I hear a lot of questions about the Commodore 64 over and over again. Many of them don’t warrant a single blog post. So here’s a list of Commodore 64 common questions and their answers.
If you want to know when the Commodore 64 came out, how many Commodore 64s sold, who made the Commodore 64, where the Commodore 64 was made, is the Commodore 64 worth anything, are Commodore 64 games worth anything, or if you can still buy a Commodore 64, read on.
Retro computing fans, especially Commodore and Atari enthusiasts, all know the story. Jack Tramiel left Commodore, the company he founded, in early 1984 at the height of its success. Then, within a few months, he gained control of Commodore rival Atari.
Commodore’s rise and fall are legendary, at least to people like me who grew up using their computers. Putting numbers to that rise and fall was more difficult. I dug up the Commodore financial history from 1978-1994 to help quantify that spectacular rise and fall. Read more
Irving Gould was a Canadian financier and chairman of Commodore International. Although it’s an oversimplification, journalist Robert X. Cringely dismissed the once high-flying computer company, which had 60% of the market in 1984, as Irving Gould’s stock scam.
It was 30 years ago this week that Commodore released its landmark, long-time-coming Amiga 1000 computer–the first 1990s computer in a field full of 1970s retreads.
Yes, it was a 1990s computer in 1985. It had color and sound built in, not as expensive, clunky, hard-to-configure add-ons. It could address up to 8 megabytes of memory, though it ran admirably on a mere 512 kilobytes. Most importantly, it had fully pre-emptive multitasking, something that previously only existed in commercial workstations that cost five figures.
It was so revolutionary that even NBC is acknowledging the anniversary.
Being a decade or so ahead of its time was only the beginning of its problems, unfortunately.
From time to time, I see the phrase “Commodore stock scam” or something similar come up in discussion or in books. Commodore, in case you don’t know, was a high-flying computer company in the 1980s that was literally making computers as quickly as they could sell them while Apple struggled for its survival, and was in the enviable position of being the main supplier of chips for its competitors. Imagine if Intel sold computers at retail next to HP and Dell, while still selling chips to Dell. That was Commodore in 1984. I don’t have 1984 figures, but in 1985, Commodore had 38% of the computer market all to itself. IBM and its clones, combined, had 49%. Apple had 13%.
But a decade later, Commodore had squandered all of that away and was out of business. That’s why Robert X. Cringely sums up Commodore as Irving Gould‘s stock scam, then goes back to writing about Apple.
The real story is more complicated than that. More interesting, too.
There’s a nasty rumor floating around that in Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography, Steve Jobs, Jobs alleges that Commodore copied the Apple II when making its first computer, 1977’s PET. Here’s the story of Steve Jobs and the Commodore PET.
The book doesn’t come right out and say it, but it insinuates it. I know how the PET came to be, and the PET would have happened whether the Apple II ever existed or not. Read more
I grew up on the Commodore 128. We got one for Christmas 1985 (an upgrade from a Commodore 64). It was a bit of a quirky machine, but I liked it.
On the retro computing forums, it might be the most controversial thing Commodore ever did. Which says something, seeing as some computer historians have summed up Commodore’s history in four words: Irving Gould‘s stock scam. But that’s another story.
The cool thing about Commodore was that its engineers weren’t shy about talking about their projects. Bil Herd, Fred Bowen, and Dave Haynie have all weighed in over the years, talking about what they did and why and what they would have done differently.