Enter... the Commodore 65!

Retro-Thing takes a nostalgic look back at the retro console that never was, the hysterically named Commodore 65.
After the spectacular success of the Commodore 64, CBM barely knew what to do with themselves. They created the Commodore 128 that combined C64 functionality with unique high powered modes of its own, but it didn't really work out. Of course there was the mighty series of Amiga computers from the mid 80's onwards, but Commodore was convinced they could still make good use of the popular C64 technology. Floppy Enter the Commodore 65; in many ways like a C64 that went to "11". It featured a sleek new design, two SID audio chips, a built in 3.5" floppy drive, better graphics abilities, expansion to 8 megs of RAM, and a flat bit to rest your coffee on. Some working prototypes were made in 1990-91, and when Commodore was liquidated after their bankruptcy in '94, some of these machines got out. No one knows exactly how many are out there; estimates range from 50 to several hundred.
Commodore 65: Like The C64, But It's One Louder [Retro-Thing]
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12 Responses to Enter... the Commodore 65!

  1. dculberson says:

    Rikf, I would’ve previously *loved* to have an Amiga laptop. But then I discovered the absolutely amazing Amiga emulators that are out there like WinUAE. It lets you choose the processor, Kickstart version (must download or image roms separately), memory amounts, etc. It’s incredible. Once running, it looks and feels exactly like an Amiga – except without the visible scanlines. The games run exactly the same, only faster if you let them and it doesn’t cause problems.

    I developed a serious Empire Deluxe addiction relapse shortly after discovering WinUAE. It was so much more satisfying not having to wait for ever between turns. I had to give it up, my wife complained that she never saw me. (Wow, flashbacks to being 14 and forgetting to eat..)

  2. dculberson says:

    I forgot the point of my post: a nice PC laptop running and emulator is functionally superior to an Amiga 1200 based laptop. It’s MORE compatible, if that makes any sense. You can run old and new games. It’s faster, lighter, etc. The only thing it’s missing is the nostalgia hardware part.

  3. Stefan Jones says:

    One of my college buddies has a portable C64. It kind of looked like one of those KayPro luggables; an oblong box with a little screen and a handle. The keyboard was the lid, as I recall.

  4. OM says:

    “Wow, a C64 that looks like… an Amiga 500!”

    …Commode-Door was moving their design towards the Amiga 500 style towards the end, striving towards a trend in computer design that was being touted as the next thing: the keyboard that contained a system, thus reducing desktop clutter. However, heating issues and the added cost of miniaturizing parts kept that design relegated to being “ahead of its time”. At the same time, the form factor caught a lot of negativity from IT managers because a “system in a keyboard” could walk out the door far easier than the clunky boxes a normal keyboard is attached to.

    …But again, most of what killed Commode-Door was the fact that the company let the Marketing Goons run the show. Witness the debacles surrounding the 64C, +4, and the other “new lines” that came out right before the company went tits-up. They were specifically designed *not* to work with existing Commode-Door and VIC peripherals, which became even more suicidal when the company failed to release floppy drives for the cheaper units as promised. There were a few conversion kits for the 1541 drives to make them work on the newer models. but by the time they showed up the company was dead and people were switching to PCs and Apple ][‘s.

  5. airship says:

    I was a Commodore magazine editor back in the 80’s, and I can add a few details:

    The portable 64 mentioned above was the SX-64, a ‘luggable’ built along the lines of the old Osbourne computer. They’re still highly desired by collectors and fetch a good price on eBay.

    The C65 itself is the most sought-after Commodore collectible. Even a bare motherboard will fetch a hefty sum. You never see them on eBay because collectors of this stuff know one another and sell them within their group. The number of fully functional C65s left in existence is likely under 100, though parts and pieces do exist.

    The story about Star Trek and the Amiga is, unfortunately, true. The Commodore marketing department could not have sold ice water to a man dying of thirst in the middle of the Sahara. The C64 sold on its price/performance alone.

    When Commodore bought the Amiga out from under their old boss, Jack Tramiel, and his newly-acquired company Atari, you could hear Jack’s scream in California all the way to Commodore’s offices in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The Atari ST he built never had the chops to compete effectively against the Amiga, but Commodore’s marketing department proved that they could kill anything no matter what its potential. Instead, the Amiga and ST both were quickly done in by the boring old PC.

    Jobs had the skills to keep Apple alive (barely) though the ensuring drought. Now his company comfortably holds a small niche market, while the PC dinosaur contemplates its domain, unknowingly merely awaiting its own eventual extinction. Let’s hope it’s less than 100 million years away.

  6. RikF says:

    Bugs – I wish I had the time and resources to do just the reverse and create a modern, slimline Amiga 1200 laptop!

  7. airship says:

    #9, the 64C was a fully-compatible Commodore 64, used all the same periperals, and ran all the same software. Commodore made all the mistakes you mention on the C16/+4 models, but quickly learned their lesson and returned with the C128, which was 100% peripheral and software compatible with the C64, while also having a faster native mode with 80 column screen, twice the memory, and twice the speed. The hardware guys always got it right; it was Commodore management and marketing that killed the product lines, and the company.

  8. Halloween Jack says:

    They were probably inspired by the Apple II line (IIe, IIc, IIgs) which Apple continued to sell not only after the introduction of the disastrous III, but also after the intro of the Macintosh, which didn’t make money for a few years. Keeping the II line going helped keep Apple alive while it recouped the cost of developing the Mac and a couple of duds.

    That probably wasn’t an option for Commodore, though. The story that I’ve read about the company suggests that they could have wiped Apple off the map with the Amiga if their marketing department had been within a few orders of magnitude as competent as their engineers. One anecdote has the crew of Star Trek IV wanting to use an Amiga in the scene where Scotty is “inventing” transparent aluminum. Not only did Commodore’s marketing department refuse the request, when the film crew ordered an Amiga, Commodore refused to ship it to them. The film crew then turned to Apple, which not only provided a Mac gratis, but sent it along with a technician to make sure that everything worked well.

  9. Clay says:

    Wow, a C64 that looks like… an Amiga 500!

    I guess this must have been the immediate precursor to that industrial design. Fascinating.

  10. Anonymous says:

    One obvious analogy is to the Apple IIgs, which was released a year after the Macintosh — just as the C65 was developed after the Amiga. The C64 and Apple II were competitors each replaced by their maker’s new, more “businessy” and GUI-oriented micro line — the Amiga and the Mac. And both of the earlier lines got a bit of a last gasp … with, as in many things, Apple’s rather more successful than Commodore’s.

  11. Bugs says:

    That’s magnificent. There’s just something wonderful about the clunky-yet-streamlined style of these things.

    I wish I had the time and resources to gut a C64 (Or maybe an Amstrad CPC?) and shove an EEE’s internals in there to make an old-skool portable computer.

  12. dculberson says:

    Clay, the Commodore 65 was created over three years after the Amiga 500! So the C65 actually mimicked the A500 in styling. How bizarre is that?

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