VIC-20

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VIC-20 (called VC-20 in some countries) was one of the first largely widespread personal computers made by Commodore. More than 2,500,000 units were sold all over the world, from 1980 to 1985, and the VIC-20 was the first computer to pass the 1-million-mark in January 1983, and was the best-selling computer of the year 1982 (with 800,000 units).

The name of the VIC-20 comes from its Video Interface Chip (VIC is a MOS Technology 6560 integrated circuit for NTSC version of the VIC-20, MOS Technology 6561 for PAL), which was not only a video device but handled all the sounds too. It was designed by Commodore to be a low-cost computer, with gaming and programming capabilities. However, that machine was a bit underpowered at that time, when many companies were active on the market like Sinclair, Atari or Apple. In addition, the CBM BASIC V2 was a minimal version of BASIC, compelling programmers to optimize code and use machine language or direct memory access. So programming was often limited to educational purposes, even if an important productivity software offer was available.

While the PET, the VIC-20 ancestor, was considered to be more serious or for a more professional usage, the VIC-20 was primarily sold at retail (even in toy stores sometimes), where it could compete with game consoles . It was the first computer to be sold in K-Mart. Famous Commodore advertisements, featuring actor William Shatner (of Star Trek fame) as its spokesman asking "Why buy just a video game?", summarize the commercial position of the VIC-20 : game and education. A very large collection of software was available during the life of the computer, with many games : the number of VIC-20 game softwares (800, including cartridges and tapes) was close to the number of games for the famous Atari 2006 video console (900).

Technical specifications

  • 8-bit architecture
  • 6502 processor (1 MHz)
  • 5.5 ko RAM (3.5 ko free for Basic)
  • 20 ko ROM
  • Proprietary connectors
  • 23 lines x 22 columns display (equivalent to 176 x 184 pixels)
  • Main programming language : CBM BASIC V2
  • Other programming languages (through BASIC or cartridges extensions) : machine language, Fortran.

About the users

Linus Torvalds' first computer was a VIC-20. As a matter of fact, many programmers learn BASIC or programming with a VIC-20. That computer was a best-selling product when the computer's usage was deeply changing, from university and skilled users to everyone.