Jack Tramiel, the King of low-cost computers, said it in various ways, if not singing it in Klingon, “We build computers for the masses, not the classes!” True, if it weren’t for Jack – once he jumped the Commodore ship for the Atari one – I would have never enjoyed my Jackintosh. Oops, I meant my Atari ST. The Macintosh, for sure, was not for the masses. If you want to learn more about this era and its actors, I wrote about an excellent documentary (here) or ypu can re-watch the Computer Chronicles episode aired in December 1985 (here).
But for now, I want to write about the C64, a worldwide hit with ~15 million units sold since its introduction in 1982. Full disclaimer, I never owned or used a C64 back then, so I have no nostalgic attachment to this computer. Nonetheless, a few years ago, I decided to assemble a clean and complete C64 system as part of my vintage computer collection. The C64 is a must-have piece. This work is in progress, and I will share about it when I am ready.
Today, I’ll share about The C64 by UK-based Retro Games Ltd, a.k.a. C64 Maxi (here). For ~$130, this remake of the C64 is a good value pack with the central unit – with a fully-functional keyboard – 64 games pre-installed (complete list here), and an ok micro-switch joystick. This USB model is specific to The C64 with its extra buttons. Note that these buttons are required, as, at boot, the keyboard is inoperative. Speaking of which, the novelty of the Maxi versus a Mini model released in 2018 is its full-size and fully functional keyboard. Indeed, I remember not buying the Mini mainly because of its factitial keyboard. This new keyboard is fine, and it looks almost like the real thing. However, it feels uber smooshy to me. The Maxi was introduced in 2019 in Europe, and at the time, had no precise ETA for the US market. So, I forgot about it until recently, when I spotted it on Amazon. I naturally decided to test drive it.
So, what do I think about The C64? Well, it does what it says. It looks, and it smells like a C64. You can enjoy numerous games out of the box on a modern TV or monitor via the HDMI port. You can upgrade the firmware and add your games. The keyboard is functional – not pleasant to me – and you can set up the computer to boot into the BASIC (almost as quickly as any 80’s computer). You can even turn it into a VIC20! Thus, it is worth every penny and will delight any previous owner of a Commodore 64. No doubts about it. I enjoyed playing games I already knew and appreciated on other platforms – like the Apple II or Atari 800 –such as Boulder Dash, Speedball 2, Summer Games II, or Winter Games. Excellent initiative: A detailed user guide is available on the Retro Games site for each pre-loaded game.
Playing these games on this C64 remake, I realized why the original computer was so successful. Indeed, its graphic and audio capacities were solid for the time. Not the best, but at the proposed price, it was darn good! I remember and understand today the enthusiasm of my high-school friends, arguing about the latest pirate C64 hit while my universe was revolving around programming the DAI. As an illustration, I added an article from The Commodore: the microcomputer magazine – issue 28 – by Stephen Murri/Greg Purdon, showcasing the computer’s graphics capacities in the hands of professional game developers.
To conclude, I opened the beast. As expected, there’s not much inside this breadbox—a mainboard exposing the HDMI, the power, and one USB connector, which connects to a keyboard controller and another daughterboard, holding three USB connectors and the on/off button. A rational and straightforward design, on par with any Raspberry Pi-based project. One thing is sure, The C64, like its model, is built for the masses!