Wednesday, 23 September 2020

TRS-80 Color Computer (1980)

Introduced September 1980

The original TRS-80 (launched in 1977) was one of the “holy trinity” of early consumer-friendly microcomputers along with the Apple II and Commodore PET. Capable though the original was, it lacked colour and sound which was what the next-generation of home micros would provide, so in September 1980 Tandy Radio Shack launched the TRS-80 Color Computer.

It had almost nothing in common with the original TRS-80 Model I except for the name. Crucially the Color Computer (often called the “CoCo”) didn’t have the Z80 processor that gave the “80” to the Model I’s name but instead it included a Motorola 6809. Indeed, the whole thing was more Motorola than Tandy – the basis of the CoCo was a Motorola-designed Videotex terminal which Tandy joined in to manufacture and market.

TRS-80 Color Computer 1

The 6809 was a bit more sophisticated than the Z80 and the rival 6502, and the more powerful Motorola 68000 was still an expensive and rather niche device. This was combined with a Motorola MC6847 graphics chip and there was an optional sound and speech cartridge.

Although the CoCo had pretty powerful graphics capabilities it was complex to get the most out of them, and the machine had some odd quirks such as being unable to display pure white and lacking lowercase character support. At launch the CoCo had 4, 16 or 32KB of RAM but later models shipped in 16 or 64KB configurations, and the last series of Color Computers could support up to 512KB.. and wonder of wonders, even lowercase text.

Over eleven years the hardware evolved somewhat with three distinct series of computers being made with different case colours, detailing and keyboards. The third and last series had improved graphics, built-in software and better support for peripherals. The larger memory allowed the sophisticated OS-9 operating system to run which brought a modern operating system to this fairly simple 8-bit machine.

TRS-80 Color Computer 2

Production ended in 1991, which wasn’t bad for an 8-bit machine. It was more popular in North America than in Europe, but the same Motorola reference platform emerged in the somewhat CoCo-compatible Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 a few years later.

For collectors, the CoCo isn’t an expensive buy and is commonly available in the US, however those run on a different voltage and have different video standards to European ones. Plenty of software emulators are available if you fancy tinkering on more modern hardware.

Image credits:
Adam Jenkins via Flickr - CC BY 2.0 - [1] [2]

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