The Commodore Legacy – Part I

Although at times I may try to hide it, at times there is unfortunately no escaping the fact that I am what many would consider a ‘geek’.The last two weeks have seen me lying on the sofa for an hour at a time reading a fantastic 520 page book entitled ‘On The Edge – The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore’.

The majority of you will probably not know that twelve years ago, at the tender age of thirteen, I started producing a fanzine entitled ‘Zine 64 which focused on the Commodore 64 computer; a machine released in 1982, just one year after my birth.Although many would consider such a machine long in the tooth when I started writing the fanzine, it had a fantastically hardcore user base who all pulled together to try and prolong its’ already long existence.As I write today, there are still peoplesupporting this twenty five year old machine; the passion this machine instils means that, even to this day, it still has a very special place in my heart.

Whilst what I write below may not be to the taste of every reader, I just wanted to take a moment out of looking to the future but instead glance back at the past at one company who arguably changed the world.

Commodore International was started back in 1954 as a typewriter company who due to fierce competition then started producing adding machines in the late 1950s, and then electronic calculators in the 1960s.In the late ’70s an engineer working at Commodore named Chuck Peddle convinced the founder Jack Tramiel that calculators were a dead end, and that they should turn their attention to computers.

In 1977 Chuck Peddle packaged an existing microcomputer kit into a metal case along with a QWERTY keyboard, monochrome monitor and tape recorder to create the Commodore PET which was relatively successful in both the UK and US/Canada.Commodores’ next major computer release was a colour capable machine, the VIC-20 which sold at the remarkably low price of $299 from its introduction to the market in 1981.The low price of the machine, along with an advertising campaign featuring William Shatner resulted in the VIC-20 being the first computer to ship one million units.

In 1982 the Commodore 64 was released to the world; this was a machine that would be produced until the year 1994 and would ship approximately seventeen million units making it the best selling computer of all time.The Commodore 64 was an impressive bit of kit; the combination of high specification and low price lead to the famous Commodore advertising slogan of ‘You can’t buy a better computer at twice the price’.

In 1983 Commodore cut the price of both the VIC-20 and C64 which drove one of their main competitors, Texas Instruments out of the computer market, almost destroyed Atari and bankrupted many of their smaller rivals.Whilst this price war was bad for Commodores’ savings, not to mention the profits of its competitors, it did mean that affordable computing was finally within reach of the general public.

The specifications of the C64 seem almost laughable nowadays; a 1 Mhz processor and 64k of memory however the machine packed in many features not present in computers of the time.The C64 for example supported 16 colours when many were still monochrome, additionally it has a dedicated sound chip capable of playing three synthesised voices simultaneously when most machines simply utilised a buzzer.Such technical advices that Commodore had made in the field of home computing were relatively modest compared with what was to come.

It was my original intention to squeeze all of this in to one article I’ve only just scratched the surface of the impact that Commodore had on the market so this feature will conclude next week.



About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.