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Computer Antiques - Commodore

Updated on August 25, 2012

The Computer That I Started On! - Commodore

I was digging through some of my old stuff the other day and ran across several interesting little tid bits that I'm sure will inspire memories of late nights learning BASIC or trying to conquer Castle Wolfenstien. If you don't remember those days then you might still find the cost of stuff and the sheer indecency of how fast and huge computers are by these old standards.

I'm sure you will have a hard time understanding just exactly how we got anything accomplished when even a basic cell phone has more computing power than these old machines. But I wouldn't trade my VIC-20, C=64, C=128D experiences for anything in the world. In fact, I've been toying around with the idea of making my 128 power an old X-10 Powerhouse unit that I have.

Yeah, I know.... I'm a pack rat. But Commodore Rules!

Commodore? What's that?

Which Commodore did you use? Or do you go back that far? ;)

Work with more than one version or even lucky enough to have a MAX or a TED? Let me know in the comments!

Which Commodore Computer did you use?

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If Commodore Was So Cool, Why Aren't They Still Around?

TENEX catalog
TENEX catalog

PC vs. Mac? Yeah right.

There used to be a third computer company involved and our computers now would not be what they are had Commodore not been such a contender. The VIC-20 put graphics and sound to a computer when IBM (The only PC that was worth it's salt in the day) and Apple were still beeping from a speaker in the case. Texas Instruments introduced a computer that could talk and Tandy's Radio Shack (TRS-80? Yup, had one of those too) had decent abilities but the hardware was lacking.

The VIC-20 was virtually bullet-proof and in a market saturated by $1200 IBMs the VIC-20 hit the market at under $300. Okay, well that isn't right. The VIC-20 created the home computing market. IBM (the PC we know now) was a business only machine. It peaked sales at one point at 9000 units per day. It was the first computer to break one million units sold.

Other firsts for Commodore?

How about the KIM-1 one being the first hobbyist computer (forerunner for the BASICstamp to be sure!)?

Or what about the PET being the first complete computer?

Or what about being the first computer company dollar break the one billion dollar mark?

Okay, more about the VIC-20. How would it stack up today?

Well, powered by a 8 bit 1 Mhz CPU, yes those numbers are right. Chances are your cheap trac-fone is faster. Upgrades were !K of RAM though eventually up to 5.5K was possible. Software was packaged in the same style of ROM pack as popular video game consoles of the time. This turned the VIC-20 in to a gaming console as well as an important educational tool. This ROM expansion also allowed eventually for more RAM. Third party companies offered some as large as 64K! (Okay stop laughing now...)

I remember the 1515 VIC printer, a 300 baud modem (I said stop laughing), CBM1020 Docking Station, the 1540 Floppy Drive, and yes I even had the CS2 datasette, which is what we used if we couldn't afford the $300 floppy drive. Besides we could just use regular cassette tapes for our data storage. Finding programs tended to be a problem sometimes though...

The impending shut down of the VIC-20 line in late 1982 in favor of the more astute C=64 has been sited as the first time consumers ever had to deal with the concept of "upgrading." Many were resentful, I'm sure.

Also, the 6560 VIC1 chip was not intended for computers. It was supposed to be used by video game consoles similar to the ColecoVision or Atari 2600.

The photo is a scan of an old TENEX (one of the biggest suppliers of Commodore parts) Computer Express catalog the has seen it's better days.

Oh and that GEOS 2.0 on the front page of this catalog? Think all the good parts of a (at that time) very fledgling Apple OS and Windows was barely out of the DOS stage. As I recall there was another operating system contender called DashBoard.

William Shatner?

I hope you don't think Priceline.com was Shatner's first huge advertising gig! No, Check this out:

(I added the SID chip music video for comparison, remember when the C64 was making this music, PCs and IIEs were still beeping one tone)

Jack Tramiel
Jack Tramiel

Okay, It's A Cool Computer, But What Happened?

During the company's high point during the release of the Amiga 1000 which at a time when PC and Mac users were just getting used to 16 colors, the Amiga introduced 4096 colors and the new term of anti-aliasing to generate more photographic-like qualities to computer graphics, Commodore was soaring.

The Amiga was so far ahead of it's time, the company was poised to be the company we know Apple to be now. Can you imagine a C=Phone? A C=Pod? A BYTE article that served as the Commodore Empire's obituary in 1994 said that "nine years later vendors are still trying to make a system that competes with the 1985 Amiga." Today we know it was the first multimedia computer. But in those days it was derided as a gaming computer. But it was the first computer to offer true text-to-speech conversion.

When Auschwitz survivor Jack Tramiel started a typewriter repair service in 1954, who would have thought that such an aggressive business man could push this envelope.

So what caused Commodore Business Machines to basically commit suicide?

Jack Tramiel left to take over Atari. When he loaned the Amiga Group a million dollars to be paid back in only a months time, it seemed he would be taking Atari the same route he had sent Commodore. But when Amiga could not repay the loan and he offered .98 per share to buy the company, they went to Tramiel's former company for the bail out. Of course what happened there set both companies up for a sweet monster called the Amiga 1000.

There was a time during these investments that the company had expanded exponentially out of necessity. But it caught up with them. They got behind with the banks. The Chairman Smith took a smaller seat as an adviser as the new CEO Rattigan took the chair. In four quarters Rattigan looked to be turning the ship around, but was suddenly forced to take a smaller seat when financial adviser Gould, a 20 year veteran of Commodore Business Machines, took the chair. At one point, Rattigan was forcibly removed from the board room, to which he reportedly won a huge lawsuit.

Through all three of these changes salaries were cut, jobs were downsized and a total of ten plants were closed. But, the decision had been made to make CBM US into more of a sales entity and cut back on research and design.

In only three quarters the company lost millions. March 1993 alone, they reported a loss of 177.6 million dollars. The New York Stock Exchange ordered a review and ceased their trading.

In the end, the Board had so divided the company among the different countries that it operated that personally I don't think it even knew which parts were being liquidated by the bankruptcy. Major third party producers and suppliers were poised to accept the inevitable.

To this day there are pockets of Commodore still in operation. But very small. The Commodore/Amiga technology eventually was purchased by a new computer company to the PC clone scene... Gateway. Many parts of the C=64 are still produced as hobbyists still produce new ideas for the aging platform. It is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the most sold computer.

Chuck Peddle should be recognized with names like Jobs, Wozniac, and Gates. Where did the inventor of the PET and the 6502 chip that set the computing world on it's ear go? Does the name Sirius sound familiar? Thought so.

So What Do You Think?

Do you think you could have accomplished anything with such a small computer?

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    • sirkeystone lm profile image
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      sirkeystone lm 6 years ago

      @asiliveandbreathe: I was wondering if someone had posted those! Thanks I'll look them up. Heheh yeah, Blitz I had forgotten it! My brother even remixed the theme music from The Last V8. How he remembered it I'll never know, he was only about six when I used to play that...

    • asiliveandbreathe profile image

      asiliveandbreathe 6 years ago

      @asiliveandbreathe: My son has just pointed out that the Commodore Vic20 had a very successful advertising campaign fronted by William Shatner. You can still find it on You Tube.

    • asiliveandbreathe profile image

      asiliveandbreathe 6 years ago

      I loved playing Scrabble and Blitz - I still remember the sound of those little bombs dropping onto the buildings.