Either you had a Commodore 64 back in the day or not, surely you can’t ignore all the hype that has been built around it the past few years and it is growing even more.
If you had a C64 then you probably have fond memories of it and you short of remember some of your childhood’s best moments playing some games on it, on the other hand
if you weren’t fortunate enough to get your hands on a Commodore 64 or you are simply
younger and got intrigued of the whole C64 thing, then you might wonder
“how should I enter the commodore 64 world now”?
There are some options for you, for starters there is the emulation path with the
VICE emulator, where you can try things out to check if you are really interested in
the machine. Another option recently is the C64 mini and soon the C64 full size, where
you can feel closer to the real thing through software and hardware emulation, and finally there is the real thing, yes the actual hardware and software from the 80’s. But how safe can it be to go down that route? If you are interested in the real thing I will share with you my experience of getting back on the Commodore 64 world as safely as possible.
I will not get into any technical details here on how to load games etc as there are tones of articles and posts all over the internet. Also truth is that I am not new to the commodore 64 world as I have a C64 since the late 80’s, but every suggestion here can be described as “I know nothing about commodore 64 but I am interested to get one and play with it”. The first step is of course to buy one, or in any case get your hands on one.
In case you are not aware there are 2 or technically 3 Commodore 64’s that you can get your hands on, the 1st is the original 1982 version the so called “breadbin” brown or grey colour (depends on how everyone is perceiving it), the 2nd version is the “white” C64c which was an upgrade to the original model with slight changes to the custom chips but fully compatible with the previous model. Lastly there is the option to get a Commodore 128 and use it as a Commodore 64 as it encloses the real hardware of a C64 for maximum compatibility.
Since the original “breadbin” model is older and therefore more prone to defects due to its age, and the Commodore 128 is more expensive and sort of overkill for using a more capable machine just for the C64 mode, I have decided to go for the more recent model the C64c, the possibilities to find a working C64c in good condition are of course in your favour as it was being manufactured between the late 80’s and 90’s. I’ve been looking around on eBay for one for some time but then it happened to find one that it was for sale in my area, so I decided to go for it since I could inspect it prior to purchase, that of course doesn’t mean that there are not any reputable and honest sellers online, it was just more convenient for me.
So after contacting the seller and inspected what was for sale, I was a proud owner of a C64c “Night Moves” pack, Commodore back in the day was selling its computers from time to time as a “starter pack”, “gaming pack” with specific games like Terminator 2 and so on, one of this packages was the “Night Moves”. The package includes alongside the C64c, a 1531 Datassette unit to load your games and programs from tapes, 2 joysticks and 2 software packages, the “Night Moves” and “Mindbenders”, both of these packages includes 8 games and puzzles in total. I believe getting a starter pack will give you the same comfort as it gave to users back in the day, having everything you need on hand without looking here and there to gather pieces is a good start.
Alongside your C64 it is more than strongly advisable to get a new power supply as the original after some years it is very unstable and it can do harm to your C64. I have ordered a modern replacement from C64PSU just to be on the safe side. If you get your hands on your C64 prior to the new power supply I suggest that you wait and do not try to power on your C64 with the original one, just be a bit patient as it would be a shame to damage your computer out of eagerness to use it.
What I have also done was to disassemble the computer and give it a proper cleaning.
Of course this is totally optional and if everything works great you might want to leave things as it is. It will not change anything really, I just like to bring old computers as closer to their original state as possible.
Well there you have it, your Commodore 64 on your desk, the manual is cool showing you a few tricks with the basic programming language but you want to play some games right? But are a few tapes and the Datassette enough? Especially when the tapes are failing every other day? Most likely no, so what are your options? A disk drive of course, with the 5 ¼ inch 1541 II being the more reasonable option as it is lighter than its predecessor the 1541 and it matches the colour of the C64c, but still although that is nice to have a real disk drive for nostalgia reasons you probably want go the SD2IEC or a 1541 disk drive emulation route.
What is the SD2IEC and what is the 1541 emulator? Well as the name suggests the first
option is more like an SD card solution and the second option is what you can get closer
to the real disk drive. I have ordered and played around with an SD2IEC from tfw8bit.com, the SD2IEC is considered more of a storage solution rather than a disk drive emulator. I’ve been reading on forums that people have up to 90% success of putting disk images on the SD card and playing games and running programs, unfortunately for me I had the exact opposite experience as about 90% of the disk images I’ve tried failed, people claim that if a certain disk image fails then look for an alternative one to try out, that could be the case but you don’t call that a very smooth entry to the Commodore 64 world right ? The next logical step is to get a PI1541 cycle exact disk drive emulator (yes surprise, the pi stands for the Raspberry pi). People managed to create a device that can be as close as possible to the real disk drive with a raspberry pi micro-controller. I haven’t tried that out yet, but it is on my “to buy” list.
Don’t get me wrong the SD2IEC is a great device and the CBM File Browser (the environment to navigate through your files) very convenient but it is not something to suggest to a new user who wants things to get done, of course this is rarely the case with old computers to expect everything to work always smoothly but for someone who would like to enter or re-enter the C64 world, the PI1541 is the way to go in my opinion.
Last but not least, if you don’t get a C64 package with a joystick, then you might want to
consider getting one in order to get the most out games, there are many options to choose from but I recommend the “competition pro” series and the “quickshot maverick 128F” for full retro experience.
The above information is for people who are not in any way familiar with a real Commodore 64 and need a heads up for getting one and start their journey with it, the above suggestions are from my point of view, some people might have different opinion on the subject, I just wanted to share my experience which worked 100% without any issues and help out people to gather some information on the subject. There are also other solutions to use a Commodore 64 like the ultimate 64 modern board replacement, but my aim was to be as less technical as possible. If you have any questions, ask away and I or the wonderful C64 community users will happily answer them.