Can This Commodore 64 Be Saved?

If you are a certain age, there’s a fair chance your first computer was a Commodore 64. These machines are antiques now, and [RetroManCave] received one from a friend’s loft in unknown condition. He’s made two out of three videos covering the machine, its history, and its internals. Assisting is Commodore 64 expert [Jan Beta] who apparently owned one way back when. You can see the first two videos, below.

The machine isn’t as old as you might think — it is the “newer” case style (circa 1987). [Jan] gives a great overview of the different motherboards you might encounter if you are lucky enough to come across one of these in a dumpster somewhere.

If you are very familiar with the Commodore 64, you might skip over some of the first video, although the tear down is interesting and informative. The second part, however shows more of the actual restoration process. Very important is the information on how some of the power supplies may not be safe to plug in! [Jan] covers that while [RetroManCave] swaps out electrolytic capacitors. This is such a common problem that there is a special power cable designed to protect your irreplaceable system unit if the power supply fails.

Rather than clean up the case, the restoration uses a new case made from the original molds. That saves a lot of elbow grease. The keyboard, though, still needed cleaning.

Will it run? You should watch the videos and find out. These old machines can be great fun and even educational since — unlike today’s computers — you can actually get to many of the parts and signals.

There’s a lot of hacking activity around these old Commodores. We’ve seen a C64 tablet. While it isn’t an Oculus Rift, you can even do virtual reality with the C64.


29 thoughts on “Can This Commodore 64 Be Saved?

  1. I dumped six C64 (old, very old and unbelievably old) just a few weeks ago. It felt really good to get rid of that part of my history. It was great times, but the world has moved on.

    1. Please throw always your stuff as fast as possible. It is the only way to make the now so common retro stuff precious (and priceless). The ones remaining become priceless because people (some, not all) regret that they’ve thrown it away. So please throw away your stuff as it makes my stuff more valuable. There is only one small problem, the C64 I have now might be more worth then it was 10 years ago, I still don’t want to sell/loose it. And I’m sure that by the time I do want to sell it (30+ years from now), people have lost interest and prices have dropped.

      But don’t get me wrong, these machines are not to be seen as investments, they are meant to be used. And if you don’t plan to use them from time to time, you might as well get rid of it. As you said, the world moves on.

      1. Thanks for the quintessence in your comment :)

        I don’t “throw away my stuff as fast as possible”. Ever. I consider its use. From time to time you just have to make room – for A LIFE ™ for example. I always thought it might be fun getting back to those old things one time again, but having looked at (and tried) the “keyboards”, the clumsy form factor and realizing that an emulator runs on Javascript in a browser nowadays … I just don’t see the point of wasting space for machines that have no and never ever again will have any use for me.

        My comment was meant as exactly this thought: If you can do it without having to waste space and resources, cheap and easy, right where you are typing your HAD comments … why keep up with the old stuff? Like you said: It cannot be an “investment”, for that there have been way too many of those bread boxes. Plus, they weren’t really *good*, in terms of modern expectations …

        1. We’ve already run the numbers, and while the original box for the c64 has roughly twice the volume as the original box for MB’s Game of Life, it has been shown that after discarding the original packing materials one can fit two whole c64 systems inside the Game of Life box.

          The most efficient solution then is to dump the original contents of Life and replace it with two retro computers instead.

      2. If eBay is any indication, tested C64s are selling for around $100-150 (check the Sold listings). Mine cost $200 in 1984 ($476 today). I suspect that they won’t be worth keeping until/unless working ones are almost nonexistent. Keeping mine so I can show grandkids (if any) “Here’s what I used to write a 150 page doctoral dissertation…and it was a helluva advance over the typewriter I used to write the M.S thesis.”

    2. Next time you’re thinking of dumping old stuff, check ebay, it might be worth listing it. I “dumped” several C64s and TRS-80 CoCos on ebay recently, came away with anything from $20 to $150 each. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say! That, and I can’t bring myself to throw away stuff that someone might fine useful ;)

    1. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

      The VIC-II video chips have zero modern replacement available. Even used replacements, salvaged from other C64’s cost upwards of $35 – and much more for PAL versions.

      The SID sound chips have modern “replacements”, but so far they are only emulators (running on ATmega chips and the like) and the sound so far is not 100% accurate (some have tweaks for specific game tracks, but if they were true replacements then those hacks wouldn’t be necessary). These emulators also sound different to the original chips that were part digital, part analog. Even salvaged SID chips are increasingly rare and cost upwards of $60 – partly because musicians have incorporated the unique sounding SID chip into various musical devices.

      The last C64 produced was the short board C64c computer (motherboard ver 250469). It has a unique SuperPLA chip that integrates multiple other IC’s used on the other boards, plus it has a built-in 512x4bit color RAM. There is no replacement available for the SuperPLA. Used parts are very rare. If it does, you are basically S.O.O.L.

  2. I have a Commodore 64 and wonder if it is possible to use it in the same way as one would with say a Raspberry Pi, for instance by installing Linux on it. Do older computers from this era lend themselves to such applications or are they simply too old to be useful?

    1. My sequence – Heathkit ET-3400 Microprocessor Trainer kit (an -outstanding- course), ZX80 kit, VIC20, Atari 400 (due to a multipart article in Byte magazine praising its then-revolutionary custom chips) later modded, Atari 800XL later modded, Atari 1040ST (wanted an Amiga but couldn’t afford it), homebuilt 80386 system and x86 builds ever since. I now greatly regret not keeping all of those up to the 80386 transition to x86 machines. I intend to build a Raspberry Pi system which can emulate all of those while housed in a C64 keyboard/case.

  3. @5:15 The 7805 is 1amp rated not 2 amp. To get More current this generation of power supply requires an additional 2N3055 (usually) transistor passing the current while the 7805 regulates the voltage.

  4. That power protection cable is cute and clever but really? I wouldn’t make that kind of effort to repair, restore or improve something and then plug it into such a shoddy power supply. If they sell new C64 cases how about new C64 power supply cases? If so then I would get one and stuff it with a modern efficient switching supply with all the good protections built in. If not then I’d start chiseling at that epoxy for the same reason.

    1. The problem is that the C64/C128 needs a power supply that outputs both DC and AC. PAL system computers required a proper 50Hz 9VAC supply, while NTSC systems require 60Hz 9VAC.

      While some hacks have managed to make the computer run on DC only power (by modifying the motherboard and injecting a 50/60Hz pulse directly into the IC that requires the AC signal for timing purposes), the 9VAC 50/60Hz power has to be available on the User Port for certain addons.

  5. Years ago, I found myself in charge of fixing the broken C64s at my kid’s school. They had a box of them that didn’t work, and they heard I was an engineer.

    I’m not going to troubleshoot the digital circuits, but I figured maybe I could fix a bad power supply or whatever.

    It turned out that most of them had the same problem: the space bar or ENTER key was “broken”, which was fixed by swabbing the contacts with alcohol. I was then known around school as the computer genius that can fix anything.

  6. I very recently fixed three C64s. They’re not hard to work on. The most annoying part is desoldering the pins on the dip packages if you need to replace a chip. Having a desoldering station with a vacuum pump makes life so much better.

  7. Regarding: ” I was then known around school as the computer genius that can fix anything.” I hope you do realize that you didn’t get praise for what you DID… you got praise for what you “knew how to do”. Don’t let that diminish the event. That is a life lesson. Advise to millenials… Find a job where you get paid for what you know… not for what you actually do. What?You don’t know stuff? Well that problem has a a simple solution. Isn’t that also why you read HAD?

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