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Radio Shack's TRS-80 Turns 35 231

harrymcc writes "On August 3, 1977, Radio Shack announced its TRS-80 microcomputer at an event in New York City. For the next several years, it was the world's most popular PC — but it never got the respect it deserved. (I still wince when I hear 'Trash-80.') Over at, I'm celebrating the anniversary with some reflections on the machine and why it was so underappreciated."
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Radio Shack's TRS-80 Turns 35

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  • by cstec ( 521534 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:10PM (#40874335)
    Got that straight. The TRS-80 Model I was for sale in stores in August of '77 [I was when it arrived], available as a retail purchase when Apples were just kits.
  • Re:vintage computers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xevioso ( 598654 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:18PM (#40874377)

    The TRS-80 model II was my very first computer, and I learned basic coding on it. I can't remember the language, but there was a way to create your own games, like Snake and Pong, by using a cartridge, that only loaded the language and a basic compiler.

    I suspect that you could teach folks how to do some basic coding by using one of these old machines as an example. I have fond memories.

  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <> on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:24PM (#40874417) Journal

    I owned a model 1.

    calling it "Trash-80" is exactly what that hack deserved; it was significantly behind what most hobbiests at the time would have cobbled together on the same parts budget.

    It's tough to choose a favorite design flaw, whether saving four bits by only using 7 video chips instead of 8, even though the character generator had lower case . . . Running the processor bizarrely slow, the same rate as characters appeared on screen, but yanking control away and creating a glitch on the screen with each read or write . . .

    My choice, though, is using the same connector for the power supply and video output, toasting the board for those who unwittingly just reached behind to plug them in . . .


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:31PM (#40874465)

    My first computer. Figured out how to up the RAM from 16k to 48k (the max) myself. Figured out how to get lower case letters myself. Burned a ton of time on Scott Adams adventures.

    But the big thing was I taught myself to program. First BASIC, then when it proved too slow Z-80 assembler. For work I was a tech working on 8080-bases systems, so I used that assembler knowledge to write tests to exercise various circuitry. A co-worker and I wrote a Space Invaders clone, which turned out to be a hit at trade shows (prolly because marketing grabbed it before we gave the invaders missiles of their own. Engineering found out what I was doing and suddenly I was writing new software.

    Fast forward 35 years, I still write embedded software. And have my Trash-80 in the garage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:33PM (#40874475)

    The fascinating thing about this period of time is how close Apple came to disappearing altogether.
    While early sales of all personal computers were slow - sales were measured in thousands - it looked like the battle was always Commodore vs Radio Shack. Some magazines ignored Apple because they sold so few machines.
    What changed everything was the development of Visicalc. According to Brian Bagnall's "The rise and fall of Commodore", Dan Bricklin wanted to develop Visicalc on a Commodore PET but they were too popular for him to get any time on them. He used an Apple II because no-one else wanted to write software for it and so it was always available.
    Visicalc went on to be the application that changed personal computing forever - business' bought Apples by the bucketload to run visicalc- and elevated Apple from being insignificant to being the dominant selling machine.
    While Visicalc saved Apple, Dan Bricklin has always denied that Visicalc had any effect on Commodore or the TRS 80, and that they were responsible for their own demise.
    Having read the Commodore story (Bagnall) and Apple's story (too many books to mention) I look forward to reading the book mentioned in the article - 'Priming the pump' and getting another perspective on that period of time.

  • Re:respect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ralphdaugherty ( 225648 ) <> on Friday August 03, 2012 @08:48PM (#40874557) Homepage

    Cassette tapes unreliable storage? That's one of the kinder ways to describe it. :) But seriously, I taught myself programming with the Z-80 assembler/debugger and would make multiple backups to tape to counter the occasional read glitch that rendered the tape contents lost for all practical purposes. (Although in a pinch attempting to read it in over and over with fingers crossed hoping that one time it would work was occasionally successful, at which point you wrote it out to a new backup tape.)

    Wrote Double Deck Pinochle as my first program, later rewrote for DOS (is freeware out there somewhere), rewrote it in Java a few years ago (seriously proper OO architecture, but an interesting experience to rewrite 8086 to Java), and just so happens am now rewriting from Java to RPG for my IBM i (iseries AS/400) web server. Again an interesting experience. :)

    For those who might wander about RPG looks like these days, I have open sourced a couple of projects: []

    (the ascii source downloads can be viewed in a text editor.)

    And I have the TRS-80 to thank for it all. So happy 35th, TRS-80.

  • TRS-80 Model III (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tempest_2084 ( 605915 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @09:05PM (#40874643)
    I actually have a TRS-80 Model III (the one with the built in monitor) setup in my game room. The graphics aren't much (they're actually quite blocky), but they really did put a lot of love into those games. The TRS-80 version of Zaxxon is particularly impressive, and plays better than some of the versions on more capable systems (do a youtube search for it, it's worth checking out).

    I found my TRS-80 on the side of the road in a garbage pile in the middle of nowhere Ohio while on a camping trip. I picked it up and took it home (over the wife's objections) and found that it still worked perfectly (initially it looked like it didn't work, but it turns out that the brightness dial had just been turned down all the way and was frozen in place). I guess my TRS-80 really IS a Trash-80.
  • Re:Model 100 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cornwallis ( 1188489 ) on Friday August 03, 2012 @09:18PM (#40874735)

    Exactly. I get a kick reading the poseurs knocking the TRS-80.

    The thing was mass-produced and worked. You could hack it. My Model 100 still works after almost 30 years of use. Four AA batteries runs the thing for weeks. I could and did access CompuServe with its built in 300baud modem. Just a few years ago I found a mod that allowed me to solder a Blusmirf Bluetooth chip to the ancient UART allowing me to pair to my desktop and even telnet to a RS6000 we were using.

    The thing is slow, clunky (but with an absolutely great keyboard) and I still use it for note taking... because, as a tool, it works.

  • Re:vintage computers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Saturday August 04, 2012 @04:09AM (#40876213) Homepage

    You know, I was talking about this to someone the other day. They wanted to demonstrate how TCP/IP works, but obviously everything happens so quickly all you see is a couple of lines in a wireshark window and it's done.

    So as a demonstration I set up soundmodem on two machines, and set up TCP/IP using AX.25 as the link layer - 1200bps audio tones, rather like the tape tones from early 80s home computers. You can even adjust them to sound slightly different while remaining in spec to give the two computers slightly different "voices". Instead of hooking them together using radios, I just used cables, and left the PC speakers hooked up to so you could hear what they were doing. Then ping from one to the other, and "BLEEEBLORP BLEEEBLIRP" - there goes the ARP request and response, "BLEEEBLURBLURBLURP BLEEEBLIP" - there goes the ping and response, and so on.

    Doing SSH over it is very, very slow to get going but tolerable once it's started.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken