[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s

March 12th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

1980s iPad - TRS-80 Model 100 Catalog Page - 1984It’s the MICRO EXECUTIVE WORKSTATION, people!

iPad, schmyepad. In the 1980s, we had hair on our chests, far fewer seat belts, and we walked backwards downhill halfway from school every day in the monsoon season. AND WE LIKED IT. We also used the TRS-80 Model 100 — a sleek 3.9-pound, 2-inch thick machine that could run 20 hours on a single set of four AA batteries — for all of our mobile computing needs.

Imagine 8 kilobytes of RAM. Imagine a full travel keyboard and a 240×64 display that could fit in your lap. Imagine downloading stock prices at $12/hour from CompuServe at 300 bits per second over two acoustic couplers. It’s not a fantasy — it’s life in 1983.

Below, I present for your perusal a stat-by-stat comparison between the mighty Radio Shack wonder and today’s iPad, then I ask you: which is truly superior?

TRS-80 Model 100 vs. new iPad (2012)

  TRS-80 Model 100 The new iPad
Year Introduced 1983 2012
(2012 Dollars)
$2,501.05 $499.00
(1983 Dollars)
$1099.00 $219.27
CPU Type Intel 80C85 Apple A5X (Cortex-A9)
CPU Speed
(MHz x cores)
2.4 2,000
8 1,000,000
User Storage
5.062 16,000,000
Display Resolution 240 x 64 pixels 2048 x 1536 pixels
Networking Speed
(internal modem)
(802.11n Wi-Fi)
Battery Life 20 hours 10 hours
Dimensions 11.875 x 8.5 x 2 inches 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches
Weight 3.9 pounds 1.44 pounds
Number of Apps 5 20
(+ 200,000 online)
Operating System Custom / Microsoft BASIC v1.1 iOS 5.1
Notable Features 56-key keyboard, RS-232 port, parallel port, bar code reader, 300 baud modem Capacitive touch screen, Retina display, 5MP iSight camera, FaceTime camera, Wi-Fi adapter


Just as I suspected. The iPad wins. Oh well.

[ From Radio Shack 1984 TRS-80 Catalog (RSC-10), p.59 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Can you think of any scenarios where a Model 100 might be more useful than an iPad?

19 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The iPad of the 1980s”

  1. Eagles409 Says:

    The keyboard is probably easier to use, other than that, I got nothin’.

  2. Skywyze Says:

    If I needed a blunt weapon to beat the crap out of someone, I’d go to fro TRS 80.

  3. Jeremy Neiman Says:

    Well, the battery life is pretty impressive. If I were stranded in a dessert and my life depended on being able to do some basic computation, I’d go with the TRS-80. And really, don’t we all have one of those days?

    Sent from my iPad

  4. SirPaul Says:

    Let’s see… On the one hand, the iPad has (compared to the Model 100) gobs of RAM, tons of storage, a faster processor, is cheaper, and far more apps.

    On the other hand, the TRS-80 Model 100 has a full travel keyboard, RS-232 AND parallel ports, and removable batteries.

    I think the answer to superiority is obvious.

    As for scenarios, I can see where you need a real keyboard, sometimes, as well as the aforementioned RS-232 and parallel ports. More useful than the proprietary connector the iPad has.

  5. BRIK Says:

    I would go with the TRS-80 because it ins’t made by Apple.

  6. Xyzzy Says:

    Meh, negative comparisons between old tech and new are the kind of thing I’d expect more from a “hah, those retro-loving losers, they need to get with the times and dump all that OLD stuff” article than VC&G. (In fact, I saw people saying almost precisely that in response to a recent retro-tech slideshow; I can’t recall if it was yours or not.)

    I’d go with the TRS-80 in large part because it has an actual physical keyboard; I know from experience that I’m not comfortable with a virtual/screen-based keyboard. The other reason is that I haven’t really liked anything Apple produced after the 80s, since I have a strong need to be able to customize my OS, software, and/or hardware.

  7. Richard James Says:

    It has twice the battery life, is programmable out of the box and can access external storage. So obviously the Tandy wins 😉

  8. Benj Edwards Says:


    The death match comparison between new and old tech presented here was, I thought, obviously couched in humor and facetiousness. I apologize if my apparent preference for one or the other came off as being sincere.

    The stats are real, though, and it makes you think about how far we’ve come, doesn’t it?

  9. Rob Says:

    Both devices lack Siri though.

  10. Erik Says:

    Just read Xyzzy’s post in the voice of Roman from Party Down and it will all make sense.

  11. JackSoar Says:

    The TRS-80 Model 100, of course, because I wouldn’t be stuck with an imprecise touchscreen.

  12. Andreas Says:

    The barcode-reader FFS! It’s a deal breaker.

  13. andrew Says:

    I have the dubious distinction of having actually owned one. I must be the ultimate (dumbass) early adopter. Slept in front of Radio shack the night before.
    It was impressive to others then…..I looked like I knew what I was doing ..fooled them !
    The guys at Radio Shack said there were new “apps” coming, they never did. It could actually connect to its own printer and print what I typed, without spell check to annoy you.
    I actually went on line and connected to someone and saw something ! Yeah ! It was that impressive !
    Now I remember, it was an “invite only” to the Pay per view, only “Beatles Reunion concert. I pirated it, and I’m not telling anyone where the video or the TRS is. Only a certain visionary and I dropped LSD and saw it.

  14. SirFatty Says:

    I always wanted one of these.

  15. Alexander Says:

    We all know that the clear choice is. Anything that isn’t an apple product. Full keyboard? I’ll take it!

  16. Matt Says:

    Real keyboard makes the TRS the winner. Also, no comparison of which is the smugger choice of the two? 🙂

  17. BDD Says:

    I wrote a simple shooter game on one of these at the local RS (in MS BASIC), and they offered me a job. The only problem was, I was only 13 at the time…

  18. The Doctor Says:

    I think I have to agree with SirPaul – the multiple hardware interfaces on the Model 100 and real keyboard (and it is a nice one – they’re sometimes on display at hacker cons) are real bonuses. You have to pay the gatekeeper and get your code blessed to code anything on the iPad, but you can just hack away until your heart’s content on the Model 100. The relatively slow CPU and lack of RAM limit your options unless you want to roll your sleeves up and code in assembly.

  19. P Smith Says:

    For what they did in their time, the Model 100/102 were landmarks. They as much as any pushed the computer industry to build smaller and more powerful. We wouldn’t have as many handheld device (or gotten them as quickly) without the Model 100.

    The greatest use of them came from reporters. In it they had a machine that would allow them to write and edit stories then transmit them via telephone (pre-internet, of course) to their newspapers. At a time when a “portable” computer meant 20 pounds, the Model 100s were lightweight, portable and durable. The keyboard was so high in quality is still beats many of the new ones produced today.

    The Model 100 was so robust that many of them are still in use now and are being refurbished and resold. People have built RAM extensions, software expansions, and cables transfers instead of phone couplers.

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