The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64 or VIC-64 in Sweden, is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International (first shown at the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, January 7–10. 1982).
It is listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time,
With independent estimates placing the number sold between 10 and 17 million units. Volume production started in early 1982, marketing in August for US$595 (equivalent to $1,477 in 2016). Preceded by the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore PET, the C64 took its name from its 64 kilobytes (65,536 bytes) of RAM. It had superior sound and graphical specifications compared to other earlier systems such as the Apple II and Atari 800, with multi-color sprites and a more advanced sound processor.
The C64 dominated the low-end computer market for most of the 1980s. For a substantial period (1983–1986), the C64 had between 30% and 40% share of the US market and two million units sold per year, outselling the IBM PC compatibles, Apple Inc. computers, and the Atari 8-bit family of computers. Sam Tramiel, a later Atari president and the son of Commodore's founder, said in a 1989 interview, "When I was at Commodore we were building 400,000 C64s a month for a couple of years."In the UK market, the C64 faced competition from the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum, but the C64 was still one of the two most popular computers in the UK.
Part of the Commodore 64's success was its sale in regular retail stores instead of only electronics or computer hobbyist specialty stores. Commodore produced many of its parts in-house to control costs, including custom integrated circuit chips from MOS Technology. It has been compared to the Ford Model T automobile for its role in bringing a new technology to middle-class households via creative and affordable mass-production.
Approximately 10,000 commercial software titles have been made for the Commodore 64 including development tools, office productivity applications, and video games.
C64 emulators allow anyone with a modern computer, or a compatible video game console, to run these programs today. The C64 is also credited with popularizing the computer demoscene and is still used today by some computer hobbyists. In 2011, 17 years after it was taken off the market, research showed that brand recognition for the model was still at 87%.
In January 1981, MOS Technology, Inc., Commodore's integrated circuit design subsidiary, initiated a project to design the graphic and audio chips for a next generation video game console. Design work for the chips, named MOS Technology VIC-II (Video Integrated Circuit for graphics) and MOS Technology SID (Sound Interface Device for audio), was completed in November 1981.
Commodore then began a game console project that would use the new chips—called the Ultimax or the Commodore MAX Machine, engineered by Yash Terakura from Commodore Japan. This project was eventually cancelled after just a few machines were manufactured for the Japanese market. At the same time, Robert "Bob" Russell (system programmer and architect on the VIC-20) and Robert "Bob" Yannes (engineer of the SID) were critical of the current product line-up at Commodore, which was a continuation of the Commodore PET line aimed at business users.
With the support of Al Charpentier (engineer of the VIC-II) and Charles Winterble (manager of MOS Technology), they proposed to Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel a true low-cost sequel to the VIC-20. Tramiel dictated that the machine should have 64 KB of random-access memory (RAM). Although 64-Kbit dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips cost over US$100 (equivalent to $222.68 in 2016) at the time, he knew that DRAM prices were falling, and would drop to an acceptable level before full production was reached. The team was able to quickly design the computer because, unlike most other home-computer companies, Commodore had its own semiconductor fab to produce test chips; because the fab was not running at full capacity, development costs were part of existing corporate overhead. The chips were complete by November, by which time Charpentier, Winterble, and Tramiel had decided to proceed with the new computer; the latter set a final deadline for the first weekend of January, to coincide with the 1982 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
The product was code named the VIC-40 as the successor to the popular VIC-20. The team that constructed it consisted of Yash Terakura, Shiraz Shivji, Bob Russell, Bob Yannes and David A. Ziembicki. The design, prototypes, and some sample software were finished in time for the show, after the team had worked tirelessly over both Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends. The machine used the same case, same-sized motherboard, and same Commodore BASIC 2.0 in ROM as the VIC-20.
BASIC also served as the user interface shell and was available immediately on startup at the
READY prompt. When the product was to be presented, the VIC-40 product was renamed C64. The C64 made an impressive debut at the January 1982 Consumer Electronics Show, as recalled by Production Engineer David A. Ziembicki: "All we saw at our booth were Atari people with their mouths dropping open, saying, 'How can you do that for $595?'" The answer was vertical integration; due to Commodore's ownership of MOS Technology's semiconductor fabrication facilities, each C64 had an estimated production cost of US$135.