Commodore.ca | Products | Commodore 116 c16 232 264 364 PLUS/4 History, Pictures & Time Line

By: Commodore  09-12-2011


Commodore "TED" 264 Series: The Beginning of the End
by Ian Matthews of Commodore.ca June 10 2003 - Revised January 13, 2008

On this page:

As with almost everything at Commodore, development of this new concept machine with very limited specifications had been ordered by Jack Tramiel himself.  However, as the development cycle came to fruition it was clear that the engineers had developed a more powerful 64K computer that was right for the small office / home office market.  Only the hobbled Commodore C16 / 116 (which received limited release) was what Jack had originally requested.

The 264 series were very interesting concept machines; they were to be customized much like new cars are today (2003):

.."The key area we're emphasizing in software for the Commodore 264 is productivity, covering such areas as household management, word processing, calculation, business accounting and education," said Sig Hartmann, president of Commodore Software..

..The machine is truly a more business-oriented computer with its optional built-in "integrating" software and "screen window" capability. Imagine working with a word processor and data base or electronic spread sheet simultaneously on the screen. This allows writing on the word processor while viewing data from the data base or spread sheet (i.e., addresses, recipes, dates to remember, inventory control data, financial analysis data, etc.).

With "integrating" software, data can be exchanged from one program to the other. Data from the data base or spread sheet easily can be inserted into a document on the word processor.

"The Commodore 264 is the first personal computer offering a selection of productivity software built into the machine," said Hartmann. "In other words, by choosing a Commodore 264 with a particular software package built in, you can tailor the computer to your own needs.

"If you use your computer to do mostly word processing, you can buy the Commodore 264 with professional word processing built in. If you need financial calculation, you can have a built-in electronic spreadsheet . . . plus . . . you can use standard software on cartridge, disk, or tape."

The optional built-in software for the Commodore 264 also will be available on plug-in cartridge. For example, if the machine is purchased with a word processor built in and the owner later decides to purchase the electronic spread sheet, the spread sheet can be purchased on an add-on cartridge..

 

Herd said "In the days of $299 C64 this sounded like a good idea, and we didn’t want to be compatible, at some level of rationalization, with C64 as this WAS a different, uber-cheap little (machine)"

The Evolution of the Max Machine?

The Chips
The 264 line is now frequently referred to as the TED series because it used MOS's interesting new 7360 "Text EDitor" or "TED" chip. Designed in 1983 by Dave Diorio, the 7501 / 8501 CPU was a modified and much faster version of the from 1976.  It ran at 1.76Mhz while earlier MOS 6502 derivatives used the , and ran at just less than 1Mhz.  The difference between the 7501 and 8501 was they way they were produced but there is no performance or functionality changes.

  • On the audio side, it had two tone oscillators which produced two voices.  The 7360 gave you the option to hear "two tones", or "one tone + one noise".

The Hardware

Commodore completed design and started a small production run of 1551 floppy drives which transmitted data four times as fast as a notoriously slow Commodore 1541 floppy.  Its speed came from being connected to the Expansion Port rather than the more traditional Serial Port.

, Commodore produced only one joystick that would function on a 264. The cartridge slot was brand new so C64 cartridges could not be inserted and because of the series very low sales volumes of 264's, there were only four cartridges ever produced for the 264 series. 

The Software
Commodore / Microsoft was a much improved version over its predecessor used in Commodore 64's.  I am all but certain Commodore never released (even on prototype / demo machines) Basic 3.0 which has always puzzled me.  Perhaps they wanted to indicate that 3.5 was just a little bit less than the being used in much more expensive / machines of the day. 

None of the 264 line (116, 232, 264, 364) actually shipped with the custom software option that Commodore had promised.  Instead the Plus/4 was born when the 264 design was married to a ROM containing TRI-Micro's "3 Plus 1" integrated software.  The original 232, 264 and 364 prototypes were abandoned in landfills like so many other Commodore development machines.  "3 Plus 1" meant:

  • a Word Processor

  • a Spread Sheet

  • a Data-Base, and

  • a Graphing program

all in one easy to access package.  This software was installed on a ROM chip and the programs could be started by simply pressing one of four buttons located just above the main keyboard.  Integrated software allowed for "Windowing", in which you could basically Copy and Paste (very limited) amounts of data between programs.  I have played with it extensively and thought it was pretty damn cool for its time.

Commodore had to remove some of the original 3+1 features to make the program fit into a 32K ROM but Tri-Micro offered diskette-based upgrade called "Plus/Extra" which re-added features like double / triple-line spacing and print preview. 

The idea was fantastic: putting what is today (2003) considered to be core software onto a ROM was almost revolutionary in 1984.  The ability to load frequently used programs almost instantly at the simple touch of a button must have seemed very attractive on paper.  The problem was quality.

The word processor would only handle an embarrassingly small 99 lines of text!  The Graphing program was quite limited and really only useful as an extension of the Spread Sheet.  The database or "File Manager" as Commodore promoted it, was slow and not useful for much more than recipes.  But most problematic was the overall quality of the software code; it was terribly unstable and just not 'ready for prime time'.

The Models
There were many different TED, Plus/4, 264 Models to choose from:

Model

Mem

Integrated Software

Keyboard

Case

Price

Released

Notes

116

16K

None

Rubberized "Chiclet"

Black 264 Wedge

£99

Europe
Limited

Only mild success in Germany after significant price discounting
Only 12K available to Basic
No ACIA (MOS 6551 chip)
Early models did not even have a SHIFT LOCK

C16

16K

None

VIC / 64 Style

Black VIC-a-like

$99

North America
Moderate

No RS-232 port | no arrow keys
Only 12K available to Basic
No ACIA (MOS 6551 chip)
Intended as a replacement for the VIC-20 which had been discontinued months earlier

Portable 116

None

16K

None

?

?

n/a

Prototype

Shown briefly at the January 1984 CES

232

32K

Custom Order

Standard

Black 264 Wedge

n/a

Prototype

264

64K

Custom Order

Standard

Black 264 Wedge

n/a

Prototype

Became the Plus/4 and put into production

Plus/4

64K

3 Plus 1

Standard

Black 264 Wedge

$299

North America
Moderate

Simply a rebadged 264 with integrated 3+1 software

364

64K

Custom Order

Standard

Black 264 Wedge

n/a

Prototype

19 Key Number Pad
Integrated 250 Word "Magic Voice"
AKA: V364, CV364 and 364V
Likely never produced because engineers thought Magic Voice was a flawed "toy" program

The Retail Environment
The c16, 116 and Plus/4 were sold through department stores, just like its predecessors.  Because these products were competing for floor space with the massively successful Commodore 64, they did not receive the same scale distribution scale.

What Went Wrong? 
In the end, the 264 family became a shining symbol of Commodore's mismanagement after Jacks exit. These products were ill-conceived, half engineered, hyped, officially announced and then plowed into landfills.  One thing Commodore did well with the "TED" series was to colour them black, so they were correctly dressed for their own funerals.  All of that being said, there were five primary factors working against these machines:

Very Poor Timing:  They 64 was unexpectedly selling faster than Commodore could make them.  This lead to two serious problems:

  1. Commodore management was not keen to rock the boat and introduce what might end up being competition for its star C64 even if they were in theory targeted at different markets;

  2. .  Commodore had a strict rule about maintaining their vertical integration so contracting out more capacity would not have even been discussed.

The rapidly increasing amount of software for the C64 would not function on a 264 because they used slightly different processors with different memory addressing schemes. Only the most simple software coded in BASIC would function on both systems.

Reduction in Power:  Relative to the then hugely popular Commodore 64, the 264 family did not support Sprite Graphics and only supported two voice sound.  The C16, 116 and 232 models had just 16K and 32K of memory respectively.  These machines were excellent upgrades for the 5K VIC-20 but the VIC had been discontinued for a reason. 

Multi-configuration Problems:  Because Commodore waffled on how to handle custom software ROM's precious 'time to market' was extended and dealers became frustrated.   "..The fact the 264 can be purchased in different configurations is another sore spot with market analysts. They believe this feature will force retailers to stock various versions of the system, overloading their inventories. It is unknown how Commodore will handle this problem.." Compute June 1984 .  In the end Commodore resolved the problem by not offering custom software ROMs at all.  The Plus/4 was produced with TRI-Micro's 3 PLUS 1 ROMs only and C16 / 116 had nothing!

Quality Problems:  Although this would not be known to new consumers in 1984/5, the 264 series frequently had problems with its TED video / audio chip and sometimes the MOS 7501 CPU.  If your machine does not boot, one of these two chips is likely the cause.  Unfortunately there are precious few spare parts and most people simply scavenge chips from other 264 series machines.

To top all this off, TRI-Micro's 3 Plus 1 software is best described as barely stable.

Summary
In 2005 Bil Herd told Commodore.ca, "After Jack left the layers of middle management had their way, from the God awful software, to the price, to even making it talk. (It was a real pleasure to meet the guys who did the TI Speak and Spell which was truly revolutionary in those days, I had a lot of respect for them and got along well).  So I guess the TED project was badly engineered as stated on your site, but I can say the engineering itself was good"

Given the option of a Plus/4 and a C64, which would you buy?


Commodore 264 Family Videos

1984

  • January 13th - Commodore shows off prototype 264 and 364 at CES and indicates they should be in production by June

  • January - Rumours of the cheaper 16K model abound at CES but no product is shown

  • April - Irving Gould says that the C64 line is taking most of Commodore's capacity and that the 264 line will not be produced until in can be done in volume

  • June - Commodore announces and shows off the Commodore 16 at the summer CES as "The Learning Machine"

  • June - Commodore announces the 264 will be renamed PLUS/4 and will ship exclusively with Tri-Micro's "3 Plus 1" integrated software package

  • December - The 16K version called the Commodore 116 is for sale (at least in Germany) and had been apparently designed in Japan as a hacked down 264 rather than a built up C16, the year previous.

1986


Commodore 364

Commodore 364

The only 2 units in existence are (in 2003) owned by Dan Benson and Bo Zimmerman.

Commodore 264

Commodore Plus/4

Commodore 232

Commodore 116

Commodore 116 NTSC Prototype

Likely the only NTSC 116 on earth. See graphic for credit.

Commodore C16

Commodore C16 Starter Pack

TED 7360 Chip

Commodore Plus/4 - Education Advert

Compute! Jan 1986

Commodore Plus/4 - Productivity Advert

Compute! Jan 1986

Commodore Plus/4 - Recreation Advert

Compute! Jan 1986

Commodore Plus / 4 Liquidation

Compute! Sept 1986

Commodore Plus 4

Basic 3.5 Screen Shot

The information in this article was current at 06 Dec 2011


Other products and services from Commodore

09-12-2011

Commodore.ca | Products | Commodore 64 Prototype Slide Show

The computer is in working condition and features ceramic prototype chips developed specifically for the 64 by Commodore's MOS Technology semiconductor division, including the 6581 Sound Interface Device, 6567 Video Interface Chip, and 6526 Complex Interface Adaptor.


09-12-2011

Commodore.ca | Products | Commodore VIC-20 History, Pictures & Time Line

There were still authorized resellers who provided a high level of service and had qualified hardware technicians on site but the majority of VICs were sold in department stores and other businesses that had never dreamed of selling computer previously. Commodore sold the PET product line through a tightly controlled channel of authorized resellers, which gave the PET a professional image but limited mass market sales.


09-12-2011

Commodore.ca | Products | Commodore 128, 128D, 128DCR, History, Manuals, Pictures & Time Line

1-4Mhz Speed (Zilog Z-80 CPU), 100% compatible with the huge volume of CP/M business applications such as Turbo Pascal and WordStar Note that the Z-80 processor was originally spec'd by Commodore management to be the same external expansion cartridge used on the C64. 1Mhz Speed (6510 emulation in the 8502 CPU), 99.8% compatible with 64 hardware and software, accessed by booting the machine while holding down the Commodore key or typing GO 64.


09-12-2011

Commodore.ca | Products | MOS KIM1, Commodore PET, VIC20, C64, 128, PLUS/4 & More

Commodore Business Machines Product Line Up.


09-12-2011

Commodore.ca | Products | CSG / MOS Commodore KIM-1 History & Pictures

After doing research for this page, I found a small number of people have successfully expanded their KIM's to included a monitor.This picture courtesy of Ron Regahttp://my.en.com/~w8gmh/KIM-1/kim1001.htm. MOS KIM-1 History: In August 1974 eight Motorola employees including and quit and went to work for a small chip manufacturer called. Standard S-100 configuration.Courtesy of Ron Rega http://my.en.com/~w8gmh/KIM-1/kim1001.htm.