Radio Shack TRS-80 Portable Computer Review

Product Requirements:
Device:
Win98, Win2000, WinXP, or Linux Desktop PC for
transfer of files
Serial/Null modem cable purchased from
Club 100
Or just use as a standalone computer!

 

For many years now I have been following "The Gadgeteer" site. Gadgets these
days seemingly encompass a range of different devices, be it a PDA, MP3 player
or digital camera. The list is almost endless.

But those things aren’t really new. There was a device that had many of the
basic functions of a PDA or a laptop more than 20 years ago. Yes, in 1983!

Imagine a portable device that runs on 4 AA batteries & runs for 20 hours+,
has an address book, a date book, a notepad-like app, a built-in modem, a
full-travel keyboard, a terminal application, even the ability to connect to a
modern Windows or Linux based PC & transfer files. Sounds great doesn’t it? But
in 1983? No way I hear you say! What are you smoking son?

Well I’m here to tell you that this magical computer DID exist back then. And
it still exists now with many hobbyists, writers and hackers still getting great
enjoyment from it. This little computer is called a
Radio Shack TRS-80 Portable
Computer!

What greets you when you turn your
Tandy 102 on. Note the non Y2K compliant date – an oversight on the part of
Bill Gates! Doesn’t effect the running of the computer though

Here are some of its stunning hardware details:

Processor: 8 bit 8085
Clock Speed: a blazing 2Mhz
RAM: 8KB expandable to 32KB. Yes, that means KILO-byte.
ROM: 32KB
Keyboard: Full travel keyboard
Modem: 300 baud
Built-in Apps:

  • ADDRS: the address book
  • SCHED: the datebook
  • TEXT: the notepad
  • TELCOM: the terminal application
  • BASIC: Microsoft Basic

Connectors: RS-232, Printer, System Bus, Cassette, Internal Modem

Connectors on the Tandy

The Tandy 100 was released in 1983, followed in 1986 by the Tandy 102 which
was a slightly smaller version of the 100 & widely regarded as the better of the
two. Tandy also released the Tandy 200 which had a larger flip-top screen & was
expandable to more Ram, but didn’t meet with the same success.

The Tandy was immensely popular with journalists. They where able to write
out their articles on the road on the Tandy’s excellent keyboard, then through
the 300 baud modem send their articles through to the newspapers mainframe.

Hackers & road warriors also loved the Tandy, thanks to the excellent
portability the machine has.

But the really amazing thing about this machine is this: it lives on today!
Rick Hansen has run Club 100
for nearly 1000 years…well maybe perhaps 20! Just about everything about this
machine can be found on his site. He even sells reconditioned Tandy’s!!! You
will also find out how to connect the Tandy to your desktop PC.

The reason for this amazing longevity is the versatility of the Tandy. It was
beautifully designed by Kyocera in Japan. Tandy (as well as NEC & Olivetti)
branded the machines, and guess who provided the operating system? Yeah you
guessed it…Microsoft! In fact it is widely reported that it was the last
hands-on programming Bill Gates did at Microsoft. Of course, he also threw in a
version of his standard Microsoft BASIC. And I have to say he did a brilliant
job. The interface to the machine is elegance & simplicity personified. See,
Microsoft hasn’t always been evil! ;-)

A soldered in place mask-ROM holds the operating system (etched in silicon)
so it’s as immutable as stone. Software providers can commit to production with
the certainty that their products can not ever be rendered obsolete or impaired.
Software from 1983 remains 100% valid today and tomorrow. And 21st century
software production is ongoing.

I got my Tandy 102 through eBay, and I haven’t regretted it. As can be seen
through my
PalmHeads
website, I’ve found many uses for it. And I expect I will continue
to do so.

Oh, and I’ve also written this entire article on my Tandy 102, and
transferred it via serial cable to my Linux desktop for further editing!

This article written on my Tandy!

Price: $20 – $100 (eBay) to $75 – $350 (Club 100)

Pros:
Great battery life
Does what it does with minimum fuss
Versatile
Robust
Connect to modern PC’s
Cool factor

Cons:
We’re talking about a computer released in the early 80’s that’s still
useful!
Maybe perhaps they are a little hard to find
RAM "may" be an issue!

 

Product Information

Price:20.0
Manufacturer:Radio Shack
Pros:
  • Great battery life
  • Does what it does with minimum fuss
  • Versatile
  • Robust
  • Connect to modern PC's
  • Cool factor
Cons:
  • We're talking about a computer released in the early 80's that's still
  • useful!
  • Maybe perhaps they are a little hard to find
  • RAM "may" be an issue!
Posted in: Miscellaneous

24 comments… add one

  • Julie March 29, 2004, 10:22 pm

    Post your comments here on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Portable Computer review.

    http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/tandy102-review.html

    Just click the POST REPLY button on this page.

  • alanh March 29, 2004, 10:53 pm

    The Alphasmart Dana is the first thing to come along that could really fill the same niche as the Tandy model 100…. It’s similarly tough, good built-in keyboard, similar battery life, and adds the power and flexibility of a modern PalmOS device….

  • isobutane March 30, 2004, 12:19 am

    You have revived my interest in the Model 102 that has been languishing, in perfect working condition, in my basement. Thank you! :)

    Mark

  • Altema March 30, 2004, 2:47 am

    Okaaay… guess I don’t feel so bad about about my Apple ///+ with 5 backup hard drives and two main SCSI drives I keep protected in my basement!

  • Julie March 30, 2004, 3:05 am

    I wish I still had one of my Commodore 64’s with the 5.25 inch drives that I had modified so I could copy copy-protected software. Those were the days my friends :D

  • eichin March 30, 2004, 6:46 am

    I remember being jealous of a friend in high school who got a Model 100 when they first came out :-) They’ve survived quite well, though the lack of wireless means that they’re finally falling behind. (Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if one could retrofit a bluetooth-rs232 adaptor internally to replace the serial port…)

  • Chet March 30, 2004, 7:24 am

    Originally posted by alanh
    The Alphasmart Dana is the first thing to come along that could really fill the same niche as the Tandy model 100…. It’s similarly tough, good built-in keyboard, similar battery life, and adds the power and flexibility of a modern PalmOS device….

    Thank you for mentioning the AlphaSmart Dana!

    Yes, the Dana has been called the spiritual successor to the Tandy 100.

    It has also been called the Tandy 100 of the 21st century.

    If anyone is interested, please visit the AlphaSmart Community Centre for more information and user tips on the AlphaSmart Dana.

    For even more info on the Dana, there’s also Greg Gaub’s review of the AlphaSmart Dana right here at The Gadgeteer.com’s site!

    :D :cool:

  • Altema March 30, 2004, 4:31 pm

    Originally posted by Julie
    I wish I still had one of my Commodore 64’s with the 5.25 inch drives that I had modified so I could copy copy-protected software. Those were the days my friends :D

    There was a program for the Apple ][ called bitcopy or something like that. It did not care what was on the disk, as long as it could read the sectors. I used to jump into emulation to use it on my /// in the early days.

  • tthiel March 30, 2004, 7:19 pm

    Never had one of these but I remember it well. Makes me feel old….

  • Sneezer March 31, 2004, 5:56 am

    Originally posted by Altema
    There was a program for the Apple ][ called bitcopy or something like that. It did not care what was on the disk, as long as it could read the sectors. I used to jump into emulation to use it on my /// in the early days.

    Locksmith did it all for me. Also used CopyPlus I think. Between the two I don’t think there was ever a disk I couldn’t back up. Still fire up the old ][e for a game of Choplifter, Rescue Raiders, Loderunner or Conan. Classic system. Thanks for bringing up old memories of those days.

  • ToolkiT April 1, 2004, 5:52 am

    Originally posted by Altema
    There was a program for the Apple ][ called bitcopy or something like that. It did not care what was on the disk, as long as it could read the sectors. I used to jump into emulation to use it on my /// in the early days.

    I remember there was a simular program for the XT…

  • bpaulwhite April 2, 2004, 10:46 am

    The thing that continually amazes me is that we were able to do some pretty impressive things back then with 48K of memory and now, if you don’t have at least 512 Meg you’re in trouble.

  • helf April 8, 2004, 2:53 am

    I bought a tandy model 100 off ebay for like 30 bucks a year or 2 ago. I have loved the thing. I use it a lot as a dumb terminal for pc’s around my house. Runs forever and always works (cant say that for my ‘other’ portable computers…). One thing though.. Generally the model 100 is concidered the better of the 2. not the m102. mostly because its more rugged. I guess since its thicker. I’ve dropped mine quite a few times and its just bounced :)

  • beantown53 April 9, 2004, 7:48 pm

    It is my understanding that a non Y2K compliant date was a date with only two digits. For example, 04 (instead of 2004) is a non compliant Y2K date. The date is the picture was 1904 which is a Y2K compliant date.

  • helf April 9, 2004, 9:33 pm

    I do believe y2k compliant date means going past 1999 and into the 20xx’s

    You can’t set the date on the tandy to anything past 1999 unless you install a rom patch this guy made that changes the static 19 to 20.

  • beantown53 April 9, 2004, 10:41 pm

    Originally posted by helf
    [B]I do believe y2k compliant date means going past 1999 and into the 20xx’s

    You can’t set the date on the tandy to anything past 1999 unless you install a rom patch this guy made that changes the static 19 to 20. [/B]

    Then why did millions of lines code had to be modified for a 4 digit year?

  • Ben S April 11, 2004, 5:52 am

    Julie: I’ve got a few C-64s in my closet if you want one :) I might even have a C-1541 5.25″ floppy drive, too :-)

  • Ben S April 11, 2004, 6:06 am

    Originally posted by beantown53
    Then why did millions of lines code had to be modified for a 4 digit year?

    A four digit date is no more y2k compliant than a 2 digit date… it’s just less ambiguous. Y2K compliance is more complex than just presentation — it has to do with storage, computation, and presentation of the values. I’ve seen non-y2k compliant applications fail in all kinds of interesting ways by representing dates past Dec. 31 1999 as things like (using 2001 as an example):

    1901 (i.e., the app stores the last two digits and just slaps 19 on the front)
    19101 (i.e., the app stores the offset from 1900, but again just slaps 19 on the front)
    1910 (same as above, but truncates leftwise at 4 digits)
    9101 (same as above, but truncates rightwise at 4 digits)
    1 (i.e., date register overflows at 1999 — this one’s rare, I’ve only seen it in one case)

    …and there are other more essoteric oddities that have to do with storing the date with weird epochs. For example, some older UNIX, Windows and Macintosh systems store the date as a 32-bit integer representing the number of seconds since a particular epoch in the late 20th century. For example, the UNIX epoch is Midnight, Jan 1, 1970, which means that in Greenwich England, at one second past 03:14:07 on Jan. 19, 2038 those machines are going to think it’s 20:31:28 Dec. 14 1901 (or some other wildly inaccurate date!). I’m more worried about *that* problem than I was about Y2K. :) See http://www.deepsky.com/~merovech/2038.html for more info.

    Wise people in the IT industry don’t talk about the “Y2K” problem, because that’s a misnomer. The real problem is that time is infinite, and computers can’t handle infinity. To a computer, everything has a beginning and an end (even numbers) — so they refer to this class of problem as “STorage Overflow Problems”. The acronym STOP clearly indicates a developer’s priority when they run into one of these: STOP and fix it! :)

  • helf April 11, 2004, 2:14 pm

    oh, ok. Cool :)

    That was interesting. thanks.

  • beantown53 April 11, 2004, 7:07 pm

    What Is Y2K?

    In the early years of computers, data storage space was at a premium, and to save space the date was written using two digits to represent the year. For example, the character string ’63’ would be used to represent 1963. Many of the older computer systems which remain in use today still have the two-digit date code. The problem arises when an older computer system tries to use the year 2000 date because it thinks the date is 1900, not 2000. This misreading can potentially cause serious problems, the extent and scope of which are not fully understood.

    Still 4 digit date related.

  • mrz80 May 7, 2004, 12:53 pm

    Originally posted by Julie
    I wish I still had one of my Commodore 64’s with the 5.25 inch drives that I had modified so I could copy copy-protected software. Those were the days my friends :D

    If you’re really feeling nostalgic but don’t have access to the hardware, there’s always emulation. A fast Intel or AMD running linux can pretty much emulate any old system, including the C64, to wit:

    http://simon.mooli.org.uk/LXF/C64/C64.html

    That said, and since this bids fair to become a “retrogeek retrospective bragging rights” thread, I must (to my wife’s chagrin) confess to owning:

    VIC 20, C64, Sinclair ZX80, Heath H89 (my first computer), Kaypro4, Tandy 100, Tandy 102, and NEC 8201

    Life is good on The Trailing Edge :-)

  • José January 28, 2009, 10:04 am

    Excuse me, my english is very bad.
    I live in Ecuador, South America, and a friend of my father give me this computer when i was a teenager.
    Now I want help to use my Tandy 102 as a central of automatic control (for play with parts of toys and made mini-robots with mechanic arms)since the conectors that it has and using the BASIC language of this machine.
    Thanks for your help!

  • Jack Socha April 11, 2009, 6:21 pm

    Club 100 now offers a $199 device that allows you to save P102 files to a standard SD card. The device makes the P102 think it is connected to a Tandy Portable Disk Drive.

    I snapped one up, as did many others. It lets the P102 work in the “modern” world without cables and serial port connections to computers that no longer have them!

  • mrz80 April 14, 2010, 2:15 pm

    I’m back on the ModelT bandwagon, having just snagged a $20 M102 from eBay to replace my unit with the dead display. I’m looking at adding a REX unit, which is a chunk of flash and some glue logic that lets you have multiple ROM images available.

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