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The Home Computer of the Future and the 1980s: The Commodore 64 

Come in, commodore.The home PC landscape in the 1980s was quite a bit different than it is now. The average consumer believed that home computers

click to enlarge Come in, commodore.
  • Come in, commodore.
Come in, commodore.The home PC landscape in the 1980s was quite a bit different than it is now. The average consumer believed that home computers were just video game systems with keyboards and to a degree that was true. One home computer, however, helped change that myth and it was called the Commodore 64.

The first Commodore in the line was the Commodore Vic-20 that debuted in 1981 with pitchman William "Captain Kirk" Shatner asking consumers: "Why buy a video game when you can have a computer?" The Vic-20 was a huge success selling millions of home computers at a price comparable to video game systems of that era.

The Vic-20 was a good value for the dollar, but its limitations were obvious to those who wanted some power with their computing and were willing to pay extra for it. Commodore heard the cries of the public and in 1982 the Commodore 64 was released. The case it was released in, the famous "brown breadbox," was the same as the Vic-20's only a different color. The idea behind this was to keep costs down by cramming all the new 64 components into the Vic-20's shell.
The C64 could display up to 40 columns and 25 lines of text with a full 16 colors of display - an incredible development for the home computer. Even more impressive for the time was C64's sound output. This was powered by a professional synthesizer chip called an SID (Sound Interface Device). The SID chip would allow for up to three voices at nine octaves, enough to power high-quality electronic sound. Just like the Vic-20, the C64 could just be plugged into a TV set, which meant that it was just as at home in a computer store as it was in the K-mart toy aisle.

A big reason for the success of the C64 was a balance of great engineering and corporate management that were able to keep the manufacturing costs down on the unit. The system sold for $595 to start, but after only a few months it dropped in price due to the fact the system could be produced for a mere $135. This meant that stores like K-mart could sell the computer in the $400 range, and to make it even a better deal they offered a $100 rebate if you traded in your old video game console or computer. It was just too good to be true that you could own a real home computer for around $300 when other computer companies were selling a comparable machine in the thousand-dollar range.

The C64 had a few accessories as well including a tape drive, which was basically a tape recorder with some modifications. The tape held a program magnetically and loaded and saved to the computer from the tape drive. The more expensive 5.25 floppy disk drive was faster and an easier way to load and save games, which was standard after a few years from the system's release. The C64 also had ports that used Atari joysticks and other peripherals.

Even though the fearless Captain Kirk was still doing the galactic bidding for the Commodore 64 as a Home Computer, the core of the C64 was a game machine. Just like the Atari 2600, the C64 had a huge library of games that were for the most part easy to copy so they took the term "shareware" to the extreme. The C64 was a fantastic home computer and game machine and deserves its place in gaming history.

Commodore 64 ★★★★★ Retro Cool!
Manufacturer: Commodore
Retail: $595 to $99.99 (end of lifecycle)
Units Sold:  More than 30 million
Lifespan: 1982 to 1994 (discontinued)  

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26 Years Later and Still Loved

The Commodore 64 celebrated its 25th birthday in 2007 and still has quite a following. The systems lifespan ended in 1994, but people all over the world still have a soft spot in their hearts for this relic of the 1980s. There are websites like that allow you to download and emulate games. If you want your own C64 you can visit auction sites like EBay and get one for around $50 and sometimes in a bundle with a ton of games. The software is even easier to get, ranging from a dollar and higher depending on the obscurity of the title. With the interest in old school gaming, the Commodore 64 will never really be obsolete, just older and cooler to have.


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