Living Fossil: New Commodore 64 Trades On Nostalgia

It's been nearly 17 years since the Commodore 64 was officially discontinued, but the iconic system is being prepared for a relaunch. The Commodore brand was acquired last September by Barry Altman, with the specific intent of providing a system that no longer exists. "Thirty years ago computers were an all-in-one product, with the keyboard, memory and components built inside," Mr. Altman explained. “Over the years that has changed, and we believe there is a huge potential to revive the early format."

Since a depressingly large number of you weren't old enough to play with a C64 when it was one of the hottest products anyone could buy. Commodore's decision to include top-notch graphics and sound  capabilities set the C64 apart from IBM's PC or even Apple's products. It remains the most popular computer ever sold; a total of 12.5 - 17 million units were shipped.

The updated C64x is based on Intel's Atom D525 and Nvidia's Ion 2 graphics. That might prove a bit sluggish for anyone with mainstream computing needs, but it's certainly more than enough to effectively emulate the C64's OS. There's no information on how much RAM ships with the system by default but the chipset supports up to 4GB of RAM. Altman claims that the project has developed a substantial following. "There are a lot of really young computer users who want to own a retro-looking computer," he said. "And of course there are those 30- to 40-year-olds who owned the original Commodore 64 and want the nostalgia of their first machine."

The new keyboard layout and the classic chassis. Hopefully it'll be a little lighter this time around

The new C64x differs from the original in one important way—its keyboard. The new layout tries to keep faith with the classic design while simultaneously offering a modern, multimedia-friendly layout. The results are mixed. The left-hand side of the keyboard is more-or-less identical to modern designs, but the right hand ends up stumbling through unfamiliar territory. Anyone who wants to use the new C64x will have to learn how to type on it.

Will It Blend Sell?

If there's a weak link in Altman's plan, it's his target market. Nostalgia, while powerful, is a notoriously fickle mistress. Commodore 64 emulation programs, meanwhile, have existed for years. The real question here is whether or not people will opt to purchase a new machine purely for the look/feel of the original. It's far from certain that they will.

The 64x is purportedly ready for preorder with a target ship date of May - June of this year. We say puportedly because the website is currently down (Google cache links here). Furthermore, there are no actual photos of the system. All of the images available are 3D renders.  Prices range from $250 (C64x barebones) to a ludicrous $895 (C64x Ultimate). Given the sparse list of options, Altman's gross margin on the high-end systems would make Apple blush.

Veteran computer owners--would you buy one or not?