Sections on this page:
Commodore VIC-20 History:
There are reports that during its development it was called the MicroPET. and there is a lot of debate over the origins "20" portion of the VIC-20 name. The Commodore Executive responsible for the VIC's development, and the author of The Home Computer Wars, Michael Tomczyk, stated repeatedly that he choose the name simply because he thought it "sounded good".
Commodore's wildly successful 1Mhz, 8 Bit CSG / MOS 6502 CPU powered the VIC. With a good (for the time) sound and colour graphics, Commodore had winner. Some sites incorrectly report that the VIC was software compatible with PET but it really was not. Because the VIC and the PET use completely different memory maps, PEEK and POKE commands were not compatible and because the VIC had only a 22 character screen while the original PET's had 40 character screens, only VERY rudimentary Basic 2.0 software would function on both machines. However, the VIC-20 was generally peripheral compatible with most Commodore 64 devices.
Jack Tramiel told his engineers they could only use 1K chips in the new machine because Commodore had huge inventory they were unable to use in other products. In the end The VIC had 5.5K of RAM, 2K of which was used by the Basic Operating System. To do any real development in such a small area required machine language. Unfortunately 3.5K is not even large enough to load a machine language compiler. So developers were often forced to write machine code by hand. Fortunately Commodore soon released several memory cartridges (3K, 8K, and 16K) and other companies produced even large 32K & 64K cartridges. If you look at the photo gallery at the end of this page, you will find an advert for a massive 64K memory expander made by Advanced Processor Systems.
Some critics said the machine was seriously underpowered but consumers bought them as fast as Commodore could produce them. Other than the price, consumers were attracted to the VIC because most software came on easy to use ROM cartridges that just plugged in the back and started to work.
Commodore's very user friendly BASIC 2.0 operating system and programming language booted when the machine was turned on. No peripherals were required except a television to be used as a monitor. Countless software developers began building their skills using a VIC20 bought for a Christmas or birthday present, years before many schools had reasonable computer courses. My Commodore PET ownership and experience allowed me to skip an entire course: I recall enrolling in Grade 10 "Data Processing" class (which used Commodore PET's). On the first day I was told I would be getting an A+ and that I should not to show up for class because I would be taking highly constrained computer time away from others.
Many peripherals, like the VIC 1515 printer, 300 Baud VIC Modem, CBM 1020 Docking Station, 1540 Floppy Drive, and 1530 CN2 Cassette Drive were released to various levels of retail demand. A VIC 20 combined with Terminal Cartridge and VIC Modem was one of the only ways to use BBS services and pre-internet Information Services like CompuServe.
Unlike the PET, Commodore never produced version Basic 4.0 upgrade ROM chips for the VIC. Like the PET, however, the Commodore VIC-20 was released world wide relatively quickly after it's U.S. and Canadian introduction.
The VIC had different names in different parts of the world:
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. When VIC arrived, Commodore had a whole new plan: sell them everywhere! Soon enough folding cardboard stands filled with VIC computers and peripherals were appearing in all kinds of stores. 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. In Canada, Commodore even sold VIC's through the Canadian Tire automotive / hardware store chain!
Late 1982 saw the beginning of the end: the more expensive but much more capable Commodore 64 was announced. Just as the VIC 20 was becoming popular and many stores and some multi-level marketing organizations had acquired significant inventories, rumors began to emerge that Commodore was completing work on a vastly more powerful version of the VIC 20 to be called the VIC 64, which of course was eventually released as the Commodore 64.
As the rumors of the impending C64 release continued there was excitement and uncertainty in the Commodore distribution channel and consumers. This was probably the first experience many consumers had ever encountered with the phenomenon we now refer to "upgrading". Undoubtedly some were resentful. Some of those who had acquired large inventories of VIC product found themselves scrambling to modify their marketing plans and to obtain price-protection as the value of VIC 20 products plummeted.
Commodore 64 production ramped up, VIC prices dropped, and by 1984 it was obvious that there would not be a place in the Commodore lineup for the venerable VIC-20.
1981 Jan - Feb
1982 Fall / Winter
Click HERE for our gallery of VIC 20 Brochures.