Building the Vic-40
During the development of the Max, Robert Russell, who had overseen the creation of the Vic-20, and Al Charpentier, the Commodore home computer's hardware engineer, were able to persuade Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel to allow them to develop a more advanced successor to the Vic-20. That way, Commodore's home computing fortunes would not rest solely on the Vic-20 and the still unproven games console.
Commodore business men: CEO Jack Tramiel (left) and marketing chief Michael Tomczyk (right)
Source: Michael Tomczyk
Tramiel agreed, and the team began work on what was initially called the Vic-40. They were helped by Bob Yannes, who was by then finishing off the Sid chip over at MOS.
Tramiel told the Vic-40 team the machine must be completed by the first weekend in January 1982, to allow him to announce it at CES, and this they achieved, producing four prototypes with the components available to them.
Tramiel had stipulated that the machine must contain 64KB of memory, more than the 5KB the Vic-20 shipped with and more than the 32-48KB being sported by more recent home computers. Ram was expensive and though prices were coming down, Commodore would have to wait until later in the year for the economics to be right for it to ship at the $595 price point pledged by Tramiel in January.
The Commodore 64 advantages... according to Commodore
The 64 would be priced at £299 when it was released in the UK.
By the time Commodore's new machine went on sale, it cost more than twice what a Vic-20 would have set you back. Yet it was a hit and, according to some estimates, more than 16m units would be sold globally, making it one of the most successful home computers of its time - if not the most popular.
However, Commodore never lost its willingness to consider designing machines for specific markets, as it had tried with the Max. That computer was a failure, and Commodore's other efforts would largely fail too.
In 1984, Commodore launched the Plus/4, a cut-down version of the 64 pitched at the small office/home office market and pre-loaded with four productivity apps - word processor, spreadsheet, database and graphing - hence the name. In the States, at least, the 64 had always been pitched against the more business-centric Apple II than against entertainment-oriented home computers like the Tandy Color Computer.
Commodore also released an Osborne One-esque portable version of 64, the SX64 during that year. It featured a built-in colour display, making it the first ever portable colour computer - though, at 10.5kg, a better description of the machine would be 'luggable'. Again, it was hoped the machine would appeal to the business community in the same way Commodore's pioneering Pet had during the late 1970s.
Next page: Awaiting the Amiga
It's been 30 fucking years?!?!??!??
Ah, the C65, and a minor mistake
I believe there are a couple or few fully-built C65s floating around out there, some that work. They look like really neat machines, could have been to the C64 what the IIgs was to the Apple. I made my jump from the Commodore 64 (actually the 128D) to the Amiga. A great move, IMHO. Though I still look back on my 128 from time-to-time.
I also recall lugging around the SX-64 I bought in high school. Can't remember what I paid for it, but $250 sounds about right. I have two now just waiting to be fixed and modded with smaller internal parts and LCD screen. If I ever get around to that at all *sigh*
One minor mistake in the article. BASIC was not copied into main memory: it was actually bank-switched in to the 6510 address space when the computer was in "BASIC mode." Address $00 and $01 were special ports on the 6510 (direction and data) which were used for bank-switching segments of BASIC and KERNAL ROM and I/O space in and out of RAM (not solely for this purpose, mind you.) In the correct configuration, one could map all 64k of RAM into the 6510's address space for reading (writes always went to RAM under ROM, irrespective of the bank setting.) I believe GEOS did this, and I know I used to map out the ROMs in my ML programs when I needed more memory space.
Man I loved programming the 6510.
Paris, writes always go to RAM.
"The model that did more than any to bring computers into the reach of normal folk." - No, that'd be the Spectrum 48K.
I almost choked on my coffee when I read the article's claim that the OS was "copied into RAM".
You *could* copy the ROM into the RAM underneath it and then flip out the ROM (some of us liked to do this in order to alter system behaviour for nefarious purposes - for example, I altered the behaviour of the STOP vector, for writing autoboot code out to tape.) But the operating system, by default, ran directly from the ROM chip.
The C64 didn't have a "20K ROM chip", either - it had two 8KB ROMs (one for the OS "kernal" - misspelling intentional) and one for BASIC - and one 4KB character ROM which stored two sets of system fonts (one uppercase, with more of those funky symbols - and one mixed uppercase/lowercase, for professional uses.)
To this day I have fond memories of my many Commodore 64's from over the years. By todays standards the games were blocky, small, and unsophisticated but they were so original and fun.
Games today are a pale shadow in comparison, sure they have massive budgets, design teams, gigabytes of graphics resources but for all that they are still just clones of previous games, just a different situation or weapon set, the same soulless drivel just jazzed up, tweaked and repackaged.
It was on the C64 and other machines of the time that the games industry was born. Guys in their garages with extremely limited resources worked miracles with the hardware and came out with something fun and unique.
It's only fitting that to this day the Commodore 64 is the best selling computer of all time, and with the progress of technology these days with models lasting 6 months at best, it will never be outsold.
Happy Birthday Commodore 64. Thanks for the memories.