Commodore unveils images of the all-new C64

More than 29 years after the introduction of the original iconic home computer, a new iteration of the company is putting out an all-new version of the C64, updated, of course, for 2011.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
5 min read

A look at the prototype of an all-new Commodore 64. Click on the above image for more shots. Commodore USA

It may be 29 years later, but I can still remember looking at what was about to be my Commodore 64, up on a shelf at a Long's Drugs near my father's house.

This wasn't my first computer--that had been a Commodore Vic-20, a machine with the same body as the C64 but with just 2 kilobytes of memory. I can recall using that little machine with my old friend to write the most elementary little BASIC programs:

10 print "hello"
20 goto 10

But then it was time to upgrade. I'd inherited a tiny bit of money, and off to the drugstore I went. I knew what I wanted. Commodore's all-new C64 was on every geek's wish list, and I was no different. What would I do with it? I wasn't sure. But I had to have it.

And have it I did. Bringing the beige machine home--along with its fantastic innovation, the stand-alone floppy disc drive--was one of the best days of my childhood, and over the years, I used that computer for everything: homework, playing games, joining my first bulletin board systems and, yes, downloading pirated games at what I think must have been 300-baud speeds.

Now, a new version of Commodore, the company, seems ready to re-introduce the Commodore 64. At least, it's putting out a modern computer built inside the familiar-looking plastic case. It has an all-new operating system, yet the company promises that the OS is backward-compatible, meaning that if you still have a copy of "Pooyan" or "Kilowatt," you might be able to run it.

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This isn't a total surprise, of course. The all-new Commodore has been selling an updated version of the C64, called the Phoenix, since last year. But despite its innards, it didn't have that oh-so-iconic beige case.

The C64 is one of the most important machines in the history of the home computer. It sold more than 30 million units, and more than 10,000 pieces of software were created for it. Along with its contemporary devices, the Atari 800, the Apple II and IIe, and later, Commodore's own Amiga, these were the products that got so many of my peers into computers in the first place. If you're in your late thirties or early forties, there's almost no way you could have avoided those machines back then. And when Commodore faded away, years later, that didn't dilute in any way the fondness so many of us had for our simple little machines.

Fast forward to today.

"Unleash your creative potential with our new Commodore operating system, a distinctive, attractive, advanced, and stable operating system experience that will come preloaded with dozens of the latest and greatest productivity, creativity, and education software the open-source world has to offer," Commodore says on its Web site about its all-new OS. "Featuring dozens of exciting 3D games, the latest Web browsing technology, a Microsoft Word-compatible Office suite, advanced graphical manipulation programs, 3D ray-tracing software, advanced software development tools and languages, photo and movie editing and sound and music composition programs, there is no task too big or too small for a Commodore or Amiga to accomplish.

"Feeling nostalgic? Commodore OS will also be classic Commodore compatible, able to run classic 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit era software via emulation. A beautiful user interface allows you to easily peruse games for the Commodore PET, Vic-20, C16, C64, C128, and Amiga. No need to bother with floppy disks, as many games can be legally purchased and downloaded from the Internet directly on to your computer.

All our machines will also provide optimum software flexibility with the optional extra to run Windows software either from a dual boot menu at start-up, or seamlessly integrated within Commodore OS itself."

The new C64, the company said, will have "genuine Cherry brand key switches, which provide a feel much better than the original, with a lovely IBM classic mechanism and click sound."

Of course, in keeping with the traditional look of the new C64, the keys will be in the same shape and color as the original C64. "No expense has been spared. This is the ultimate hackers' keyboard on which to wield your key-fu."

A modern version of a classic computer
Although the new C64 looks like the original machine, it actually has many of the trappings of a fully modern computer. Commodore says it will have a slot or tray load read/write DVD, and optional Blu-ray functionality, and comes with 2 gigabytes of DDR3 memory, expandable to 4GB.

A look at the all-new Commodore 64 (images)

See all photos

Also, it will feature a multiformat card reader and five USB slots. But in a nod to modern day, its famous power light has been turned into the computer's power button.

And, says the company: "The new Commodore 64 can be connected to the latest televisions and monitors, and can deliver 1080p HD quality video playback and six-channel high-definition audio for an excellent home theater experience. It also incorporates wireless-N Wi-Fi for exceptional Internet video streaming quality."

Yet, the company knows its audience will want to run old C64 software. As such, the company says, owners can play their "favorite 8-bit-era games within seconds of turning the Commodore 64 on, by either selecting the C64 icon from the boot menu to run a C64 emulator directly, or from a media center program within our own Commodore operating system, which includes screenshots, descriptions, and ratings."

Unfortunately, Commodore doesn't seem to have given any clues as to when it will release the new computer. What it's offered so far is a set of images, and a series of specifications. But this is exciting stuff.

One has to wonder if we'll be seeing an updated Atari 800 any time soon. Or if Apple will decide to go nostalgic and put out a MacBook Pro hidden inside the body of an Apple IIe. But back in the day, I was a Commodore kid. And so, faced with the prospect of an all-new C64, I'm feeling the same emotions I felt when I first looked up at that shelf at Long's, back in 1982: I want one. Again.