The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer launched in 1977 and sold by Tandy Corporation through their RadioShack stores. The name is an abbreviation of Tandy/RadioShack, Z80 microprocessor. It is one of the earliest mass-produced and mass-marketed retail home computers.
TRS-80 Model I with Expansion Interface
|Release date||August 3, 1977|
|Units sold||100,000+ (As of October 1979)|
|Operating system||TRSDOS, NewDos/80|
|CPU||Zilog Z80 @ 1.774 MHz|
|Memory||4 KB ~ 48 KB|
The TRS-80 has a full-stroke QWERTY keyboard, the Zilog Z80 processor (rather than the more common Intel 8080), 4 KB DRAM standard memory (when many 8-bit computers shipped with only 1 KB RAM), small size and desk footprint, floating-point BASIC programming language, standard 64-character/line video monitor, and a starting price of US$600 (equivalent to US$2500 in 2018).
An extensive line of upgrades and add-on hardware peripherals for the TRS-80 was developed and marketed by Tandy/RadioShack. The basic system can be expanded with up to 48 KB of RAM (in 16 KB increments), and up to four floppy disk drives and/or hard disk drives. Tandy/RadioShack provided full-service support including upgrade, repair, and training services in their thousands of stores worldwide.
By 1979, the TRS-80 had the largest selection of software in the microcomputer market. Until 1982, the TRS-80 was the best-selling PC line, outselling the Apple II series by a factor of five according to one analysis.
In mid-1980, the broadly compatible TRS-80 Model III was released. The Model I was discontinued shortly thereafter, primarily due to stricter FCC regulations on radio-frequency interference to nearby electronic devices. In April 1983 the Model III was succeeded by the compatible TRS-80 Model 4.
Following the original Model I and its compatible descendants, the TRS-80 name later became a generic brand used on other technically unrelated computer lines sold by Tandy, including the TRS-80 Model II, TRS-80 Model 2000, TRS-80 Model 100, TRS-80 Color Computer and TRS-80 Pocket Computer.
In the mid-1970s, Tandy Corporation's RadioShack division was a successful American chain of more than 3,000 electronics stores. Among the Tandy employees who purchased a MITS Altair kit computer was buyer Don French, who began designing his own computer and showed it to vice president of manufacturing John Roach, Tandy's former electronic data processing manager. Although the design did not impress Roach, the idea of selling a microcomputer did. When the two men visited National Semiconductor in California in mid-1976, Homebrew Computer Club member Steve Leininger's expertise on the SC/MP microprocessor impressed them. National executives refused to provide Leininger's contact information when French and Roach wanted to hire him as a consultant, but they found Leininger working part-time at Byte Shop. Leininger was unhappy at National, his wife wanted a better job, and Texas did not have a state income tax. Hiring him for his technical and retail experience, Leininger and French began working together in June 1976. The company envisioned a kit, but Leininger persuaded the others that because "too many people can't solder", a preassembled computer would be better.
Tandy had 11 million customers that might buy a microcomputer, but it would be much more expensive than the US$30 median price of a RadioShack product, and a great risk for the very conservative company. Executives feared losing money as Sears did with Cartrivision, and many opposed the project; one executive told French, "Don't waste my time—we can't sell computers." As the popularity of CB radio—at one point comprising more than 20% of RadioShack's sales—declined, however, the company sought new products. In December 1976 French and Leininger received official approval for the project but were told to emphasize cost savings; for example, leaving out lowercase characters saved US$1.50 in components and reduced the retail price by US$5. The original US$199 retail price required manufacturing cost of US$80; the first design had a membrane keyboard and no video monitor. Leininger persuaded Roach and French to include a better keyboard; it, a monitor, datacassette storage, and other features required a higher retail price to provide Tandy's typical profit margin. In February 1977 they showed their prototype, running a simple tax-accounting program, to Charles Tandy, head of Tandy Corporation. The program quickly crashed as the computer could not handle the US$150,000 figure that Tandy typed in as his salary, and the two men added support for floating-point math to its Tiny BASIC to prevent a recurrence. The project was formally approved on 2 February 1977; Tandy revealed that he had already leaked the computer's existence to the press. When first inspecting the prototype, he remarked that even if it did not sell, the project could be worthy if only for the publicity it might generate.
MITS sold 1,000 Altairs in February 1975, and was selling 10,000 a year. When Tandy asked who would buy the computer, company president Lewis Kornfeld admitted that they did not know if anyone would, but suggested that small businesses and schools might. Knowing that demand was very strong for the US$795 Altair—which cost more than $1,000 with a monitor—Leininger suggested that RadioShack could sell 50,000 computers, but no one else believed him; Roach called the figure "horseshit", as the company had never sold that many of anything at that price. Roach and Kornfeld suggested 1,000 to 3,000 per year; 3,000 was the quantity the company would have to produce to buy the components in bulk. Roach persuaded Tandy to agree to build 3,500—the number of RadioShack stores—so that each store could use a computer for inventory purposes if they did not sell. RCA agreed to supply the monitor—a black-and-white television with the tuner and speakers removed—after others refused because of Tandy's low initial volume of production. Tandy used its black-and-silver colors for the TRS-80.
Having spent less than US$150,000 on development, RadioShack announced the TRS-80 (Tandy RadioShack) at a New York City press conference on August 3, 1977. It cost US$399 ($1650 today), or US$599 ($2477 today) with a 12" monitor and a RadioShack tape recorder; the most expensive product RadioShack previously sold was a US$500 stereo. The company hoped that the new computer would help RadioShack sell higher-priced products, and improve its "schlocky" image among customers. Small businesses were the primary target market, followed by educators, then consumers and hobbyists; despite its hobbyist customer base, RadioShack saw them as "not the mainstream of the business" and "never our large market".
Although the press conference did not receive much media attention because of a terrorist bombing elsewhere in the city, the computer received much more publicity at the Personal Computer Faire in Boston two days later. A front-page Associated Press article discussed the novelty of a large consumer-electronics company selling a home computer that could "do a payroll for up to 15 people in a small business, teach children mathematics, store your favorite recipes or keep track of an investment portfolio. It can also play cards". Six sacks of mail arrived at Tandy headquarters asking about the computer, over 15,000 people called to purchase a TRS-80—paralyzing the company switchboard—and 250,000 joined the waiting list with a $100 deposit.
Despite the internal skepticism, RadioShack aggressively entered the market. The company advertised "The $599 personal computer" as "the most important, useful, exciting, electronic product of our time". Kornfeld stated when announcing the TRS-80, "This device is inevitably in the future of everyone in the civilized world—in some way—now and so far as ahead as one can think", and Tandy's 1977 annual report called the computer "probably the most important product we've ever built in a company factory". Unlike competitor Commodore—which had announced the PET several months earlier but had not yet shipped any—Tandy had its own factories (capable of producing 18,000 computers a month) and distribution network, and even small towns had RadioShack stores. The company announced plans to be selling by Christmas a range of peripherals and software for the TRS-80, began shipping computers by September, opened its first computer-only store in October, and delivered 5,000 computers to customers by December. Still forecasting 3,000 sales a year, RadioShack sold over 10,000 TRS-80s Model Is in its first one and a half months of sales, 55,000 in its first year, and over 200,000 during the product's lifetime;:4 one entered the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. By mid-1978 the waits of two months or more for delivery were over, and the company could state in advertisements that TRS-80 was "on demonstration and available from stock now at every RadioShack store in this community!".
The first units, ordered unseen, were delivered in November 1977, and rolled out to the stores the third week of December. The line won popularity with hobbyists, home users, and small-businesses. Tandy Corporation's leading position in what Byte Magazine called the "1977 Trinity" (Apple, Commodore and Tandy) had much to do with Tandy's retailing the computer through more than 3,000 of its RadioShack storefronts in the USA. Tandy claimed it had "7000 [RadioShack] stores in 40 countries". The pre-release price for the basic system (CPU/keyboard and video monitor) was US$500 and a US$50 deposit was required, with a money-back guarantee at time of delivery.
By 1978, Tandy/RadioShack promoted itself as "The Biggest Name in Little Computers". By 1980 InfoWorld described RadioShack as "the dominant supplier of small computers". Kilobaud Microcomputing estimated that it was selling three times as many computers as Apple Computer, with both companies ahead of Commodore. By 1979 1,600 employees built computers in six factories. By 1981 hundreds of small companies produced TRS-80 software and accessories, and Adam Osborne described Tandy as "the number-one microcomputer manufacturer" despite having "so few roots in microcomputing". Roach became Tandy's CEO that year, Leininger became director of strategic planning, and French founded a software company. Selling computers did not change the company's "schlocky" image; the RadioShack name embarrassed business customers, and Tandy executives disliked the "Trash-80" nickname for its products. By 1984 computers accounted for 35% of sales, however, and the company had 500 Tandy RadioShack Computer Centers.
Following the Model III launch in mid-1980 Tandy stated that the Model I was still sold, but it was discontinued by the end of the year. Tandy cited one of the main reasons as being the prohibitive cost of redesigning it to meet stricter FCC regulations covering the significant levels of radio-frequency interference emitted by the original design. The Model I radiated so much interference that, while playing games, an AM radio placed next to the computer could be used to provide sounds. Radio Shack offered upgrades (double density floppy controller, LDOS, memory, reliable keyboard with numeric keypad, lowercase, Level II, RS-232C) as late as 1985.
The Model I combines the mainboard and keyboard into one unit, which became a design trend in the 8-bit microcomputer era, although the Model I has a separate power supply unit. It uses a Zilog Z80 processor clocked at 1.78 MHz (later models shipped with a Z80A). The initial Level I machines shipped in late 1977-early 1978 have only 4k of RAM. After the Expansion Interface and Level II BASIC were introduced in mid-1978, RAM configurations of 16k and up were offered (the first 16k was in the Model I itself and the remaining RAM in the EI).
The OS ROMs, I/O area, video memory and OS work space occupy the first 16 kB of memory space on the Model I. The remaining 48 kB of the 64 kB memory map space is available for program use, subject to the amount of physical RAM installed. Although the Z80 CPU can use port-based I/O, the Model I's I/O is memory-mapped aside from the cassette tape and RS-232 serial ports.
The TRS-80 Model I keyboard uses mechanical switches that suffer from "keyboard bounce", resulting in multiple letters being typed per keystroke. The problem was described in Wayne Green's editorial in the first issue of 80 Micro. Dirt, cigarette smoke, or other contamination enters the unsealed key switches, causing electrical noise that the computer detects as multiple presses. The key switches can be cleaned, but the bounce recurs when the keyboard is reexposed to the contaminating environment.
Keyboard bounce only occurs in Model I computers with Level II BASIC firmware; Level I BASIC has a "debounce" delay to the keyboard driver to avoid the noisy switch contacts. Tandy's
KBFIX utility, the Model III, the last Model I firmware, and most third-party operating systems also implement the software fix, and Tandy changed the keyboard during the Model III's lifetime to an Alps Electric design with sealed switches. The Alps keyboard was available as an upgrade for the Model I for $79.
The keyboard is memory mapped so that certain locations in the processor's memory space correspond to the status of a group of keys.
Video and audioEdit
The color of the 12" RCA monitor's text is faintly blue (the standard P4 phosphor used in black-and white televisions). Green and amber filters, or replacement tubes to reduce eye fatigue were popular aftermarket items. Later models came with a green-on-black display.
Complaints about the video display quality were common. As Green wrote, "hells bells, [the monitor] is a cheap black and white television set with a bit of conversion for computer use". (The computer could be purchased without the RadioShack monitor.) CPU access to the screen memory causes visible flicker. The bus arbitration logic blocks video display refresh (video RAM reads) during CPU writes to the VRAM, causing a short black line. This has little effect on normal BASIC programs, but fast programs made with assembly language can be affected. Software authors worked to minimize the effect, and many arcade-style games are available for the Tandy TRS-80.
Because of bandwidth problems in the interface card that replaced the TV's tuner, the display loses horizontal sync if large areas of white are displayed. A simple half-hour hardware fix corrects the problem.
Like the Apple II, an unmodified Model I cannot display lowercase letters. The standard character generator has 64 graphics symbols and 64 upper case alphanumeric symbols. The video RAM uses 2102 SRAM chips, which are 1Kb x 1, but the PCB has seven installed, allowing only 128 characters (graphic or alphanumeric) to be displayed (0 to 127). Leaving out an eighth chip saved $1 in manufacturing costs, which would have increased the purchase price of the computer. By installing an eighth 2102 (done by piggybacking it onto chip #7), it is possible to display all 256 characters (which includes lowercase letters). The 1978 manual for the popular word processor Electric Pencil came with instructions for modifying the computer. Although the modification needs to be disabled for Level II BASIC, its design became the industry standard and was widely sold in kit form, along with an eighth 2102 chip with descenders for the lowercase letters. Later models came with the hardware for the lowercase character set to be displayed with descenders.
Since there is only 1k of video RAM, the Model I's display has 64x16 characters instead of the more common 40x25 or 80x25. Both 64x16 and 32x16 video modes are supported, which is in contrast to 40x25 used by Apple and 80x24 used by some dumb terminals. The choice of 64x16 was part in economics, part in physics and part in usability. To support 80x24, twice as much static ram would be required (7 additional RAM chips, 9 chips total with the extra address decoding needed), plus there was no room on the board to put any extra chips. The Model I was originally intended to be used with a user supplied black-and-white television. With no color burst signal and with the RF stage skipped, a black-and-white TV easily displays up to 64 columns well, but 80 columns would create an unviewable image. With 1K of RAM address space, a maximum of 16 lines is possible. From a usability standpoint, 16 lines of 64 characters are more versatile than 24 lines of 40 characters, as 64 characters is the full width of a typewritten page (at the typical typewriter's 10 characters per inch with 1 inch page borders commonly used at the time).
With higher density RAM chips and dedicated purpose build monitors, higher resolution crisp displays are obtainable; 80x24 character displays are available in the Model II, Model 4, and later systems.
The Model I has no built-in speaker. Square wave tones can be produced by outputting data to the cassette port and plugging an amplifier into the cassette "Mic" line. Most games use this ability for sound effects. An adapter was available to use Atari joysticks.
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Cassette tape driveEdit
User data was originally stored on cassette tape. RadioShack's model CTR-41 cassette recorder was included with the US$599 package.:3–4 The software-based cassette tape interface is slow and erratic; Green described it as "crummy ... drives users up the wall", and the first issue of 80 Micro had three articles on how to improve cassette performance. It is sensitive to audio volume, and the computer gives only a crude indication as to whether the correct volume was set, via a blinking character on screen while data is loaded. To find the correct volume at first use, the load is started and the volume is adjusted until the TRS-80 picked up the data. Then it is halted to rewind the tape and restart the load. Users were instructed to save multiple copies of a software program file, especially if audio tape cassettes instead of certified data tape was used. Automatic gain control or indicator circuits can be constructed to improve the loading process (the owner's manual provides complete circuit diagrams for the whole machine, including the peripheral interfaces, with notes on operation).
An alternative to using tape was data transmissions from the BBC's Chip Shop programme in the UK, which broadcast software for several different microcomputers over the radio. A special program was loaded using the conventional tape interface. Then the radio broadcast was connected to the cassette tape interface. Tandy eventually replaced the CTR-41 unit with the CTR-80 which had built-in AGC circuitry (and no volume control). This helped the situation, but tape operation is still unreliable.
TRS-80 Model I computers with Level I BASIC read and wrote tapes at 250 baud (about 30 bytes per second); Level II BASIC doubles this to 500 baud (about 60 bytes per second). Some programmers wrote machine-language programs that increases the speed to up to 2,000 bits per second without a loss of reliability on their tape recorders. With the Model III and improved electronics in the cassette interface, the standard speed increased to 1,500 baud that works quite reliably on most tape recorders.
For loading and storing data from tape, the CPU creates the sound by switching the output voltage between three states, creating crude sine wave audio.
The first version of the Model I also has a hardware problem that complicated loading programs from cassette recorders. Tandy offered a small board which was installed at a service center to correct the issue. The ROMs in later models were modified to correct this.
Model I Expansion interfaceEdit
Only the Model I uses an Expansion interface; all later models have everything integrated in the same housing.
The TRS-80 does not use the S-100 bus like other early 8080 and Z80-based computers. A proprietary Expansion Interface (E/I) box, which fits under the video monitor and served as its base, was offered instead. Standard features of the E/I are a floppy disk controller, Centronics parallel port for a printer, and additional cassette connector. Optionally, an extra 16 or 32 kB of RAM can be installed and a daughterboard with an RS-232 port. The 40-conductor expansion connector passes through to a card edge connector, which permits the addition of external peripherals such as an outboard hard disk drive, a voice synthesizer, or a VOXBOX voice recognition unit.
Originally, printing with the Model I requires the expansion interface, but later Tandy made an alternative parallel printer interface available.
The Model I Expansion Interface is the most troublesome part of the TRS-80 Model I system. It went through several revisions. The E/I connects to the CPU/keyboard with a 6-inch ribbon cable which is unshielded against RF interference and its card edge connector tends to oxidize due to its base metal contacts. This demands periodic cleaning with a pencil eraser in order to avoid spontaneous reboots, which contributes to its "Trash-80" sobriquet. Aftermarket connectors plated with gold solves this problem permanently. Software developers also responded by devising a recovery method which became a standard feature of many commercial programs. They accept an "asterisk parameter", an asterisk (star) character typed following the program name when the program is run from the TRSDOS Ready prompt. When used following a spontaneous reboot (or an accidental reset, program crash, or exit to TRSDOS without saving data to disk), the program loads without initializing its data area(s), preserving any program data still present from the pre-reboot session. Thus, for example, if a VisiCalc user suffers a spontaneous reboot, to recover data the user enters V+C+SPACE+✶ at TRSDOS Ready, and Visicalc restores the previous computing session intact.[note 2]
The power button on the E/I is difficult to operate as it is recessed so as to guard against the user accidentally hitting it and turning it off while in use. A pencil eraser or similar object is used to depress the power button and the E/I has no power LED, making it difficult to determine if it is running or not.
The expansion unit requires a second power supply, identical to the base unit power supply. An interior recess holds both supplies.
The user is instructed to power on and power off all peripherals in proper order to avoid corrupting data or potentially damaging hardware components. The manuals for the TRS-80 advise turning on the monitor first, then any peripherals attached to the E/I (if multiple disk drives are attached, the last drive on the chain is to be powered on first and work down from there), the E/I, and the computer last. When powering down, the computer is to be turned off first, followed by the monitor, E/I, and peripherals. In addition, users are instructed to remove all disks from the drives during power up or down (or else leave the drive door open to disengage the read/write head from the disk). This is because a transient electrical surge from the drive's read/write head would create a magnetic pulse that could corrupt data. This was a common problem on many early floppy drives.
The E/I displays a screen full of garbage characters on power up and unless a bootable system disk is present in Drive 0, it hangs there until the user either presses RESET on the back of the computer, which causes it to attempt to boot the disk again, or Break+Reset was pressed, which drops the computer into BASIC. Due to the above-mentioned problems with potentially corrupting disks, it is recommended to power up to the garbage screen with the disk drives empty, insert a system disk, and then hit RESET.
InfoWorld compared the cable spaghetti connecting the TRS-80 Model I's various components to the snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. RadioShack offered a "TRS-80 System Desk" that concealed nearly all the cabling. It can accommodate the complete computer system plus up to four floppy drives and the Quick Printer. Since the cable connecting the expansion interface carries the system bus, it is short (about 6 inches). The user has no choice but to place the E/I directly behind the computer with the monitor on top. This causes problems for a non-Tandy monitor whose case did not fit the mounting holes. Also, the friction fit of the edge connector on the already short interconnect cable makes it possible to disconnect the system bus from the CPU if either unit is bumped during operation.
Floppy disk drivesEdit
RadioShack introduced floppy drives in July 1978, about six months after the Model I went on sale. The Model I disk operating system TRSDOS was written by Randy Cook under license from RadioShack; Randy claimed to have been paid $3000 for it. The first version released to the public was a buggy v2.0. This was quickly replaced by v2.1. requires buying the Expansion Interface, which included a single-density floppy disk interface (with a formatted capacity of 85k) based on the Western Digital 1771 single-density floppy disk controller chip. The industry standard Shugart Associates SA-400 minifloppy disk drive was used. Four floppy drives can be daisy-chained to the Model I. The last drive in the chain is supposed to have a termination resistor installed but often it is not needed as it is integrated into later cables.
Demand for Model I drives greatly exceeded supply at first. The drive is unreliable, partly since the interface lacked an external data separator (buffer). The early version(s) of TRSDOS are also buggy, and not helped by the Western Digital FD1771 chip that cannot reliably report its status for several instruction cycles after it receives a command. A common method of handling the delay was to issue a command to the 1771, perform several "NOP" instructions, then query the 1771 for the result. Early TRSDOS neglects the required yet undocumented wait period, and thus false status often returns to the OS, generating random errors and crashes. Once the 1771 delay was implemented, it is fairly reliable.
A data separator and a double density disk controller (based on the WD 1791 chip) were made by Percom (a Texas peripheral vendor), LNW, Tandy and others. The Percom Doubler adds the ability to boot and use Double Density floppies using a Percom-modified TRSDOS called DoubleDOS. The LNDoubler adds the ability to read and write from 5¼" diskette drives for a total of 1.2 MB storage. Near the end of the Model I's lifespan in 1982, upgrades were offered to replace its original controller with a double density one.
The first disk drives offered on the Model I were Shugart SA-400s which supported 35 tracks and was the sole 5.25" drive on the market in 1977-78. By 1979, other manufacturers began offering drives. Models 3/4/4P uses Tandon TM-100 40-track drives. The combination of 40 tracks and double-density gives a capacity of 180 kilobytes per single-sided floppy disk. The use of index-sync means that a "flippy disk" requires a second index hole and write-enable notch. One could purchase factory-made "flippies". Some software publishers formatted one side for Apple systems and the other for the TRS-80.
The usual method of connecting floppy drives involves setting the drive letter via jumper blocks on the drive controller board, but Tandy opted for a slightly more user-friendly technique where all four select pins on the drives are jumpered and the ribbon cable is missing the Drive Select line. Thus, the user does not need to worry about moving jumpers around depending on which position on the chain a drive was in.
A standard flat floppy ribbon cable is usable on the Model I, in which case the drives is jumpered to their number on the chain, or even an IBM PC "twist" cable, which requires setting each drive number to 1, but only permits two drives on the chain.
Although third party DOSes allow the user to define virtually any floppy format wanted, the "lowest common denominator" format for TRS-80s is the baseline single density, single sided, 35-40 track format of the Model I.
Third-party vendors like Aerocomp made available double-sided and 80 track 5-1/4 inch and later 3-1/2 inch floppy drives with up to 720 KB of storage each. These new drives are half-height and therefore require different or modified drive housings.
Exatron Stringy FloppyEdit
An alternative to cassette tape and floppy disk storage was provided by Exatron. The device is a continuous loop tape drive, dubbed the "stringy floppy" or ESF. It requires no Expansion Interface, plugging directly into the TRS-80's 40-pin expansion bus, is much less expensive than a floppy drive, can read and write random-access data like a floppy drive unlike a cassette tape, and it transfers data at up to 14,400 baud. Exatron tape cartridges store over 64 KB of data. The ESF can coexist with the TRS-80 data cassette drive. It was popular with TRS-80 enthusiasts, selling over 4,000 units by 1981. Exatron also made a complementary RAM expansion board that installed in the TRS-80 keyboard to increase memory to 48 KB without the EI.
RadioShack introduced a 5 MB external hard disk for the TRS-80 Model III/4 in 1983. It is the same hard disk unit offered for the Model II line, but came with OS software for Model III/4. An adapter is required to connect it to the Model I's E/I. The unit is about the same size as a modern desktop computer enclosure. Up to four hard disks can be daisychained for 20 MB of storage. The LDOS operating system by Logical Systems was bundled, which provides utilities for managing the storage space and flexible backup. The initial retail price for the first (primary) unit (US$2495) is equivalent to US$6300 in 2018. Later, a 15MB hard disk was offered in a white case, which can be daisychained for up to 60 MB. Like most hard disks used on 8-bit machines, there is no provision for subdirectories, but the DiskDISK utility is a useful alternative that creates virtual hard disk ".DSK" files that can be mounted as another disk drive, and used like a subdirectory would. To display the directory/contents of an unmounted DiskDISK virtual disk file, a shareware DDIR "Virtual Disk Directory Utility" program was commonly used.
The "Quick Printer", is an electrostatic rotary printer that scans the video memory through the bus connector, and prints an image of the screen onto aluminum-coated paper in about one second. Unfortunately, it is incompatible with both the final, buffered version of the expansion interface, and with the "heartbeat" interrupt used for the real-time clock under Disk BASIC. This can be overcome by using special cabling, and by doing a "dummy" write to the cassette port while triggering the printer.
Two 3rd party printers were for 57 mm metal coated paper, selling for approximately DM 600 in Germany, and a dot-matrix printer built by Centronics for normal paper, costing at first DM 3000, later sold at approximately DM 1500 in some stores. It has only 7 pins, so letters with descenders such as lowercase "g" do not reach under the baseline, but are elevated within the normal line.
RadioShack offered an extensive line of printers for the TRS-80 family, ranging from basic 9-pin dot matrix units to large wide-carriage line printers for professional use, daisy-wheel printers, ink jet printers, laser printers and color plotters. All have a Centronics-standard interface and after the introduction of the Color Computer in 1980, many also had a connector for the CoCo's serial interface.
Three versions of the BASIC programming language were produced for the Model I. Level I BASIC fits in 4 KB of ROM, and Level II BASIC fits into 12 KB of ROM. Level I is single precision only and had a smaller set of commands. Level II introduced double precision floating point support and has a much wider set of commands. Level II was further enhanced when a disk system was added, allowing for the loading of Disk BASIC.
Level I BASIC is based on Li-Chen Wang's free Tiny BASIC with some additional functions added by RadioShack. It has an excellent manual—the User's Manual for Level 1 by David A. Lien—which presents lessons on programming with text and humorous cartoons, making the subjects very easy to understand. Lien wrote that it was "written specifically for people who don't know anything about computers ... I want you to have fun with your computer! I don't want you to be afraid of it, because there is nothing to fear". Level I BASIC has only two string variables (
B$), 26 numeric variables (
Z), and one array,
A(). Code for functions like SIN(), COS() and TAN() is not included in ROM but printed at the end of the book. The only error messages are "
WHAT?" for syntax errors, "
HOW?" for arithmetic errors such as division by zero, and "
SORRY" for out of memory errors.
Level I BASIC is not tokenized; reserved words are stored literally. In order to maximize the code that fits into 4K of memory, users can enter abbreviations for reserved words. For example, writing "
P." instead of "
Level II BASIC, introduced in mid-1978, was licensed from Microsoft and is required to use the expansion bus and disk drives. RadioShack always intended for Level I BASIC to be a stopgap until Level II was ready, and the first brochure for the Model I in January 1978 mentioned that Level II BASIC was "coming soon". It is an abridged version of the 16k Extended BASIC, since the Model I has 12k of ROM space. According to Bill Gates, "It was a sort of intermediate between 8k BASIC and Extended BASIC. Some features from Extended BASIC such as descriptive errors and user defined functions were not included, but there were double precision variables and the PRINT USING statement that we wanted to get in. The entire development of Level II BASIC took about four weeks from start to finish." The accompanying manual is more terse and technical than the Level I manual. Original Level I BASIC-equipped machines could be retrofitted to Level II through a ROM replacement performed by RadioShack for a fee (originally $199). Users with Level I BASIC programs stored on cassette have to convert these to the tokenized Level II BASIC before use. A utility for this was provided with the Level II ROMS.
Disk BASIC allows disk I/O, and in some cases (NewDos/80, MultiDOS, DosPlus, LDOS) adds powerful sorting, searching, full screen editing, and other features. Level II BASIC reserves some of these keywords and issues a "
?L3 ERROR", suggesting a behind-the-scenes change of direction intervened between the creation of the Level II ROMs and the introduction of Disk BASIC.
Microsoft also marketed an enhanced BASIC called Level III BASIC written by Bill Gates, on cassette tape. The cassette contains a "Cassette File" version on one side and a "disk file" version on the second side for disk system users (which was to be saved to disk). Level III BASIC adds most of the functions in the full 16 KB version of BASIC plus many other TRS-80 specific enhancements. Many of Level III BASIC's features are included in the TRS-80 Model III's Level II BASIC and disk BASIC.
Level I BASIC was still offered on the Model I in either 4k or 16k configurations after the introduction of Level II BASIC.
Other programming languagesEdit
Radio Shack published an inexpensive, simple (non-macro) editor-assembler package it called the Series I. This is popularly known by users as EDTASM, the program's filename being EDTASM/CMD. 80 Micro published a modification that enables it to run under the Model 4's TRSDOS Version 6. Also from Radio Shack was a Tiny Pascal package.
Blackjack and backgammon came with the TRS-80 for free, and at its debut RadioShack offered four payroll, personal finance, and educational programs, all on cassette.:3 The more than 2,000 RadioShack franchise stores as of September 1982[update] sold third-party hardware and software, but the more than 4,300 company-owned stores were at first prohibited from reselling or even mentioning products not sold by RadioShack itself. Its own products' quality was often poor. A critical 1980 80 Micro review of a text adventure described it as "yet another example of RadioShack's inability to deal with the consumer in a consumer's market". The magazine added, "Sadly, too, as with some other Radio Shack programs, the instructions seem to assume that the reader is either a child or an adult with the mentality of a slightly premature corned beef."
Green stated that year that although "there are more programs for the 80 than for all other systems combined" because of the computer's large market share, "Radio Shack can't advertise this because they are trying as hard as they can to keep this fact a secret from their customers. They don't want the TRS-80 buyers to know that there is anything more than their handful of mediocre programs available", many of which "are disastrous and, I'm sure, doing tremendous damage to the industry". Charles Tandy reportedly wanted to encourage outside developers but after his death a committee ran the company, which refused to help outside developers, hoping to monopolize the sale of software and peripherals. An author wrote in a 1979 article on the computer's "mystery of machine language graphics control" that "RadioShack seems to hide the neat little jewels of information a hobbyist needs to make a treasure of the TRS-80". He stated that other than the "excellent" Level I BASIC manual "there has been little information until recently ... TRS-80 owners must be resourceful", reporting that the computer's "keyboard, video, and cassette" functionality were also undocumented. The first book authorized by Tandy with technical information on TRSDOS for the Model I did not appear until after the computer's discontinuation.
Third-party stores preferred to sell software for other computers and not compete with RadioShack; mail-order sales were also difficult, because RadioShack did not sell third-party publications like 80 Micro. By 1982 the company admitted—after no software appeared for the Model 16 after five months—that it should have, like Apple, encouraged third-party developers of products like the killer app VisiCalc. (A lengthy 1980 article in a Tandy publication introducing the TRS-80 version of VisiCalc did not mention that the spreadsheet had been available for the Apple II for a year.) By 1985 the company's Ed Juge stated that other than Scripsit and DeskMate, "we intend to rely mostly on 'big-name', market proven software from leading software firms". A full suite of office applications became available from the company and others, including the VisiCalc and Multiplan spreadsheets and the Lazy Writer, Electric Pencil, and from Radio Shack itself the Scripsit and SuperScripsit word processors.
Compared to the contemporary Commodore and Apple micros, the TRS-80's block graphics and crude sound were widely considered limited. The faster speed available to the game programmer, not having to processor color data in high resolution, went a long way to compensating for this. TRS-80 arcade games tended to be faster with effects that emphasized motion. This perceived disadvantage did not deter independent software companies such as Big Five Software from producing unlicensed versions of arcade games like Namco's Galaxian, Atari's Asteroids, Taito's Lunar Rescue, Williams's Make Trax, and Exidy's Targ and Venture. Sega's Frogger and Zaxxon were ported to the computer and marketed by Radio Shack. Namco/Midway's Pac-man was cloned by Philip Oliver and distributed by Cornsoft Group as Scarfman. Atari's Battlezone was cloned for the Models I/III by Wayne Westmoreland and Terry Gilman and published by Adventure International as Armored Patrol. They also cloned Eliminator (based on Defender) and Donkey Kong; the latter wasn't published until after the TRS-80 was discontinued, because Nintendo refused to license the game.
Some games originally written for other computers were ported to the TRS-80. Microchess has three levels of play and can run in the 4KB of memory that is standard with the Model I; the classic ELIZA is another TRS-80 port. Both were offered by Radio Shack. Apple Panic, itself a clone of Universal's Space Panic, was written for the TRS-80 by Yves Lempereur and published by Funsoft. Epyx's Temple of Apshai runs slowly on the TRS-80. Infocom ported its large series of interactive text-based adventure games to the Models I/III; the first, Zork I, was marketed by Radio Shack.
Adventure International's text adventures began on the TRS-80, as did Sea Dragon by Westmoreland and Gilman, later ported to the other home micros. Android Nim by Leo Christopherson was rewritten for the Commodore PET and Apple. Many games are unique to the TRS-80, including Duel-N-Droids, also by Christopherson, an early first-person shooter 13 Ghosts by Software Affair (the Orchestra-80, -85 and -90 people) and shooters like Cosmic Fighter and Defence Command, and strange experimental programs such as Christopherson's Dancing Demon, in which the player composes a song for a devil and choreographs his dance steps to the music. Radio Shack offered simple graphics animation programs Micro Movie and Micro Marquee, and Micro Music.
Radio Shack offered a number of programming utilities, including an advanced debugger, a subroutine package, and a cross reference builder. Probably the most popular utility package was Super Utility written by Kim Watt of Breeze Computing. Other utility software such as Stewart Software's Toolkit offered the first sorted directory, decoding or reset of passwords, and the ability to eliminate parts of TRSDOS that were not needed in order to free up floppy disk space. They also produced the On-Line 80 BBS, a TRSDOS based Bulletin Board System. Misosys Inc. was a prolific producer of sophisticated TRS-80 utility and language software for all models of TRS-80 from the very beginning.
Perhaps because of the lack of information on TRSDOS and its bugs, by 1982 perhaps more operating systems existed for the TRS-80 than for any other computer. TRSDOS is limited in its capabilities, since like Apple DOS 3.3 on the Apple II, it is mainly conceived of as a way of extending BASIC to support disk drives. Numerous alternative DOSes appeared, the most prominent being LDOS because Radio Shack licensed it from Logical Systems and adopted it as its official DOS for its Models I and III hard disk drive products. Other alternative TRS-80 DOSes included NewDOS from Apparat Personal Computers, and DoubleDOS, DOSPlus, MicroDOS, UltraDOS (later called Multidos). The DOS for the Model 4 line was originally called TRSDOS Version 6 but was actually produced by and licensed from Logical Systems, and is technically a descendant of the original Model I LDOS.
The memory map of the Model I and III render them incompatible with the standard CP/M OS for Z80 business computers, which loads at hexadecimal address $0000 with TPA (Transient Program Area) starting at $0100; the TRS-80 ROM resides in this address space. Omikron Systems' Mappers board remaps the ROM to run unmodified CP/M programs on the Model I. A customized version of CP/M is available, but loses its portability advantage.
Dan Fylstra, among the first owners, wrote in BYTE in April 1978 that as an "'appliance' computer ... the TRS-80 brings the personal computer a good deal closer to the average customer", suitable for home and light business use. He concluded that it "is not the only alternative for the aspiring personal computer user, but it is a strong contender." Jerry Pournelle wrote in 1980 that "the basic TRS-80 is a lot of computer for the money. It comes ready to run right out of the box, and it can be set up by three boys – ages 9, 11, and 13 ... The Tandy/RadioShack documentation is excellent, and there are a lot of good programs available". He noted that while "just about every component of my TRS-80 has taken a trip to the local store to be fixed", "none of that cost me anything; it wasn't even inconvenient, especially with local RadioShacks all over the place ... Given the price of the TRS-80, Tandy's quality control is better than you'd expect." Pournelle criticized the quality of Tandy's application and system software—including the "needlessly complex" TRSDOS—and high cost of its peripherals. He reported, however, that with the Omikron board, additional memory, and 8- and 5 1/4-inch disk drives, "for a total cost of under $5000, you have a 48 K-byte machine capable of running all the TRS-80 programs, CP/M software, and top-grade text editors like Word Master, Magic Wand, Electric Pencil, and the Proteus editor ... all without building a single kit".
Three years later Pournelle was less positive about the computer. He wrote in May 1983, "As to our TRS-80 Model I, we trashed that sucker long ago. It was always unreliable, and repeated trips to the local RadioShack outlet didn't help. The problem was that Tandy cut corners". Pournelle wrote in July:
I'm a little bitter about my experiences with Tandy. I had genuinely thought that the Model I was the machine of the future: an inexpensive home computer that could be expanded by stages until it would do professional work. Of course it was never that. First, Tandy tried to fence in Model I users through that goofy operating system, and then it wouldn't let RadioShack stores sell non-Tandy software. ... It had never been all that well designed, and when sales took off much faster than anticipated, the quality control system couldn't cope.
Tandy replaced the Model I with the broadly compatible Model III in 1980. (The TRS-80 Model II is an entirely different and incompatible design).
|Type||Home and small business computer|
|Release date||July 1980|
|Introductory price||$699 (4KB RAM, Level I), $999 (16K, Level II), $2495 (48K, 2 180KB floppy drives, RS-232C)|
|Operating system||TRSDOS 1.3, LDOS 5|
|CPU||Zilog Z80A @ 2 MHz|
|Memory||4 KB or 16, 32 or 48 KB|
|Display||16 rows by 64 or 32 columns, block graphics|
|Graphics||optional 512 by 192 pixels, $369 extra|
|Sound||output through cassette port|
|Model I Z80 code ~ 80% (higher with patches), BASIC 100%|
Tandy released the TRS-80 Model III on July 26, 1980. The improvements of the Model III over the Model I include: built-in lowercase, a better keyboard with repeating keys, an enhanced character set, a real-time clock, 1500-baud cassette interface, a faster (2.03 MHz) Z80 processor, and elimination of the cable spaghetti (due to its all-in-one enclosure). A Model III with two floppy drives requires the use of only one electrical outlet; a two-drive Model I requires five outlets.[note 3] The Model III avoided the complicated power on/off sequence of the Model I. Shortly after the Model III's introduction, Model I production was discontinued as it did not comply with new FCC regulations as of January 1, 1981 regarding electromagnetic interference.
Tandy distinguished between the high-end Model II and Model III, describing the latter as "an administrative system, good for things like word processing, data management and VisiCalc operations" and suitable for small businesses. The lowest-priced version of the Model III was sold with 4KB of RAM and cassette storage. The computer's CPU board has three banks of sockets (8 sockets to a bank) which take type 4116 DRAMs, so memory configurations come in 16KB, 32KB, or 48KB RAM memory sizes. Computers with 32K or 48K RAM can be upgraded with floppy disk drive storage. There is space inside the computer cabinet for two full-height drives. Those offered by Tandy/RadioShack are single-sided, 40 track, double-density (MFM encoding) for 180K of storage. Third-party suppliers offered double-sided and 80-track drives, though to control them they had to modify the TRSDOS driver code or else furnish an alternative third-party DOS which could (see below). The installation of floppy disk drives also requires the computer's power supply to be upgraded. There is no internal cooling fan in the Model III; it uses passive convection cooling (unless an unusual number of power-hungry expansions were installed internally, such as a hard disk drive, graphics board, speedup kit, RS-232 board, etc.).
Tandy claimed that the Model III was compatible with 80% of Model I software. Many software publishers issued patches to permit their Model I programs to run on the Model III. Marketing director Ed Juge explained that their designers considered changing from the Model I's 64 column by 16 row video screen layout, but that they ultimately decided that maintaining compatibility was most important.
The Model III's memory map and system architecture is mostly the same as the Model I, but the disk drives and printer port were moved from memory mapped to port I/O, thus Model I software that attempts to manipulate the disk controller directly or output to the printer (in particular Model I DOSes and application packages such as Visicalc and Scripsit) will not work. Under the supplied TRSDOS 1.3 operating system Model I disks can be read in the Model III, but not vice versa. The optional LDOS OS (by Logical Systems Inc.) use a common disk format for both Model I and Model III versions.
Customers and developers complained of bugs in the Model III's Microsoft BASIC interpreter and TRSDOS. Tandy/RadioShack (and TRS-80 magazines like 80 Micro) periodically published many software patches to correct these deficiencies and to permit users to customize the software to their preferences.
Differences in the WD1771 and WD1791 floppy controllers created problems reading Model I disks on a Model III (the double density upgrade in the Model I include both chips while a Model III had only the WD1791). The WD1771 supports four data markers while the WD1791 only supports two, and some versions of TRSDOS for the Model I also use them. In addition, they are used by copy protection schemes. Software was available to allow Model I disks to be read on a Model III. The WD1791 supports the 500 bit/s bitrate needed for high density floppy drives, but the controller is not capable of using them without extensive modifications.
TRSDOS for the Model III was developed in-house by Radio Shack rather than being contracted out like the Model I's DOS. None of the code base from Model I DOS was reused and the Model III DOS was rewritten from scratch; this also created some compatibility issues since the Model III DOS's API was not entirely identical to the Model I DOS. This was primarily to avoid legal disputes with Randy Cook over ownership of the code as had occurred with Model I DOS and also because Radio Shack originally planned several features for the Model III such as 80 column text support that were not included. Two early versions, 1.1 and 1.2, were replaced by version 1.3 in 1981 which became the standard Model III OS. TRSDOS 1.3 is not format compatible with 1.1 and 1.2; a utility called XFERSYS is provided which converted older format disks to TRSDOS 1.3 format (this change is permanent and the resultant disks cannot be read with the older DOS versions).
The Model III's boot screen was cleaned up from the Model I. Instead of displaying garbage on screen at power up, it displays a "Diskette?" prompt if a bootable floppy is not detected. The user can insert a disk and press any key to boot. On powerup or reset holding down the Break key will boot the computer into ROM-based Level II BASIC. This capability is useful if the disk drive is not functioning and cannot boot a TRSDOS disk (or if a boot disk is not available); it permits an operator familiar with the machine hardware to perform diagnostics using BASIC's PEEK and POKE commands. This works for the Model 4 as well, but not for the 4P.
While Model I DOS is fairly flexible in its capabilities, Model III DOS is hard coded to only support 180K single sided floppies, a problem fixed by the many third party DOSes. To that end, when Radio Shack introduced hard disks for the TRS-80 line in 1982, the company licensed LDOS rather than attempt to modify Model III DOS for hard disk support.
Level II BASIC on the Model III is 16K in size and incorporates a few features from Level I Disk BASIC
TRSDOS 1.3 was given a few more minor updates, the last being in 1984, although the version number was unchanged. This includes at least one update that writes an Easter Egg message "Joe, you rummy buzzard" on an unused disk sector, which is reputedly a joke message left by a programmer in a beta version, but accidentally included in the production master.
The Model III keyboard lacks CONTROL. Many application programs use @, while others use ⇧ Shift+↑. Often CLEAR is used in combination with number and alpha keys. The Model III keyboard also lacks ⇪ Caps Lock; to caps-lock the alpha keys the user presses ⇧ Shift+0. Under LDOS typeahead is supported.
Because TRSDOS 1.3 was found wanting by many users, Tandy offered (at additional cost) Logical System's LDOS Version 5 as an alternative. As with the Model I, other third-party sources also offered TRSDOS alternatives for the Model III, including NewDOS, Alphabit's MultiDOS, and Micro Systems Software's DOSPlus. These are compatible with TRSDOS 1.3 and ran the same applications programs, but offer improved command structures, more and better system utilities, and enhancements to the Microsoft BASIC interpreter. After writing the original Model I TRSDOS, Randy Cook began work on his own DOS, titled VTOS, which was superseded by LDOS and also created some frustration for users as it is the only TRS-80 DOS to be copy protected.
Although mostly intended as a disk-based computer, the Model III was available in a base cassette configuration with no disk hardware and only 16K of RAM with Level II BASIC. Radio Shack also offered a 4K version with Level I BASIC, identical to Model I Level I BASIC, but with the addition of LPRINT and LLIST commands for printer output. Upgrading to a disk machine necessitate installing at least 32K of RAM, the disk controller board, and an additional power supply for the disk drives. Disk upgrades purchased from Radio Shack included TRSDOS 1.3; users upgrading from third-party vendors had to purchase DOS separately (most opted for LDOS or DOSPlus), though a great many Model III applications programs included a licensed copy of TRSDOS 1.3.
As with the Model I's E/I, the RS-232C port on the Model III was an extra cost option and not included in the base price of the computer, though the dual disk Model III for $2495 included the serial port.
Like the Model I, the Model III sold well in the educational market. Many school administrators valued the Model III's all-in-one hardware design because it made it more difficult for students to steal components. InfoWorld approved of the Model III's single-unit design, simplified cable management, and improvements such as lack of keyboard bounce and improved disk reliability. The reviewer, a former Model I owner, stated "I'm impressed" and that "had the Model III been available, it's probable that I wouldn't have sold it". He concluded, "If you're looking for a computer that's not too expensive but that performs well, you would be wise to test the Model III—you might end up buying it."
Don French, who had left Radio Shack to found FMG Software after designing the Model I, expressed his disappointment in the new machine while trying to convert CP/M to run on it. "I've encountered numerous problems with the floppy drive and its interface. Radio Shack will sell a Model III to anyone. They're trying to market it as a business computer when the existing software is woefully inadequate. 48K just isn't enough. You run out of memory before you get going. They're selling a medical package that takes up nine disks. I think the Model III is a very poorly conceived machine".
Aftermarket hardware were offered by Tandy/RadioShack and many third-party manufacturers. The usual selection of add-ons and peripherals available for the Model I were offered: outboard floppy drives (one or two could be plugged into a card-edge connector on the back panel), an outboard hard disk drive (LDOS was furnished as Tandy's hard drive OS vice TRSDOS), a high-resolution graphics board (resolution 512 by 192 pixels),[note 4] an RS-232C serial port on an internal circuit card, and a parallel printer (connected by a card-edge connector). A particularly popular hardware/software add-on was the Orchestra-90 music synthesizer. It can be programmed to play up to five voices with a range of six octaves stereophonically. A great many Orch-90 (as it was often called) music files were available for download from CompuServe. The Orch-90 was licensed from a company called Software Affair, which also produced the Model I-compatible Orchestra-85 from 1981.
A number of third-party manufacturers specialized in upgrading Model IIIs with high performance hardware and software, and remarketing them under their own labels.[note 5] The improvements typically included internal hard disk drives, greater capacity floppy drives, 4 MHz Z80 speedup kits, professional grade green or amber CRT video displays, better DOS software (typically DOSPlus by Micro Systems Software or LDOS by Logical Systems) including the all-important hard drive backup utilities, and custom menu-driven shell interfaces which insulated non-expert users (business employees) from the DOS command line. These were touted as high productivity turnkey systems for small businesses at less cost than competing business systems from higher-end providers such as IBM and DEC, as well as Radio Shack's own TRS-80 Model II.
The successor to the Model III is the TRS-80 Model 4 (April 1983). It has faster Z80A 4 MHz CPU, a larger video display 80 columns x 24 rows with reverse video, bigger keyboard, internal speaker, and its 64KB of RAM can be upgraded to 128KB of bank-switched RAM. The display can be upgraded with a high resolution graphics card yielding 640x240 pixels. The Model 4 is fully compatible with Model III and CP/M application software. A diskless Model 4 (with 16KB RAM and Level II BASIC) cost $999, with 64KB RAM and one single-sided 180K disk drive $1699, and two drives with RS-232C $1999; an upgrade for Model III owners cost $799 and provided a new motherboard and keyboard. Tandy sold 71,000 in 1984.
The Model 4P is a transportable version introduced in September 1983 and discontinued in early 1985. It is functionally the same as the dual-drive desktop model but lacks the card edge connector for two outboard diskette drives and for cassette tape interface. It has a slot for an internal modem card and could emulate a Model III.
The Model 4D with bundled Deskmate productivity suite was introduced in early 1985. It has a revised CPU board using faster gate array logic which includes the floppy controller and RS-232C circuitry, all on a single board. The computer has two internal double-sided diskette drives, and is the last model descended from the 1977 Model I. It retailed for $1199 at its introduction in 1985. During 1987–1988 the retail stores removed the Model 4Ds from display but they were available by special order through 1991.
- TRS-80 character set
- List of TRS-80 games
- List of TRS-80 software
- List of TRS-80 clones
- SoftSide, magazine with BASIC programs for the TRS-80 and other microcomputers of the same era
- The Alternate Source Programmer's Journal, magazine with deeply technical programming articles, most of which were at the Assembly Language level, for the TRS-80.
- (fronts of keys not labelled)
- The user must take care not to do anything that could cause memory to be overwritten; he should recover immediately without running any other programs before. Since programs may start automatically via the TRSDOS AUTO command, during a spontaneous reboot the user should take the precaution of holding down ↵ Enter to prevent this from happening. It takes TRSDOS some half dozen seconds to load from floppy disk; the user has this long to keep an AUTO'd program from loading. This star parameter became a standard for many software applications running on the Models III and 4; for instance LS-DOS's TED and Prosoft's Allwrite.
- One outlet each for the CPU/keyboard, Expansion Interface, Video Monitor, and the drives.
- The Radio Shack catalog entry advertises 640x240 resolution, but this is a misprint
- It was necessary to rebrand these highly modified Model IIIs because Radio Shack enforced a strict policy that no repair service would be performed on nonstandard RS products.
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