COMMODORE VIC-20 (May, 1982)



“The best computer value in the world today. The only computer you’ll need for years to come.”

Read the chart and see why COMPUTE! Magazine1 calls the VIC-20 computer “an astounding machine for the price.” Why BYTE raves: “…the VIC-20 computer unit is unexcelled as a low-cost consumer computer.” Why Popular Mechanics says “… for the price of around $300, it’s the only game in town that is more than just a game.” And why ON COMPUTING INC. exclaims: “What is inside is an electronic marvel… if it sounds as if I’m in love with my new possession, I am.”

The wonder computer of the 1980s. The VIC-20 from Commodore, world’s leading manufacturer of a full range of desktop computers. See the VIC-20 at your local Commodore dealer and selected stores.

VIC-20 commodore COMPUTER Commodore Computer Systems 681 Moore Rd. King of Prussia, PA 19406
Canadian Residents: Commodore Computer Systems 3370 Pharmacy Ave., Agincourt, Ont., Canada, M1W 2K4

  1. Mitch says: September 27, 20119:20 am

    My first computer! I tricked mine out with a cassette tape drive (which actually worked reliably) and a 4k RAM upgrade, giving a luxurious 7.5K available! Learned a lot on that computer.

    The hidden advantage of that computer was the 23-column color screen. Given the vagaries of NTSC television, and the limited available RAM, that was the most information they could squeeze onto a color screen and still leave it readable. This meant that each individual letter was HUGE. Even after newer, faster computers became available, the VIC still had value for the visually impaired. I sold mine to the parents of a little girl with severe vision problems. They hooked it up to a 25″ TV so she could learn to read. Selling it to them made me happy (and made me $50).

    (Sorry for the tl;dr. I’ll try to be terse and snarky next time.)

  2. Jari says: September 27, 20119:41 am

    Also my first computer. Ahh, the memories. Radar Rat Race, anyone?

  3. Chris Radcliff says: September 27, 201110:02 am

    First computer here, too. My uncle gave us birthday money to buy an Atari, but my mom was set against the idea. My older brother negotiated for a VIC-20, which had helpful photos of spreadsheets and word processing on the box. It must have been suspicious that the first “program” we bought was a Gorf cartridge, though.

    It was already well under $200 when we bought it at Target, but I could have sworn that was still 1982. Would it have been so steeply discounted already?

  4. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 27, 201112:28 pm

    I’m calling out the line on “Microsoft Basic” being “standard” on the VIC-20 and “$99.00” on the TRS-80 Color Computer.

    AFAIK, the Color Computer always came with “Microsoft Color BASIC”; later upgrades were “Microsoft Extended Color BASIC” and “Microsoft Disk Extended Color BASIC”. It was stored in ROM and was the first thing to come up when you powered it on.

    For the VIC-20, did it have commands like SET, RESET, COLOR, etc for graphics? I was always under the impression that to do anything interesting graphics-wise on the VIC or the C64, there was a lot of POKE’ing one had to do. On the Color Computer, it was always easy to do graphics under BASIC (and Disk Extended Color Basic added a ton of commands for “high-resolution” access).

    I’m pretty sure everything else in that chart is/was correct (not sure on prices, but they sound right). Note that the keyboard on the Color Computer eventually became something more “proper”, but that was more than a few years away…heh.

  5. Chris Radcliff says: September 27, 20111:28 pm

    Andrew: Agreed on the lack of direct graphics support in BASIC on the VIC-20. Changing any colors or character styles required POKEing, and I didn’t run across any “high-resolution” anything until I started using C64s years later.

  6. Hirudinea says: September 27, 20112:09 pm

    Ah, memories, I started with the Commodore 64 but still, brings a smile to my face.

  7. Tim says: September 27, 20113:37 pm

    I too started with the C=64, then the Commodore 128, then the Amiga 500, 2500, and 3000.
    I still have the Amigas (in storage).
    My favorites for the 64 were the Zork series.

  8. Scott Rainey says: September 27, 20114:34 pm

    First computer here, too. Got mine right before school got out in 7th grade (summer of ’82). Spent almost the entire summer indoors with that thing. I didn’t have a tape drive at first, so any program went poof! the moment the power was turned off. (My mom learned that lesson the hard way – I spent the good part of an afternoon typing in the program “Killer Comet” from the VIC owner’s manual, only to have her turn the machine off when I went downstairs. Ugh). Mine ran REALLY hot… I don’t think there was a proper heat sink inside the case, and there certainly wasn’t a fan, so I’d set up a desk fan on a chair in front of the small typing table I used for the computer, and blew air through it that way. I’ve still got that original VIC in storage in my garage. Been thinking about firing it up and making my kids pity my poor existence as a teen in the early 80’s. :oD

  9. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 27, 20114:38 pm

    @Chris Radcliff: Thank you for confirming my sanity. I should’ve mentioned that those graphics commands I posted, which were a part of the Microsoft BASIC on the Color Computer – were fairly standard across Microsoft’s BASIC interpreters (and later compilers); later versions (notably QBasic 1.1, QuickBASIC 4.5, PDS 7.1, and VB) all used a similar variation (PSET, PRESET, etc).

    Now – perhaps the VIC-20 had an older version of Microsoft BASIC (ie – it didn’t have those graphics commands)? I wonder what the truth is…? I’m just pretty certain that the Color Computer always came with Microsoft BASIC; that it wasn’t an optional $99.00 “upgrade”.

    Maybe some older CoCoNut can help me out – I should post this article to the CoCo list I am on where many of the “old timers” of the era hang out (including several “famous names” of the micro software world of the time, like Steve Bjork). They should know…

    @Tim: Zork was cool on any platform – I had a copy on my CoCo at the time, later I played it on the Apple IIe, I think I had a copy on my Amigas, definitely on the PC, too – and I also have a copy currently on my G1 (well, it actually is a copy of Adventure running on an Apple IIe emulator – heh).

  10. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 27, 20114:41 pm

    Ok – we’re officially dorks here. Here we all are, going over minutia of an old computer from the 1980s – and we totally (ok, maybe its just me…?) missed that Captain Kirk was hawking Commodore’s wares…LOL. 😀

  11. Lloyd Alter says: September 27, 20115:17 pm

    My first computer too, did newsletters and word processing on it. Loved it. It was stolen from my office and I replaced it with a Kaypro II. Still have the Kaypro.

  12. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 28, 20112:42 pm

    @All: Regarding my comments, I posted about this to the CoCo list I am on. Basically, this is the truth regarding this ad:

    1. The CoCo came with Microsoft Color Basic. The $99.00 was for a ROM chip upgrade to “Microsoft Extended Color Basic”, which added commands for accessing high-resolution graphics, as well as other commands.

    2. The VIC-20’s ROM has a string in it that reads “CBMBASIC” (ie; “Commodore Business Machines Basic”), according to one guy on the list. If the VIC-20 used Microsoft Basic – why would this string be in there…?

  13. "Spooooock" says: September 28, 20116:31 pm

    Since nobody has remarked on this… I’d like to give a shout-out to Bill Shatner from his “I’ll pitch any product” days. “Promise!”

  14. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 28, 201110:49 pm

    @”Spooooock”: When did he ever stop (does “Travelocity” ring a bell)?

  15. Andrew L. Ayers says: September 29, 20118:10 am

    @All: Another user on the Color Computer list I’m on noted that the BASIC that was used in Commodore’s machines was a version that was on a “pay once, no royalties” basis for $25,000.00 USD; sounds like it was an older version, and they couldn’t upgrade it (or couldn’t afford to?) to add the extra graphics commands…?

  16. Jari says: September 29, 201110:49 am

    There was a Super Expander for VIC-20, which added some commands for graphics and a whopping 3k of RAM. I have a impression, that it wasn’t very common.

  17. qyooqy says: September 29, 201112:05 pm

    Here’s the video version…

  18. Chris Radcliff says: September 29, 20112:26 pm

    @Andrew: I’ve always seen it referred to as “Commodore BASIC” or “PET BASIC”, so the Microsoft name was a surprise to me as well. It may have been a goof on the part of whoever put the ad together. Marketers tend to make things up to sound more impressive…

  19. Anne says: October 2, 201111:01 am

    I didn’t realize Shatner did print ads, too:…

  20. Sleestak says: October 3, 201111:50 pm

    This is now my ipad wallpaper

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