The Commodore 64 was the successor to the popular VIC-20 computer. It was technically superior to its predecessor and still reasonably priced. Appealing not only to game players but especially programmers, the Commodore 64 eventually became the best selling personal computer of all time.
Like the VIC-20, the Commodore 64 came with a keyboard and CPU only. It plugged into a home television set and contained 64KB (expandable to 512KB) RAM and 20KB ROM. The Commodore 64 utilized a 6510 microprocessor that ran at 1.02 MHZ.
The Commodore 64's sound is what really set it apart from other computers of the time. The system featured a Sound Interface Device called SID. The SID was a synthesizer chip capable of producing a wide variety of unique music and sound effects. It handled the sound output by itself, freeing up the CPU for other duties. The SID was the first dedicated sound chip to be used in a home computer. It provided 3 channels of sound and greatly enhanced gameplay in the early 1980s. The SID was developed by Robert Yannes (designer of the VIC-20).
The video display was controlled by the VIC-II (Video Interface Chip). The VIC-II offered 8 hardware sprites (a pre-programmed combination of shapes that could be easily manipulated). Its smooth scrolling features helped facilitate game programming. The BASIC operating system on the 64 was also a favorite among game developers.
Unlike the VIC-20, the Commodore 64 features two controller ports. Joysticks or paddles could be used on the system. Atari 2600 controllers were compatible with the Commodore 64. Though it was promoted as a multi-purpose computer, the Commodore 64 was extremely popular for gaming.
External storage was available with the optional Commodore 1541 Disk Drive. The 5.25" floppy disks it used provided a storage capacity of 170KB. Loading and storage time on the drive was extremely slow. Another option was the C2N Datasette Tape Drive which stored data on standard a audio cassette. The 1650 modem plugged into the Commodore 64 and could contact other computers at 300bps. Peripherals for the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 were interchangeable.
The Commodore 64 originally retailed for $595 when it was introduced in September 1982. By 1983, Commodore was manufacturing over 200,000 units a month. Later in the year, Commodore dropped the retail price of the 64. It could be purchased for as little as $200.
With the tremendous success of the 64 system, Commodore released various improved incarnations. In 1983, the SX-64 was released. It came with a built-in monitor and disk drive and was promoted as the world's first portable color computer. In 1984, the Plus 4 was released. It featured software integrated in the ROM.
In 1983, Commodore enjoyed sales of $681 million. Over 17 million units of the 64 had been sold by the time Commodore stopped making the system in 1992. Dedicated fans of the Commodore 64 continue to design and produce games for the system today. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide