For many of us, the Atari or the NES wasn’t our first gaming console. Instead, it was the Commodore 64, which was marketed as an incredibly affordable home computer, but was also a solid gaming machine. It was very much worthy of a second life as a Game Boy-sized portable, which anyone can now hack together with the right parts and skills.
For around $US36 ($46), a website called UNI64 will sell you a kit containing custom designed PCBs that, with some technical know-how, can be turned into the Handheld 64: a portable version of the classic ‘80s computer, complete with a tiny QWERTY keyboard so you can even write your own BASIC programs on the go. Just keep in mind that the $US36 ($46) kit is just the starting point to creating a portable C64.
The PCBs you’ll get are lacking all of the Commodore 64 components needed to turn it into a tiny C64. You’ll need to source those from a — you guessed it — original Commodore 64, of which there are thankfully thousands still floating around, many of them likely buried in countless parents’ basements. Other missing ingredients include your choice of an analogue joystick or a four-way directional pad, an LCD display, and a wall outlet, because unfortunately, despite being a handheld, this thing doesn’t currently run on batteries.
The Handheld 64 even carries over the original Commodore 64’s cartridge slot for an easy way to load software and games (assuming you have access to a collection of C64 carts). If you’d rather go the ROM route, there’s a spot on the PCB for adding a Raspberry Pi Zero, which allows the Pi1541 Commodore 1541 disk drive emulator to be installed so that software can be run from a modern memory card instead.
A user that goes by ‘3D-vice’ on the Amiga Love forums has shared several photos of their build of the Handheld 64, which is a satisfyingly chunky portable that has a wonderful ‘80s vibe to it. The perfect finishing touch would be the boring beige case that defined desktop computing from that era.