Blast From the Past: A Tandy 200 - TheStreet

It's now considered a museum piece. Back when I got it, the Tandy 200 computer was state of the art. Today, that's a scary thought.

The Tandy 200 was my first portable computer. I received it from the computer department at

NBC News

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because I was doing a lot of work "on the road" and needed a way to send messages and dispatches back to the home office.

The computer's full name was the Tandy TRS-80 Model 200 Portable Computer. It was sold at

RadioShack

(RSH)

stores. The 200 was a deluxe version of the very popular Model 100, which was a very early, remarkably compact laptop that ran on AA batteries. Both were manufactured by

Kyocera

(KYO)

in Japan and were sold under different brand names worldwide.

The 100 (1983) was a very flat design with a small screen (8 lines of text). The Model 200 (1985) was a clamshell design with a much larger (40 characters by 16 lines) flip-up, LCD screen. Black and white, of course. The 200 measured 11.6 by 8.2 by 2 inches and weighed in at a svelte 2.9 pounds. (Compare that with

Apple's

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$6,500, 15.8-pound Mac Portable from 1989.)

Tandy, You're a Fine Computer

var config = new Array(); config<BRACKET>"videoId"</BRACKET> = 1654294057; config<BRACKET>"playerTag"</BRACKET> = "TSCM Embedded Video Player"; config<BRACKET>"autoStart"</BRACKET> = false; config<BRACKET>"preloadBackColor"</BRACKET> = "#FFFFFF"; config<BRACKET>"useOverlayMenu"</BRACKET> = "false"; config<BRACKET>"width"</BRACKET> = 265; config<BRACKET>"height"</BRACKET> = 255; config<BRACKET>"playerId"</BRACKET> = 1243645856; createExperience(config, 8);

The 200 was a powerhouse for its day. The processor was a 2.4MHz

Intel

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80c85. Stock, it came with 24KB of RAM and 72 KB of ROM -- both expandable, to 72KB and 104KB respectively.

There were all sorts of available ports on the laptop, including a parallel printer, tape, bar code, phone (modem), RS232 and a system bus. There was no built-in media, but you could add on peripherals.

The 3.5-inch floppy disk drives could be connected via the RS-232. Tandy made two drives: the TPDD held 100KB, and the TPDD2 held 200KB and could read the TPDD disks. They both used 720k floppies. A video interface offered improved display resolution (80 columns by 24 lines) on any external video display unit.

As for the included software, a lot of utilities were stored in ROM, including a telecommunication program that used the built-in modem, the MSPLAN spreadsheet (light version of Multiplan), a text editor, calendar, address book and BASIC Programming Language.

The 100 and 200s became famous because they ran on software that came from a new, small company called

Microsoft

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. The software was actually written by Bill Gates -- and it actually worked.

In fact, it still does.

The Model 200 was able to squeeze about 16 hours out of a fresh set of AA alkaline batteries. Originally, the 200 sold for $999 -- that's in 1985 dollars.

I was amazed -- and am proud to tell you -- that my Model 200 still runs like a top. See if you can say that about many other 23-year-old computers you might have lying around. It had been sitting idle, in a back closet, for years and years.

I put in a new set of AAs, and the screen popped on when I pressed the power button. The computer also works using the original AC adaptor. That's a fact that I gather is pretty amazing. According the Tandy computer blogs, the AC adapter for the 100s and 200s seem to be a very weak point.

The only minor problem I encountered was the date. It seems that Tandy never expected to have to worry about Y2K -- so the built-in date program really doesn't understand any year after 1999. That's why my screen has the right date and day of the week -- but the year has to be set for 1908. (And no, that isn't the year I was born.)

As you might expect, this laptop is capable of very, very basic computing, limited to the programs included in memory or ones you can write yourself using the built-in BASIC programming language.

That said, there are still many people happily using 100s and 200s to do many tasks. Check out the

Tandy Computer Webring if you don't believe me.

There's also a pretty healthy used market for these computers.

We've come a long, long way in 23-plus years. I'm now using portable computers from Apple, Asus,

H-P

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,

ThinkPad

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, OQO and others. But I have a fondness in my heart for my first "work" laptop.

Best of all, it still runs like a top!

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.