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commodore vic-20:
vic-20 home

Commodore VIC-20.

quick facts

Overview Photograph
VIC-20 keyboard
Model or Part # VIC 20
My unit's vintage Serial #P1431233 (newest version with color VIC-20 nameplate).

Serial #1470830 (older version with gold/brown nameplate).

Serial #V200895 (older version).

Serial #P670395 (older version).

Serial #P772741 (older version).

Serial #P731030 (older version; Z key missing, case in poor condition).

Serial #V019348 (oldest version with PET-style keys)
CPU 6502.
Memory 5K RAM, of which 3583 bytes is available for BASIC programs.
Operating System CBM BASIC V2 in ROM.
Ports Commodore serial port (for printer, disk drives and other peripherals), cartridge port (not compatible with other Commodore models), video out (compatible with all the other 8-bit Commodores), one 9-pin digital joystick/paddles/light pen port (Atari standard), proprietary cassette recorder port (compatible with C64/C128) and user port (used mostly for modems and third-party printer interfaces).
Video/audio output NTSC (PAL in PAL markets) and separate audio on a proprietary DIN connector. There is NO inbuilt RF modulator; the unit was supplied with an external RF modulator in the box.

The VIC has ultra-chunky 22 x 23 color text and although it supports hi-res graphics, this requires a lot of memory which just isn't available in the unexpanded VIC.
Available peripherals Almost all of the peripherals intended for the Commodore 64 also work with the VIC-20. In fact, many C64 peripherals were originally designed to work with the VIC-20. Common peripherals are the VIC-1540 or VIC-1541 floppy drive, the VIC-1525 printer, the VIC-1530 (C2N) data cassette recorder and various joysticks, paddles etc.

Commodore also released several RAM expansions (3K, 8K and 16K) and a "Super Expander" that adds 3K RAM to the system and a set of new BASIC graphics commands.

The VIC-20 was Commodore's first "friendly computer". It evolved from the earlier PET machines, and was aimed much more directly at the home market, with (for the time) good color graphics and sound capabilities. It was also fairly reasonably-priced.

There are at least three versions of the VIC-20 that I know about:

  • The very oldest VIC-20 with PET-style keys. This is the machine illustrated on the older retail packaging (photographed below). The keys have flat, shiny tops and the springs echo as you type. This machine's VIC-20 nameplate is gold and brown, and the machine takes a 9VAC input on a two-prong plug. This is the machine I originally owned back in Australia. I currently own only one machine of this type.
  • An intermediate version, with a new keyboard (the same keyboard used on the Commodore 64). The new. This machine still has the gold and brown nameplate and two-prong power input. This variant seems to be the most common by far.
  • The final edition of the VIC-20, with the new-style keyboard and a color "Commodore VIC 20" logo nameplate. This is the machine illustrated in the overview photograph above. It uses the same 5-pin DIN power supply plug as the Commodore 64 (and the same power supply, for that matter). Again, I have only one of those machines.

Old PET-style VIC-20 keyboard
A close-up of the old-style (PET keyboard) VIC-20. Compare it to the newest model, shown in the overview photograph above.
Click for a larger version of this image.

The VIC-20 was sold in at least two different retail boxes. The older of these is shown below:

Commodore VIC-20 old box - top
Top of old retail box (click for larger version)

VIC-20 old box bottom
Bottom of old retail box (click for larger version)

Here is a newer version of the box (this package is the same style as the Commodore 64 box).

Commodore VIC-20 new box - top
Top of new retail box (click for larger version)

VIC-20 new box bottom
Bottom of new retail box (click for larger version)

My association with the VIC-20 goes back a very long way; the VIC was the first computer that my family ever owned. You can read the story of how we came to buy it on the ZX81 review page. My mother was never keen on the hours I used to spend with that machine, so she banished it to our outside garage, where my father used it for a very long time. I used to sneak out there as often as I could, playing endless games of Secret of Bastow Manor (a game I still want to get back!), Omega Race and others. For some time, I had the VIC set up on a tiny table in a closet in my bedroom (my father helped me move it in, but didn't tell my mother - she eventually heard me tapping away in there one night and made me move the machine out to the garage again). In 1986, my father died and I inherited the VIC - I was even allowed to bring it inside! I eventually wound up selling that machine to a schoolmate, but once I started collecting vintage machines, I made it a priority to get a few VIC-20s.

Here's a C2N tape drive (one of several models). This is one peripheral that was never updated to match the C64 - I would have expected Commodore to make a gray C64-colored version, but they never did.

C2N tape drive

One of the first electronic projects I ever did was to interface an off-the-shelf tape recorder to our VIC-20 - we couldn't or wouldn't initially afford the Commodore drive. (We did wind up getting a datassette eventually, but we made do with an old modified tape recorder for a long while). The unit illustrated above is the "middle" version; there was an earlier C2N that looked more like a traditional desktop tape recorder, and a newer one with different printing above the buttons.

There seem to be a lot of people collecting the VIC-20; leastways, competition on ebay can be stiff. Partial blame for this must be laid at the feet of people who have published rarity lists for the machine and its cartridges; freakish collector types are now hoarding equipment purely to keep the prices high. Grrrrrrrrrr! If you bid persistently, however, you can get some good deals; don't pay any more than US$20 for a VIC-20 with power supply and user manual. Game prices are very variable.

Here's a list of my VIC-20 cartridges. I'd be interested in acquiring anything not on this list. I'm also very keen to get the games Secret of Bastow Manor (on tape), and Ricochet from Epyx (also on tape).


My personal favorite emulator for the VIC-20 is Pfau Zeh for Windows. If you're running on a constrained system, you may prefer PCVIC; I tested it on an old 486DX33 laptop and it still achieves full-speed emulation on that ancient machine!

I also have a fairly large library of collected VIC-20 cartridges, which you can download here. For your convenience, all of these cartridges are archived into a single ZIP file.

  • - Pfau Zeh, an excellent (if strangely-named) VIC-20 emulator for Windows 95/98 (requires DirectX).
  • - PCVIC, an extremely fast and efficient VIC-20 emulator for DOS. This program isn't very laptop-friendly, and it doesn't work well inside Windows because of its timer use, but it is a very competent emulator.
  • - A fairly large collection of cartridge games for the VIC-20. Many of them are extremely good! These files were originally obtained from the funet VIC-20 archive.
  • WinVice - This is a Windows (DirectX) multi-platform emulator for various Commodore machines including the VIC-20. It's rather slow, but it works well. and all original content herein is © Copyright 2001 by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards. "" is a trademark protected under U.S. and international law. Infringement or attempted dilution of the intellectual property rights held by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards will be prosecuted to the fullest possible extent.