The Commodore 64 is by far the most famous and successful computer Commodore ever made. But there were numerous Commodore computer models over the years. Some were also successful. Some were complete flops. Overall Commodore had a good 18-year run, but it could have been so much longer and better.
Let’s take a walk through the Commodore computer models from the beginning in 1976 to the bitter end in 1994.
The KIM-1 predated Commodore. MOS Technology designed the KIM-1, a simple single-board computer, to demonstrate the capabilities of its 6502 CPU. It consisted of just a circuit board, like an Apple I. But it wasn’t really as ambitious as the Apple I. It wasn’t really designed to have a keyboard and CRT attached to it like the Apple I.
But its low price of $245 attracted a following from hobbyists that MOS and Commodore probably didn’t expect. It was relatively easy to expand to 8K of RAM, and by connecting a terminal to it, you could get a keyboard and a display to make it easier to use.
Commodore bought MOS Technology to get chips to put in calculators. Chuck Peddle, the key designer of the 6502 and the KIM-1, convinced Commodore management to let him design something better than calculators or a KIM-1. That led to a new line of business that had a bit more longevity in it than selling calculators and trying to compete with Texas Instruments.
The PET/CBM line (1977)
Commodore called its first full-fledged computers the PET, for Personal Electronic Transactor. Due to a trademark dispute, Commodore eventually had to abandon the PET name, after which it used the initials CBM (Commodore Business Machines).
The PET/CBM line used the IEEE-488 interface to connect disk drives and printers. It was fast but expensive, so Commodore’s inexpensive 8-bit computers such as the 64 and VIC-20 used a serial interface instead.
PETs retain a following today. They are much simpler than the C-64 or Amiga and can be temperamental. But since they used off-the-shelf chips, or chips Commodore licensed to other sources, you can source modern replacement parts today.
The PET 2001 was one of a trio of personal computers released in 1977 that created the industry. All of them exceeded expectations, as none of the three companies, Apple, Commodore, and Tandy, could produce enough machines to meet demand.
Commodore only produced about 500 PET 2001s in 1977. It had a metal case, a built-in monochrome monitor, a calculator-style chiclet keyboard, notably with a numeric keypad, and a built-in tape recorder for storage. The 4K machine sold for $595 and the 8K machine for $795.
PET/CBM 3000 series
The PET 3000 series came in three sizes: 8K, 16K, and 32K. Commodore named them the PET 3008, 3016, and 3032. By 1978, Commodore was shipping them with standard full-travel keyboards.
PET/CBM 4000 series
4000-series PETs offered a 40-column 12-inch display. The PET 4000 series also came in three sizes: 8K, 16K, and 32K. Commodore named them the PET 4008, 4016, and 4032. At their peak, these machines had 67% of the Canadian education market.
PET/CBM 8000 series
Business-oriented 8000-series PETs offered an 80-column 12-inch display. The PET 8000 series also came in three sizes: 32K, 64K, and 96K. Commodore named them the 8032, 8064, and 8096.
Commodore teamed up with the University of Waterloo to create the SuperPET, essentially an 8032 with an extra CPU board in it, adding a Motorola 6809 CPU. The 6809 was more powerful than Commodore’s 6502, making it more suitable for teaching advanced programming languages.
Commodore released a restyled, re-engineered CBM line in 1982 but Commodore quickly discontinued them due to the C-64’s unexpected success. These were business-oriented machines that featured compatibility with earlier PET/CBM peripherals, but with 128K or 256K of RAM and, usually, the SID chip from the C-64.
The CBM-II machines weren’t IBM compatible. In light of the IBM PC’s success, going with the 64 seems like it was the right decision.
The CBM-II models are among the rarest Commodore computer models. The styling makes them popular with collectors today, but their orphan status made them a tough sell for liquidators in the 1980s. It took about three years to sell through the few thousand of these machines Commodore produced. I’ve discussed the CBM-II line in my piece about the ill-fated Commodore 256.
Commodore’s VIC-20 was the first color computer that cost less than $300. Commodore bet, correctly, that a really inexpensive computer would build its own market. Commodore sold about three million of them. Demand really tapered off toward the end of 1983 and the remaining inventory lasted until early 1985.
The VIC was Commodore’s first 8-bit machine to abandon the IEEE-488 interface from the PET, using a simpler serial bus known as IEC. It was much slower, but cheap, which was important for hitting the $299 price point.
Commodore 64 (1982)
Commodore released the C-64 in 1982, and was still selling them in small quantities in 1994 when it went out of business. In the end, Commodore sold between 20 and 25 million of these machines. It was the first 64K computer to sell for less than $600, and featured best-in-class graphics and sound for its time. Thanks to the 64 and VIC-20, Commodore had 60% of the computer market in 1984.
Like the VIC, the 64 used the cheaper IEC interface. This helped Commodore hit its initial $595 price point, and was important to maintain compatibility with VIC-20 peripherals. Commodore rightly assumed many VIC-20 owners would upgrade to the 64. Commodore quickly cut the price, though by the mid 1980s pricing held pretty steady.
Due to its long life, Commodore released a large number of different variants of the 64.
Commodore 116, 16, and Plus/4 (1984)
The spiritual successor to the VIC-20, these three machines didn’t catch on. Commodore predicted an onslaught of cheap computers made in the Far East that never happened. So instead, these machines spent their brief life competing with the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 instead.
The heart of these machines was an integrated chip called TED, producing video and sound. They also had a slightly faster CPU, running at 1.79 MHz. Lack of backward compatibility with any other Commodore 8-bit computer doomed them to failure, however. The Plus/4 was overpriced at $299 and the 16 and 116 had 16K of memory at a time when 64K was considered entry-level.
Many people point at this era as the start of Commodore’s decline. Had Commodore made and sold another 800,000 64s instead of making 800,000 of these machines and liquidating most of them, there’s no doubt their financial results for 1984 would have been better and they may have bled less red ink in 1985 and 86.
Commodore 128 (1985)
Commodore’s final 8-bit computer, the 128, contained two CPUs and ran in three distinct modes: C-64 mode, which was mostly compatible with the C-64; CP/M mode, which ran the CP/M business-oriented operating system, and native mode, which was a souped-up 64. As the name suggests, it had 128K of RAM. Always a controversial machine, the 128 was a reasonable success, selling 5-6 million units. It cost $349 without a disk drive. Disk drives ran $149-$299 depending on the model.
In 1986, Commodore produced a model called the 128D, which had a built-in 5.25-inch disk drive and a detached keyboard, giving it a PC-like appearance.
Commodore 65 / Commodore 64DX
Commodore never officially released the Commodore 65, designed in the 1989-1990 timeframe as an answer to the Apple IIgs. But a few escaped in 1993 so it’s worth discussing.
It featured dual SID chips, a built-in 3.5-inch floppy drive, enhanced 256-color graphics, 128K of RAM and a 16-bit CPU. Commodore canceled it in 1990, which was probably the right decision as it wouldn’t have cost much less than an Amiga 500.
In late 1993 and early 1994, when Commodore was desperate for cashflow, it sold a lot of inventory, including a small quantity of C-65s, to The Grapevine Group and other longtime dealers. Grapevine sold them through mail and phone order via magazine ads for around $100-$150, pitching them as “a new 64 just released in Europe.” It appears it only took about two months for eagle-eyed Commodore fans to snap them up. Today they sell for upwards of $20,000. There may have been as many as 250 complete C-65 prototypes produced and perhaps as many as 2,000 C-65-related items once existed, but today, only about 50 of the C-65 prototypes are accounted for.
The Amiga line
Commodore bought Amiga, a promising but struggling technology company, in 1984. Featuring high resolution graphics, stereo sound, Motorola 68000-series CPUs and multitasking, it took longer to get the computer to market than Commodore wanted, but it was a decade ahead of its time. The Amiga retains a cult following to this day. If you used one in the 80s or 90s, you understand.
Amiga 1000 (1985)
The Amiga 1000 featured a Motorola 68000 CPU, 256K of RAM, a single 880K floppy drive, and ground-breaking multitasking, graphics, and sound. It retailed for $1295 initially, without a monitor.
Underpowered, overpriced, and immature, it didn’t take the industry by storm in 1985 but its promise captured the attention of a generation.
The Amiga came into its own a couple of years later with the Amiga 500 and 2000, which dispensed with the attempt to be a compromise between a home computer and business computer.
Amiga 500 (1987)
In 1987, Commodore repackaged the Amiga into a self-contained unit with 512K of RAM priced at $699 targeting the home market. At that price point, the Amiga 500 proved successful. The problem for Commodore was that it sold in VIC-20 quantities, not C-64 quantities. But the Amiga 500 proved to be the most popular of the Amiga models.
Commodore released an Amiga 500+ in Europe in 1991-92. It contained extra memory and a new Kickstart 2.04 ROM. It was a slightly enhanced Amiga 500 but the changes were evolutionary.
Amiga 2000 (1987)
The Amiga 2000 was a revised Amiga with a large case and expansion slots targeting the business market. It included PC expansion slots and an optional bridgeboard for IBM PC compatibility. It was easy to upgrade and became popular for video work due to the presence of a dedicated video slot. Newtek’s Video Toaster was originally designed for the Amiga 2000 and was one of its more popular and better known peripherals. Amiga 2000s remained in service as video production workstations for years after Commodore’s demise.
Some Amiga 2000s came with a hard drive from the factory and received the Amiga 2000HD designation.
The Amiga 2500 was just an Amiga 2000 with a factory-installed CPU card upgrading it to either a 68020 or 68030 CPU. Since some of the chips still resided on a 16-bit data bus, the Amiga 2500 showed some limitations. It was much faster than an Amiga 2000 but not as fast as an Amiga 3000. The Amiga 2500 had a relatively long life, however, as the Video Toaster didn’t fit into a standard Amiga 3000 case.
Amiga 3000 (1990)
The Amiga 3000 paired up the Amiga’s chipset with a full 32-bit data bus and Motorola’s 68030 CPU, which was one of the most advanced CPUs on the market at the time. This eliminated the bottlenecks in the Amiga 2500, making the Amiga 3000 the no-compromises high-speed Amiga of its day.
Amiga 3000T (1991)
The Amiga 3000T was an Amiga 3000 in a tower case with more slots and drive bays. It was more useful as a video production workstation than a desktop A3000, as some Amiga 2000-sized peripherals wouldn’t fit an A3000’s cramped case. But they fit fine in an A3000T.
Amiga 600 (1992)
The Amiga 600 was a slightly souped-up Amiga 500 with a smaller keyboard and limited expandability. It offered a built-in IDE interface and PCMCIA slot but lacked the A500’s options for adding memory and acceleration boards. Most people regard it as a mistake. The Amiga 500 was still selling well, and the Amiga 600 didn’t. Had Commodore just released the Amiga 500+ worldwide instead, there’s little doubt it would have outsold the Amiga 600, and without any associated R&D and tooling costs. The Amiga 600 quickly became the Amiga nobody wanted, and by late 1993, dealers were liquidating them for under $200, only slightly more than the going rate on a refurbished C-64 and disk drive at the time.
Most speculation around the 600 involves its appearance. It looked more like a 64 than any other Amiga, so some speculate Commodore management thought a 64-like Amiga would sell better. Of course, people didn’t buy the 64 for its looks, they bought it for its software. Commodore didn’t really understand its own success and that proved to be its undoing. The Amiga 600 may be the ultimate example of that.
Amiga 1200 (1992)
The Amiga 1200 was a small all-in-one Amiga with the AGA chipset, capable of high-color graphics necessary to continue to compete in the early 1990s. It was a 32-bit design with a Motorola 68EC020 CPU. Its design resembled the Amiga 500. It was a reasonably popular home computer, especially considering its short lifespan.
Amiga 4000 (1992)
The Amiga 4000 paired up the Amiga AGA chipset with a full 32-bit data bus and Motorola’s 68030 or 68040 CPU in a large case with expansion slots. It succeeded the Amiga 3000 as the no-compromises high-speed Amiga of Commodore’s waning days. It found favor as a video workstation as well, due to its high performance.
Amiga 4000T (1994)
The Amiga 4000T was a tower-based Amiga 4000, and the last Amiga Commodore ever produced. Its capabilities were much like an Amiga 4000, but the larger case gave it more slots and drive bays. The 4000T also has the distinction of using a standard PC/AT form factor case and power supply, presumably as a cost reduction measure.
Commodore only produced about 200 units before it went out of business, though its successors kept the Amiga 4000T in production until about 1997. A Commodore-produced Amiga 4000T is one of the rarest Commodore computer models.
The PC line
Commodore also made PC clones starting in the mid 1980s. These models included the PC-1, PC-5, PC-10, PC-20, and the Colt, all with 8088 CPUs. The PC-20 included a 20 megabyte hard drive.
The PC-30 and PC-40 were AT-class 286 systems with hard drives varying from 20 to 100 megabytes in size.
The PC-50 and PC-60 were 386sx-based PCs with hard drives. The PC-50 was a desktop machine and the PC-60 came in a tower case.
Commodore also produced some 386, 486, and even Pentium PCs, usually using the CPU designation as the model number, e.g. Commodore 486SX-25 or Commodore 486-33C.