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30 Years of the TRS-80 Model 100 143

An anonymous reader writes with this "interview with John R Hogerhuis, one of the key players in the still suprisingly active community for the TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer. As the Model 100 approaches its 30th birthday, John talks about what has kept the machine popular for so long, current software and hardware work that is keeping it relevant, and what modern developers could learn from spending some on a computer from 1983."
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30 Years of the TRS-80 Model 100

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  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @08:31PM (#39759371) Homepage Journal

    No comments yet, and the server is already slashdotted...

    It must be running on one of those old beasties. :P

      • There were stuffs that brought back really good memory, but not the trash-80s

        Of course, we read all the manuals and hand-coded some programs, but I didn't put in too much time for it, for there are other machines that offered much more flexibility and robustness

        • Hey what was wrong with the Trash 80? Not everybody had Apple money back then ya know. I had both the Trash and the VIC (Remember the Shatner commercial, complete with beam in?) and frankly they were great little machines for the time. Sure they weren't that powerful but then again a $10 cell phone is more powerful than the biggest computers were back then.

          I think we would all do good to remember that the Trash, VIC, C64, BBC Micro and Sinclair changed a lot of folks lives and gave them a lifetime love of computing. Just think how different the world would be if those little guys never came out? if the only computers for sale in the 80s cost thousands of dollars? it would probably be a lot more empty place, with a lot less programs, tinkering, and DIYers out there.

          • I think we would all do good to remember that the Trash, VIC, C64, BBC Micro and Sinclair changed a lot of folks lives and gave them a lifetime love of computing. Just think how different the world would be if those little guys never came out? if the only computers for sale in the 80s cost thousands of dollars? it would probably be a lot more empty place, with a lot less programs, tinkering, and DIYers out there.


            I managed to get my father to buy a $99.00 Vic from K-Mart back in the day, and it was a godsend. What was kind of funny is that for my birthday or Christmas, he'd buy me a cartridge for it (yes, like everybody I had the requisite Omega Race and Gorf.. both excellent), but I kept trying to explain to him what I really wanted was a datasette and a programmer's reference manual (a memory expansion was in the wildest dreams category). I never got either, and like many of us learned by playing with B

            • Exactly! my first real taste of computing was tweaking accounting programs for my dad on a Trash and being able to get magazines and actually understand the guts really helped me to appreciate the wonders of those little guys, so I asked for and got a VIC for Xmas the year they came out (1982? God it was so long ago. thank the Federation for the Shat commercial because my mom was a Sci/Fi lover and that swayed her) and a lifetime love of computing was born.

              While others sat there staring at their NES and SNE

              • As much as I'd enjoy being 20 again I really wouldn't trade my experiences for theirs, their tech may be more powerful but they have zero control.

                Word, brother!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      TRS-80 Model 100: Interview With John R. Hogerhuis
      Tom Nardi April 21, 2012 2
      TRS-80 Model 100: Interview With John R. Hogerhuis

      Last month, on something of a whim, I wrote up an introduction and guide to working with the TRS-80 Model 100, one of the first ever “notebook” computers, released in 1983. The Model 100 was something that had always interested me, and I thought I would share some of my experiences with getting software installed on it, and maybe introduce this nearly 30 year old piece of

    • by Faffin ( 2541830 )
      Not completely, took about 2 min to load though. You beat me on the "It must be running on one" thing by several minutes though. All I can say is imagine a Beowulf cluster of these :P
    • There *are* we servers running on model 100s out there.

      They don't serve much, but they exist.


  • by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) <doug.opengeek@org> on Saturday April 21, 2012 @08:35PM (#39759391) Homepage Journal

    Great curio. It runs forever on a set of AA batteries, and I've written a few BASIC programs to show it off. Once in a great while, I'll take notes on it, transferring back to PC via serial cable.

    Love the keyboard, and the BASIC environment is the last OS type code that Bill Gates wrote.

    • Wait! Gates wrote the code for the TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer?
    • by wwphx ( 225607 )
      Mine's sitting in a closet, some minor battery leak corrosion damage, still works great though. I used it to take notes in Psych 101, rigged a 6-volt lantern battery to it and it ran for probably 2-3 months on one set. When I was at my parents last year, my mom had been cleaning out a closet and found my Disk/Video Interface, which gave you a 5.25" floppy drive, and also found my 3.5" floppy drive for it. I actually had a Lisp system for it, I've never seen a program crash a computer so fast.

      It is pro
    • by gatzke ( 2977 )

      I think that is the only laptop I have ever seen with a real full-depth keypress keyboard. I sometimes wish I had picked one up...

  • The nice thing about those old computers was the response time. Type something, hit the enter key, and the prompt was ready for the next line. Of course you couldn't really do anything with them except play the simplest games, but still...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hmmmm, what do you mean couldn't do anything. They were a programmable portable computer at a time that not many had computers. I remember writing quiz programs, adventure games, a ... what would you call a lunar lander game except landing on earth? I used it to figure out mathematical formulas since programmable calculators didn't work. I agree that a lot of people use have been taught to respond to computers, just like phones I suppose, phone rings you have to answer it. Personally, computers are

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Simplest games? I had written several Space exploration games that were quite complex. You had to read your sensor and change your course based on sensor input. you could also input a formula based on the sensor variables and create a type of "auto pilot" as well. It was very cool playing with a text only simulation of the Solar system and slingshot the ship around trying to use the least amount of fuel to land on titan from earth.

      It required a knowledge of Physics and trigonometry to play the game.

      I ha

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Wha?? Play games? This was a *portable* computer, it was made for serious work. Typing text really hasn't changed (except for that great *cough* HTMLization) and all a serious writer ever really needs is a text editor to do real work.
      • and all a serious writer ever really needs is a text editor to do real work

        Well, that and the ability to store reasonable sized text files. A typical article can be 10-15KB of plain text. The 32KB of RAM in the TRS-80 doesn't leave much left over for the text editor. Having a spell check is also convenient, and that typically requires 1MB or so for the data.

        • by jhoger ( 519683 )

          Hence the reason why recent hardware projects like REX and NADSBox have been important. NADSBox adds an external hard disk. REX is a completely plug-and-play Option ROM which you can switch OptROMs and save/restore full RAM images to flash.

  • by ihaveamo ( 989662 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @08:40PM (#39759423)

    All the big-names are 30 years old just now.

    This includes the TRS80 Color computer (The computer that got me into this crazy field in the first place... OS9 for ever!)
    , Commodore VIC 20, 64, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad They are all are / going to be in their 30's !!.

    Who feels old now??

    • I do. My first computer was a TRS-80 MC-10 (a sort of little brother to the CoCo that run a 6803, where I did my first assembly language experiments). The first actual code I wrote was on a Commodore 64 and I mucked around with Integer BASIC on Apple II's at school. And OS9 definitely rocked, and BASIC-09 is still for me the best structured BASIC variant ever developed. I'd take my Pascal programming class at school and with relative ease port the code I wrote over to BASIC-09.

      Gawd I do feel old.

      • TRS-80 Mod 1, Apple ][, then ZX-81 here. It was a great intro as a kid to Basic, several assembly languages, Forth, etc. I still apply a lot of the lessons learned in writing maintainable (or not) code from those first machines and languages.

        • My trs-80 has a serial number below 250. Not sure exactly what the number is though, I'd have to dig it out of my dad's attic 2000 miles from here to check.

          • Model 1, neglected to say. There's also a model 4p up there. And a vectrex with all accessories and carts.

            Obsolete tech museum.

            I sold my model 100 and model 102 a few years back.

            • "And a vectrex with all accessories and carts."

              You do know those things are really rare to come along?

        • Apple ][, then ZX-81 here.

          Ouch. What happened?

    • by Briareos ( 21163 ) *

      Ha. My Atari 800XL was released in late 1983, so I'm safe for another year...

      Nah, just kidding - I'm feeling old just the same.

      np: Public Image Ltd. - U.S.L.S. 1 (9)

      • Ha. My Atari 800XL was released in late 1983, so I'm safe for another year...

        Yeah, but that doesn't really count, as it was essentially just an improved version of the Atari 800 which came out in 1979 :-)

    • All the big-names are 30 years old just now.

      This includes the TRS80 Color computer (The computer that got me into this crazy field in the first place... OS9 for ever!)

      I have to admit, I had my Atari 130XE running Spartados when I ran into a Coco running OS9 and was pretty much incredulous (and humbled).

      Nowadays companies like Cloud 9 [] and projects like NitrOS-9 [] are keeping the fun alive.
      If time weren't so damned finite I'd love to pick up a Coco 3 and pop a 6309 into and get busy.. alas real life intrudes.

  • by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @08:41PM (#39759431)

    The Model 100 had a number of features that modern computers lack. If you need a simple computer to make notes, its battery life was in the 20 hours region. It was many many long years before the modern PC laptop was "portable" and had a battery life greater than 3 hours. (I'm thinking of some of the old transportables, which weighed 35 lbs and had no batteries.)

    At long last, with the advent of the OLPC, the Eee PC, the smartphone, and a few of the smaller laptops, battery life has reached the 6 to 12 hours. However, for taking a piece of equipment to strange places with no power, being able to use AA batteries to power your computer is a really helpful feature.

    Really wish the modern laptop could run from batteries longer. It's sad that a 30 year old PC is still competitive with regards to battery life.

    • It really was the first of its kind. Yes, Osbourn had a "portable" computer, which stretched the definition heavily, but the Model 100, well it was pretty much the first laptop.

      • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @09:00PM (#39759529) Homepage Journal

        It revolutionised journalism because it make it possible for articles to be written once and uploaded via a phone line. It must have put a lot of typists out of work.

        • Didn't Jerry Pournelle use one and write a lot about it?

        • I was just thinking that the first one I ever saw (in real life, not in the radio shack catalog) belonged to a roommate who was a radio reporter. It was 1990, and there really was nothing that quite matched it even then. I was totally jealous. I couldn't find one and ended up buying a smith corona pwp-something or other... which you could haul around .... but it was bigger than briefcase size and single-purpose.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          You beat me to it. It was very popular with journalists, all the way into the 1990's. I remember seeing one at the Radio Shack in 1992, amazed that it was still being sold as an active product. The manager gave the same explanation as to why the computer still sold--journalists. Think about it. It was extremely portable, had a great keyboard, ran great on off the shelf batteries, and had a built in modem. What more could a reporter want?

          I do know someone currently in college who bought one of these at

        • A couple of years ago one of the columnists in the local paper here was waxing on about using on as a sports reporter in the early 80s. It really did revolutionize sports reporting and was better than having to lug around a typewriter and rush back. I would post his column but the stupid local paper puts old articles and columns behind a pay wall and you can't really search for the old ones all that well.
      • Still have one, still works like the day I bought it... Paid around $800 for it as I recall, and it was the low end 8K version.. Dug it out and put a set of AA's in it, and it works great...

      • It really was the first of its kind. Yes, Osbourn had a "portable" computer, which stretched the definition heavily, but the Model 100, well it was pretty much the first laptop.

        The Epson HX-20 [] got there first in 1981. Granted the screen wasn't as big, but the overall package is similar. It even has a built in printer and an optional micro cassette recorder for data storage. It even featured dual CPUs (one main CPU, the other handled I/O) at a whopping 0.6Mhz. The later PX-4 and PX-8 had a bigger screen and ran CP/M.

    • I have a ASUS Transformer with a keyboard dock. It gets 16 hours of battery life, and is pretty good at taking notes. You can also record the lecturer, take pictures of the white board and insert it into your notes (using Evernote).

      Yeah... it took a really long time to get here, but then we had other priorities - like computing power (overheating P3s in 12 pound laptops anyone?), wifi internet access, and modern operating systems.

      • I actually had one of these: [] (mine was a PIII-800 with 256MB of RAM, but otherwise the same)... It never had problems with heat, and actually still works (though the battery is long-dead, and I don't feel like spending the $$ to buy a new one)

        I know you're making an example for effect, but lightweight powerful laptops that don't overheat have existed for a while. It wasn't that we had other priorities, it was that the power requirements of modern processors was outp

    • by neurocutie ( 677249 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @09:26PM (#39759661)
      well the Pocket PCs such as the HP 100/200LX had CGA screen with full 80x25 text and graphics and could run for at least 30 hours, with almost any DOS program you wish, include TCP clients (browsers, telnet, ftp, etc).
      • On my last DOS machine it was easier to just dial into the local freenet and use links/elinks and the other *nix utilities...

      • Those HP palmtops were interesting machines. At one job, a Finance Director would carry one around and whip it out if he wanted to do some quick calculations using the built-in Lotus 123. I think they may have been largely forgotten because this was about the time when 'everyone' started using Windows & Excel.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          They still sell on eBay for about their original retail price (several hundred dollars), even though a new one hasn't been made for over a decade. They really were cool machines at the time. An MS-DOS computer, in your hand? Amazing. I had a professor use one as a demonstration for an operating systems class.

        • The Psion Series 3/3a/3c had similar specs to the HP palmtops, but they weren't crippled by running DOS. EPOC16 (which later evolved into Symbian) ran a multitasking GUI in 256KB of RAM, which was also used as a RAM disk. My 3 had a spreadsheet on an SSD, but the 3A and later came with it built in. There's a DOS-based 3A emulator that runs nicely in DOSBox floating around.
    • There's always the Dana AlphaSmart []. It's sold as a computer for children, but it is a lot like the Model 100.

    • Psion Series 5/5mx ran quite long on two AA batteries. IIRC it was somewhere between 10 and 20 hours, which is quite OK - I never had to use the PDA for 20 hours straight. Even if it ran out of energy, a new set of battereis can be bought almost anywhere (I mainly used rechargeable batteries).

    • I used to run mine on nicads. I think I got 4 or 6 hours: I forget.

      Many folks carved space and jerry-rigged a fifth battery to get 6 volts; I ran on just 4--which gave me longer battery life than on the correct voltage (with that type of CMOS, current dissipation was proportional to voltage).

      It never occurred to me before, but it likely would have run on 4.5v from three alkalines, and boosted battery life. I'm not likely to put enough hours on ever again to ever find out . . .

      However, when the low pow li

  • With flip-up screen. It was sweet, helped me get through high school. Yes, I was the geek with the laptop, the only kid in school who had one (bought cheap from DAK with summer job money). Gave me and my friend some fun self-wiring a connection between than and his Model 100 until we realized the motherboards and connectors were flipped between the two.

    • by hawk ( 1151 )

      The model 200 TRS-80 had that screen, too.

      There were three versions of the machine known as the model 100--the TRS-80, Olivetti, and I forget the third. There were minor differences between them.


  • Trash-80 (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    In those days everyone called it the "Trash 80", probably including unit owners (as typical techie deprecating humor). TRS stood for "Tandy-Radio Shack", Tandy being the original name of the company that is now known as Radio Shack, and which would like to be known as "The Shack".

    • Here in Australia it is still called Tandy, though the stores have gone downhill in the last 30 years.

    • by Maxmin ( 921568 )

      Some refer to it as "Rat Shack."

      Whenever I visit one, it's usually in desperation for an electronic component or battery that I can't wait to order online from a cheaper source. I almost always beeline it for the proper store section, but that doesn't stop the sales droids from trying to (up)sell me on mobile phone equipment or contracts.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @09:18PM (#39759633) of the key players in the still suprisingly active community for the TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer.

    Reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons where Burns says "have I missed the 4:30 autogyro to Siam?"

  • Emulator (Score:4, Informative)

    by Omineca ( 2623253 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @09:32PM (#39759699)
    Here's a link to the emulator: []
  • Used a model 1 briefly (a few weekends when I could borrow it from school) but fell in love with the CoCo. Ah, good stuff....
  • Retro video game fans know this CPU well but it's still being sold in brand new products with new software being targeted for it.

    I use a Z-80 every day in my so-called car MP4 player. These are cheap car FM transmitter players that are easily found on eBay for a measly six bucks. They're so cheap I hand them out at Christmas to anyone who wants one.

    The knock off second generation iPod Nanos are based on the same thing. Those are like twenty bucks because they have the battery and a bit more hassle than they

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, except the TRS-80 Model 100 used an Intel 80C85

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @11:00PM (#39760047)

    Battery technology has gotten much better, as well as tricks to lower power consumption. I wonder what sort of battery life you'd get if you took the same basic design, die-shrunk the chips to 32nm to lower the voltage, and used a large monolithic Lithium-Ion battery instead of a pack of AAs. Maybe add some dynamic frequency scaling, if that would get you anything.

    I would not be surprised if you got a battery life measured in weeks.

    • by cdrguru ( 88047 )

      A very important trick for low-current devices is what the Palm Pilot did. It ran on two AAA batteries but it would suck them down to less than 1 volt each. How did it manage such a feat? Well, the key was a DC voltage converter that would take the battery voltage and output 3.3V to run the device. It eliminated the regulators and such completely and it would operate down to something less than 2V from the batteries.

      This resulted in a battery life of around 3-4 weeks with a lot of usage. Sure, the disp

  • Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, Weren't those used at McDonald's behind the counters ?

  • Good times... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by evil_aaronm ( 671521 ) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:40AM (#39760393)
    The Model 100 came out about the time I turned 18 and got an inheritance from my grand-father's estate. It was about five thousand bucks. Money was really tight and my new wife and I went round after round "discussing" whether it was more important that I get one of these devices or pay for something more "realistic" like things for the baby soon to arrive. I got one, but it wasn't pleasant. I still remember driving home from RS - had my wife drive so I could play with it - and being utterly enthralled with my new purchase.

    Yes, the money probably could've been spent more prudently, but that computer helped launch my career in technology which has been, for the most part, very rewarding - my wife's not complaining about money, at least. After nearly 30 years, my wife doesn't argue so much about what I buy, my son has grown up and is doing just fine on his own, and my Model 100 is on the shelf right behind me. Still works, just like the day I got it.
  • I have an Olivetti M10, which is exactly identical to the TRS-80 100, apart for the obvious (the logo).

    No laptop has ever had such decadent keyboard as this wee little machine. A joy to use.

  • by Ian.Waring ( 591380 ) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @05:03AM (#39761125) Homepage
    I recall Microsofts International VP, Scott Oki, tapping away on his Model 100 when he visited us at DEC in 1983. I had the privilege of taking Paul Maritz, now of VMware, into seeing my CEO in 2011, and while waiting for my CEO, got chatting about iPads. I mentioned Scott Oki, and he said he remembered Scott going everywhere with that Tandy TRS 80 Model 100. Wasn't it actually made by Kyocera?
  • This was my first computer! I spent $1,000 on it. It was awesome and I still have it. I'm sure if I popped some fresh batteries in it it would still work. The funny thing is I'm betting Bill Gates also wrote the manual which was famously a mess with references to non-existent sections. Still, this got me into software development. I remember I had a tape-backup drive that I used to store off programs and after I had been storing them on tape for a long while I noticed that I had a variable-speed tape playe
  • I started way back when with the ZX81, joined with a TS1000. We moved up to the TRS80 models 2-4, then their PC-type Tandy 1000 series. But the TRS80-100 was great. That was something I could lug to school and show off with. I even (OK, this is hard to admit) built programs to help run role-playing games- things like time to distance at various warp speeds for real stars in our galaxy, tracking various character issues, etc.

    I don't use it for much any more. I'm not that kind of hobbyist, I guess. I do

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.