vic20_Transparent-300x178The VIC-20 (Germany: VC-20; Japan: VIC-1001) is an 8-bit home computer which was sold by Commodore Business Machines. The VIC-20 was announced in 1980, roughly three years after Commodore’s first personal computer, the PET. The VIC-20 was the first computer of any description to sell one million units.

While the PET was sold through authorized dealers, the VIC-20 primarily sold at retail – especially discount and toy stores, where it could compete more directly with game consoles. It was the first computer to be sold in K-Mart. Commodore took out advertisements featuring actor William Shatner (of Star Trek fame) as its spokesman, asking: “Why buy just a video game?” Television personality Henry Morgan (best known as a panelist on the TV show I’ve Got A Secret) became the ironic voice on a series of clever Commodore product ads.

The VIC-20 had 5 KB of RAM (netted down to 3.5 KB on startup, exactly 3583 bytes), which is roughly equivalent to the words and spaces on one sheet of typing paper, meeting a design goal of the machine. The computer was expandable up to 40 KB with an add-on memory cartridge (a maximum of 27.5 KB was usable for BASIC). Although the VIC-20 was criticized in print as being underpowered, the strategy worked.

In 1982 the VIC-20 was the best-selling computer of the year, with 800,000 machines sold. Sales of the VIC-20 started declining after the launch of the Commodore 64 in that same year. The Commodore 64 used the same housing and almost the same operating system and BASIC interpreter as the VIC-20, but was a much more powerful machine with higher resolution graphics, a more capable sound generator and 64 kilobytes of RAM (38911 bytes free of RAM compared to the VIC-20′s 3583 bytes). In January 1983, the VIC-20 became the first computer in history to pass the 1 million unit mark. At its peak, over 9000 units per day were produced, and a total of 2.5 million units were sold before it was discontinued in January 1985.