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The Commodore 64 was the most popular single retro-computer produced, probably selling something like 15 million units. Clearly, the C64 is not "rare", but early revisions from 1982 are highly prized by collectors for being the most rare.

What are the visible, easily-discerned, markers for recognizing early production of the C64?

13

The easiest way to tell at a glance is the Commodore label on the top of the case. The earliest ones have a silver metal label, slightly later ones have a silver sticker label, and after that they have the normal "rainbow" label.

Silver Metal Label Silver Sticker Label Rainbow Label

The other common indicators are the 5-pin video port, orange VIC20 function keys, and various chips inside the computer being in ceramic packages instead of plastic ones (VIC, Kernal ROM, RAM, etc), although that does vary inconsistently.

You can find a detailed breakdown of serial numbers and various attributes at the C64 Perservation Project C64 Serial Registry

7

If the video port is an 8-pin DIN socket, then it is not from an early production run. Originally the C64 video port was a 5-pin DIN socket.

This does not necessarily mean that all C64's with 5-pin video ports are "early production"; I do not know when exactly the switch to 8-pin video ports was made. It was fairly early, but I don't know if it was early enough to be considered "early production" by your definition.

5

If one wants to get an insight into when a piece of - almost any - complex electronic equipment was built, it is helpful to look for the so called datecodes on components. You will commonly find 4-digit numbers on parts (very common on ICs and capacitors) that are encoded as two digit year, two digit week - eg 8403 for something made 3rd week of january 1984. While assembly can have been later than the most recent datecode found, it cannot have been earlier unless the unit was later modified or repaired with newer spare parts.

  • From the question: "What are the visible, easily-discerned, markers" – pipe Apr 27 '17 at 22:02
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    So "after opening an easily opened case" is not "visible" in a community of hardware enthusiasts? – rackandboneman Apr 27 '17 at 22:10
  • Yes, basically. I think the idea behind this question was that if you see a C64 at a flea market, thrift shop, or pictured on eBay or CraigsList, is there a way to tell how old it is without buying it first and opening it up? Because it's not reasonable to expect to be able to open up something you haven't purchased yet. – Ken Gober Apr 28 '17 at 12:43

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