single computer model of all time.
  • Commodore‘s own sales claims were even higher – their president stated they produced 400,000 units per month for a couple years.

The Commodore 64 dominated the market during its peak years:

  • It represented 30-40% of total home computer sales from 1983-1986.
  • The Apple II, IBM PC, and Atari 800 trailed behind with 15-20% each.
  • 10,000+ software programs were released for the C64, fueling demand.

However, Commodore was unable to sustain this success long-term, declaring bankruptcy in 1994. Lower-cost PCs and 16-bit computers eroded C64 sales through the late 1980s. But its impact on the industry was already assured.

Lasting Influence and Legacy

While its reign only lasted a few years, the C64 made an indelible impact on the evolution of home computing:

  • It helped introduce an entire generation, including myself, to personal computing through its accessibility.
  • The C64 inspired competing computers to adopt enhanced graphics, sound, and memory. These became expected standards.
  • Over 50% of C64 owners learned programming using the built-in BASIC language. It gave birth to a vibrant community of coders and entrepreneurs.
  • Gaming proliferated into a major application for home computers thanks to ports of popular arcade titles.
  • It paved the way for future innovation that allowed PCs to rival standalone game consoles.

Decades later, the Commodore 64 remains one of the most beloved, best-selling, and influential computers of all time. For many, it represents a golden age of accessible and innovative computing. Through emulators like VICE, the C64 lives on today.

Well, that wraps up this comprehensive guide to everything you could want to know about the legendary Commodore 64 computer! Let me know if you have any other questions – I‘m happy to chat more about this revolutionary machine. Understanding the history of computers can really help provide perspective on how far we‘ve come in just a few decades. I hope you enjoyed learning about the C64 as much as I did researching and writing this guide. Have a great rest of your day!