In 1980 Commodore began designing a new video chip (the VIC-1, aka 6560) for use in the video game industry. It was originally intended to be sold to third party video game manufacturers for use in their machines, but no one was interested so in April of the same year, Jack Tramiel, the then-president of Commodore, ordered the development of a computer built around this new chip that could sell for less than $300 USD in order to recoup their losses. Commodore pitched the VIC-20 as a more home-friendly version of the Commodore PET, and direct competitor to the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer and the Atari 400. It was called 'VIC' because of the VIC video chip it was built around - this chip was the predecessor to the Commodore 64's VIC-II chip, and the C65's VIC-III chip, although the VIC-I was unable to generate hardware sprites which the VIC-II/III could. The VIC-20 had the capability to output to a composite computer monitor but required the use of an external RF modulator (bundled with the VIC) in order to display on a standard television,. It used the same CPU and BASIC version as the earlier PET.
Originally unveiled at the 1980 CES (Computer Electronics Show), it had no name and was simply referred to as the MicroPET (internally within CBM still codenamed "Vixen"). It was launched initially just to the US and Canadian markets, but then quickly went worldwide. When it hit the shelves in 1981, it was received with overwhelming enthusiasm, and soon daily production peaked at 9000 units! It was also released in Germany with the name 'VC-20', and in Japan with the name 'VIC-1001' with additional katakana characters on the keycaps and a different character generator ROM. While the PET was being sold only through authorised dealers, the VIC-20 was sold through retail stores where it could compete more effectively against games consoles and other toys.
By 1982, sales of the VIC-20 had reached 300 million. Later that year, Commodore released the VIC-20 CR (Cost Reduced) model, which replaced the eight 1Kx4 SRAM chips with two 2Kx8 chips, although there were no cosmetic differences to the original. Commodore apparently had a major overstock of 1Kx4 SRAM chips when the VIC-20 was first released, hence their use in the earlier machines. Commodore also dropped the price to $200 in late '82. The VIC-20 continued to sell in great quantity during the first few years of the VIC-30 (a.k.a. C64) due to the high price tag for the '64. Once the cost of the C64 was dropped, the VIC-20 disappeared into history.
The very last VIC-20 rolled off the production line in January 1985, following the release of the Commodore 64 two years earlier, which by this time had massively overtaken the VIC-20 in sales. The C64 was to become Commodore's entry-level home computer as part of it's product realignment before the forthcoming release of the C128 and Amiga.
The VIC-20 introduced millions of people to the fascinating world
of personal computing all over the globe. As the VW Beetle was the
people's car, the Commodore VIC-20 was a computer for the people.
Indeed, it was, "The Friendly Computer".
A wide variety of peripherals were produced for the VIC-20 throughout its lifetime. It always came bundled with a cassette recorder, the "C2N Datasette", and an RF modulator whilst others were cost options. Many third-party companies also made peripherals for the VIC, including RAM expansion cartridges, printers, and more.
Even today, the VIC-20 has an active community of enthusiasts. In October 2007, the VIC-20 Denial community released the Mega-Cart. Branded as the 'ultimate cartridge for your VIC-20', it is a multi-purpose cartridge for both PAL and NTSC machines that allows you to play all known cartridge games released for the VIC plus a selection of some of the best games released on tape and disk. It has a built-in reset button that allows you to return to the startup menu, and contains useful utilities for programmers and provides an easy-to-select memory expansion that can be disabled too. For more information, click here to visit the official site at www.mega-cart.com.
Commodore VIC-20 News
13 October 2017Floppy Days episode #77 out now
Floppy Days is an English podcast about Retro computers. This episode is the final part of a multi-part series covering the Commodore VIC-20. Earlier episodes covered the history of the machine and pulling the machine out of the box and starting to use it.
19 May 2017Realms of Quest V for VIC-20
Ghislain is working on Realms of Quest V for the Commodore VIC20. This RPG game will have 4 diskette sides, 250 portrait graphics, 6 races, 16 classes, music, big world map, 20 cities and 10 characters.
29 January 2017Floppy Days podcast - VIC-20 History with Michael Tomczyk, Neil Harris, and Brian Bagnall
The latest Floppy Days podcast is out!
04 November 2016Hat Trick VIC-20 Homebrew Port, RC1 Update Released
Hat Trick is a VIC-20 port of the C64 game with the same name. It requires 16k of memory expansion to run. The game is basically one-on-one hockey with a space-time anomaly simulation for extra fun. Two players are supported. The second one uses the keyboard or a user port joystick (see the Readme for details). This is version RC1, Which now has music. Source is included.