How to Build a Commodore 64 with Raspberry Pi Zero for Under $ 50

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The Commodore 64 holds a Guinness World Record as the best-selling single computer model of all time. After its initial release in August 1982, the C64 sold millions of units, surpassing all other 8-bit machines popular at the time, including the Apple II. For many longtime tech enthusiasts, including myself, the Commodore 64 was the first personal computer they had ever owned. So it’s no surprise that all these years later the machine still holds a special place in our hearts.

With that in mind, knowing how popular our Build an Amiga Emulator article was, we decided to show you how to make your own ultra-small form-factor Commodore 64 emulator, for just a few dollars, using the tiny Raspberry Pi Zero.

The Commodore 64, like virtually all competing 8-bit machines of the time, was built around a modified version of the MOS 6502, dubbed MOS 6510. Accompanying the processor was a graphics chip (the VIC-II), a chip sound (the venerable SID), 64KB RAM and 20KB ROM. While the Commodore 64 was relatively powerful and better than most other personal computers of its day, even the ultra-low-power Raspberry Pi Zero has significantly more power than it needs to emulate the machine.

pi zero kit

A standard Raspberry Pi would work well for this project. In fact, the extra USB ports and wired Ethernet make the standard Pi a bit easier to use and add some flexibility (like the ability to transfer ROMs via an FTP client like FileZilla). But we picked the Pi Zero to mix things up a bit and because of those great looking cases available on RetroPiCases.Com.

Technically, all you need for this build is a Raspberry Pi Zero, MicroSD storage, a USB keyboard and a personalized and elegant operating system for the Pi which uses the “Versatile Commodore Emulator”, or VICE, called Combian 64. You also need simple and free applications to prepare the board. MicroSD and write Image Combian 64, like SD Card Formatter and Win32Disk Imager, as well as USB stick to transfer ROM / disk images. But don’t worry, the USB drive can be tiny – C64 floppy disks only hold around 170KB of data.

Here is a link to the material we used …

This kit includes everything you will need to get started, including a MicroSD card, base box, power supply, and adapters to connect various cables. A major downside to using the Pi Zero is that it only has one micro-USB port available. For the initial setup you will need connect a USB hub so that a keyboard and the USB stick can be connected simultaneously, but technically only a keyboard is needed after the installation is complete. That said, for the best gaming experience a gamepad / joystick is also a must, so a cheap hub like this one can be a useful accessory. If you don’t have one, a USB gamepad known to work with the Pi is also a good idea.

hub pi zero

And here are some links to the software …

In addition to these items, you will also need an unzip program like WinRAR to extract any Commodore 64 disc files and images that you download. Also note that Combian’s website requires download permission, but requests are usually approved in just a few minutes.

Perhaps the coolest accessory for your C64 emulator would be one of these cases available at retropicases.com.

pi zero commodore 64 4
pi zero commodore 64 3

RetroPiCas offers a range of cases for the standard Pi and one for the Pi Zero that mimic the looks of popular machines such as the C64, Amiga, Atari ST and others. Of course, a custom case is optional and pushes the total price up above the $ 50 mark, but these 3D printed cases definitely add something special and would give even the most die-hard geeks a sense of nostalgia.

Let’s get this thing in place …


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