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C > COMMODORE  > VIC 20   

VIC 20

The VIC-20 – a "family" version of the PET series (using the same microprocessor and Basic language) – was the first computer to sell more than one million units. Once dubbed the MicroPET during the 1980 Computer Electronics Show, it later became known as the VIC-20. VIC referenced the VIC-I (Video Interface Chip) chip used for graphics and sound. There does not seem to be any obvious rationale behind the usage of the number 20, other than the fact that it was close to the 22 characters per line and to the combined RAM and ROM memory in the machine (5 KB RAM + 16 KB ROM), or the total 8 KB Basic, 8 KB Kernel and 4 KB Character maps...

Regarding the name, Michael Tomczyk, (manager of the VIC project) recalls:
"VIC sounded like a truck driver, so I insisted on attaching a number. I picked ‘20’ and when Jack Tramiel asked, ‘Why 20?’ I replied, ‘because it's a friendly number and this has to be a friendly computer.' He agreed. The number 20 has no relation to any technical feature -- just my idea of a friendly sounding number. That sounds a bit bizarre looking back on it, but we did a lot of things by instinct in those days."

The VIC-20 was designed by Bob Yannes who also created the SID chip for the C64. He later joined Ensoniq to design synthesizers.

The Video Interface Chip (or ‘VIC’ as it is commonly called), is one of the most important silicon chips in the VIC-20 microcomputer, coming second only to the 6502A microprocessor itself. The VIC is a specially constructed input-output (I/O) chip that offers a large variety of functions, but as suggested by its name, is primarily concerned with the production of the video output signal. It was originally intended to be sold to third-party manufacturers for use in video game machines. Demand for the chip was low, and so Commodore decided to make their own system to recoup their losses.

The VIC-20 was initially launched in Japan in late 1980 (under the ‘VIC-1001’ name) with a Japanese 'Katakana' set of characters. It was subsequently released in North America in May of 1981. Though these are the "official" release dates, several prototypes of the Commodore VIC-20 were reportedly available in late 1979. These early machines offered only 4 KB of RAM and used a different set of game cartridges.

Thanks to the colorful graphics and low cost, the VIC-20 was an immediate success. At its peak, more than 9000 units rolled off the assembly line each day. Adding to its success was the fact that it was the first color computer to break the $300 (USD) price barrier.

A wide range of peripherals and software were developed for the VIC-20. The failed Commodore 16 eventually became the successor of the VIC-20.


Contributors: Brian Bagnall, Rick Melick

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My parents went out to buy a computer for my 3 bothers and I, I was hoping for a ZX Spectrum or even a C64, imagine my disappointment when this appeared in front of the TV, 2 years of early mornings and paper rounds later I did save up for the 48K Spectrum, I’ve never truly forgiven them and always ask my kids exactly what they want.

Monday 28th March 2011
Paul (UK)

Hey, I had hoped that "lodger" from Germany would have posted the explanation to why the VIC20 was renamed to VC20 when released in Germany. It''s quite funny linguistically when you think of it: Commodore didn''t want to launch it using the name VIC because in German, "V" and "F" sounds very much alike, so the name would have sounded like the German word "fick" (Google the translation all)... $-)

Friday 11th June 2010
JohnnyJ (Sweden)

i had a fit when myparents bought me a vic 20 instead of a 48k speccy... but then i grew to love it. usedtolove the tape based mags with little games and demos on. crazy cavey too and i had a 16k expansion so i could play submarine commander. pity i went and bashed it so hard when i was playing scramble. i got so far but you had only one life... the poor vic went haywire and i eventually got the speccy i wanted about 6 months later.

Monday 15th May 2006
leon (birmingham uk)


TYPE  Home Computer
YEAR  May 1981
KEYBOARD  Full-stroke keyboard, 4 function keys, 66 keys
CPU  Commodore Semiconductor Group 6502A
SPEED  1.0227 Mhz
CO-PROCESSOR  VIC-I (6560) for sound and graphics.
RAM  5 KB (3583 bytes free), expandable up to 32 KB
VRAM  Screen memory shared with regular RAM
ROM  16 KB 
TEXT MODES  23 rows x 22 columns
GRAPHIC MODES  184 x 176
COLORS  8 character colors, 16 background/border colors
SOUND  3 voices / 3 octaves
SIZE / WEIGHT  40.3 x 20.4 x 7.2 cm / 1,8 Kg
I/O PORTS  1 joystick port, 1 user port, 1 serial port, 1 cartrige port, Composite video output, tape interface
POWER SUPPLY  External power supply unit, 18 Watts
PRICE  $299.95 (1981, U.S.A.)

Software for this system!

VIC-1915 1981 Commodore
VIC-1907 1981 HAL laboratory
VIC-1914 1981 Commodore

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