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Tandy 102 proto-laptop still alive and beeping after 30 years, complete with AA batteries

Eight lines of text. 40 characters per line. Glorious grey LCDs. PLUS: C64 redux!

By Darren Pauli, 17 Feb 2016

Runtime Readers' tales of very old computers keep rolling in, so we'll keep rolling them out at you. We even gave ourselves a name for this silliness: Runtime.

The last week's most interesting inbox insertion was news of a Tandy 102 that's still alive and kicking and helping reader “Ed” to stay alive and kicking too.

The 102 is a member of the TRS-80 family, the PC that Tandy Corporation introduced in 1977. The TRS-80, known as the “Trash Eighty” by snooty Commodore 64 fanbois, started life as a desktop computer. Several models adopted the all-in-one shape made popular by the Commodore Pet and a “luggable” even made it into the range.

Tandy eventually decided that the thrusting young executive types of the early 1980s wanted something rather more portable when they took the elevators to the upper reaches of Nakatomi Plaza, so acquired the rights to Japanese company Kyocera's Kyotronic 85. The anglosphere's version was launched as the TRS-80 Model 100 and gave users a full keyboard and eight-line, 40-characters per line screen in glorious grey-on-grey.

A 2.4MHz Intel 80C85 hummed along inside, sipping so little power that the machine was powered by a quartet of AA batteries. An on-board backup battery made sure the data in the machines' RAM – you could have between 8 and 32 kilobytes – remained safe.

The Model 100 is often considered a proto-laptop and sold about six million units. Later upgrades adopted the clamshell form factor so common today, but there were also upgrades to the flat-format machines. And one of those was the Tandy 102 that Ed still possesses today.

The 102 debuted in 1986, was thinner and lighter than its predecessors and offered 24 kilobytes as its minimum memory specification.

So what's Ed using it for? As an alarm clock, natch.

“It's just a beeper, but it works well enough for me,” he wrote. He's also used the machine “as a catalog of CDs stored in CD changer cartridges via a custom BASIC application but that became obsolete when I swapped my JVC 6+1 changer for a 200-disc Kenwood unit with a CDDB interface.”

Another vintage machine that caught our eye this week was a Commodore 64, gutted for use as a keyboard.

The user is an outfit called SteelOwl which offers a “room adventure” in Philadelphia, USA. The aim of this meatspace game is to escape from a room by solving several puzzles that dwell within, one of which requires players “to enter in clues they find on VHS tapes in a pretend 1980s video store.”

The application isn't running on the C64, but the old machine's chassis is intact so it feel like players are bashing away at the machine's much-better-than-a-ZX-Spectrum keyboard.

Steelowl's obtained a USB adapter for the C64 from Britain's Tynemouth Software which charges 40 quid for the kit, in case others out there fancy pressing a C64 into service. Tynemouth Software claim their kit can even connect a Commodore 16 keyboard. The Commodore what? The 16 was the heir to the Vic 20, but flopped just about everywhere. Wikipedia claims the machine went on to be Big in Hungary, a market Commodore chose as a dumping ground for the computer,

But we digress. If you've something older, or odder, than Ed's Tandy 102 let me know and you may appear in a future edition of Runtime. Or use that link to suggest a better name for this column. We considered “Uptime Funk”, FWIW. ®

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