GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS
The Commodore 64 returns, seriously
The look and the price are retro, but what's under the hood?
- By John Breeden II
- Apr 14, 2011
“It’s not what you pay for, it’s what you get.”
That clever slogan and several like it helped propel the Commodore 64 to more than 20 million sales after it appeared in 1982. And now, the Commodore 64, which was discontinued in 1994, is being relaunched at, amazingly, the same price as it was back then. That’s right, you can now buy your very own modern C64 for $595.
I actually learned about the C64 relaunch around the beginning of the month, but held off on writing about it because I didn’t want people to think it was an April Fool’s joke. I assure you, it’s not.
The original C64 was probably one of the most consumer-friendly PCs ever created. They were even sold in department stores. You could walk into a Sears or a Montgomery Ward (back when you could actually walk into a Montgomery Ward) and pick up fishing tackle, a new outfit, and a Commodore 64 computer.
I have to admit that I never owned one. My parents went down with me to the local computer showroom and bought an IBM PC, which we got for a good price by playing two dealers against each other. It was not unlike purchasing a car today. And after shelling out thousands of dollars, we became the proud owners of the most powerful personal computer in the world at the time. I was the king nerd of the neighborhood.
So it was with some displeasure that I found out what the C64 could do after my good friend Guy’s family bought one.
At first I looked down on the little device, its tan cover and funny button arrangement. But the more I played with it, the more I came to respect it.
The big shift for me was when we both purchased the Cinemaware game “Defender of the Crown.” It looked so much better, had more features and generally was a better experience on the C64. That can probably be chalked up to the fact that the C64 was pretty much a specifically designed entertainment system and the IBM PC was a multipurpose system that could do anything. But still, I was impressed. I remember sitting around with Guy reviewing the game on both platforms and exclaiming with shock, “The campfire moves on the C64!”
The new Commodore 64 is not identical to the original. In fact, inside the carefully rendered brown shell is an Intel Atom processor, plenty of memory (much more than 64k) and an Nvidia graphics chip. There is even an HDMI port so you can hook it up to a modern big screen, and options for Blu-ray and Wi-Fi.
You can even install Windows on it if you want, though I suspect that might somehow shatter the space-time continuum, or at the very least rip a tiny hole in the fabric that makes up reality.
A Commodore OS and a game pack are in the works, though the original units will ship with Linix Ubuntu. The company making the new C64 says it will ship the Commodore OS for free to anyone who buys a system now and wants to run it “authentically” later on.
Will the new C64 catch on? I suspect it will. Of those 20 million original owners, some have to feel the same level of nostalgia I do, perhaps much more. And the price is good, too. Even if you only plan to use it as your Blu-ray player, I can’t think of anything more geek chic as the centerpiece for a mancave.
So what do you think? Will the new C64 make it to your Christmas wish list, or is dead technology gone for a reason?
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.