The First Personal Computer, The Commodore PET

This model had a name change half way through production, as Commodore lost the use of the name PET. It was changed from Commodore PET 4032 to Commodore CBM 4032.

Commodore was a once successful calculator company, using chips from the Texas Interments. While TI was successful in selling chips the company waited to get big in the calculator game, until other companies proved the market. Since they were selling the chips in their own calculators they didn’t need to sell outside to places like Commodore, so they jacked the price of the Chips so the chips cost more then the complete calculator. With that business move against them Jack Tramiel made sure they would they would not be frozen out of parts again and purchased MOS Technology.

The purchase of MOS brought in the brilliant chip designer Chuck Peddle, the soon to market 6502, and the Chuck’s KIM-1 circuit board. Chuck convinced Jack that computers, not calculators nor electronic thermostats, were the future of Commodore. Jack sold merchandise and Chuck designed circuits. What they brought to market is what I see as a huge calculator built around an upgraded KIM-1.

The Commodore PET was was first shown at the January, 1977, Winter Consumer Electronics Show. There were lot and lots of orders. Taking orders before manufacturing was something Commodore did in the early days. Because of the mostly simple design they were able to ship the first personal computer in October of that year. It would be only a few months after that when Commodore was selling internationally.

At the West Coast Computer Faire a few months later Commodore showed the PET to the public again. Two other manufacturers showed off their first systems, Apple and Radio Shack. Commodore was able to get lots of good press and took more orders. The first few years were a great start for Commodore, with later Commodore computers taking over the home computer space.

Soon after the PET 2001 was in mass production 3rd party replacement keyboards were marketed to fix one of the PET’s biggest failing; the calculator style keyboard. Commodore reacted and put a much better keyboard in later models.

While it isn’t easy to find a real Commodore PET, you can try out an emulator. Here is a link to VICE. It can emulate the Commodore PET on a modern PC. It might be a fun emulator, but forcing the old keyboard locations makes this emulator unusable for me. The computer pictured here is mine, yet it served today as a PET door stop.

A good history of the Commodore PET:

For PET history in pictures:

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