A look back at the sales training for Radio Shack's Model 100, a groundbreaking early laptop

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/20/compute-like-its-1983.html

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That thing was so so so cool back then.


These computers ran off of 4AAs and were greatly under regarded. Radio Shack had a long running sale on these, well into the age of laptops with hard drives and disk drives. I still have my manual for mine. I may also have some tapes of programs they used to sell, despite there being a later introduced disk drive available.

I can’t find an article about it, but these computers along with the WP-2 ( a dedicated word-processor with a z-80 chip) are what kept the local news going immediately after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Along with the normal new stories, a few were written about AA powered RadioShack computers keeping print news stories flowing immediately after the earthquake. Heck if I can find them now- the Internet has selective memory at times.

The cassette controller, a simple relay, could also be used to control real world objects, albeit extremely primitively, but one could write a program in BASIC and have it switch something on and off without having to go from transient extreme low voltage signals (the serial connection) to switching on and off a simple relay, and that relay could easily be connected to another one that took a higher voltage.

I have a love for this computer for many reasons. I took notes on it, though my WP-2was much better for that. I also could connect it to another computer, again my WP-2, and create a closed network for gaming. I have dysgraphia and dyslexia, so I could talk to the GM without having to worry about my not not making sense. It worked better for Shadowrun and other games like that, not so much of miniatures were being used.

The cassette programs were notoriously hit or miss on loading, mostly due to tape stretching. For whatever reason, Tandy/RadioShack used the thinnest tape material to store programs even when not needed due to size. There were workarounds for this, but working storage was better than none.

Perhaps sitting in a box is the 300 baud acoustic modem that I picked up for it. I am quite sure it was the same as the 600, or 1200 baud coupler modems, less the shape of the cups. The higher baud rate coupler modems had rectangular or square/round multi-shape cups to connect to one’s phone. Perfect for connecting to a Bulletin Board in their waning days.

The last thing I say about these computers is that the keyboards were the opposite of ergonomic, but an absolute pleasure to type on. At least that was my memory. Then again I remember getting Dell keyboards some time down the line at a job, that felt like foam was the springy element.

There is no reason to get one of these aged devices. It would require making nul modem (simple pin swapping) to connect to the best prefrials once offered, and I think finding an old Centronics converter to get it to connect to a parallel printer, and manually setting some DIP switches to make the printer work with the computer. On the other hand, I beyond replacing electrolytic capacitors, I can’t imagine anything wearing out on these computers. FYI- the LCD screen connection is pressure connected if I remember correctly. So if tearing one down, leave that alone if it is working.

Correct me if I am wrong on any of this, as it is all from memory. Now to find that manual.


My mother had, over the course of her career as a professional writer, two Model 3 TRS-80s and a Model 4–but she also would have loved to have one of these as well.


Reddit’s r/AAMasterRace covered this too. It’s the AA batteries that made this laptop successful.

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I picked up a used TRS-80 model III in probably 1994 or so. It was probably free. Fun little machine, although it didn’t get as much use as my family’s Olivetti 286, Commodore 64, or even Compaq Luggable (another retro computer I think I acquired for free).

The golden age of computing! Before all the people came along and ruined it! :wink:


I’ve never seen one of these, but it reminds me very much of Sir Clive Sinclair’s Cambridge Z88 which was a fantastic little machine for its time. I wrote many tens of thousands of words on that beautiful little computer (and how often has anyone said that about a Sinclair computer?)

That was five years later though. Which may not sound like much these days, but technology changed so fast in the 1980s. For example, the basic Model 100 had 8K of RAM (maximum 32K). The Z88 started at 32K and could go up to a megabyte.

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