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Commodore 64

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[Picture of original C64, 12k JPEG] Pic. 1: The legend (original C64)

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In January 1982, when it was presented at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) (at a suggested retail of US$ 595 [1], or DM 1400 [2]), nobody could foresee that the C64 would be the best-selling computer in the world - over 17 million units were sold until late 1992 [3], as many as the VW bug. The technical limitations were overcome in many ways: graphic modes go as far as 640x400 (okay, a bit cheating :-), the RS232 was tuned from the standard 300bps [?] to over 9,600bps, and the sound chip SID, which originally wasn't designed to play samples at all, was talked into playing 8-bit PCM samples. So, the C64 seems to have no limits indeed :-)
The C64 was and is mostly used for games, since its graphics chip (VIC-II) offers 8 hardware sprites, a rasterline interrupt and smooth scrolling, which makes it very easy to write high quality shoot-em-up type games. The 3-voice synthesizer (SID) gives the C64 sound capabilities which were actually far ahead of its time back in the 80s.
This machine is undoubtedly one of the most successful computers ever. 16 years after it entered the market, the C64 is still around; used for programming, producing video titles, word processing, packet radio, electronic handcraft and - of course - games. The load of web pages, magazines, and new software makes clear that it will definitely survive the year 2000 and probably go far beyond this point. This year, a new German papermag, the GO64!, began to come into heir to the infamous 64'er (which meanwhile has been reduced to a two-page insert in a PC magazine), and underlines the nearly unbroken enthusiasm of the C64 community.


1. The Original

The first Commodores came in an off-white case just like the VC20. The color was changed to the well-known shade of brown soon (pic. 1). The keys were white on dark brown, the four function keys white on brown. What leaps to the eye on first sight is the second joystick port (which is missing in the VC20) and a - compared with the VC20 - much smaller expansion port. Above that, the C64 doesn't seem to differ from the VC20 - until you switch it on.
As opposed to the 22x23 characters of the VC20, 40x25 characters help keeping track of things, and with 320x200 pixels, the C64's graphics resolution has been more than doubled in comparison with the VC20. The 3-voice SID is a real synthesizer chip with quite sophisticated features like high/low/band pass and notch filters, ring modulation and synchronization and allows to produce sounds which were unique back in the C64's era - and still are.
The 8 hardware sprites offered by the VIC-II make it very easy to write games for the C64, as it additionally has sprite-to-sprite and sprite-to-background collision detection. With the VIC-II's lightpen interrupt line, the C64 was also suited for drawing programs and GUIs using lightpens.
The early C64s employed buggy VIC-II's (R1 and R2 [?]), and all [?] old boards use a misdimensioned capacitor for triggering the NMI, so that you have to hit the RESTORE key very hard to make it work. The latter can be fixed easily by replacing this capacitor.

2. The C 64 C

[Picture of C 64C, 14k JPEG] Commodore produced the first generation of C64s (pic. 1) until May 1986 [4], then it was discontinued and they introduced the C64C. According to the 64'er [4], this version has been planned since the Hannover mass in 1985, but as the old version sold so well during Christmas '85, it was put on ice first.
The new model does not differ much from its predecessor, the only innovation is the flat case, which makes the keyboard (which has off-white keys now) more ergonomical, as it is less high than the old one. But the new case did not only have advantages: due to its low profile and additional metal screening, most of the numerous hardware expansions did not fit anymore. This was changed with the C64G (see below). The 64'er staff noticed that VIC-II as well as the two CIAs have new version numbers; they didn't write which, though [4].
The official name for this model was "C 64 C", but nevertheless the German 64'er decided to call it "C64-II" [4] (maybe the first units didn't have the new name on the label at the bottom). They pointed out that this name was only valid for the 64'er magazine, but since the 64'er was the magazine for the C64 for a long time, the name was widely accepted and so this model is mostly known as "C64-II" in Germany.
The C64C appeared again after (or concurrently with?) the C64G, this time with the new, short board. So, although the case might look the same and the label says "C 64 C", the boards may be completely different.

3. The Golden C 64

[Picture of the golden C 64, xxk JPEG] Until December 1986(?) [5], 1,000,000 Commodore 64s have been sold in Germany. On this occasion, Commodore Büromaschinen GmbH (Commodore's German subsidiary) released a limited edition of a golden C64, serial numbers 1,000,000 to 1,000,199 [6], which was presented to the public in the BMW museum in Germany Commodore had rented for this event. One of these machines was donated to the German magazine "64'er" (serial number 1,000,058). In the middle of the acryl plate it was mounted on you could read:

 aus Anlaß des 1.000.000sten
     C 64 in Deutschland
      5. Dezember 1986

Which translates to:

 on occasion of the 1,000,000st
       C 64 in Germany
     5th of December, 1986

4. The C 64 G

[Picture of C 64G, 20k JPEG] The third generation of C64s, introduced in August 1987 [7], did not only come with a new board, which was significantly shorter and much more integrated, but also with the old case (keeping the off-white keys of the C64C). While the old case would have eliminated the problems with expanding the C64, the completely new board made it nearly impossible to use ANY of the old internal hardware extensions.
This model was named "C 64 G", but you can also find "C 64 BN/E" [8] and, reported by a reader of the "64'er", "C64-III" [?] on the bottom of this C64.
The new board introduced a slight (very slight) incompatibility to the older models, which I will describe here as soon as I can remember what it was or someone tells me; all I know is that SMON's TRACE command malfunctioned on these boards. Above that, it contains a new SID and different filter capacitors [?], which make it sound slightly different; furthermore, digital samples sound far too silent, as Commodore eliminated the 'volume clicks'. With some basic soldering skills, you can fix that very easily, though.

NOTE! Some versions of the C64 are said to have no 9VAC at the user port [9], they are referred to as "ALDI" versions (ALDI is a German 5 'n' 10). This means that you cannot operate EPROM burners and other hardware which needs 9VAC with these C 64s.


Related Links (general)

[1] COMPUTE!'s Gazette, Issue 32, Feb. 1986, Beyond the 1541: Mass Storage for The 64 and 128
[2] 64'er 7/92, p.20, Die Hardware des C 64 im Wandel
[3] Peter Kittel in 64'er ?/92(?), p.3, Seite 3
[4] 64'er 6/86, pp.19-21, Der Neue
[5] 64'er 2/87, p.10, Der Millionär
[6] RUN 2/87, pp.39-40, Eine Million Brotkästen claim they had the serial numbers 1,000,001 to 1,000,150, but Frank Kuppels told me that the one he has/had bears the serial number 1,000,199 and that the Commodore employee handing him this machine said that this was number 200 and thus the last golden C64.
[7] 64'er 9/87, p.8, Ein Neuer in der 64'er-Familie
[8] Marko Mäkelä and xxxx told me about this label; xxxx has one.
[9] 64'er 7/92, p.22

Updated: May 26th, 1998
Created: September 1st, 1997
Status : Verified on September 9th, 1997
Thanks to: Marko Mäkelä and xxxx for reporting the BN/E version.

Copyright © 1997-98 by Marc-Jano Knopp
This document is part of MJK's Commodore 64 & LCD Page