Commodore invades suburbia (Part I)
By James Grahame
Someone recently pointed out that we've (almost) completely neglected the famed Commodore VIC-20 and 64 computers. Let's fix that.
The Commodore VIC-20 was the first computer to sell over a million units. It arrived in early 1981 with a very reasonable $299 price tag and displayed sixteen glorious colors of graphics on your home TV. The display was slightly odd -- the screen resolution was about the same as a modern mobile phone (176 x 184 pixels) which translated into 22 very large and blocky characters per line. The machine also had extremely limited memory -- a mere 5K RAM -- which made it difficult to write complex programs in BASIC without running out of space (believe me, I tried).
The limited display and memory didn't matter much because the machine was based around Commodore's quite capable Video Interface Chip and included cartridge and joystick ports. This made it a competent and inexpensive gaming machine, and parents could always justify the purchase by believing that Junior was going to learn to program and invent some sort of hyperlinked Interfloozle that would revolutionize the 21st century.
Most VIC-20s came with a cassette drive for storing programs (a disk drive wasn't available until 1982). Ultimately, more than 2.5 million units were sold and the retail price eventually dropped below $100. The VIC-20 was blown out of the water in late 1982 by its extremely capable younger brother, the Commodore 64, which went on to sell an astounding 20 million units. But that's a story for another day.
The Commodore VIC-20 (commodore.ca)