Back in 2015, I decided to purchase a vintage Commodore 64 online. I found someone in the Montreal area who was selling theirs, and picked it up.
I could talk at length about the Commodore 64 (aka: the C64), as it has a special place in my heart. But, I’ll instead refer you to this YouTube video by The 8-Bit Guy, as it covers the machine’s lifecycle in fascinating depth.
On and off, I’d been working on a fun (if challenging) project to extend the Commodore’s BASIC programming language, as a way of cutting my teeth on a bit of 6502 assembly programming. However, whilst doing this with an emulator is significantly easier than developing on the real thing, I figured at some point I’d want to run it on the authentic device. So I found one on-line within a bus ride and decided to pick it up.
I didn’t hold up much hope that any vintage microcomputer I’d buy online would work out of the box. These machines date from the 80’s, so we’re looking at close to 35 years of age. But I also figured restoring a retro machine would be an exciting project in itself. I have no experience in electrical engineering, and so I considered this would be a good chance to learn some BASICs (lol, see what I did there?)
The box itself showed the signs of something which had lived in someone’s attic for at least a decade. The cardboard was falling apart and the musty smell of the box permeated the air once I’d made it home.
The cubbyhole at the back of the box contains this brick of a thing. I remember old C64 power bricks being extremely unreliable, with the odd risk of power-surging the computer and blowing out the circuits. To be honest, I was a little scared to plug this in for the first time, and it weighs a tonne.
Here’s the computer itself! From the outside, it looks in good condition. The casings of C64s are prone to transition from its original grey to brown with the passing years, but this one didn’t look too discoloured. All the keys were in place and felt solid to the press.
Time to plug it in!
Well, I’m pleased to report the power brick didn’t explode as I’d expected. The C64 was producing a strong signal to this old TV, but the display is completely garbled. There’s a border showing (which is good) and even some specific text characters (which is also good!). It almost looks like it’s stuck in the boot-up process, and never reaches the BASIC prompt.
At this point, I went off to do some more research. With every intention of coming back to it, I put it on display with my fully functional Atari 2600, and there it’s been sitting until we moved to a new flat and the arrival of our son meant it went back in the cupboard.
In Part 2, it’s more than three years later and I’ll be taking the C64 out of the cupboard again in order to try and get it working!