Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Did You Adore Your Commodore 64? Now You Can Again.

Geeks of a certain age like myself are taking a bit of a trip down the digital memory lane this week on word that the Commodore 64 is back. Back? Well, in a sense.

As you can see from the specs, it’s really just a modern PC built into a body that has the same look and feel as the original C64, which was fully contained inside the body of a keyboard. The appeal is that you can launch a C64-mode to play all the old games and run the old software via an emulator available on the desktop. Though as the vendor’s Web site informs you: “Commodore OS 1.0, along with emulation functionality and the classic game package, will be mailed to purchasers when available. In the meantime, units come with the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS operating system on CD ready to install.” You could probably also install Windows on it provided you get one with a sufficiently large hard drive.

I got my first C64 in 1983 and had to wait a few months before my folks could spring for the floppy disk drive. I had to get by loading programs with a cassette-tape drive at first. When I tell younger people about these tape drives, some of them think I’m pulling their legs. Remember downloading pictures or music or pretty much anything on a dial-up modem? Yeah, it was kind of like that, but worse.

Commodore USA–which bears no relationship to the company that brought the original C64, and later the Amiga computer, to market, then went bankrupt and was liquidated in 1994–is selling the machine for a starting price of $250, though the price increases to $595 (the price of the original in 1982) and $695 depending on options.

If you’re not willing to spend that kind of cash, there are several C64 emulators for modern machines, and plenty of sites where you can download ROM files for old games. Mac users will like Power64, which is what I use. I’m not as familiar with emulators that run on Windows, though here’s a list of several. And everything you’ve ever wanted to know about C64 software, including all those fabulous 8-bit games, can be found at

Belows is probably not the first and certainly not the only Commodore TV ad you’ll see around this week. (Many more to be found here.) This one is a 1984-vintage ad for the C64, advertising the machine for $250. It had come down from its original price, but its specifications didn’t change in that time.

The C64’s time on the market gave it the staying power required to make it the best-selling single model of a computer of all time. Estimates as to exactly how many were sold vary: Commodore founder Jack Tramiel said he thought the number was between 22 million and 30 million. A 1993 Commodore annual report (yes, it was publicly held, and you can read more than you ever wanted to know about it in this book) claimed lifetime sales of about 17 million units, though further research suggests the real number was closer to 12 or 13 million. Whatever the number, millions clearly adored, and still do adore, the 64.