Commodore VIC 20 (1981)

Commodore VIC 20

Sometimes computers come unexpectedly from friends, relatives or unknown people that contact me on the site: a surprise and a discovery. Other times I actively dig the web – sites, classifieds, forums, auctions – to look for a particular piece I’d like to have. This VIC 20 belongs to the second category: I was searching for the very first model of this computer – also known as the “PET style keyboard” VIC 20 – and the most difficult task wasn’t finding it, but finding it at the right price.

This VIC 20 was one of the first shipped in a rush from Japan to North America in early 1981 before production started in the US. Even the box art was just a quick rework of the Japanese VIC 1001 one.

In January, just after the CES Show, there was enormous pressure on us and on me in particular to launch the VIC 20 immediately. The first few thousand units were coming over from Japan in plain blue and white boxes.
Michael Tomczyk, The Home Computer Wars, 1984

This unit was built in April 1981. The production date is printed on a label on the motherboard.

Commodore VIC 20 - production date

I have the original box, though not in very good condition. After the initial sales, the shape of the box was changed for the North American market; it was retained in Europe.

Commodore VIC 20 - box

When I took the keyboard apart, I realized that its PET derivation involved more than the shape of the keys and the font being used: the function keys are positioned in place of the PET numeric keypad, and the unused key holes are covered with black duct tape.

Commodore VIC 20 - PET keyboard

The power supply can be opened with a screwdriver and outputs one voltage only.

Commodore VIC 20 - power supply

The motherboard is almost the same as the VIC 1001 one.

Commodore VIC 20 - motherboard

The computer was working perfectly, there was no need for any intervention. Anyway I took it apart to clean it and take a picture of every piece:

Commodore VIC 20 - pieces

Other shots of the computer:

Commodore VIC 20 - detail

Commodore VIC 20 - side

Commodore VIC 20 - back

For the last picture, I hooked the VIC 20 to the only TV I have that accepts a NTSC signal, then I played Gorf :-)

Commodore VIC 20 - Gorf

Further reading

VIC 20 article on Wikipedia
Denial: a VIC 20 community with a forum and a Wiki

5 thoughts on “Commodore VIC 20 (1981)

  1. John H

    Hello I recently found one of these first Vic 20s in its original blue and white box and I believe it has an earlier date than yours though I can’t find much about these early ones except yours photographed here. Any idea what this would be worth?

  2. CelesMeh

    I am SO glad I found this. I have the same board produced one month later! Is been looking to see if anyone had a picture as the heatsink was like no other version id seen!

  3. Jeff Schaap

    I found this article after a search as well. I bought a VIC-20 via Facebook Marketpalce and is exactly like yours (1001006 Rev E) and has a date of 3/81, one month earlier. It’s serial number is 500115. I’m being told that this is the earliest VIC-20 on record of this type. The serial numbers for this version start at 500,000 so this is really number 115. In a diagnostic (Tynemouth software’s Penultimate cartridge) the kernal came up as unknown. With some help of people in a VIC-20 Facebook group I was able to dump the chip’s content to a file. A very knowledgeable guy looked at it and said it was an -04 version and there is no prior record of it! Crazy. Apparently a bug in the cassette tape I/O was fixed in the next version and that is the difference between them. Thanks for the article!

  4. Aaron Goodman

    I have one for sale in my auction on sunday evening 5/22/22 if anyone is interested in scoring one. i ship. Duke city auctions In Albuquerque New Mexico. you can register online. ive had it for like 10 years never had a tv to test it. looks new still. hopefully someone here gets it. it is in blue and white box.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.