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How many Commodore 64 computers were sold? (2011) (pagetable.com)
62 points by mkesper 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

So, if you count also the Commodore 128, you'd reach over 20 million units. (And I would make a case that you should count the Commodore 128, since those were mostly used for C64 software, and even in the rare case that they were used in their C128 capacity, their owners certainly knew the computer could run C64 software too. I think some professional software made use of the capabilities of the C128 over the C64. It could also run CP/M software!)

It could also run CP/M software because it included a Z80 on the motherboard. In fact the Z80 was in control of the system at power on and only transferred control to the 8502 if a CP/M disk was not detected.

The only C128 software I ever ran was GEOS. Everything else was C64 mode stuff.

The "8-Bit Guy" on youtube has a pretty good retrospective on the C-64 as part of his broader history of Commodore series.


It's been a while since I looked at the C64 Serial Registry. For a long time I had the earliest serial number recorded there that wasn't a prototype. Looks like I've been topped!

It seems like everyone and their mother had one of these. Every time i read the backstory of a famous person in tech, inevitably their childhood was spent programming a commodore. What made it so fascinating?

I think the real answer was it was one of the first computers that made sense; it was relatively cheap, especially compared to IBM, but had 64k of memory and color graphics (and better color graphics than IBM had, at that.) It boots directly to BASIC and comes with a book that explains the machine and how to write code for it. I don’t think that was uncommon for the era, but seriously, imagine that today!

The Commodore 64’s appeal never really ended. I was born in ‘93 so there’s not really any nostalgia in it for me, but I just recently bought a broken Commodore 64 and got it all working.

For one thing, there’s something to be said about the simplicity. 3 screws gets you into the computer, and ~6 more gets the motherboard out. The board is simple, only 2 layers, and you can debug it with a logic probe and not really much else. Most chips have fairly distinct functions, except the VIC-2 and SID chips which each handle a laundry list of things aside from their primary jobs of generating video and audio signals.

It’s an interesting machine because it is a fairly consistent platform. People still write demos and games, and they still run on pretty much any Commodore 64. Well OK, you probably need a PAL one, but that’s a single jumper, a different VIC-II, and a different clock away. (Someone this October just created a module that lets you switch by using 4 relays that connect to the jumper, 2 VIC chips and 2 clocks. I installed this in my C64.) You can count instructions, race the beam, flip registers mid scanline, and all kinds of fun stuff, and it will probably work on another C64 just the same.

The community has created some seriously cool stuff, both software and hardware wise. Hardware wise the 1541 Ultimate-II is mindblowing. It plugs into the userport and floppy drive ports (and optionally, datasette port) and emulates, with cycle accuracy and even a speaker producing drive-like noises, a Commodore 1541 floppy drive, a REU memory expansion, and a host of other devices. It even has ethernet for FTPing to.

In short, the thing is, it’s quite honestly still fascinating. It is a computer you can understand, yet seemingly holds unlimited tricks, and there’s an enormous ecosystem that is somehow still growing.

To clarify, "PAL" refers to the European TV standard, correct? Commodore had to make a different sub-model for Europe versus US because the TV signals are governed by different standards in each continent. The screen refresh rate in particular is different. Some software depended on (assumed) one or the other, probably because it was intended to be continent-specific or used hardware tricks to squeeze out higher perceived performance.

Yes and yes. The different PAL version though, was the exact same mainboard. In order to support PAL or NTSC, they have only two real differences: the clock and the VIC-II chip that generates the video signal. By my understanding, for simplicity and to make it cheaper to manufacture, the machine is largely driven by a single clock, and that clock revolves around the pixel timings for the respective video standards. You need the PAL VIC-II for a lot of software because a lot of its coded for PAL, and in the best case, runs too fast (and in the worst case, crashes violently because its cycle counting beam racing tricks don’t line up right.)

(Fortunately, modern LCD TVs dont care very much and decode PAL signals fine. Though the cheap one I’m using seems to frequently assume its NTSC50, where the picture is correct but black and white - what the hell outputs that?)

Was there a SECAM version?

I remember a lot of French software for the 64.

Apparently the SECAM version just had a board to convert the signal to SECAM installed.

And the rich parents just bought Commodore monitors for them instead.

> What made it so fascinating?

Like the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the biggest factor was probably the relatively cheap price. Households who may never have considered purchasing a computer otherwise, could dabble in one thanks to the Speccy and C64.

Other reasons:

• The sheer hands-on access: You could DO things the instant it was powered on. Even if nothing else (except a TV of course) was connected.

Almost nothing was off limits. You could program right away, unlike the $500+ devices of today that you can't even use as a simple calculator without needing an ""operating system"" and updating it and creating an account and picking a password and giving your phone number then downloading an ""app"" from the internet! (exaggerated snark but you know)

• All of the software that was made for it would run on it.

Let that seemingly obvious statement sink in for a second.

When you purchased a C64 or Speccy game or app, there was a very high assurance that it would run on all C64s or Speccies out-of-the-box. That greatly reduced the barriers for non-techie people to warm up to computers.

If something needed extra hardware, like RAM or peripherals, it would say so on the box right up front, though it was mostly for the 16K/48K Spectrum differences and supporting software for third-party add-ons.

• The subculture.

This is the best part for me. There were lots of weird and funky magazines. Everybody was new to it all. Everyone was excited about everything. Entire new genres were being spawned before your eyes.

All the developers were learning as they went. When you look at early C64 games and compare them with later stuff by say Thalamus or Apex, it will seem like they are for entirely different systems. So even without buying new hardware, it was like you effectively got free upgrades throughout the machine's lifetime! :)

Bruce Lee (1984): https://youtu.be/gRGGWWvvO0o?t=31

Creatures (1990): https://youtu.be/SDDkxfJCB9Y?t=2m35s

and yes, those catchy soundtracks spawned a whole another subculture of their own (see SID chiptune remixes.)

Computer manufacturers of today could still take some of those lessons from the C64. It was a computer for true programming beginners that started you right in a BASIC interpreter. Yet it scaled with the user’s expertise, all the way up to machine language programming and hardware hacking. If you mess something up you could soft or even hard reset to the prompt in under a second. What computer today can do this?

I had high hopes for the Raspberry Pi but in its default configuration, you still have to wait while booting an operating system, provide storage, figure out your hierarchical file system and shell commands, and do on. The Pi should ship by default with a ROM that drops you into Python or something 250ms after you power on.

Someone should Kickstart a modern "Unbox = Programming" computer.

Commander X16 by The 8-Bit Guy may possibly count: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CommanderX16/ (C64-like board, also based on 6502, with as much of C64 as possible with more of less off-the-shelf hardware while keeping costs as low as possible)

Yes, that sounds like a good idea.

C64 Bruce Lee is still one of my top 5 games of all time.

Loved it too. Was pretty challenging at the time. Watching it now makes me feel a little embarrassed for the enemies that can't follow you across ladders. :)

It was attainable on lawn mowing money. I was 12 when I picked up one. A few games on cartridge, which was reasonable compared to the Atari/Intellivision game consoles at the time. As a bonus, you could create/type in games. I started with a tape drive to save the hours of peek/poking around. Eventually floppies became a thing (dang that was spendy at the time).

That 300 baud modem and all those glorious MUDs and news groups.

There's a lot that's wrong with the C64, but despite its problems it was a big success because:

- It hit the sweet spot of price vs. performance at the perfect time, just as the video game market began to crash.

- Unlike most other cheap computer manufacturers, Commodore took a completely hands-off approach to software, which allowed a rich software ecosystem to spring up very quickly.

Among the computer geeks in my neighborhood at the time, 1982/83 was all about the Colecovision game console, and 1983/84 was all about the C64.

It was cheap, durable, and ubiquitous. It had sound and graphics capabilities far in excess of any of it's contemporaries (at that price point, at least). It was also quite open and came with a manual with lots of neat technical detail.

It also had quite a nice keyboard, even by today's standards.

They really don't make them like that any more.

Durable only if you aren't counting the power supply. The C64 power supply was a notorious source of failure.

Yeah ridiculous

> It was cheap, durable, and ubiquitous.

This, this and this. Where & when I grew up - rural Norway in the eighties - just about everybody had one, ensuring that no matter what you wanted to do, someone nearby were into the same thing; magazines with code listings, books and -ahem- evaluation copies of software were all over the place; as were peripherals - this basically meant that any latecomer to personal computing chose the C64 as it was everywhere, creating a huge positive feedback loop if you got into the C64.

Poor kids next door - their parents got a good (for the seller!) price on a Dragon 32; the nearest Dragon 32 to theirs probably was in Aberdeenshire or thereabouts...

Or MSX. Don't know in Norway, but in Sweden the Sinclair Spectrum was also very popular, but not as popular as the C64. Rough partition - affluent kids, C64, less affluent kids but still with geeky or generous parents, Spectrum. The poor suckers (like me) Spectravideo MSX :-D

Endless possibilities. The owners manual came with schematics in case you wanted to wire it up to just about anything.

Compute magazine published software in the magazine, and you'd have to sit there for hours typing code into the console, but at the end you've have software that someone else designed.

If you had a modem you could dial a bbs and talk to people or trade games. Copying games and software was trival which allowed all sorts of things to flourish.

I even had a point and click mouse for mine and had purchased a module that would do speech to text, albeit very rudimentary.

Apple IIs were popular but largely limited to proprietary products. Commodore was built around the idea that the computer is just a processor for something larger.. whatever you wanted to build, and not limited to software.

>Apple IIs were popular but largely limited to proprietary products.

Could you please expand on this thought? I'm genuinely curious as to what you mean by proprietary.

I cut my teeth on an Apple ][ with integer BASIC one would load from a tape. (Later, a ][+ with built-in Applesoft Basic and a floppy drive.) I'm puzzled what you mean when you refer to proprietary prouducts. I had an Epson dot-matrix printer, a 110/300 baud Hayes modem, and later AppleCat modem (1200 baud, full duplex, oh yeah!), a time/calendar card. A few different no-name joysticks, etc. The Apple ][s expansion bus slots actively encouraged aftermarket support. Anyone could create a peripherial.

Software came from magazines, commericial sellers (back of Nibble or Popular Computing magazines), shareware, my own imagination, BBS downloads, etc.

I think in more ways than not, the experience with the Apple ][ was in common with Commodore 64/128 users. The industry was blossoming, and competing by offering wildly different solutions with a common core.

Didn't Apple IIs require a monitor vs a TV? The Apple joysticks were also different from the 9 pin Atari/C64 ones. But they weren't 'proprietary' as much as 'differnet and more expensive'.

You could use an RF modulator and connect it to a TV, but it wasn't included with the system.

Not just the joysticks. A useful Apple ][ system was double or triple the cost of a similarly capable C-64. Apples were great machines, but because of their timing and price they were considered business machines. At least until IBM changed the world.

Besides the wide availability in chainstores (like Target) and low price (~ $100 towards the end), you could find 2 or 3 books that spelled out how -everything- inside worked, and how to access it ... using the built-in BASIC or, if that was too slow, assembler. So it was pretty much wide Open.

Many MANY magazines supported it with type-in software that adventurous users could freely modify. (Among them, 'The Transactor' dived deepest.) And empowered -many- users to comprehend important basics.

> Nobody doubts that the C64 was the greatest selling single computer model of all time

There were at least two models of the C64... the brown breadbin style one and the sleak white model from the 90s.

The white version came out at 1986[0], not in the 90s.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64#Commodore_64C

I guess it depends on how to defined "model."

An IBM PS/2 30 is a vastly different model of computer from a PS/2 70, but they're both IBM PS/2's.

The bread bin C-64 and the 128-looking C-64 were the same† computer in a slightly different shaped case.

† Yes, the motherboard was a different revision, but even in the breadbin 64, the motherboard was revised several times.

There were some subtle differences between these models. Most notably the sound chip.

Of course, Commodore being Commodore (notorious for not sticking to spec and instead frequently just using whatever parts they had in stock or could get a good deal on), there are C64C's with "breadbin" motherboards and breadbins with C64C motherboards (C64G, etc.), and while most C64C's have the 8580 SID and most breadbins have the 6581, this is not true 100% of the time. You really have to open any given C64 to see what you're actually dealing with.

Well, the thing about the SID in particular, is that it relied upon imperfections in the MOS silicon fabrication process to produce certain analogue effects (a fairly common approachh in electronic instruments in the 80s). Problem is, that as processes improved it gets harder to produce noise in this way. The later generations of SID produced a “cleaner” sound, but not faithful to the original to the point that certain effects exploting these imperfections (eg some funky sound sample techniques) were broken on the newer version. I’ve read somewhere that it isn't possible to produce the SID at all with modern technology because processes are just so “clean” now.

Just talking case designs, there's the bog-standard C64, the C64C, the C64G, the SX64, the PET64/Educator 64/4064 and the C64GS. At least.

I would argue that they're for all intents and purposes the same computer, just like a desktop PC is still the same machine if you put it in a different case.

And the Commodore 128 which was only useful because you could run it as a C64.

The C128 is a lot more convenient to develop for. It has a built-in sprite editor and monitor in ROM, has really useful BASIC with graphics and sound commands instead of having to use obscure POKEs for everything (it's Microsoft BASIC 7.0 instead of the ancient BASIC v2 on the C64 -- Tramiel finally splurged for a renewed license). It's really a shame that more software did not take advantage of its capabilities.

> Nobody doubts that the C64 was the greatest selling single computer model of all time

The most sold computer of all time is probably the iPhone 6, with 220 million devices sold.

Edit: wow, people feel very strongly about this! :)

I've been a proud c64 owner (and programmer) myself. It was more than anything else to point out that smartphones are personal computers, just very "evolved".

Many are broadly still in denial about how most computing is mobile and how big Apple has become. The iPhone is the most successful product line in history, at sales of 1.6 billion units and over 1 trillion dollars in revenue.


The c64 was still extremely impressive for its day and its impact (I used mine through 1993!), but computing is now mostly mobile.

The C64 was pretty much the same model for about a decade. The various iPhone models are probably too different to count in the same world-record category.

The C64's lack of change is perhaps a reason why Commodore died. Jack was brilliant at squeezing hardware to get the max performance on a thin dime, but he didn't really give much thought to software compatibility, having a hardware-centric background. Thus, attempts to make a C64 follow-on that was compatible with the original C64 had too many problems.

Without backward compatibility in a follow-on, it had no immediate advantage to existing competitors in the next performance bracket (generally, 16 bit). They considered entering the PC clone business, but it was already getting margin-thin and moving offshore at that point. They also considered a PC clone that was also C64 compatible, but couldn't make it viable.

Bill Gates knew that software was where the lasting fortune was, not hardware.

For computers, sure. As for overall products I would argue that the disposable diaper has the most units sold of any mass produced product.

Unit sales don’t tell the whole story, if they did then yeah, consumables would but far bigger.

That said, if you took any disposable diaper product line, say Pampers, and accumulated all the revenue and profit since its launch in the 70s, it still wouldn’t come close to the iPhone. I think that goes for pretty much any specific product line. The Toyota Corolla gets close in terms of revenue - 44 million cars is pushing near a trillion dollars, but that’s also over 50+ years. You’d have to get into entire inflation-adjusted product categories (like all mobile phones, or all automobile sedans) to cross into a few trillion dollars.

Same here; grew up on the ZX Spectrum and C64 and they'll always be a part of who I am, but for some of my older relatives, the iPad or iPhone was their first ever computing device.

Disregarding the price barrier, Apple made computing accessible to everyone in a way almost no-one has replicated. Much like what Nintendo did for gaming and non-gamers with the Wii, yet gatekeeping snobs don't regard that as a ""real"" console either. :)

> Disregarding the price barrier

Apple products are not cheap (I never owned one, partly for this reason) but I think that when I bought my c64, around 1984, it costed the equivalent of about 1000 euro. Of course, the reasons to own one, and the alternatives, were completely different from today's.

My Commodore was US$500 from a dead electronics discounter called Crazy Eddie. That's about US$1,500 in today money.

Because of this I didn't get a disk drive for a year.

I wouldn't be surprised if some models of iPad had sold in excess of 20 million units.

I don't see how that takes anything away from the C64. It was still a pioneering product with a lasting legacy.

You need to factor in that the market has grown a /bit/ since the 80's. World population has grown, middle classes have grown, interest in computing has grown.

> I don't see how that takes anything away from the C64

Of course, it doesn't. It's a completely different world.

But I liked the idea that there still are single computer models (not families) that break sales records. It's just that we don't think about them as machines, but as products within a family and on a steady development iteration.

Kinda curious what the total TRS80 numbers were as well, those were the 2 options in my day(s), the C64 vs TRS80(CC) ... I don't know what the economics of it were which made parents choose the TRS (Tandy/RadioShack maybe?), the C64 eventually made it's way to ToysRUs and other outlets.

I would add in the TI99/4A. Wikipedia has some un-confirmed stats (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Instruments_TI-99/4A):

Sales peaked at 30,000 a week in January 1983,[citation needed] but on 10 January 1983 Commodore lowered the price of its computers. In February TI responded with a 99/4A retail price of $150. In April, the VIC-20's bundled retail price reached $100 and the 99/4A followed suit. In May it began offering the PEB for free with the purchase of three peripherals. In August the company reduced prices of peripherals by 50% and offered $100 of free software; in September, it reduced software prices by up to 43%.

The president of Spectravideo later said that "TI got suckered by" Jack Tramiel, head of Commodore. TI was forced to sell the 99/4A for about the same price as the VIC-20, even though it was much more expensive to manufacture.

Mmm, Spectravideo. I started on an SVI-328, lovely machine. The MSX standard was based on it. (Almost the same, only a slightly dumber BASIC and some addresses changed. Back in the day, you could "patch" the SVI-328 in software and then run much MSX software on it. If I had only known back then... information did not flow as freely back then.)

Wow, remember the walk to the train station after school one day where myself, and several other nerds would stop by the local computer shop and drool over what we’d be asking for on our birthdays or upcoming christmases.. I remember the day the Spectravideo turned up.. It was #1 in my mind for quite some time.. Obviously something big and better happened, but by golly, that is one of those few I must have moments.. I did get one, some 20 years later }:-8)

If the 12.5m figure is correct, it would probably still hold the record, wouldn't it? The Apple II, TRS-80 model III, or the IBM-brand original PC are the only contenders I can think of.

I think the Raspberry Pi must be sitting at over 20 million sold by now.

I don't think comparing a modern tiny processing platform to old fairly large desktop boxes achieves anything. An iPhone 6 has more computing power than even the Pi and it's sold 222 million.

The Raspberry Pi, despite its physical size, is a full-blown general purpose personal computer. There is nothing about a Pi that is fundamentally different from a desktop PC or, indeed, a C64.

They're technically on their 4th model by now though.

Actually, more versions than that as there's A,B and + versions of each too.



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