Home computer is 33 today

Today in 1977 Tandy, an electronics outfit from the former Mexican state of Texas announced that it was going to make the first mass-produced home computer, the TRS-80.

How the press laughed. After all a computer was something which was as big as a house, you wouldn’t want one in your living room, even if your living room was that big. The tech press had seen stuff coming from Apple and Commodore but these were only affordable for businesses.

The first TRS-80s were rolled out to the stores the third week of December 1977 and the home computer gave the flagging Radio Shack, which was dying along with the CB fad,  a new lease of life. But that was probably because of the TRS-80’s killer spec.

It had 4 KB of RAM, which if you stuck go faster stripes on it, and my flatmates did, could be expanded to a whopping 16 KB.

It shipped with a 12-inch, colour don’t make me laugh monitor, a built-in cassette-based data recorder and BASIC interpreter. Available software was Blackjack and Backgammon.

The Model I cost $600 which in total would be worth about $2,160 in today’s cash. The only downside to the thing was you needed three power points to get it all going. Well, that and the fact it screwed up any other electronic gadgets you stuck near it. The Model I had to be withdrawn because it was determined to violate FCC regulations.

PCs had been around for a while – HP, IBM and Wang had personal computers out in the early 1970s. There were also the Apple I and II on the market but these were worth $1298 (with 4 kB of RAM) and $2638 (with the maximum 48 kB of RAM) .

The Commodore 64, the best-selling single home personal computer model of all time was years away. The Commodore Pet was still a glorified calculator until the 1980s.

At the time Radio Shack hoped to sell 600 to 1,000 Model I TRS-80s in the first year. You had to pre-order and put down a $100 deposit.

However it ended up taking 10,000 orders in the first month and it took months before one arrived. Radio Shack sold 200,000 units in four years. 

What made it so successful, other than the price, was the fact that there was so much software for it.  Most of it typed in by people with too much time on their hands.  Still there are many people who owe their careers to the TRS-80.