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vic20logo2.jpg (43462 bytes) vic20sideold.jpg (36647 bytes)
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      Above are the 2 versions of the VIC-20. The top is the earlier version, note the 2 pin power supply plug. These were replaced by the 7 pin round DIN. plug, the same one used on the C-64, after 1982. The logo also was changed to a more colorful design matching the one on the C-64. Click on the picture for a larger view.


Above is a view of the VIC-20 main screen


Introduced January 1981
Discontinued  March 1984
Release Price    $299.95


      The VIC-20 was a great success for Commodore. It was marketed as the " Friendly Computer " in ads featuring William Shatner of Star Trek. It followed the successful PET series of computers and was the first computer to crack the $300 dollar barrier for a color computer.

      This was a remarkable feat in the early 80's, most color computers were expensive and beyond the reach of the average household. Many parents were being bombarded with the propaganda of the need to expose their children to computers or face the possibility of having ' little Johnny ' fall behind his piers at school and wind up an outcast in society. Jack Tramiel saw this gap in the market and targeted the VIC-20 at it.

      Commodore was in a unique position at the time because it not only built it's own computers it made the chips that were inside to. This gave Commodore a great advantage over other computer manufacturers. Jack could undersell his competition and capture a larger market share. The VIC-20 was so popular, because it filled a need, it was cheap enough so that the wary parents could afford to jump into an unknown arena without taking a second mortgage on the house yet it was a real computer, capable of any function ( with the right peripheral add on! ) that the more expensive computers were claiming. It became the first computer to sell 1 million units, this was partly due to Jack Tramiel's marketing philosophy of bypassing the computer specialty stores and selling through mass marketers such as Kmarts and Toys-R-Us toy stores, a carry over from the marketing strategy developed for the PET computers and in line with the now famous phrase coined by Jack " Computers for the masses, not the classes ".

      Although this practice put Commodore into disfavor with the established computer community of retailers, it worked well with the public in general putting millions of Commodore computers into the average household worldwide. It really had no competition in the low-end home market at that time.

      The VIC-20's chief rivals were the Timex/Sinclair ZX-81 (my first computer :) no sound and no color), the TI99/4A (an exceptional machine, but poor marketing and a failure to allow 3rd party development doomed it.), the TRS-80, a popular line of computers with the business community but missed the mark in the home market with the release of it's color version (poor color and expensive).

      The only real competition was the Atari 400 it was actually around for a few years before the VIC but due to a poorly designed keyboard, (it was a membrane keypad type like the ZX-81), and it had the unfortunate stigma of being considered an expensive game machine. Probably due to in part the company name ( Atari was most known for its 2600 VCS game console ) and at the time it was released it was pitted against well established competition such as the Apple II, PET, and TRS-80 business and educational series of computers.

      But the fact that Jack Tramiel was legendary at marketing gave the VIC-20 a great advantage at this time. By the time the competition reacted to the VIC-20 it was to late. The prices on the C64 were beginning to drop and the consumer's interest turned to the more powerful machine.

      Rumor has it that the VIC-20 was one of the primary stumbling blocks for the Japanese in trying to gain a foothold in the American computer market. It is said that Jack took the VIC over to Japan and sold it in a hostile market. The Japanese, who were at this time preparing an assault to capture the American computer market the same way they had done in previous markets, (cars, consumer electronics, cameras, ect....) were shocked by the VIC-20 and how low it was priced. They delayed their entry into the American market to reassess thier marketing strategy and this bought time for the American manufacturers to strengthen their own positions. Thus locking the Japanese out of the American market. The great Japanese invasion of the home computer market never happened partly due to Jack Tramiel's VIC-20.

      The VIC-20 was my 2nd computer, I bought it on September 11, 1982. When the price dropped below $200 in the summer of 1982, I new it was time to move up to a more powerful computer. I had been using a ZX-81 with 16k of RAM for about 3 months and now was looking for a computer that I could get sound and color from.

      I wanted the new kid on the block, the C64, just released earlier that year, but I couldn't afford the $595 price tag and buy all the peripherals needed to make it useful. I saw in the VIC an opportunity to get a computer that I could afford with color and sound. It also was compatible with the peripherals that I would need when the C64 came down in price.

      Although this is not the original computer I used in 1982 it brings back fond memories of many a late night typing in programs from Compute! magazines and debugging them for the next few days. I had it hooked to the living room TV and used a VIC-1530 Datassette to save my programs.


System Architecture



Microprocessor 6502   Standard on system board 5k
Clock speed 1 MHz   Maximum on system board 5k
Bus type CBM proprietary   Maximum total memory 32k
Data bus width 8-bit   Memory speed and type ???
Address bus width     System board memory socket type ???
Interrupt levels N/A   Number of memory module sockets ???
DMA channels N/A   Memory used on system board ???

Standard Features


Disk Storage

ROM size 16k   Internal disk and tape drive bays none
Optional math coprocessor none   Standard floppy drives optional
Parallel port type serial   Optional floppy drives: up to 8
RS232C serial ports yes   * 5 1/4 inch 160k optional
Mouse ports yes - joystick   * 5 1/4 inch 1.2MB No
UART chip used N/A   * 3 1/2 inch 720k No<>
CMOS real time clock no   * 3 1/2 inch 2.88MB No
CMOS RAM none   Hard disk controller included No

Video & Graphics



Graphics Processor VIC-I (6560) chip   Sound Interface device ???
Screen size - Col x Rows 22 x 23   Sound generation 4 tone generators
Resolution - Colors/High 8 - 176 x 184 pixels   ADSR capable no
Resolution - Colors/Low 8 - 22 x 23      
Max colors 8   Programming language  
Sprites or Missiles none   Built in language Microsoft Basic
Expansion Slots     Built in M L monitor no
Total adapter slots 1-8 bit   Keyboard Specs.  
Number of 8/16/32 bit slots 1/0/0   Number of keys 66
Physical Specs.     Upper/lower case yes/yes
Dimensions:     Keyboard cable length N/A
* Height 3 inches   Environmental Specs.  
* Width 16 inches   Power supply output ???
* Depth 8 inches   Operating voltage @ 60 Hz 104-127VAC
* Weight 4 1/2 pounds   Maximum current ???