Old School 4 Life‘s Today’s Memory
The Commodore 64
Originally shared by Old School 4 Life™
On this day:
At 10th August of 1982, the Commodore 64 was released, retailing at $595USD. The price rapidly dropped, creating a price war and causing the departure of numerous companies from the home computing market. The C64, as it was better known, came with 64KB of RAM and featured impressive graphics. Total C64 sales during its lifetime (from 1982–1994) are estimated at more than 17 million units, making it the best-selling computer model of all time. The machine was hugely successful for its time, helping to encourage personal computing, popularise video games and pioneer homemade computer-created music.
For those of you too young to remember, Commodore was a hot company in the mid-1980s. It was a leader in personal computers, shipping thousands of Commodore 64 desktops daily. Guinness has named it the single biggest-selling computer ever, the company sold as many as 17 million of them and the brand name is still widely remembered. Still, the company went bankrupt in 1994, and the brand saw several fuzzy changes of trademark ownership over the years.
Jack Tramiel founded Commodore International in 1954 in Toronto. After launching the PET in 1977 and following up with the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, he left. The company slowly withered and folded in 1994. A buyer snapped up its assets, including 47 patents related to the company’s Amiga line, but the Commodore trademark changed hands several times.
In 1996, the German PC conglomerate that owned the rights to it filed for bankruptcy, and the Commodore name bounced around some more, going through two more bankruptcies. Two years ago, a federal court ruled that the trademark belonged to Commodore Holdings B.V., a Dutch company that has been silent ever since.
That’s where things stood until March, when Massimo Canigiani and Carlo Scattolini registered Commodore Business Machines Limited in the UK. The Italian entrepreneurs claim to have acquired rights for the brand and trademark in the mobile industry in 38 countries, including the US.
The Commodore 64 (C64) is perhaps the best known 8-bit computing platform ever designed, rivaled only by the Apple II in terms of popularity and longevity. Within a few short years after its introduction in 1982, the Commodore 64 dominated the low-end computer market, receiving a steady stream of software and peripheral support that lasted through the decade. The personal computer industry would never be the same.
The C64’s unprecedented success demonstrated, once and for all, that there was a strong and viable market for inexpensive personal computers that could run the latest videogames. Today, tens of thousands of avid C64 fans publish websites, populate online forums, run C64 games in emulators, and develop new homebrew software and other products for the system. There are even bands who specialize in arranging old Commodore favorites for the pub and bar crowds. For countless fans of the system, the „Commie” is still the best personal computer ever to grace the living room.
Commodore highlighted the fact that since it had designed and manufactured its own chips it had been able keep costs down – and the advantage helped it become the best-selling model in North America. In Europe it faced competition from two cheaper eight-bit rivals released over the previous year: the BBC Micro and Sinclair Spectrum.
As is common for home computers of the early 1980s, the C64 incorporates a ROM-based version of the BASIC programming language. There is no operating system as such. The KERNAL is accessed via BASIC commands. The disk drive has its own microprocessor, much like the earlier CBM/PET systems and the Atari 400 & Atari 800. This means that no memory space is dedicated to running a disk operating system, as was the case with earlier systems such as the Apple II and TRS-80.
Commodore BASIC 2.0 is used instead of the more advanced BASIC 4.0 from the PET series, since C64 users were not expected to need the disk-oriented enhancements of BASIC 4.0. The company did not expect many to buy a disk drive, and using BASIC 2.0 simplified VIC-20 owners’ transition to the 64.
The version of BASIC is limited and does not include specific commands for sound or graphics manipulation, instead requiring users to use the „PEEK and POKE” commands to access the graphics and sound chip registers directly. To provide extended commands, including graphics and sound, Commodore produced two different cartridge-based extension to BASIC 2.0: Simons’ BASIC and Super Expander 64.
Languages available for the C64 include Pascal, C, Logo, Forth, and FORTRAN. Compilers for BASIC 2.0 such as Petspeed 2 (from Commodore), Blitz (from Jason Ranheim) and Turbo Lightning (from Ocean Software) were produced. While much of the first generation of C64 software used the standard BASIC, after 1983 almost all professionally produced programs were written in assembly language, either cross developed on a larger computer, or directly on the C64 using a machine code monitor or an assembler. This maximized speed and minimized memory use.
During the 1980s, the Commodore 64 was used to run bulletin board systems using software packages such as Bizarre 64, Blue Board, C-Net, Color 64, CMBBS, C-Base, DMBBS, Image BBS, and The Deadlock Deluxe BBS Construction Kit, often with sysop-made modifications. These boards sometimes were used to distribute cracked software. As late as December 2013, there were 25 such Bulletin Board Systems in operation, reachable via the Telnet protocol.
There were major commercial online services, such as Compunet (UK), CompuServe (US – later bought by America Online), The Source (US) and Minitel (France) among many others. These services usually required custom software which was often bundled with a modem and included free online time as they were billed by the minute.
The Commodore’s ability to display 16 colours, smoothly scroll graphics and play back music through its superior SID (sound interface device) chip – even while loading programs off tape – helped win over fans, but it did not become the market leader until the late 1980s.
Part of the Commodore 64’s success is because it was sold in retail stores instead of just electronics and/or computer stores. Commodore produced many of its parts in-house to control costs, including custom IC chips from MOS Technology. It has been compared to the Ford Model T automobile for its role in bringing a new technology to middle-class households via creative mass-production.
Obviously, the C64 played a definitive role in the evolution of computer gaming — especially since the C64’s low price and subsequent popularity may well have played a small role in The Great Videogame Crash of 1984. Commodore saw the line in the silicon between computers and consoles and didn’t just step over it – they erased it.
Approximately 10,000 commercial software titles have been made for the Commodore 64 including development tools, office productivity applications, and games. C64 emulators allow anyone with a modern computer, or a compatible video game console, to run these programs today. The C64 is also credited with popularizing the computer demoscene and is still used today by some computer hobbyists. In 2008, 17 years after it was taken off the market, research showed that brand recognition for the model was still at 87%.
Besides being featured in countless general videogame and computer magazines, the Commodore 64 series of systems had magazines devoted specifically to the platform, like the pictured Ahoy!, Run, Compute!’s Gazette and Commodore Microcomputers publications.