Friday, May 31, 2013

My "New" TRS-80 Model 4D

In addition to old video game consoles, I'm also interested in old computers. I don't exactly collect them per se, but if I come across a particularly great deal I rarely pass it up. Last Friday I came across one such deal and have now added a TRS-80 Model 4D to my collection.

First, a very brief background on the TRS-80 line.

Tandy entered the personal computer market in August 1977 when they produced one of the first commercial home computers in the TRS-80 Micro Computer System (Model 1) which they sold through their Radio Shack stores at a retail cost of $599 - about half the price of its direct competitors the Apple II and the Commodore PET. The name itself was a shortened representation of the manufacturer and the processor - "TRS" referred to Tandy-Radio Shack and "-80" referred to the Zilog Z80 CPU which ran the computer at a blistering speed of 1.77 MHz - faster than the 1MHz chips used by the PET and Apple II. Arguably the first affordable commercial home computer, the TRS-80 went on to become extremely successful for several years.

Fast-forward 6 years (I'm skipping over the Model 2, Model 3 and Color Computers) to April 1983 when Tandy released the TRS-80 Model 4 at a basic retail price of $1,990. The system was a true all-in-one unit with a built in monochrome monitor, keyboard and two on-board 5 1/4" floppy disk drives. It ran off an upgraded Z80A CPU at a speed of 4 MHz and came standard with 64K RAM.

Then in late 1985 they released mine - the "Tandy TRS-80 Model 4D Microcomputer System" - as the final model in the TRS-80 line at a retail price of $1199. Might sound a little pricey, but it was $800 cheaper than the basic Model 4 just two years earlier. Plus it came bundled with DeskMate!  By the mid-80's there was a lot more competition in the home computer market so the TRS-80 line died out with the 4D.

I found the ad below in the January 1987 edition of 80 Micro the #1 magazine for Tandy users.

I don't really know the going price on these things these days, but I noticed someone on eBay is trying to sell one for just under the original retail price at $999.99.  I bought mine from a local Houstonian for the bargain basement price of only $10.  It's in great shape and seems to work just fine.

I couldn't find any old video of the Model 4D, but here is an old Radio Shack commercial I found for the Model 4 which is pretty close to the same thing.

The Model 4D is backwards-compatible with Model 1 and 3 software (don't ask about the Model 2) and actually even has a built-in Model 3 mode where it boots up from an internal Model 3 ROM and the CPU operates at half-speed at 2MHz to accurately run any Model 3 software.

As far I can tell, the main hardware difference in the Model 4D versus the original Model 4 was that the two disk drives were double-sided (thus the "D" designation presumably?) instead of single-sided and the monitor was a cool green-phosphor display instead of the boring white phosphor of the original Model 4 (later Model 4's also had the green display).

I just love the way this thing looks - like it was plucked out of an old science-fiction movie or a cold-war missile silo just waiting for launch codes. I was entertained by just goofing around with it for a while but ultimately my interest always turns to games. The 4D has the brain power to run some nice arcade games but unfortunately didn't come stock with much in the way of graphical power and sound as it targeted the more serious business user and was never really intended to be a gaming computer. But with the compact all-in-one footprint, the great retro clicky feel of the keyboard, and that wonderful bright green text it seemed a perfect gaming platform to satisfy my love of old text adventure games.Unfortunately it appears these old TRS-80 adventure games are apparently pretty rare and the ones I found on eBay were fairly expensive with prices starting at over $50 and several in the hundreds. One extreme example was a rare complete boxed edition of the original Zork, which debuted on personal computers in 1980 on the TRS-80 Model 1 - that recently sold on eBay for a whopping $1,500!!  Definitely too rich for my blood, but cool Zorkian artwork with the warrior with the glowing sword, the white house with the mailbox, the forest and the mountains. I'll never own it, but I like it.

There is still a loose disk of the TRS-80 Zork on eBay now for $150.

OK, I won't be buying the TRS-80 Zork anytime soon, but I am now officially on the lookout for some other text adventures that are actually affordable or some other cheap TRS-80 games to try out, or even better to start with, a big box of backup disks. If anyone out there happens to have played any TRS-80 games I'd be happy to hear some recommendations.  But for now although it looks really cool, until I get a game or two I'm only able to play DeskMate, and that game is kind of boring.

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Mik said...

Pretty nice! I'd really want one of these :) Oh, and I'll come up with something similar someday soon :)

MadPlanet said...

Hi there Mik, been a while, thanks for stopping by. I just also picked up a piece of hardware that will finally allow me to check out some software on this thing other than the Deskmate it came with. OH and I FINALLY picked up a Sega Master System a while back to. You know I'd been looking for one of those for a while. Catch ya later!

Fallguy40 said...

Nice buy! Too bad the software is so much more expensive than the computer. I love a clicky keyboard.

Is that a grue lurking behind the adventurer on that box art?

Mik said...

Whooo-hooo! Finally! I hope you'll enjoy your time with Wonder Boy III and Mickey Mouse (and dozens of other cartridges as well) :)

MadPlanet said...

Hey FallGuy thanks for stopping in! Yeah I guess the ol' clicky keys are kind of reminiscent of your old Mac keyboard as well although I think these are taller/stand out more. And yes I can only assume that is the ever-elusive grue making a rare daylight appearance. Looks a bit like the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon AND real).

MadPlanet said...

I plan to do just that Mik. So far I only have two cartridges - the Outrun cart it came with and a Choplifter cart I picked up at a pinball festival. I'm guessing you've probably played both - great old games!

Mik said...

Yeah, Choplifter is particulary good, and if you need a more specific buylist don't hesitate to ask, I'd be happy to help :)

MadPlanet said...

Hey Mik, I'm always interested in hearing people's favorites on systems. And I'm kicking around the idea of buying a Master System multicart that I found. So what would you say are your top 10 or so faves on the Master System?

Mik said...

I'm glad to see you're so interested in MS :)

So, a brief top ten would include (in random order):

1) Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap, definitive Action RPG, far better than Zelda II imho;

2) Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, colorful and very playable platform;

3) Zillion, a solid metroid-esque adventure;

4) Fantasy Zone, acid and funny shooter with great graphics and nice mechanics;

5) California Games, probably the best version out there (and this includes 16 bit consoles/computers);

6) Sonic Chaos, very good entry in the series;

7) Master of Darkness (aka Vampire), often ignored Castlevania clone, and a pretty good one;

8) Golden Axe Warrior, very involving bird-view RPG (might be hard to find the original cart);

9) Enduro Racer, simplistic but addicting motocross game;

10) Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sega's response to Mario, not as good as the Italian plumber but great game nonetheless.

Other notable games would be Hang-On, World Grand Prix, Golden Axe, other Sonic/Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck games, Astro Warrior, Phantasy Star, Super Space Invaders, Prince of Persia and many others :)

MadPlanet said...

Excellent - thanks for the list and the summary details Mik! I'll make a proper post on here pretty soon and let you know what I think about some of them. I'm particularly intrigued by Summer Games since you said it was the best version out there? Bold words my friend!

MadPlanet said... meant California Games... I used to play Summer Games on my C64 so that's the one I always think of

Mik said...

I'm looking forward to you report :) And Summer Games (also by Epyx) is also nice on Master System :)