back to article The Commodore 64 is 30

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' …


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  1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Ah, the C65, and a minor mistake

    I believe there are a couple or few fully-built C65s floating around out there, some that work. They look like really neat machines, could have been to the C64 what the IIgs was to the Apple. I made my jump from the Commodore 64 (actually the 128D) to the Amiga. A great move, IMHO. Though I still look back on my 128 from time-to-time.

    I also recall lugging around the SX-64 I bought in high school. Can't remember what I paid for it, but $250 sounds about right. I have two now just waiting to be fixed and modded with smaller internal parts and LCD screen. If I ever get around to that at all *sigh*

    One minor mistake in the article. BASIC was not copied into main memory: it was actually bank-switched in to the 6510 address space when the computer was in "BASIC mode." Address $00 and $01 were special ports on the 6510 (direction and data) which were used for bank-switching segments of BASIC and KERNAL ROM and I/O space in and out of RAM (not solely for this purpose, mind you.) In the correct configuration, one could map all 64k of RAM into the 6510's address space for reading (writes always went to RAM under ROM, irrespective of the bank setting.) I believe GEOS did this, and I know I used to map out the ROMs in my ML programs when I needed more memory space.

    Man I loved programming the 6510.

    Paris, writes always go to RAM.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. DJV Silver badge

        @Oliver Jones / BASIC into RAM

        My nefarious use was to copy the BASIC into RAM in places like Debenhams and add a few POKEs to change the "syntax error" message to something rude. Then I'd sidle off to wait for unsuspecting kiddies to bash the keyboard a few times before asking their mothers what *THAT* meant!

        Those were the days...

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          That reminds me of the time I sweated hell after running POKE all through the memory (then my parents threw me out of the room and I couldn't continue "work"). I was unsure during the whole of the next day whether I had destroyed the machine ... noob along several dimensions, me.

      2. Alan W. Rateliff, II
        Paris Hilton

        20k ROM in multiple chips...

        Nice catch. I was so stuck on the "copy" thing I completely missed that bit.

        Paris, I completely missed that bit.

  2. Robert Heffernan

    Happy 30th!

    To this day I have fond memories of my many Commodore 64's from over the years. By todays standards the games were blocky, small, and unsophisticated but they were so original and fun.

    Games today are a pale shadow in comparison, sure they have massive budgets, design teams, gigabytes of graphics resources but for all that they are still just clones of previous games, just a different situation or weapon set, the same soulless drivel just jazzed up, tweaked and repackaged.

    It was on the C64 and other machines of the time that the games industry was born. Guys in their garages with extremely limited resources worked miracles with the hardware and came out with something fun and unique.

    It's only fitting that to this day the Commodore 64 is the best selling computer of all time, and with the progress of technology these days with models lasting 6 months at best, it will never be outsold.

    Happy Birthday Commodore 64. Thanks for the memories.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It's only fitting that to this day the Commodore 64 is the best selling computer of all time"

      In the years it was around it sold around 16 million units.

      30 million iPads were sold in 2011.

      Is the iPad not a computer?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Fuck off with your iPad


      2. LuMan


        10 PRINT "AC - 09:48 is a dickhead";

        20 GOTO 10


      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No, the iPad is a glorified Digital Photo Frame.

    2. Jim 59

      Good times

      For those of us of a certain age, they were good times. Home computers let you play games, learn to program and do some busines stuff like word processing. They had a charm, a fascination and immediacy which is difficult to imagine unless you lived through it.

      And in one way they were much faster than your modern PC: boot time 1 second.

      1. Thomas 4

        Well well.....

        I never knew that Commodore made a foray into the console market. I know that Amstrad did with the CPC464+ and 6128+ (I even have one of the old GX4000 consoles floating around at home somewhere!). Needless to say, the GX tanked horribly (although the Pluses had a minor modicum of success) - it's just nice to know that COMMODORE USING SCUM (sorry) also made the same mistakes.

        /Amstrad Fanboi

  3. Nev Silver badge

    Ahh, Good ol' C64...

    The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk.

    Just look at the price differentials!

    Memories of games by the cassette-box full and my 'O' Level Computer Science project, including linked lists and some natty 6510/6502 assembly language routines.....

    1. Sweaty Hambeast

      Oh puhlease...

      > The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk.

      Commodore's problem was that they overpriced their machines. No, don't argue with me. I'd have happily had a Commodore but I couldn't afford one. From the PET (for which I still have a soft spot) to the Vic-20, there were other machines that I could afford that would do what I wanted (and I've got a computing degree from the days when these things were worth something). They always brought their new machine out at one price class higher than it should have been.

      That said, I've still got my Amiga 400 and the games and they still work and they still knock spots off the crap that's produced these days.

      1. Monty Burns

        Amiga 400?

        I'm going to assume that thats a typo rather than you blowing all your own argument into the water.

        *IF* they were so "overpriced" how comes the Amiga wiped the floor with the ST then? IIRC the ST was at one point £100 cheaper (and I still bought an A500 and then a 1200).

      2. Nev Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        "No, don't argue with me. "

        I'll bow to your parochial, UK-centric world viewpoint then.

      3. Homer 1 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Oh puhlease...

        The C=64 was the biggest selling single-model computer of all time, so I'd say it definitely "did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk" ... worldwide.

        In the UK they weren't as common as Beebs and Speccies though (I had the latter, and a ZX81 before it, and a ZX80 kit before that, and a Sinclair Radionic calculator kit before that! Yes, I'm a total geek). I recall seeing a VIC-20 once (I could be wrong, since my memory's very hazy on the event), but I can honestly say I never saw a C=64 in the wild, until many years later (as a retro machine in a collection). I also recall seeing a Dragon32, and quite a few other 8-bits that I never identified (probably Orics and suchlike). Our school had Apple IIe machines, but I never saw an Apple outside the classroom, and TBH I've never seen another one outside a shop, even to this day. No, seriously. They're they're just not that common over here.

        Like you I made the quantum leap from 8-bit to Amiga, a 500 Plus (unexpectedly, since they replaced the 500 without warning just before Christmas). Now I own a fleet of them, and an A4000T, and about every peripheral ever made for the Amiga, including quite a few that I don't even know what they do (yes, I became a collector nut).

        What happened to Commodore was a travesty (Irving Gould and Mehdi Ali should've been shot), but I was more sorry to see the death (several deaths, in fact) of the Amiga than the C=64, since it never really appeared on my radar.

        Most of all I was sorry to see the death of the Golden Age, mostly thanks to the Wintel consumerisation of computing. With any luck the Raspberry Pi might bring back some of the magic of those days.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          BBC Micro more common than the C64 in the UK?

          Seriously? You having a laugh? The BBC Micro shifted 1.5 million worldwide and still cost 400 quid when the C64 was retailing for £130 from any high street shop that sold electrical goods. Tandy, Dixons, Comet, Currys, Rumbelows, Argos, etc. Even Boots, WH Smiths and John Menzies were flogging 64's all through the 80's and early 90's.

          You only need to look at the games sales in the late 80's to see how the UK market was split. From memory of an article I read about a year ago in an old issue of Computing With The Amstrad (1988) they published the breakdown of games software in the UK and put the Spectrum around 36% of the market, the C64 at around 30% of the market and the Amstrad at 20% of the market. Leaving the rest of the formats including the Atari 8 bit, the BBC, and the fledgling Amiga and ST squabbling over the remaining 14%

          There is a lot of love for the BBC on this site (quite rightly) but we can't just rewrite history. The biggest selling 8 bit machines in the UK were the Speccy, the C64 and then the Amstrad. That's in both hardware sales and the software sold audited by Gallup (remember them?).

          1. Homer 1 Silver badge

            Games are not machines

            Whoever was buying whatever games, the C=64 itself was just not very common in the UK. I didn't even see a VIC-20 until after I'd already seen an Amiga, and I don't even recall reading about the C=64 at the time (perhaps I did, but it never registered), even though I was heavily involved in the scene and travelled around quite a bit. I don't ever remember it being featured on any of the (rather lame) TV shows at the time either. I'm sure there were some, somewhere, but I never saw any. Maybe it's a regional thing.

            As for the Beeb, yes it was a more expensive machine for "posh" kids only, but also bear in mind that Acorn claimed something like 85% of the education market, so even the rest of us got exposure to the Beeb at some point (in my case it was "posh" friends).

            Credit where it's due though. The C=64 remains the most significant computer of the 8-bit era (globally), and the one that (in the US) really kick-started the personal computer revolution. Over here though it was definitely the Speccy (and the Beeb, mostly in schools).

            1. Nev Silver badge

              "and I don't even recall reading about the C=64 at the time"

              Not only were there specific Commodore mags but also C64 specific titles too.

              Many a day spent typing in programs from the backs of such magazines.

              You must have been looking at shelves in your local WH Smiths other than the ones with the computer magazines on them....

    2. Mr Jolly

      "The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk." - No, that'd be the Spectrum 48K.

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Paris Hilton

        "The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk." - No, that'd be the Spectrum 48K.

        Only in the UK. Here I'd be inclined to say that it was about 45% each of the C64 and the BBC micro, with the other 10% Dragons and Atari’s.

        Re: programming the C64

        Interestingly there was a 12 year old kid who lived across the road from me who used to crack games by hijacking the reboot vector to point to a simple relocatable machine code monitor and forcing a NMI, and write the entire memory out to disk. He now works with open source and wrote a piece of software that I'm sure a lot of people here have heard about, but I'm not going to tell you what it is to protect my anonymity :-)

        The C64 wasn’t particularly overpriced, but if you decided to add a 1701 disk drive, a printer and a Commode monitor then the total bill came out at over £1,200, which was an awful lot of money in the early 80's.

        Paris, gets POKEd at lot, just like the C64.

        1. Tom 13

          You're right about the price, I forgot about the monitor.

          We never bought that component, just hooked it to the tv. But you couldn't do that with other PCs, so for us, the price was right.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
            Paris Hilton

            That bloody guy who cut the serial

            According to Bagnall's book, and other sources I've read (not gonna Google it for ya,) and from memory, the fast serial port for peripherals was lost due to a "miscommunication" between Commodore East and Commodore West. IIRC, when East sent the designs out to West for fabrication, someone noticed what seemed to be an errant trace running to the serial port and removed it -- this was the line responsible for fast handshaking. By the time West found out, it was too late to change the fabrications (either too many units were produced or the deadline was looming, as Jack Tramiel was very fond of short deadlines.) So the Kernal had to be changed to accommodate the hardware foul up. Additionally, due to its VIC-II video chip, the timing of the 64 is different than the VIC-20, thus disk drive serial access is actually slower on the 64 than the VIC-20.

            Another thing ISTR is that the serial port (user port) was also supposed to have a hardware serial interface similar to the 6551 UART. However, a bug exists in the 6526 CIA shift register so the Kernal had to be modified to emulate the 6551 in software and bit-bang rather than byte-bang serial communications out the user port. Supposedly the user port was not supposed to produce anything over 1200 bps, but several programs are capable of running 2400 using optimized serial routines (Transactor magazine published a great set of routines dubbed "CBAT" in the article "Toward 2400,") and the 128 can run 9600.

            Okay, the above is from memory. I believe them to be accurate, and I wholly expect someone to correct me if I am wrong. In the meantime, after some rest, I'll pull up my docs on the matter to fact-check myself. But for now, these stand as either fact or rumors eternally etched into Internet lore.

            Paris, eternal Internet lore.

            (Another lament I have is back in the mid-90s, Grapevine Group had a number of C65 systems they were blowing out. The price was too high for me at the time. Had I known they would be collectible, and really damn cool, I might have grabbed one. Hind sight is 20/200.)

      2. Tom 13

        The what?

        No, Nev is correct, at least on this side of the pond. The C64 was competing with the TRS80-Model III and the Apple. I asked for the TRS-80 Model I for Christmas one year, my parents couldn't afford it, and the odd jobs a kid can do wouldn't earn me that much either. Instead we got a Magnavox something or other. I kept asking for the TRS until the C64 came out. That year my brother and I were rewarded with a C64. You can complain about the price point, but it was the right one: enough profit margin to sustain the company, cheap enough so most middle class families could afford it.

    3. MR Felix

      The Commodore 64 had the biggest marketing scam of any computer. The machine was announced as the first 64K computer under $600 when it was impossible to make that machine for that price. They made enough to send one to each store so that stores could collect payments for pre-orders even though the machine could not be produced for that price. As the costs of components came down and the costs of other computers came down, people who had already paid out their money sat and waited. Eventually the costs came down so that a 64K computer could be sold for under $600 by Commodore or other companies. But Commodore had locked up the sales by allowing computer stores to take customers money in advance. .

  4. Christian Berger Silver badge

    different freqencies

    The different clock frequencies probably come from the different line frequencies of the 625 and the 525 line standards.

    625 line standards have 15.625 kHz, while 525 line standards have 15.750kHz for monochrome pictures and 15.734265734265734265734265734265734265.... kHz for colour. On 525 line standards monochrome and colour are not fully compatible.

    Since you want to have the same number of pixels per line in both standards, you simply run your graphics chip at a multiple of that line frequency. Since you share your memory between your graphics chip and your CPU, it can only access memory when the CPU doesn't. Therefore you run your CPU at a fraction of the clock frequency.

    The more interesting question is, what can we learn from those times. If you look at it, a C64 had considerably less resources than a modern computer. However you could just turn it on and program it to do whatever you want. You had a "shell" which was nearly as powerful as modern unixoid shells.

  5. Torben Mogensen

    C16 and Plus/4

    The Plus/4 was not a cut-down C64. It was a more advanced machine with a much improved BASIC interpreter and better graphics (121 different colours, IIRC). A "smaller brother", the C16 was supposed to replace the Vic20. I won a C16 at a competition at a computer fair, but since I already had a BBC B, it saw little use and was loaned out to a cousin and eventually sold.

    Neither were very successful, partly due to lack of software compared to C64 and partly because they did not represent sufficient advance over the C64. 121 colours is all very well, but not enough to compensate for the lack of software. It would take something like the Amiga to do so.

    1. GitMeMyShootinIrons


      I remember the C16 - a relative bought one. In the UK it went down about as well as tickets for the Titanic. It was well made, but for the price, under powered and lacking in choice (in the UK, the Sinclair Spectrum had the cheaper end pretty much monopolised).

    2. DJV Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      @Torben Mogensen

      121 colours is correct - there were 16 shades of each of the 16 main colours, but all the shades of black were also black which is why they couldn't say it had 128!

      However, the TED chip that replaced the VIC II/SID chips didn't have sprites and the sound wasn't anywhere near as versatile (later on some people built synthesisers out of SID chips).

      I used to work for a small company that built a 64K memory upgrade for the C16 to bring it up to almost the same capability as the Plus/4 (but minus the built in office software). Unfortunately, there were a few deluded souls who thought that the 64K upgrade meant the C16 could also run the C64 games/programs.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Plus/4" family wasn't even meant to compete with the C64 originally

      You're right when you say that the Plus/4 *wasn't* a cut-down C64- as the article wrongly states. It wasn't even compatible with the C64, but was part of a new family built around a new chipset (the Plus/4, C16 and C116 which were mutually compatible).

      However, while its BASIC may have been more advanced than the C64's (generally considered poor and dated even at the time), its hardware- as DJV suggests- wasn't. Despite the improved palette, it was still generally considered inferior both graphics and sound-wise.

      So why did Commodore bother? If Wikipedia's articles on the C16 and Plus/4 are to be belived the chipset *was* originally meant for an ultra-low-end machine (far cheaper than the C64). This was meant to compete with existing rivals and see off what Tramiel feared would be a Japanese invasion of the low-end market.

      In fact, the ultra-cheap Commodore 116 (a C16, but with a rubber keyboard and "mini Plus/4" style case, only ever sold in parts of Europe) was apparently the first designed, and closest to this original vision.

      By the time it was ready, most of their low-end rivals had cut their losses and left the market, the Japanese invasion hadn't been the threat expected and Tramiel had left Commodore. The new management supposedly didn't know what to do with the chipset. Hence stupid moves like selling the technically inferior and incompatible Plus/4 at a comparable price to the C64.

      The Commodore 64 was *already* effectively the low-end of choice in the US as it was being sold so cheaply there, and (e.g.) here in the UK the Spectrum was already well-established. Apparently the Plus/4, C16 and C116 *did* do quite well in some countries where they were dumped and sold off very cheaply.

      BTW, a friend had a Plus/4, and I remember the hyped integrated software as being very simplistic.

      1. Alex King
        Thumb Up

        Ahh, the C16

        I had one of those, and spent many a happy hour with Kickstart, Punchy and various other games that I've long-since forgotten the names of. Perfectly good machine, even if it did suffer by comparison with the C64...

        Can't have been that bad - I graduated to an Amiga A500, then the A1200, before Commodore became a total, misguided basket case. Ah, good days.

        Still have that A1200 somewhere - hasn't been switched on in over a decade. Wonder if it still works?...

    4. John 48

      Better graphics, is a bit questionable. The TED chip gave you more colours, but the things you lost (hardware sprites, and the audio prowess of the SID chip) meant that animation and sound was never close to what the C64/128 could achieve, and that killed it for games players. The bundled apps of the plus/4 were at best "token" and not of any real value other than as a marketing hook.

      1. Tibbs
        Thumb Up

        I had a +4, I remember we got it in Debenhams before Christmas.

        One of the best things about it was the fact that it came with a load of games to play right from the off. Fire Ant was my mum's favourite, and Treasure Island actually made me cry when I got to Long John Silver for the first time...

        Give me a break, I was only 6!

  6. Baudwalk

    Slightly rushed article?

    Apart from the factual errors, it seemed a little thin compared to your BBC Micro 30th anniversary article. IMHO, of course.

    Still, I can help feeing a burst of rose-tinted nostalgia whenever the C-64 comes up. Love(d) mine to bits.

    The things you could do to kit in those days. Soldering a pause button into the system to stop the CPU by pulling the Address Enable Control low, only to find you needed to add a flip-flop to sync it with the Ø2 clock, or the CPU would crash more often than not. (Hey, I was just a teenager learning the ropes of the electronics trade. Greener than corroded copper wires, I was.)

  7. Peter Gordon
    Thumb Up

    some examples of what this 1982 vintage hardware can do

    (all these run on unexpanded c64s)

    Edge of Disgrace (parts 1 & 2):


    Deus Ex Machina:

    Many more here:[]=Commodore%2064&order=thumbed

    1. Peter Gordon

      Sorry... messed up that last link

      Use this one instead:[]=Commodore%2064&order=thumbup

    2. Vin
      Thumb Up


      Just sat here mesmerised by the Deus Ex Machina demo, just as I used to be back in the day.... I probably had more disks of megademos than anything else.... same goes for the Amiga when I got one.

      Incredible what those guys could get out of the hardware.

      Thanks for that, that really took me back. My original C64 is still set up here, with the 1541 still clunking away, I think I may have to take it out for a spin later.

      Thanks for the memories.

    3. ChrisM

      Amazing, took me back to 1990 and crowded round my mates amiga watching demo's.

      Also sent me looking for the truly awesome Jesus on E's and the epic Jesus on Cheese

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Real C64s

      Seriously? As in an actual C64 box, not emulated on some PC with modern processing power?


      1. Peter Gordon

        Yes. Really.

        All of the demos featured in the videos above run perfectly on stock, unmodified, unexpanded C64 computers with 1541 disk drives.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ Peter

          Awesome, that's actually made me cheerful.

  8. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    the only

    thing I remember about the C64 is an old friend had 1 and it had a utterly s**t BASIC on it

    Eg some computers at the time had a sound comand that consisted of channel number, pitch and volume.

    C64 was Poke 45322, peek(56473)+abs(peek 9856/peek7683), Poke 45323, peek(56211)+32768, Poke 12345,peek(78234634525422) + current lunar distance/SQR(pi)

    A brilliant well built machine spoilt by the entire budget being spent on the hardware leaving 3 cents for the software

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sound in basic?

      Basic was just that: basic. For more serious stuff you had assembly.

    2. DJV Silver badge

      C64 Software

      Yep, that's because Jack Tramiel was a hardware person (he started by repairing typewriters) and basically didn't understand what software was! The Plus/4 and C128 did rectify those shortcomings to a large degree.

    3. Munchausen By Taxi

      ...wait a minute...

      The C64 could function as a three channel synthesizer. Not 'beep' or 'make sound', but oscillators (triangle, saw, pulse and noise), filters and amps. It wasn't a Jupiter 8, but you could get more variety of sound out of it than a BBC or Spectrum.

      1. Giles Jones Gold badge


        Multiple waveforms including pulse width modulation. You could even combine waves.

        Envelopes, essential for mimicking real instruments as a piano doesn't start and stop abruptly, there's an attack and release at the very lease.

        Multi-mode analogue filter, which was flawed and they knew it but there wasn't time to fix it. But it was better than nothing.

        Ring modulation (an effect famously used to create the Dalek and Cybermen voice sounds).

        To get a keyboard with such synth features in 1982 would have cost you quite a bit. Okay, it was a bit rough and there's crosstalk and bugs (the 6581 never fully closes its envelope generator) but you have to remember that it would have been heard through a TV set.

        It's influence on some people is indicated by the fact you could get the sound chip in a MIDI module (I have one myself, quite a rare item), check out the owner list, you might recognise a few of them (especially Depeche Mode):

        But of course, some ignorant comparer or specs will point out the BBC Micro has 4 sound channel compared to the C64 SID's 3 channels :) completely ignoring the fact that the beeb can only produce boring tones.

        1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

          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!!!

    4. Munchausen By Taxi

      ...wait a minute...

      The C64 could function as a three channel synthesizer. Not 'beep' or 'make sound', but oscillators (triangle, saw, pulse and noise), filters and amps. It wasn't a Jupiter 8, but you could get more variety of sound out of it than a BBC or Spectrum. That meant that programming sounds could be a bit more of a slog, but it was worth it for the results.


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