Most computer and IT people are familiar with the earliest desktop PC’s most notable the Macintosh by Apple and the IBM PC XT and AT. For many users these two companies are synonymous with the world’s first desktop personal computers and compatible software for these systems. However, some may debate as to whether these systems were the world’s first home PC’s or just the first to be successful.

PCS Lighting Control

In fact, it can be rather difficult to determine just who invented the first PC. Many believe it to be radio Shack’s TRS-80. Others have debated this stating that the Radio Shack TRS-80 was developed to compete with Commodore PET computers.

Well, the part about competing with Commodore was true. Radio Shack’s Tandy Corporation division developed the TRS-80 as a head-to-head competitor with the Commodore PET. The Commodore PET was a somewhat cumbersome personal computer with a monochrome monitor and a cassette deck built to load games and programs. The TRS-80 was Tandy Corporations desktop microcomputer model line and was sold through Tandy’s Radio Shack stores in the late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s. Hobbyists, home users, and small Businesses were the intended consumers, and the endearment of the TRS-80 computer by those who used the machine resulted in a successful venture for Tandy Corporation. The TRS-80 strengths were its use of a full stroke QWERTY keyboard, small size, well written Floating BASIC and its came with a monitor all for $599. One major drawback of the TRS-80 was the massive RF interference which was never solved and was a violation of FCC regulations.

Announced at a press conference on August 3, 1977 by Tandy Corporation, the Radio Shack TRS-80 Microcomputer (later re-designated the Model 1) was Tandy’s entry into the home computer market, meant to compete against Commodore PET and the Apple II. With a price tag of $599 for a complete package including cassette storage, the computer was the most expensive single product Tandy’s Radio Shack chain of electronics stores ever offered. Company management was unsure of the computer’s market appeal, and intentionally kept the initial production run to 3,000 units so that, if the computer failed to sell, it could at least be used for accounting purposed within the chain’s 3,000 stores.

Tandy ended up selling 10,000 the first month and 55,000 its first year. Before its January 1981 discontinuation, Tandy sold more than 250,000 Model 1’s.

The Model I combined the motherboard and keyboard into one unit, in what was to be a common case design trend throughout the 8 and 16 bit microcomputer era, although it had a separate power supply unit. The Tandy TRS-80 used a Zilog Z80 processor clocked at 1.77 MHZ. The basic model shipped with 4KB of RAM, which was later expanded to 16 KB when Tandy saw promising sales.

At the height of TRS-80 sales, many computer users who had worked with the TRS-80 noticed many of the technical and aesthetic shortcomings of this early microcomputer. Thus, the nickname “Trash 80” came about. The nickname is a bit harsh for the machine which was still new to the microcomputer world and which Tandy was still ironing out bugs. However, the TRS-80 did suffer numerous design and programming flaws. Many users complained about the TRS-80 keyboards which were mechanical switches and suffered from “ keyboard bounce” resulting in multiple letters being typed accidentally. A Keyboard De-Bounce tape was distributed and this software was added to a later ROM revision. The keyboard was also changed to be less vulnerable to bounce.

…………to be continued

Next Classic Home Toys Installment : More on the TRS-80