The commodore 64 is, along with the Apple II and the Atari XL computers, the most famous home computer. According to the 2001 edition of Guinness book of records, the C64 was the most "prolific computing device ever manufactured". During its production run from 1982 to... 1993, about 30 million (!) units were sold. To put this number in perspective, that's more than all the Macintoshes in the world.
The C64 was an up-market version of the VIC-20. A wide range of software packages, games and programming languages was available for this machine which was itself available practically anywhere from a toyshop to a business supplier.
Superficially, the C64 closely resembled the VIC-20. It had the same casing, an identical keyboard configuration and virtually the same interfaces and sockets. But the apparent similarity belies some fundamental differences: a MOS 6510 processor and 64 KB of RAM which was quite unusually large at the time for a model of this price range. The C64 also had the ability to recognise user-established priorities by which 'sprites' (or movable blocks) could move independently of displayed text/graphics, enabling the creation of graphics with up to 8 layers.
Music synthesis was performed by a special sound interface chip. Sound envelope could be controlled on all three voices on a full nine octave of each.
It was one of the first computers to offer both a high quality sound chip and graphic resolution with many colors and sprites.
A great range of peripherals was developed for this computer and it can also use several of the Vic 20 peripherals.
Several versions of the Commodore 64 were launched :
The first one, C64-1, used the VIC 20 case and was to be quickly replaced with the C64-2 (pictured) which used the famous brown case, and later by the C64-3 with small cosmetic changes in the keyboard.
A special version called Educator 64 or PET64 or CBM 4064 was proposed for schools and uses the PET case.
Commodore produced the first generation of C64s until May 1986, then it was discontinued and they introduced the C64C. According to the 64'er magazine, this version has been planned since the Hannover Fair in 1985, but as the old version sold so well during Christmas '85, its release date was delayed.
Then appeared the C64 "Aldi" (1987, only in Germany) and the C64G (1989). They were virtually same machines, this time with the new, short motherboard. So, although the case might look the same and the label says "Commodore 64", the boards may be completely different.
Finally, the C64GS game console was released in 1990. Basically it was a re-boxed C64, without a keyboard or any other interfaces, except for the cartridge slot on top.
Bob Van Sickle reports:
The C 64 was originally developed as a video game machine engine to be used in video arcades. The idea was to have a basic machine which could be programmed for a different game when the previous one became out-of-favor, and one would not have to trash the machine. Hence the good sound and graphics capabilities. What happened? The market here in the states for game arcades collapsed, and Commodore attempted to recoup their investment. This well documented in an article published by the IEEE "Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineering" which I read, but cannot recall the year.