On Not Wanting a Commodore 64

I’ve been watching a lot of retrocomputing videos about people restoring the beloved machine of my youth, a Commodore 64. Apparently, people are still writing modern games for it, or created a wireless NIC for it to get on the internet. The sheer geekiness of this is interesting to me. I also think restoring such a beast would be educational to me–learning to solder and desolder, among other things. Mix in a healthy dose of nostalgia, and it’s clear why this has captured my imagination.

But I’ve tempered this with caution. First, there is a sad habit of middle aged men to revive something of their youth, like a vintage car they had or lusted after. I don’t necessarily want to be That Guy. More to the point, there is the cost relative to my actual use. In terms of use, I have to consider that there is a very solid emulator that can do almost anything I want, and I don’t find myself logging hours with it–I can’t sincerely say for certain I’d get much use out of it. That said, actual hardware would almost certainly be different, especially for games.

At the end of the day, the cost-relative-to-use is the big thing that has me as a spectator on this. Even the best case scenario would cost a few hundred dollars. If I assume I can get the Commodore 64C my family had, along with whatever cables I’d want, it’d be a start. A thirty-something year old machine would still need about $100 in rehab to bring it back to life reliably. But that wouldn’t be the end of it–there are still a bunch of peripherals that are needed to make it worthwhile. The other components, such as disk drive, monitor, may all be in the same box as the computer, but they would also require some restoration. Besides, there are modern options that would work better as well as avoid cluttering my desk with all sorts of large components.

All told:

  • While I might do an initial test with whatever power supply we have, the word is not to trust them–they could blow, and take the computer with it. That would run $30-50.
  • It sounds like replacing the capacitors in the computer is at the very least a should-do, even if it powers on fine. It sounds relatively cheap, but still $30 for parts and tools that I don’t have.
  • I’d need some sort of upconvertor to plug it into a contemporary display, like the monitor sitting on my desk. This would take the composite input from the computer and allow an HDMI connection to be made. I’ve heard $50 at the low end, up to $150.
  • Mass storage would be needed. As I mentioned, I’m not sure I’d want to rehab and maintain the floppy drive. Besides, even if the computer and drive were pristine, the data on the floppies might be iffy, given 30 years, maybe ten moves, and lord knows what state of storage. Fortunately, I can download all sorts of vintage software from the Internet, and put it on an SD card. There are options that will connect an SD card to the computer, some even look like tiny VIC-1541 drives. That’s another $50.
  • In the “optional but nice” bucket, I’d look to get a card that would allow me to plug it in to the Internet, just for the bonus geek points. Figure that’d be another $50-100.

So, bare bones, I’m looking at $160, all the way up to $400. This does not include any other potentially needed accessories, such as joysticks. Like I said, there are some geek points to be had on this, but, is this really what I want to be spending money on?

  • For retrocomputing, there are all sorts of other things to pursue. I’ve been considering getting a virtual machine once VMS for x86 is released, or rehab the WinTel box next to my desk and run old OSs on it in VMs.
  • There are contemporary computing things of greater interest to me, like buying a scanner.
  • There are other fun things to do, like biking or cooking.

I’m going to keep watching these videos, of course. They’re still a lot of fun. I just recognized I’ve reached the point in my life where it’s not where I want to spend my time and money. It’s like I’ve grown up!