Comparing the Names of Various Retro Computers
Back when there were lots of computer models, there were lots of names for them. Here are some of the more common ones that I recall, along with some thoughts about their naming.
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Named because it followed the original Apple computer (I guess was just named “computer” since Apple is the name of the company).
The use of Roman numerals instead of just the number 2 had to be a Steve Jobs thing. It does look classier, though.
I like that the “II” was used in all subsequent models, II+, IIe, IIc, and IIgs.
A terrible computer and a terrible name, it failed spectacularly.
What on Earth does this number mean? Supposedly it was intended to reference the amount of RAM as the original Atari 800 was going to ship with 8K. Still, this is not really a great name and this naming to this day makes it difficult to refer to the Atari 8-bit computer line as a whole, which is why I just had to use “Atari 8-bit computer” there.
This is just a terrible name. This computer was the improved version of the 99/4, but why was that a good name. Answer: it wasn’t. Apparently the “99” part came from the CPU that was used, the TMS9000. I really don’t now what the “/4” part was about and adding just an “a” with the newer, better version seemed to undersell it.
This is another situation where a company named the computer after a chip inside it. The VIC was the Video Interface Chip that controlled the video and graphics. The “20” part was meaningless and according to Bob Yannes, one of the designers:
We simply picked '20' because it seemed like a friendly number and the computer's marketing slogan was 'The Friendly Computer'. I felt it balanced things out a bit since 'Vic' sounded like the name of a truck driver.
The “64” denoted the amount of RAM in the computer. This was simple and effective. Nintendo would later use “64” as the name of a video game console to highlight that is was 64-bit.
When the new model was announced, it was called the 64C, although I don’t know whey the used “C” there.
But 64 is a great name, being meaningful, easy to say and easy to remember.
When Commodore bought Amiga in 1984, they could have renamed the computer to something like the Commodore 256, but they wisely realized that a new name would make sense. So they keep the company name and used it as the computer name, forming something that worked like the Apple Macintosh.
Amiga is a great name and provides a way to refer to the entire computer line.
This is my favorite computer line, but the naming was really bungled. The “ST” is in reference to the Motorola 68000 CPU which had a sixteen/thirty-two bit design, so ST. But it should have been obvious even back then that such a name was too limiting.
There was also the second part of the name, the “520”, which denotes the amount of RAM. They chose not use use 512, which was how much RAM it had in kilobytes and instead chose to use the beginning of the amount of RAM in bytes and round it down: 524288. Sheesh.
Worse, that number changed just a year later when the 1040ST was released. Now there were two names for essentially the same computer line. Yes, “ST” could be used to denote the line, but that fell apart when the “Mega” line was released.
The Mega computers had a number after them denoting the RAM in MB, so Mega 2 or Mega 4, but they also sometimes had “ST” in there, so Mega ST 2.
When the 32-bit computer was released, they went with “TT” for thirty-two. I think it was technically the TT/030 to denote the 68030 CPU inside. Ug.
When the ST computers were finally revised, the suffix “STE” was used, which indicated ST, enhanced.
Finally Atari used Falcon as the name for their last computer. This is a great name, but they also did choose to put the CPU as a suffix, so technically it was the Falcon030, a less great name.
This is a great name that lives on to this day, although it is almost always just “Mac”. Nowhere on Apple’s homepage is “Macintosh” mentioned, although I seem to recall that Tim Cook does say “Macintosh” in keynotes.
Apple needed a new way to introduce a new computer line and had previously tried that with the Apple Lisa (not a great name), but this time it worked.
The name sounded like an apple, but was spelled differently. This might just be a perfect product name.
IBM 5150 Personal Computer
This the perfect name for an IBM computer because it is just so boring and business-y.
One of the first popular PC compatibles, I like this name.
It’s 1000 so it must be great! For their first PC-compatible Tandy went with something that sounded snazzy. Subsequent models used numbers in the 1000, 2000 and 3000 ranges which was a reasonable pattern.
This is not very creating. The TRS is from Tandy/Radio Shack and the 80 was because 1980 sounded like the future, I guess. Unfortunately, the TRS was often derisively referred to as the Trash-80.
Subsequent revisions would use “Model”, such as TRS-80 Model II and III, but for the 4th one they switch to arabic for Model 4.
For the most part these became boring business computers, so I guess the name fits.
Tandy Color Computer
For the home computer line, Tandy decided to emphasize that there was now color capability, but this is not a name. I mean it’s barely better than “Tandy Computer”.
But given that today Apple names new products using “Watch” and “TV”, perhaps it is genius.
Naming is hard. Even today, product naming can be a mess.
Overall, it seems using numbers was the preferred thing for naming, at least in the early days. I can understand this somewhat. Looking at car naming, you see that most luxury brands use the company name itself followed by something simple for the name: Audi A3 or Lexus RX300 as examples. But the non-luxury brands use names: see Corolla, Accord.
Today Apple is super-generic in order to focus on the company name. The watch is most egrigious. By itself, “watch” is not a brand name, so it is always referred to as “Apple Watch”, ensuring that the “Apple” part of the brand gets its due.
I suppose perhaps Microsoft started this with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word in the 80s, although their naming is pretty bad these days: Microsoft Xbox One X, anyone?
For my pick, although certainly not my favorite computer, I consider “Amiga” to be the best computer name.
And the name Atari? Perhaps one of the best brand names, ever. After all, the name just refuses to die and remains one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
What is your favorite computer name? Be sure to tell me the names I missed, which will most definitely include some cool names from computers in Europe.
P.S. I’m working on a follow-up post regarding logos, so be sure to subscribe if you liked this post.