The Commodore VIC-20 debuted in June of 1980 at the Computer Electronics Show but its development started almost by accident two years earlier. Commodore engineered and manufactured the "Video Interface Chip 6560" or VIC1 for the video game market which was beginning to collapse. After not being able to sell the chip, Commodore developed the VC-20 as an inexpensive home computer. The Commodore VIC-20 was intended to be more economical than the PET computer. It was equipped with 5 KB of static RAM and used the same MOS 6502 CPU as the PET. Between early 1981, when the VIC actually hit store shelves, and the first few months of 1985, when the last VIC-20 production line was shut down, it had sold more than 2.5 million units. It had an very impressive peak daily production of 9000 units and was the worlds first computer to sell more than 1 million units.
The home computer competitors were the Apple II, Atari 400 and to a lesser degree the Radio Shack TRS-80. Those had dedicated sound and graphics features but they were much more expensive. Jack wanted cheap and Jack was seldom wrong about the market. To get around the hardware limits, the software engineers used clever commands to "Peek" and "Poke" sounds and graphics.
Critics said the machine was seriously under-powered but consumers bought them as fast as Commodore could produce them. Other than the price, consumers were attracted to the VIC-20 because most software came on easy to use ROM cartridges that just plugged in the back and started to work. As the vintage VIC-20 television advertisement below states "If you are going to spend your time playing computer games, why not do it on something that can also teach you about computing".
The VIC-20 was called VC-20 in Germany because the pronunciation of VIC with a German accent sounds like the German expletives "fick" or "wichsen". The term VC was marketed as though it was an abbreviation of VolksComputer ("people's computer," similar to Volkswagen and Volksempfänger).
The VIC-20 was the bestselling computer of 1982, with 800,000 sold. That summer, Commodore unveiled the Commodore 64, a more advanced machine with 64 KB of RAM and considerably improved sound and graphics. Initial sales of the C64 were slow, but took off in mid-1983. The VIC-20 was widely available for under $90 by that time.
Commodore discontinued the VIC-20 in January 1985.
Looking for the instructions?
Download here the Commodore VIC-20 manual (PDF).
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