updated 05:10 pm EST, Mon January 2, 2012
Commodore 64 marks anniversary
A key part of the computer industry marked its anniversary this week as the Commodore 64 turned 30 years old. The hardware was unveiled at CES in early January 1982 and became one of the longest-lasting computers of its era, with variants in use until the company shuttered in April 1994. The keyboard-sized PC, which shipped in August that year for $595, ran at just 1MHz and with its namesake 64KB of total memory.
The system is widely credited with helping to popularize PCs. Where most systems at the time were sold either in electronics shops or in dedicated computer stores, the C64 was sold at general retailers, exposing many to PCs for the first time.
Equally important were the relatively powerful VIC graphics chip and MOS Tech audio. Although it could only render a 160x200 picture with bitmaps and three-channel sound, these were still much more than alternatives like the Apple II+ or original IBM PC and led to the C64 being a gaming PC for many.
Commodore would ultimately end up shipping as many as 17 million C64s over the system's lifetime, but it was also considered the peak of the company's line. Attempted variants like the office-oriented Plus 4, the SX64 portable, or the Commodore 128 never sold in great numbers. The company officially dropped the regular C64 in 1989, but there were variants up until the company's end five years later, when the Amiga had long since taken over as its main platform.
The brand eventually revived in 2004 through the Dutch company Tulip, which started with the C64DTV retro system directly based on the original. It later shifted the name towards regular computers, most notably gaming PCs. The C64 name survives now with the retro-designed, Intel-based C64x, which can run an emulator of the original Commodore platform as well as behave like a regular Linux or Windows PC. [image via Bill Bertram]