If you were a child of the 1970s or 1980s you probably have fond memories of the early days of the “home computer” industry. Apple, Atari, TI, and several other companies all made their mark but none of them have a legacy quite like Commodore.
Most people alive in that era remember the Commodore 64. After all, it’s still the best selling single computer model of all time.
But there’s a long list of other Commodore computer models as well. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what else they did.
The Early Days of Commodore
Jack Tramiel founded the Commodore Portable Typewriter Company in Toronto, Canada in 1954. The following year, the company was incorporated as Commodore Business Machines (CBM).
The company expanded into the electronic calculator business in the 1960s but really hit its stride in the 1970s in the fledgling home computer market.
The Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) was their first series of computers, launched in 1977. The PET laid the foundation for many of CBM’s later models.
The PET 2001 was the original model released in 1977. It used the MOS 6502 CPU which was the same processor used by its main competitor, the Apple II.
The 2001 included 4Kb of RAM, again matching the Apple II and the other popular line of computers at that time, the TRS-80. The PET 2001 sold for $595 or an upgraded model with 8Kb of RAM for $795.
CBM sold 500 of these early Commodore computers in the inaugural year.
The PET 4000 series was an upgraded version of the 2001 with up to 96Kb of RAM, a newer version of the BASIC programming language, and a higher-resolution 40 column display.
The 8000 was the next iteration in the PET lineup. It was essentially the same computer as the 4000 series but supported an even higher resolution with 80 columns.
The SuperPET 9000 was the final model in the PET series, running on an upgraded CPU. It also included several additional programming languages such as APL, PASCAL, FORTRAN, and COBOL.
In 1981, Commodore launched the first true home computer, the VIC-20. It was the first color computer designed for home use and could connect to a standard TV out of the box.
It ran on the same CPU as the PET, the MOS 6502, but included a Video Interface Chip (hence the name VIC) that offered much better graphics than anything to date.
The VIC-20 was also the first Commodore computer (and first home computer) to offer a mass-market modem, the VICmodem. That modem let anyone connect to dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS), a forerunner to today’s internet.
CBM sold 800,000 VIC-20s in 1981 and over 1 million units in total.
Commodore 64 Computer
The Commodore 64 is one of the home computer industry’s hall-of-fame products. As we already noted, it’s still the best selling single computer to this day, nearly 40 years later.
The C64 looked almost identical to the VIC-20 on the outside but looks were deceiving. Where the VIC-20 only had 5Kb of RAM, the C64 had a huge 64Kb. It also used the MOS 6510 CPU, an upgraded version of the 6502 with more built-in ROM.
The Commodore 64 also contained an upgraded sound chip, known as SID (Sound Interface Device), and a new VIC chip that supported far more advanced SPRITE graphics.
The exact number varies, depending on the source, but the C64 sold somewhere between 13 and 17 million units over its life from 1982 to 1994.
Variants of the Commodore C64
The C64 was on the market for 12 years but that doesn’t mean Commodore was letting it coast. They made several variations of the C64 over the years, although none of them came close to the popularity of the original version.
The C64 Max was a stripped-down version released in 1982 intended to compete with game consoles. It couldn’t compete with the VIC-20 at the time and didn’t last long.
The SX-64 and DX-64 were portable models meant for business use. They had built-in floppy drives (one in the SX and two in the DX) and a built-in 5-inch color display. These were the first color portable computers on the market. The SX-64 sold roughly 85,000 units and the DX-64 was announced but only a handful ever shipped.
The Plus/4 was based on the C64 but had less RAM and a less powerful CPU. The “4” in its name came from the four built-in applications — word processor, database, spreadsheet, and graphics programs came standard.
The final model of the Commodore 64 was the 64C, which was released in 1986. It had the same internal specifications but a fresh case design similar to the newer Commodore 128. This design stuck around until 1994 when the C64 was finally discontinued.
Commodore 128 Computer
The Commodore 128 launched in 1985 as a successor to the C64. It had twice the RAM with two 64Kb banks for 128Kb total. It also offered upgraded graphics, with 80 columns instead of the C64’s 40 columns.
The C128 is one of the first dual-CPU computers with a MOS 8502 and Zilog Z-80.
The C128 had three operating modes:
- C128 mode
- C64 mode (nearly 100% compatible)
- CP/M (using the Z-80 CPU)
It could only run one mode at a time and needed to restart to switch between them.
The C128D launched about a year after the original C128. It had the same specifications but used a redesigned case that looked more like the upcoming Amiga computers and the PCs of the day.
The C128D also included a built-in floppy drive and a carrying handle, making it somewhat portable.
Do You Remember All These Commodore Computer Models?
If you were using home computers sometime between the late 1970s and early 1990s, there’s a good chance some of that time was spent banging away on a Commodore keyboard. How many of these Commodore computer models did you use back in the day?
Let us know what you remember from those exciting early days of the computer industry. And be sure to check out the rest of our blog for more articles about those early home computers.