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Undead Commodore 64 comes back for Christmas

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The Commodore 64 will rise from the grave before Christmas, according to the tiny company determined to reanimate the long-dead 80s icon.

Commodore USA — the outfit that seemed to unveil a reincarnated C64 before failing to secure the rights to the name — has at long last signed an agreement with the rights holders, and according to president and CEO Barry Altman, his company plans to offer an all-in-one PC that uses an "exact replica" of the original Commodore 64 chassis. The one that looks like this:

Old Commodore

Commodore 64

Known as the Commodore PC64, the new system is due for arrival at the beginning of the fourth quarter. "It will be an exact replica of the C64 chassis loaded with the most amazing components available today," Barry Altman tells The Reg. These components include the dual-core Intel Atom D525 CPU with Nvidia Ion2 graphics, 4GB of DDR3 memory, 1TB hard drive, DVD/CD optical drive, integrated 802.11n WiFi, and a 6-in-1 media-card reader.

According to Altman, his company has secured the exclusive worldwide rights to use the Commodore name with the sale of all-in-one PCs. In March, when the company unveiled a machine that hearkened back to the original C64 without actually duplicating the chassis, Altman seemed to indicate that he had already licensed the famous name — but as it turns out, he was negotiating with the wrong company.

The Commodore name is controlled by an outfit called Commodore Licensing BV, now a subsidiary of a public corporation known as Asiarim, and Altman says he signed an agreement with Commodore Licensing BV earlier this month.

Which only begins to describe that labyrinthine history of the Commodore name. Neither Altman's nor Asiarim's company should be confused with the original Commodore International, the Jack Tramiel-run company that introduced the C64 in 1982.

The inaugural C64 sold for $595, and that ultra-low price eventually dropped even lower, to a mere $199. "We made machines for the masses," Jack Tramiel said on the machine's 25th anniversary, before a gesturing to the Buddha-like man sitting beside him, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. "They made machines for the classes."

Tramiel said his company sold almost half a million Commodore 64s each month before he departed in 1984, and he estimated that between 22 and 30 million C64s were sold before the machine finally gave up the ghost.

Commodore International declared bankruptcy in 1994, and over the next several years, the rights to the Commodore name bounced across several European outfits. First, they went to a German retailer known as Escom. Then they moved to the Netherlands-based Tulip Computers. Then they were purchased by another Dutch outfit, Yeahronimo, which eventually changed its name to...Commodore International.

This Commodore International lives on in the form of legal entities such as Commodore Licensing BV and Asiarim. At one point, BV licensed the name to a Dutch outfit calling itself Commodore Gaming, a company founded in 2005 with the intention of "re-launching the classic Commodore 64 experience on various platforms." At first, Barry Altman attempted to license the famous name from Commodore Gaming, not realizing it was merely a licensee.

In June, Altman and Commodore USA introduced their first all-in-one PC, dubbed Phoenix, and it's still on sale at the company's website. But its chassis doesn't quite have the original Commodore look. Altman's PC64 "exact replica" will even offer those "chunky, thick keys you remember so well."

We do get the distinct impression, however, that Commodore USA is flying by the seat of its pants. When we phoned Barry Altman this morning, he initially told us he wasn't Barry Altman. ®

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