Commodore took the wraps off the Commodore 64, one of two immediate follow-ups to its popular Vic-20 home computer, 30 years ago this week. The 64 made its public debut at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), though it wouldn't go into production until later in the year before going on sale in the US market in August. It didn't …
The Basic in the C64 was, well, basic. The was a plug-in ROM called Simon's Basic that expanded the set of basic commands to give access to graphics and sound capabilities of the C64.
If I remember it correctly, Gribbly's Day Out had a great sound track (was one of the tracks OMD’s Enola Gay???)
There was also a piano "keyboard" that sat over the C64 and pressed the QWERTY keys and when the matching software was loaded you could use the C64 as a synth!!!
I went to a show, where the new Commodores were launched in '82 and the two I really wanted were the 500 and the 700 series.
The 500 was basically a 64 with 128KB RAM, "proper" case and a much more professional look to it, including removing such "frivolities" as the VIC II chip! Unfortunately, it wasn't compatible with the C64 and didn't sell well.
The 700 was supposed to be a replacement for the PET line and included a 12", 80 column monitor and a detachable keyboard, with the option of dual 5.25" floppy drives.
As it was, I missed out on the C64. I ended up buying a Memotech MTX500, which had an optional SSD storage system, something which is only now becoming mainstream!
There is nothing new in computing! :-D
The C-500 was never officially released (I did own one for a while as several hundred escaped a few years later). It got "re-engineered" into the C-600 using the same case and a cut down version of the 700's innards.
More here: http://www.davidviner.com/cbm.php
Best-selling 8-bit micro? Yes, but more importantly, the best selling computer, ever. No single machine has sold more than the Commodore 64.
Sorry, not true
I hate to have to invoke the example, but if you really want to broaden the category as far as possible then e.g. Apple has sold more than 20m IPad 2s (based on conservative figures) - and I've no idea about the other iOS devices. They're computers both per the dictionary and in any objective terms, I think, due to the existence of an aftermarket in software that includes home and business productivity software alongside entertainment and games.
Commenters around here being what they are: I thought to check Apple's numbers because they are a modern anomaly in throwing everything behind just one model for a lengthy period. I'm explicitly not trying to say anything about the relative worth of Apple's devices.
Personally I wouldn't classify the iPad as a computer, more closer to a console. Obviously that's not a textbook definition, just my own personal opinion.
I'd class it as a computer with some significant caveats — and in a hugely different category from the C64 — but a computer nonetheless. Besides matching the dictionary definition of a computer, it also satisfies all the criteria for being a personal computer per the Wikipedia, which I'm taking as a reasonable approximation of what an average Internet user thinks a personal computer is.
I'd distinguish it from a console based on its demographics, especially its penetration into business use, and the software people are buying for it. E.g. Pages, Apple's word processor, remains the top grossing iPad application and rarely drops from the top ten applications sold by volume.
So while I agree that the C64 is the best selling device of all time in an extremely broad category, I don't think it's still the best selling computer.
An iPad isn't a proper computer, it's more like a smart phone, an appliance if you will, like a TV or washing machine.
It's as close as you can get, but still not.
I'm missing out on 2 things in the article; mention of the later slim version of the C64 (which also used a different SID chip) as well as the awesome 1541 disk drives. A single-sided diskdrive using 5.25" floppies which you could use double-sided. By simply cutting a small section section out of the disk so that the drive would also pick up the other side as "read/write" (conveniently a non-cut disk would be marked as RO). Although 1571 3.5" disk drives existed I never had one of those.
But what was so awesome about the disk drives was that you could program these yourself as well. So in the good old "copy parties" we usually paired up 2 devices, programmed them for copy purposes after which you could easily /remove/ the C64. As soon as someone put 2 disks into each drive it would automatically copy from top to bottom and that's it. That was awesome, that code (which wasn't mine) eventually also found its way into well known copy programs (Fast Hack'em for example).
C64 + Final Cartridge (its assembler was awesome and very easy to use, even gave 1541 access) was the winning combination for me.
Anyone remember GEOS? I actually used that (GeoWrite) to write letters in those days. Fortunately for me I had 2 diskdrives back then :-)
I had a C-128 with a cut down 1571 in it. It was a nightmare! It regularaly decided the drive wasn't there when you attempted to use the relative file commands. Also, it lacked RAM buffers and would often screw up data. It only ever really worked in CP/M mode! For a long time Commodore denied that the errors existed but the final ROM that was released did sort of fix most of the bugs.
The original breadbin C64 had a 1541 too, they were just completely unobtainable for a while. Hence all the clone drives appearing, I had an Accelerator drive and it loaded a damn sight faster than the 1541. Hence the upgrade kits for the 1541 such as dolphin DOS that replaced the firmware of the disk drive.
The 1541 drives were file serving computers sending files over to the C64 via serial link. It has its own processor and OS. This was obviously a workaround for the fact that the computer didn't have disc drive control in the OS. But it makes retrieving data off them pretty easy with the right cable :)
Ah the fond memories...
...of when a US cost to UK pricing translation consisted of a bit more than just changing the $ to a £.
Happy birthday 64... Although I was (am) a Beeb owner, I still had great respect for the 64. The older brother, the PET was the first computer I ever programmed - it now lives in my attic.
Also, if you're interested in computer history
this book is an excellent read:
Commodore 64 - some nice hardware, but OS and BASIC were terrible
The Commodore 64 had a nice keyboard, nice sound and a fairly decent sprite system. It was such a shame that the rest of the machine was a huge let-down. The operating system was pretty dismal (not much of an API, so most developers had to restort to direct hardware access) and the BASIC was even worse (slow and lacking so many features compared the best BASIC at the time [BBC BASIC]).
The tape system was a complete joke - many software companies were so appalled by it, they ended up writing their own "turbo loaders" to gain half-decent loading time. As for the disk system, "a disgrace" would have been kind to it. It was so slow that the tape turbo loaders were actually quicker than it!
I had the misfortune to experience some assembler development on the Commodore 64 and even with an assembler cartridge to avoid tape/disk loading times, it was still tortuously painful to develop on. I still say that the BBC Micro was the best 8-bit micro ever to develop code on and Commodore's machines weren't in the same league for that.
hated programming for it
Developing on a C64 was never fun, even with an accelerated disc drive. To lessen the pain I wrote a fat macro file and essentially emulated a Z80 in the assembler. Managed to use about 90% of source lines unchanged from the CPC464 originals. What speed the emulation lost the graphics hardware gave back.
Couldn't do that for my own tape turbo loader ;)
TBH the 64 was never my favourite machine, great to play arcade games on but bloody useless for anything else. Suppose I should get my arse in gear and load the emulator onto my phone ;)
If I recall, didn't the disk drive have a complete additional 6502 all of its own? So not only could you write your own turbo loaders there too, but I think the time to read a whole floppy could be reduced from the something-like-ten-minutes of Commodore's code to a very reasonable less than twenty seconds?
I built my own dev system.
Developing and testing code on the same machine was never a good way to work back in the old days before memory-protected processes. Too much saving and reloading around the inevitable crashes. (At least rebooting was quick!)
I built a crude homebrew dev system by plugging two C-64s into the same 1541 disk drive, and running some software on the target C-64 that monitored the IEEE serial lines and pretended to be a second drive. I wrote code on the other C-64, and when I told my assembler to assemble directly to file on disk drive #9 rather than #8, it would be loaded straight to target memory by the stub on the second machine and executed. Combined with an Action Replay on the target for debugging and stepping, development was really pretty smooth.
The story of the ridiculously slow disk drive is quite interesting
The old disk drives for the Commodore PET used an IEEE parallel cable, the supplier of which went bust, and Commodore found it difficult to source them elsewhere, so when they developed the VIC-20, they decided to create a simple serial bus with cables that anyone could produce.
The VIC-20, like the PET before, had a 6522 VIA, which could shift in 8 serial bits independently of the CPU, and raise an IRQ to say that a byte was available. In theory this should lead to fast serial transfers with very little CPU overhead. Unfortunately, as all PET fans knew, the 6522 had a bug with this mode, but the VIC-20 team didn't know this, and didn't find out until the hardware was finalised and it would have been too expensive to fix properly, so the software was rewritten.
Instead of bits being read in automatically without CPU intervention, the disk software was rewritten to constantly poll for bits, requiring the entire attention of the CPU, and slowing down the whole thing by around 12 times!
When the C64 was being developed, the bug was fixed, and the drives could have been much, much faster, but backward compatibility with the VIC-20 disk drives was deemed too important (not necessarily a stupid decision; the disk drives cost as much as a whole computer, and if someone already had a VIC-20 with disk drive, being able to still use the drive is a big incentive to stick with Commodore when the time comes to upgrade).
The end result is that the C64 disk drive system was around 12 times slower than it needed to be, and significantly more CPU hogging.
Luckily, the 1541 disk drive was a 6502 computer system in its own right, and it is entirely possible to send a small turbo loader to the drive, and load your actual application at the full speed, and a lot of commercial software did this.
Later, people sold third party ROM chips (JiffyDOS) which you put into the drive and the C64, and enabled the full speed mode by default.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the commodore disk drives also completely ignore the indexing hole in the disk and purely rely on reading the disk to work out where they were?
IIRC the commodore owners never had to cut a new hole (just a write protect notch in the side) if they chose to flip their disks and use the second side, whereas us beeb owners had to extract the floppy bit, cut a matching indexing hole in the case, then put the magnetic floppy bit back in again.
Ah fond memories, squeezing 400K out of a floppy.
Most of the C64 complaints
.,. were a product of the times. The cassette derived from the PET, the serial bus was compatible with the VICs, stuck with the low speed work-arounds that got the VIC-20 working. The development team and schedule, like most at Commodore, were able to do great things with a small team. But not everything.
The kernal did what it always did in Commodore machines -- basic I/O. There was no idea that a machine of this scale should provide software abstractions (eg, API) for higher level functions like graphics and animation.
We fixed most of the weaknesses on the C128, but after all, that was three hardware guys, three software guys, and three chip guys all on the same project (see SYS 32800,123,45,6 if you have a C128)... a big team, with some experienced together on the Plus/4.
If anyone doesn't recognise the name of the poster above, they should. He wrote the superb Spindizzy which is still one of my favourite Amstrad CPC games.
I didn't realise Paul had done the C64 version himself. I'm now going to make sure I take a look at that version. Will be interesting to see how well the emulated code runs.
Thanks for some great gaming Paul!
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the commodore disk drives also completely ignore the indexing hole in the disk and purely rely on reading the disk to work out where they were?"
I think so, 5 x’FF’ bytes were a block separator, some “protected” disks had killer tracks on that that consisted entirely of x’FF’ bytes, as a result the drive would spin forever looking for a block of data, the simple way to defeat this was to slightly unseat the disk in the drive!
The disk hardware supported a 40 track 5¼” disk, however the commodore software only used 38 tracks, leaving 2 tracks free for other purposes like putting the real disk catalog on the 2 extra tracks.
400K on a floppy?? How? 170K per side was the limit making then 340K floppies
The Radio Shack TRS-80 Colo(u)r Computer was waaay better
Pfft-- I had a CoCo 2 and 3, and while the 6809 was a superior 8-bit CPU (it was able to do some 16-bit ops), it was entirely on its own. No sprite chip-- I taught myself assembly to create a screaming fast (compared to the stock CoCo3 BASIC HGET/HPUT ) blitter. It could do transparency, even. "Audio" meant plugging values into a particular address (linked to a 6-bit DAC) at regular intervals (no DMA here), so forget about playing any sound more complex than blips and clicks if you want to do anything else at the same time.
A great machine, but responsible for a lot of problems that befell the industry. Commodore's cut-throat pricing killed off a lot of promising companies that didn't have the resources to last through a price war, they nearly destroyed Atari and left the company with no choice but to break up and sell off the fragments (including ironically to Tramiel). And finally Commodore killed Commodore - bargain basement prices meant that money was always short when it came to developing the next generation of computers.
But that said, it did give us Boulderdash. And Dropzone. And Paradroid. And Uridium...
I want an Atari 64 Model B!
Not quite- the C64 didn't give us Dropzone. That one came out on the Atari 800 first, and the Atari version is considered (by the author himself!) to be faster and superior.
That said, the C64 was superior in other areas, and was undoubtedly a very nice machine in many respects. A hybrid combining the best hardware and OS features of the C64, Atari 800 and BBC Micro would have been an absolutely outstanding machine!
Tramiel's quote said it all "We made computers for the masses, not the classes". Too many computers were being made for people with plenty of money.
Commodore reduced costs by buying MOS, but this was forced on them by the price of chips Texas Instruments were selling them. It was their only way to keep costs under control.
You have MOS to thank for the 6502, a very low cost CPU that is found in masses of computers and arcade machines at the time.
Uridium really wasn't that good. It just showed off Andrew Braybrook's fantastic smooth scrolling code. It seemed from previews that it should have had power-ups but it didn't. Paradroid on the other hand, is a classic. (I also loved Gribbly's but mine kept crashing.)
Boulderdash was on the Atari first. On the C64 it didn't scroll fast enough on a busy screen and you could walk off screen. My dad loved that game and played it over and over long after I was bored with it.
Regarding quantities sold I found this interesting
According to my school playground arguments, the ZX spectrum was the most sucessful 8 bit computer, and I won't hear anything said otherwise!
The Speccy sold 7 million units which isn't a bad figure considering it never sold in it's original form in the USA and other NTSC countries.
The Speccy hardware was also very easy to pirate so there were umpteen clones floating around behind the iron curtain (Wikipedia lists a staggering 48 unofficial "clones" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ZX_Spectrum_clones ). So for the Speccy we'll never know just how many "compatible" units were out there.
Hardly surprising, it really didn't have any hardware! The Z80 did pretty much everything!
The likes of the 64, BBC Micro etc had many dedicated chips, which improved their performance and features, but would have made sourcing components more expensive and maybe impossible. Acorn had enough problems sourcing the Intel 8271 disk controller themselves and they weren't behind a technology embargo.
Just back in 2009, we found ourselves arguing which was better, zx or Atari 800 or c64. That is definition of holy war I think. If you manage to troll Linus, you can still make him defend his own 8 bit. I am sure.
But the C64
had browner graphics
than the Speccy.
It's been 30 fucking years?!?!??!??
Guess you're really feeling old now eh? ;-)
Ah, it's all coming back to me now. Just the sheer level of hackery that was possible through doing dastardly things to the sprite control registers. Getting the damn things to be 24x24 rather than 24x21 was one trick - albeit IIRC at the sacrifice of the number of sprites possible... but the multi colour mode was a pain as well due to the limitations of this. Other than this, the fun with the collision detection (remarkably good but had its flaws), the hassle of moving past the 1 byte horizontal register maximum (screen width was wider than 255 pixels) that meant many games used the right hand side as game information instead.
The fun with the SID chip was good as well, fondly remember when I first got the algorithm working for polyphonic playback of sound. OK, with only 3 channels it wasn't great in the poly-department but a lot better than the previous situation where a subsequent note cut the trailing portion of the prior note stone dead. ADSR anyone?
The processor was a "real" one though, not pathetic like the Z80 with all its stack shenanigans to due the most simple tasks (x86 is just as bad in some ways) and only *girls* had CPUs that could multiply or divide. I can almost remember the machine code decimal values for starting the most commonly used interrupt register callbacks :)
The C64 wasn't discontinued until early 1994 as it was still selling well all over the former Eastern Bloc (there was a huge demand for cheap home computers and Amstrad had discontinued the Spectrum in 1991). Although the C64 had all but vanished from UK stores by 1992 (I picked up one very cheap end of line from John Menzies Summer 1992).
In 1991 New Computer Express reported that Commodore was to stop bundling a tape recorder with the C64 because the cost of producing the tape recorder hadn't dropped whereas the C64 itself now cost so little to make that they could sell it without the tape recorder for around £50.
It is no co incidence
That most of advanced mobile software and some insanely optimized desktop software such as core player comes from those areas and Russia.
You had no choice but hack. Can you believe that they still code for msx?
Mayhem In Monsterland
I wanted to post a link from Youtube of one of the final commercial releases for the C64, Mayhem in Monsterland.
A fitting end to the C64's commercial life. Wonderful graphics and splendid gameplay. Most people probably won't have seen the game. On a proper TV set rather than Youtube it looks amazing.
(if you want to see a more colourful level skip to 3 minutes in).
I had a C64 with a re-furb disk drive when Mayhem came out and I bought that game.
Quick LEGO Interpretation!
I grew up on a BBC Master 128, but felt compelled to throw together a quick LEGO tribute:
I had a relevant conversation with a young man a couple of weeks ago. The gist was my (small) obsession with retro computers. He couldn't understand it at all, but I had to remind him that computer nostalgia for me included varied systems, no GUI's, straight-to-BASIC boot, the early development of games and machines that you had to plug into a TV instead of a monitor.
I pointed out that his nostalgia will merely be for past versions of Windows, which really isn't going to provoke anything approaching the same level of emotional response.
I got a C16 (not the plus/4) for /this/ Christmas and I bought myself a still-working Commodore 128D only yesterday. Happiest purchase ever :)
You missed one point. The C64 had a true digital, saturated-tape recorder. It may not have been an industry first, but was certainly the first on the home market. (With much work I was able to code a driver for a TRS-80 m1, and hit a reliable 2k baud.) The reliability and speed were far greater than any analog system of the time.
No it wasn't - the baud rate was notoriously slow for the day,
and that's compared to cheap audio tape players plugged into other 8-bits.
What it was was some cash-generating product lock-in, just like Amstrad and his monitors.
Wasn't too fast, but at least you didn't have to mess around with volumes to load programs.
Also, it was great for wiping tapes if your stereo didn't turn off the microphone when recording. ;)
They weren't a cash lock in. Sugar wanted to create an all in one solution that kept things simple. You'd buy a box and get everything you needed. Monitor, disk drive/tape recorder. A CPC 464 had one power cable and 2 cables from the monitor to the unit as well as a sharp picture on the monitor. A Speccy had 3 power cables (unit, TV and tape recorder), a joystick adaptor and a fuzzy UHF picture with yet more cables to the tape recorder.
Believe me, as an Amstrad user in the 80's, Sugar did lots of things that infuriated users, but the monitor concept was conceived to make the unit "all in one" much as Amstrad had done with their cheap Hi-Fi systems.
The PCW took it one step further and built the mainboard into the monitor itself. People wet themselves when Apple did it with the iMac 15 years later! Mine you the PCW could never be said to be attractive in any way shape or form. :-)
So many good times
I sold my Atari 2600 and all my games to put the money towards a C64 for xmas, the folks chipped in the rest and on xmas morning I unwrapped it.
I was 13yrs old... I set it up, plugged in the tape drive and opened the two games I had been bought. The Hobbit txt based adventure game (which came with the book too, and is my all time fave book) and Jeff Minters Hovver Bovver.
We read the instructions, set it up, plugged in the joystick, switched it on and loaded Hovver Bovver... 5 mins later we discovered the joystick was faulty... this has been a tradition in my family for over 40yrs... something gadgety/electrical would always be broken in some way when opened on xmas day.
So we loaded The Hobbit instead and aside from xmas dinner, the top of the pops special and a few movies... all 5 of us sat around playing the Hobbit.
I tried programming on it, but wasn't very good at it... But I kept the C64 until 1990 and had hundreds of games for it.
I discovered the joys of twin tape decks on my dads stereo, and me and friends would swap games, another friend got a cartridge (can't remember the name), load a game press a button on the back and record it back to tape or disk.
I've lost count on the number of games that cemented my love of video games... that as a 42yr old is only just starting to wane (mainly due to stupid kids, so I stick to single player and RTS type games now)... but I broke more than a few joysticks on Daley Thompsons Decathlon, perfected my skills on Summer Games I/II, Winter Games & California Games, pursued the llamas in Jeff Minters timeless classics,... Uridium, Paradroid... oh the memories have brought a smile to my face on a cold winters night.
I used to go to a computer club on a Monday night, and took my C64 with me... I saw kids with Atari 400's, Speccy 48k's and at the end of my time there a few speccy 128 and C128's.
But every week a crowd would gather around my C64 (or one of the others... depends who got in early and bagged the biggest colour TV (normally me :) )) and play the latest games... or simply load up the voice emulator (something none of us had ever seen or used before) and get it to say the things a group of 12-14yr old boys would. :)
I got an Atari ST 1080 in 1989 and had that for a couple of years, then got a couple of Amigas in the early 90's (one with the 1mb upgrade)... but they never held the same appeal as the C64 did, nor did my Megadrive, SNES... I guess it was my chipped playstation I got in 96 that reinvented console gaming and moved it back along to my age range (mid 20's by this time)... followed by my first CDRW in about 98.
I had a PS2 and an Xbox... but I skipped the 360 and PS3 and just have a Wii for when friends visit as even my 69yr old disabled dad can play the bowling on that... it's the first time he's ever been truly interested in video games in my entire life... same goes for my sister and mother, and if my brother was still alive... he'd have loved it too.
Strange... I'm not enjoying computer games much any more, as my eldery parents and older siblings were.
Happy birthday C64... you gave me and my friends many, many years of fun.
I got my C64 about a year after my friends got their computers. At my school a few rich kids had Beebs and no significant software, most people had Speccies and a few of us had C64s. On balance we may not have had the number of friends to exchange ideas with, but we had the better mix of games and features.
Later on I got a third part disk drive, and used GEOS on my C64. I even used GeoWrite in preference for Word for Windows when I wrote my final year report as an undergraduate.
My C64 still works perfectly and lives in the loft. I just need to make up the right cable to use it on my TV, it' uses s-video which gives good picture quality but it uses an unusual large DIN sockets...
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