A New Life for a Dead VIC-20

What was the first computer you bent to your programmatic will? If you’re old enough, it was probably a Commodore. For [Jagged-path], it was a VIC-20. After finding a broken one on Kijiji, he recaptured that 80s feeling with VicPi, a revitalization project that marries modern computing power with vintage form factor.

The VicPi can be used as a standalone computer or a USB keyboard for an external computer. As you’ve probably guessed, there’s a Raspberry Pi involved. There is also a Keyrah board, which is arguably the easiest way to convert Commodore (and Amiga) keystrokes to USB without breaking a sweat.

There are a lot of nice touches that really make this project. A toggle switch on the back selects between VicPi mode and keyboard mode, and the distinction is made with a two-color LED in place of the VIC-20’s power LED. [Jagged-path] used panel mount cables to extend the HDMI, 3.5mm, and USB ports and ran them out to a custom metal panel that’s treated with rubberized black paint. Another nice touch: the dedicated keyboard port is USB-B, so it’s easy to differentiate from the Pi inputs.

If you have a working VIC-20 but not the rare Votrax Type ‘n Talk synthesizer peripheral, you can use an old Android phone to hear those Voodoo Castle responses.

22 thoughts on “A New Life for a Dead VIC-20

  1. Looks like a crappy hack. I would have pulled the 2nd joystick port, and put the Keyrah in the correct location. Then put the A/V connectors of the Pi towards the back.

    Also, chances are that VIC-20 was completely repairable.

    1. Not that they crammed one into a PDP, but I thought HaD had an article about a Pi (or some other ucontroller) wired to a PDP faceplate (or was it a custom build to look like a PDP faceplate?).

          1. The 6502 emulator cpu.c core is written by Mike Chambers.
            I got permission to use it in my VIC-20 and C64 emulators for the Arduino platform.

            There are 6502 emu’s written in AVR assembly but not all of them are open-source.

  2. As much as I love my VIC-20, it’s actually not very pleasant to type on for extended periods of time, unless you have a pretty serious pillow to rest your forearms on.

    Interesting project, but I’d much rather see this built up from parts bought off eBay (keyboard & case), rather than take a VIC-20 that could have been repaired off the streets. I hope he sold or donated the original components on to someone.

  3. I love the VIC-20, built like a tank. Newer Commodores didn’t seem to stand up as well. I’ve one that’s bricked, but the old VIC still worked last I tested it. I worry about the capacitors though…

    1. I liked my Commodore-64. I remember having to buy like 3 of them until I finally got one that worked. But the one I ended up with worked fine with no issues. One of the fun things that I did with it was used it for a terminal for my S-100 CP/M systems (Altairs and a couple of no-names). I wrote a little program loader that I could key in real quick that would turn around and pull down the actual terminal program itself from the floppy disk on one of the S-100 systems. One of the reasons I really liked it was because, unlike the typical black&white (or green&white) ASCII terminals of the day, using the C64 as a terminal let me do color graphics and color text– albeit on a 40-char wide TV screen. But it was cool for the time.

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