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posted by janrinok on Saturday August 06, @05:14AM   Printer-friendly
from the fine-and-Tandy dept.

Radio Shack's First PC: 45 Years of TRS-80:

45 years ago, Radio Shack released the TRS-80 Micro Computer System, a 1977 personal computer that launched an era of low-cost PCs along with computers from Apple and Commodore. Here's what was special about it.

On August 3, 1977, Radio Shack introduced the TRS-80 Micro Computer System for $599.95—about $2,904 today adjusted for inflation. This complete system included a main unit with a built-in keyboard, a cassette recorder, and a monochrome monitor. After the introduction of the Model II later, this first model became known as the TRS-80 Model I. In 1977, the TRS-80's $599.95 price was a big deal. To compare, the Apple II sold for $1298 with 4K of RAM (that's a whopping $6284 today), and it didn't include a monitor or a storage device.

But you always get what you pay for: The original TRS-80 was a fairly primitive machine. Under the hood, the TRS-80 utilized its Z-80 CPU at 1.77 MHz and included a mere 4 kilobytes (KB) of RAM. Its video could only display 64 columns and 16 rows of monochrome text (all uppercase) with no support for true bitmapped graphics (although by using a block-shaped text character, you could create a 128×48 pixel display). It also did not include any sound hardware, but many programs used a trick to output simple sounds through the cassette port.

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Saturday August 06, @06:07AM (4 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Saturday August 06, @06:07AM (#1265231)

    The TRS80 was my third computers. My first was a ZX80, my second was a beat-up second-hand (but still horrendously expensive) Apple ][. My parents really made a sacrifice to bought me those computers, because they felt it would lead to something in my life. It did. Still, they didn't have to do that. Thanks mom and dad!

    But the point here is: do you fucking have to remind me that I'm closer to the grave than to the cradle? Fuck you SN.

    • (Score: 0, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 06, @06:26AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 06, @06:26AM (#1265237)

      SoylentNews and Mortuary Services, at your service. The site was originally concieved as a magnet for the soon to be expired Boomers. So just view the lovely screen of flowers and wind, with no aristarchus at all, as we assist your transition into the next dimension. Or, oblivion.

    • (Score: 5, Funny) by maxwell demon on Saturday August 06, @07:17AM (1 child)

      by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 06, @07:17AM (#1265238) Journal

      I'm closer to the grave than to the cradle

      There's an easy fix to that: Buy a cradle, and put it close to you. Unless you happen to live on a graveyard, this ensures that you are closer to the cradle than to the grave.

      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 3, Funny) by khallow on Saturday August 06, @11:23AM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 06, @11:23AM (#1265248) Journal
        Another problem solved by the hive mind of the internet!
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by mcgrew on Saturday August 06, @03:29PM

      by mcgrew (701) <> on Saturday August 06, @03:29PM (#1265268) Homepage Journal

      My second was a TRS-80 MC10, in 1983, first was a TS-1000 in 1982. Third was a used IBM-XT in 1990.

      Free Martian whores! []
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Snotnose on Saturday August 06, @06:08AM (3 children)

    by Snotnose (1623) on Saturday August 06, @06:08AM (#1265232)

    Bought a model 2, had 16k RAM. Built my own expansion interface, upped the RAM to 64k (48k usable), got the disk drive, modem and printer. Learned BASIC, it was too slow so I learned Z80 assembly. Our box at work used an 8080, I started writing code to help debug problems (I was an electronics tech then), engineering found out about it and made me a programmer.

    Ahh, the simplicity of the old days.

    The Word Of the Day (WOD) is finicky. As in, "sharks avoid the sewage discharge pipe because they make their finicky".
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by pdfernhout on Sunday August 07, @05:06PM (2 children)

      by pdfernhout (5984) on Sunday August 07, @05:06PM (#1265440) Homepage

      While I never owned a TRS-80, I initially learned to program BASIC by working through the exercises in this TRS-80 book (along with playing around with the TRS-80 floor models in the stores):
      "Radio Shack Hardware Manual: Level 1 Users Manual (1977)(David Lien)" []

      My dad has helped me get a KIM-1 around then (about age thirteen or so) which I was hoping to use as the brains of a robot. (Thanks Dad!!!) So I was learning something about programming that way as well. But I can't say the KIM-1 and machine language ever made a lot of sense to me when I had it or that I got it to do very much (other than punching in demo programs on the hex keypad). I was learning from an earlier version of this book, which is a good book, but it was kind of opaque at first to me back then (especially compared to Lien's book and a more interactive TRS-80):
      "6502 Assembly Language Programming by Lance Leventhal" []

      Eventually I used Commodore PET computers in High School and got one of my own (selling the KIM-1 for money for the PET). Then I was able to bring BASIC and Machine Language (with peeks and pokes) together and eventually getting an assembler), and things began to make a lot more sense with continued experience. We also had terminals in the High School to a timeshared PDP-10 that ran BASIC and other languages.

      Anyway, I agree so much with the sentiment of the simplicity of the old days. And there is still a lot to be said for that. One related talk by Rich Hickey, the author of Clojure:
      "Simple Made Easy" []
      "We should aim for simplicity because simplicity is a prerequisite for reliability. ..."

      I feel much of modern computing has unneeded layers of kruft, unneeded bloat, too many redundant VMS and interpreters and libraries, too many features, too big an attack surface, and too much room for bitrot and unreliability. When I think what one could do with a few K and Forth. Or how it felt to mostly understand a computer top to bottom and all that was going on in it, like described in maybe one of the last such guides for a popular computer:
      "Commodore C64 Manual: Commodore 64 Programmers Reference Guide (1983)(Commodore)" []

      That said, Arduinos can be very approachable and potentially understandable. And the Raspberry Pi and VirtualBox make low-level experiments possible even on modern-ish hardware. Just not making enough time to rebuild stuff from scratch on those these days -- even though I make small efforts in those directions now and then... And I also know (learned from Bill Muench of eForth) that metacompiling can be your friend. :-)

      The biggest challenge of the 21st century: the irony of technologies of abundance used by scarcity-minded people.
      • (Score: 2) by pdfernhout on Sunday August 07, @05:29PM

        by pdfernhout (5984) on Sunday August 07, @05:29PM (#1265447) Homepage

        P.S. Also on "simplicity", here is a book I am reading right now. There is not that much new to me in it after programming for about 45 years, but I still like how he put all these ideas together in one place. And it is a good reminder of things to do as well -- as how many seemingly-little things people need to learn to develop well.
        "Code That Fits in Your Head: Heuristics for Software Engineering " []
        "Seemann illuminates his insights with code examples drawn from a complete sample project. Written in C#, they're designed to be clear and useful to anyone who uses any object-oriented language including Java , C++, and Python. To facilitate deeper exploration, all code and extensive commit messages are available for download.
                Choose mindsets and processes that work, and escape bad metaphors that don't
                Use checklists to liberate yourself, improving outcomes with the skills you already have
                Get past “analysis paralysis” by creating and deploying a vertical slice of your application
                Counteract forces that lead to code rot and unnecessary complexity
                Master better techniques for changing code behavior
                Discover ways to solve code problems more quickly and effectively
                Think more productively about performance and security
        If you've ever suffered through bad projects or had to cope with unmaintainable legacy code, this guide will help you make things better next time and every time."

        Also, in general, I have been reading books like this which walk aboute the "CODE" model of "Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express":
        "Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential" by Tiago Forte []

        Again, nothing especially new there (especially for someone who took part in Doug Engelbart's Unrev-II Colloquium twenty years ago), but I like that Tiago Forte has put it all together in a nice package.

        It took me a while years back to realize that the original "Augment" by Doug Engelbart and associates shown in his 1968 "The Mother of All Demos" was mainly an outliner -- though with other important features as a multi-user system, including having an modifiable outline of its own source code. Some related free software for emacs users: []
        "Org Mode. Your life in plain text. A GNU Emacs major mode for keeping notes, authoring documents, computational notebooks, literate programming, maintaining to-do lists, planning projects, and more — in a fast and effective plain text system. Org is a highly flexible structured plain text file format, composed of a few simple, yet versatile, structures — constructed to be both simple enough for the novice and powerful enough for the expert. "

        The biggest challenge of the 21st century: the irony of technologies of abundance used by scarcity-minded people.
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Snotnose on Sunday August 07, @08:23PM

        by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday August 07, @08:23PM (#1265459)

        This was my biggest problem with piss poor managers. When I'm programming I've got 5-7 things in my head, pull me out of my space and it's all gone. Takes me 20-30 minutes to get back to where I was. If I have a scheduled meeting or somesuch I can wind them down such that I can pick up my train of thought quickly. But when a "manager" pokes their head into my office and wants something, that stack in my brain is toast.

        I had a micro-manager some 20 years ago that I finally convinced to use email to ask her stupid little piddling questions, which is all she ever asked. For whatever reason email doesn't pull me out of my flow. I got an email question from her, replied to it, then she poked her head in my office "did you get my email?". Boom! goes the stack in my head.

        She was by far the worst manager I've have in 40+ years of software development.

        This is not a slam on female managers, I've had several who were fine.

        Also not a slam on software. I play PBEM (Starweb, Galaxy) games, when processing a turn I've got a stack of stuff in my brain. Took me 6 months to teach the new wife to not bug me when I was doing a turn.

        The Word Of the Day (WOD) is finicky. As in, "sharks avoid the sewage discharge pipe because they make their finicky".
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Mojibake Tengu on Saturday August 06, @07:30AM

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) Subscriber Badge on Saturday August 06, @07:30AM (#1265240) Journal

    Do not forget about the legendary Taiwanese clone of TRS-80: Video Genie EG 3003.

    Perfectly compatible with original Tandy (games!), cheap, easy to obtain even in communist Eastern Europe (I knew a guy who bartered one for a Škoda car) and in many aspects better than original.

    Operating systems: TRSDOS from TRS-80 was rather blunt, but EG had more advanced NEWDOS2000 and later CP/M. And the first miraculous concept of spreadsheet: VisiCalc.

    As a teenager, I had access to these machines at several scientific institutions and wrote lot of lab software for them, exclusively in Z80 assembly.
    Also, knew several electronics engineers who adapted some big machinery from mainframes and mini computers, like real disk drives, 8'' industrial floppy drives, printers, assorted laboratory equipment and so.
    We did lot of changes to original ROM, fixing bugs, added hardware character generator for display and so.
    One guy even designed interface to connect EG to video recorder Philips Video 2000 system, and this contraption was able to write and read blocks of 256 bytes long per frame on video tape, with 4-6 hours tapes that was absolute huge storage capacity for laboratory data. Though seek time was, well, in minutes with very fast forward... [] []

    What I have learned those pioneering days about software for life: The dissasembler is my best friend.

    The edge of 太玄 cannot be defined, for it is beyond every aspect of design
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Revek on Saturday August 06, @08:40AM

    by Revek (5022) on Saturday August 06, @08:40AM (#1265244)

    Only class in high school I ever had over a hundred percent in. For my final grade I made a game that was really similar to the kroz games that were made a few years later. My teacher gave me a hundred percent on it even though it had several bugs due to the fact that I used peek and poke statements to draw to the screen. Years later I admitted it to him and he said that was okay since he had never had anyone use peek and poke in a program before or after me. I spent most of my time in that class my final year porting games from computer magazines that were all written for other computers.

    Damn I'm old.

    This page was generated by a Swarm of Roaming Elephants
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by istartedi on Saturday August 06, @05:18PM (2 children)

    by istartedi (123) on Saturday August 06, @05:18PM (#1265304) Journal


    They were among the many machines I desired, but we didn't get one and somehow I never got exposed to them in school or at anybody else's house. Our school had Atari-800s, and even NEC 8-bit micros but no TRSs.

    Just looked it up--apparently 8-bit Ataris outsold the TRSs by 2 to 1 over their lifetime. I don't know what RS's market share was, but Commodore 64s alone sold at least 12-17 million units (not sure why the range is such a wide estimate) vs. 2.4 million for the entire run of TRS models.

    This machine is remembered though. There must have been a floor model in every Radio Shak, and it was probably advertised heavily also.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by sjames on Saturday August 06, @10:15PM

      by sjames (2882) on Saturday August 06, @10:15PM (#1265353) Journal

      The TRS-80 was the affordable micro in 1977. Atari 800 wasn't out for another 2 years. The Apple cost more than twice as much. The PET was in between but didn't have nearly the exposure of the TRS-80 displayed in every Radio Shack in every mall.

      Other options quickly eclipsed it in a price range that mere mortals could talk their parents into buying.

      It's hard to believe so few years passed between RS selling one of the first home computers you didn't have to mail order and solder yourself and "You have questions, we have cellphones".

    • (Score: 2) by The Vocal Minority on Sunday August 07, @05:43AM

      by The Vocal Minority (2765) on Sunday August 07, @05:43AM (#1265391) Journal

      Came for the Trash-80 joke, left satisfied...