This year marks the anniversary of the most popular selling home computer ever, the Commodore 64, which made its debut in 1982. Note that I am saying “home computer” and not personal computer (PC) because back then the term PC was not yet in use for home computer users.
Some of you have probably not heard of Commodore, which is kind of sad, though there is a simple reason why — Commodore is no longer around to maintain its legacy. If one were to watch a documentary about the 1980s they may see a picture of an Apple computer or its founders but most likely would not see a picture of a Commodore computer in spite of selling tens of millions of units.
To understand the success of the C64 I would first back up and talk about the fabled era of home computers which starts with understanding the microprocessor of the day, the venerable 6502. Check out the video and follow along below.
The 6502 was the brainchild of Chuck Peddle and a team of engineers, Bill Mensch, Wil Mathes and others, who were all working at Motorola — we called them the Motorla Five even though there were seven of them. Chuck’s team successfully shrunk down a full sized PCB known as the main processor board onto a single chip, known now as a microprocessor, the 6800 to be exact. While this evolutionary step seems whole and natural to someone like you or I, the existence of the microprocessor was deemed a threat to those at Motorola who made their money selling the main processor board for tens of thousands dollars vs the $250 that the 6800 was slated to sell for. Mr. Peddle basically received a “cease and desist” letter from Motorola to stop work on the 6800 which Chuck took to mean that they were abandoning the project and the intellectual property it represented. Chuck and company then joined MOS Technology in Norristown PA and subsequently released the 6502 microprocessor which sold initially for $25 and ultimately less than a dollar. The fact that the lawyers disagreed with Chuck is a different story.
The 6502 is at the heart of many of the home computers of the era starting with Atari, Apple, BBC Micro, and of course Commodore. One of the earliest examples of the 6502 was a system known as KIM-1. Contrary to popular belief, the KIM-1 was not designed by Chuck Peddle but rather someone from the Calculator Group at MOS lead by John May. When asked about his contribution to computers in general, Mr. Peddle’s response was that he was proud of the Input/Output (I/O) chips of the day as a computer with no I/O is just a processor but add I/O and you have terminals, cash registers, printers, etc.
I cut my teeth on the 6502 as a young bench technician at a company named Pennsylvania Scale Company in the late 70’s, doing processor controlled instrumentation which was