How to use a Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 is rather unlike modern computers. It has a CPU and memory like a modern computer does, but the operating system and overall user experience is alien to someone used to computers that run Windows or Mac OS. So to modern eyes, it’s not completely obvious how to use a Commodore 64.

Commodore had a dominance of the market in the 1980s that would have made Apple jealous at any point in its history, but ultimately Commodore lost, so the Commodore 64’s bloodline is extinct.

Connecting a Commodore 64

Commodore 64 interfaces
The power supply plugs into the round port on the side. The video display and disk drives plug into the ports in the center on the back of the machine.

The power supply plugs into the port next to the power switch, on the side of the machine. Don’t try to force the connector into one of the plugs on the back. It looks like it will fit, but causes expensive damage to the machine.

I don’t recommend using original vintage power supplies. Try to get a 4.3 amp power supply if you can. They’re expensive, but won’t blow up the computer. Commodore stopped making chips for the 64 in 1992, and never licensed most of those chips to anyone else, so there are about $100 worth of chips inside a 64 that you want to protect.

Connecting to a television and connecting the disk drives is fairly straightforward.

You have to be careful with joysticks too. The Commodore 64 has two Atari-style ports joystick ports in the side. The Commodore 64 is completely compatible with Atari-compatible joysticks. Sega Genesis controllers are not safe to use, however–they damage chips in the 64. It’s best not to plug in or unplug joysticks with the power on.

If you just want to play early games that came on cartridge, it’s easy. Turn off the computer. Plug in a cartridge in the back of the machine, make sure the joystick is in the correct port, then turn the computer on.

The operating system

The first thing is getting over the concept of the Commodore 64 using an interpreted programming language, in ROM, as an operating system. Philosophically, it’s kind of like Powershell, but using the old programming language Basic. I’ve written more about the Commodore 64 operating system before.

Commodore 64 commands

I have a list of common and useful Commodore 64 commands, but if you’re just interested in loading games, here’s how to load Commodore 64 games.

It’s not necessarily hard to learn how to use a Commodore 64. It’s just a bit different. Fortunately there are still enough of them around that you can experience 1980s computing on actual hardware if you wish. Happy computing.

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