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Key Points:
  • The C64 was designed to compete with home video consoles like the Atari 2600 and computers. A built-in RF modulator allowed users to turn any TV set into a computer monitor.
  • Paddles, tape drives, hard drives, daisy wheel printers, and even light pens were available as peripherals for the Commodore 64.
  • The Apple II was more of a business machine than the C64, so there were word processors and productivity tools, like Bank Street Writer, AppleWorks, and Magic Window.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Apple and Commodore were two names at the top of every tech wish list. It was challenging to compare the Apple II and Commodore 64 at the time, but today we can look at these two systems side-by-side.

Wondering which machine was the best? Well, the answer might surprise you.

Apple IICommodore 64
What is it?Home ComputerHome Computer
ManufacturerApple ComputerCommodore Business Machines
Release DateJune 1977August 1982
PredecessorApple ICommodore VIC-20/MAX Machine
SuccessorApple II PlusCommodore 128
CPU1.023MHz MOS Technology 65021.023MHz MOS 6510/8500
Memory4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 32, 36, 48 KB RAM64 KB RAM + 20 KB ROM
Graphics40×48 16-color, 280×192 6-colorVIC-II 320×200 16-color
Audio1-bit speakerSID 6581/8580
ConnectivityParallel port card, Serial port card, SCSIROM cartridge, Serial IEEE, Digital Tape
Operating SystemInteger BASIC, Apple DOSCommodore KERNAL/Basic 2.0 GEOS
DiscontinuedMay 1979April 1994
Original MSRP$1,298$595

Apple II vs. Commodore 64: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • The Commodore 64 is the best-selling desktop PC of all time according to Guinness World Records.
  • Consumers could purchase the Commodore 64 in toy stores, unlike other home computers.
  • Apple transitioned from the Apple desktop PC brand to iMacs in 1998.
  • Commodore declared bankruptcy in 1994.
  • The PowerBook 100 was the first laptop released by Apple.

Apple II vs. Commodore 64: What’s the Difference?

The Apple II was launched in 1977 while the Commodore 64 didn’t hit the market for 5 more years until 1982. That gap, while small, made a significant impact on the hardware used in each computer. It also affected the programs and games on both platforms, even if many titles were available through both.

Design

Today’s computers vary from sleek laptops that weigh less than a pound to custom-built rigs with a NVIDIA RTX 3090 Ti. There’s truly something for everyone, but that wasn’t the case in the early days when computers from PET, Apple, and Commodore were available.

The C64 was designed to compete with home video consoles like the Atari 2600 and computers. A built-in RF modulator allowed users to turn any TV set into a computer monitor. It was a minimalistic PC and one that didn’t take up too much space with additional components.

Apple produces some of the best-looking gadgets on the planet, but not in the late 70s. The original Apple II wasn’t as sleek as the Commodore 64, but was more open to unique configurations and just as easy to hook up to a TV set. It has a similar ‘retro’ design, but with a slightly different form factor.

Apple II PC
The Apple II and Commodore 64 have battled it out for decades for the title of the best retro console.

©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

Hardware

By today’s standards, the hardware on the Apple II and Commodore 64 is something many consumers can’t fathom. In the 40+ years since these computers were released, technology has improved immensely. We are well beyond the point where a smartwatch has more power than an older PC.

With 5 years of differences between these computers, the Commodore 64 had better hardware. Both companies used an 8-bit microprocessor from MOS Technology, but the Apple II had the 6502 compared to the 6510 and an HMOS version of that chip with the MOS 8500.

The C64 also has 65 KB of RAM and 20 KB of ROM, while the Apple II shipped with 4 KB of RAM. The design allowed the RAM to be extended up to 48 KB on the Apple II, which brings us to expansion slots and peripherals.

Expansion Ports and Peripherals

While the world of home computers was in its infancy in the early late 70s, Apple used a forward-thinking design for the Apple II. One of the flagship features of that PC is the Disk II Interface, an external 5 ¼” floppy drive that used an expansion slot.

Having an Apple II with dual floppy drives was a bonus, but the company also had a line of peripheral cards. Some of the more popular options outside floppy disk controllers were serial cards, network adapters, sound cards, and memory expansion cards. There were 8 internal expansion slots on the Apple II, while the C64 took a different approach.

The Commodore 64 allowed a user to expand its capabilities while the design placed it somewhere between a video game console and a home computer. The system has the same DE-9 joystick port from Atari along with a system that allowed almost any controller from Atari to work with the C64.

Paddles, tape drives, hard drives, daisy wheel printers, and even light pens were available as peripherals for the Commodore 64. You’ll find a similar array of options from Apple, including Apple Hand Controllers II and Apple Monitor II.

Commodore-64
The Commodore 64 was released in 1982 and went on to sell ~20 million units within 10 years,

©Thomas Trompeter/Shutterstock.com

Software

This is another area where the age of these systems plays a part, so you’ll find more software for the Commodore 64 compared to the stock Apple II. Both have a variety of applications and games, however, including several cult classics.

The Apple II was more of a business machine than the C64, so there were word processors and productivity tools, like Bank Street Writer, AppleWorks, and Magic Window. TellStar was a popular astronomy program, while ShrinkIt allowed users to compress and archive files.

The Oregon Trail was a popular game that countless kids played on the Apple II in the 80s along with Maniac Mansion. Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, and Price of Persia were other memorable titles from the PC’s catalog of games. Many of the games on the Apple II were also playable on the Commodore 64.

Exclusives to the Commodore 64 include Spirit of the Stones, Crazy Comets, and Moondust from Jaron Lanier. Apple had its fair share of exclusives as well, with Shadowkeep, Rings of Saturn, Under the Southern Skies, and Epoch.

As for the Commodore 64’s software catalog, there are more than 10,000 commercial titles not including video games. The C64 has a larger library of software than the Apple II, and it’s not particularly close.

Apple II vs. Commodore 64: Which One is Better?

This is a competition with no clear winner as both companies produced memorable systems that stick in consumers’ minds to this day. Both also struggled in the 80s causing a crash, partly due to Apple’s pricing and poor business practices from Commodore.

If you want to relive those old memories, you can purchase working versions of either PC at a fraction of their original price tags. Gamers can enjoy many games and programs from the Apple II and Commodore 64 through emulators like the MiSTer FPGA project.

Up Next…

Apple II vs. Commodore 64: Retro PC Battle FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What does the 64 mean in Commodore 64?

The 64 comes from the fact the PC shipped with 64 KB of RAM at launch.

How much money did Apple make from the Apple II the year it launched?

The company brought in $770,000 in 1977, which increased to a staggering $7.9 million in 1978.

How many games are available for the Commodore 64?

More than 20,000 games were produced for the C64 home PC.

Did the Apple II come with a computer monitor?

No. While Apple did introduce a monitor after the PC launched, most consumers simply used the PC with their television sets.

How was the Apple II different from the Apple I?

The newer Apple II’s hardware was housed in a plastic case and it had more expansion slots, RAM, and additional components.

About the Author

More from History-Computer

  • Commodore Available here: https://www.commodore.ca/commodore-products/commodore-64-the-best-selling-computer-in-history/
  • Cult of Mac Available here: https://www.cultofmac.com/484382/tiah-apple-ii-goes-on-sale/
  • Guinness World Records Available here: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/72695-most-computer-sales#:~:text=The%20best%2Dselling%20desktop%20computer,August%201982%20and%20April%201994.
  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64
  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_II