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In the U.S. in the early 1980's (1980-1982, roughly), the TRS-80 Model I/III computers were commonly referred to by teens and youngsters as the "Trash-80". The best reason I can attribute to this widespread "trash talk" is that the TRS-80 was:

  • Popular among teachers pushing basic computer skills.
  • Not popular among the students, who preferred an Atari 800 or Apple ][ at home.

This is from a U.S. perspective. I don't know if the nickname was used overseas. My impression was that the kids were the ones spreading this nickname, not the adults. But everyone seemed to be aware of the nickname, including Tandy.

Is there any hope for assigning correct attribution to the famous nickname "Trash-80"?

Note: Jimmy Maher, the Digital Antiquarian, has published what I'd consider the definitive recent article on the early history of the Trash-80. But it doesn't answer this peculiar question...

Edit: It seems unlikely this nickname can be attributed to a single first source. It was probably so obvious that it arose simultaneously. The answers describe many of the technical weaknesses that may have encouraged the nickname to spread. However, a second major factor might have been Radio Shack's (the Company) own image. A good answer should address this factor too, IMO.

  • Isn't that somewhat superfluous, as your Question already includes a link to a rather colorful description about their stores and image? Writing down a company history is maybe not exacly in the scope of such a question. Don't you think so? – Raffzahn Feb 26 '18 at 16:57
  • It might be superfluous. My goal was to learn whether there was a single biased individual or company who started the nickname, and what factors motivated their animosity about the product. It seems there was likely no single originator, so that just leaves the reason for the general animosity. My individual experience doesn't reflect Radio Shack having a poor image; so, I'm reluctant to just defer to Maher's characterization about Radio Shack without corroborating evidence or viewpoints. – Brian H Feb 26 '18 at 17:10
  • It's exactly the same characterization I learned from many US friends over the years. My own experiance is ratehr short lived, as theri German stores where short lived, and except for curiosity reasons I never patronized them. Just countless remarks how bad they are - or were :) – Raffzahn Feb 26 '18 at 17:17
  • To be clear, just because I edited the question to say "Radio Shack may also have had a bad image" doesn't mean I believe that, and so that might not even be a factor. For example, did people still call the Tandy 1000's "Trash" just because they came from Radio Shack (and were clearly of respectable quality)? – Brian H Feb 26 '18 at 17:20
  • Once a label is coined and maybe even supported by experiance, it's hard to get rid of it. Just ask anyone about Dutch tomatoes. – Raffzahn Feb 26 '18 at 17:25
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Since when do kids need a reason to trashtalk? Especially with an abbreviation calling for such an interpretation? And fans of competing computers where even more eager to jump the train. The war didn't start with Amiga vs. Atari ST :)

But (a bit more) serious, there was also a real reason for this name: Early Model 1 where already on itself rather unreliable. When paired with an expansion unit, it became notorious. Sudden resets, strange memory reads, lost RAM content and plain not working conditions happend on a steady base. Part due the rather lousy design, but as well due low quality components. For example the expansion unit connector was something to be replaced even before testing for any other error.

That term wasn't just used among some students or teachers. It was also used in magazins and other publications early on. Just check this letter in the December 1978 issue of Kilobaud. Or this editorial in the January 1980 issue, the very first issue of 80-Microcomputing, a magazin soly dedicated to Tandy computers.

It further was well known here in Europe, even before the machine could be bought. Such a catchy name spreads fast :))

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    Even a fully functioning Model 1 system had clear limitations. No lower case, no sound, a clunky set of graphical characters -- all things smart kids would find limiting. I think in general it was more of a "fun" name than a "hate" name, though. – RichF Feb 24 '18 at 0:51
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    The most annoying issue that I had as a kid with the TRS-80 was the cassette recorder. It was slow in the best of times, and if you didn't have the volume control just so, and hadn't cleaned the heads recently, the chances of even reading off a cassette were pretty poor: recording was a whole other story! – ErikF Feb 24 '18 at 4:37
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    @ErikF Probably most computers using analog tape recorders had similar problems. My Exidy Sorcerer could be pretty picky too. Well, depending. It was actually pretty reliable using the built in moniter (debug) program. But tape access with the routines which were part of my Microsoft BASIC ROMpac were close to unusable. That's one of the things that led to my "Blame Microsoft first" mentality. – RichF Feb 24 '18 at 5:14
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    It's not even limited to kids. People call(ed) Solaris "Slowaris", despite it being a rather snappy operating system. – forest Feb 24 '18 at 11:08
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    @forest Yeah, I wonder about how snappy it is. What I've heard is that Sun intentionally used slower software as they found that such slowness encouraged people to compensate for that speed by spending more money on faster hardware. – TOOGAM Mar 4 '18 at 22:15
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The Model 1 was a self contained computer that plugged in to, essentially, a TV set. And that was all well and good, if feature light (16K RAM, Cassette port, limited text and graphics). But it was plug and play.

The original version, w/4K and Level 1 BASIC was notorious, for example, for key bounce. You could buy a simple mod to fix it, and it was remedied in the Level 2 BASIC.

But then came the Expansion Interface. And the EI plugged in via a ribbon cable to the main unit, offered up a printer port and diskette interface, as well as RAM expansion (it may have offered a serial port, but the one we used never used it, so I just don't recall).

Ribbon cables from the main device, ribbon cables out to the Disk drives.

Ribbon cables are very good antennas. Plugging antennas in to computer boards just doesn't work well. So, these were a glorious source for adding noise to the system from, just, well, anything near by. There was one example of a computerized toy tank that when it traveled underneath a TRS-80, the tanks CPU noise would crash the TRS-80.

Undoubtedly the original TRS-80 was part of the reason the FCC got in to the business of regulating computers. The FCC regulations is a primary reason the Model III replaced the Model I.

All the spurious noise just adds uncertainty to the system. Our particular system had no problems with it, and was pretty much rock solid reliable, though we did have some unremembered issues with the disk drives every now and then.

But one thing, from a design point of view, that was particularly striking of the TRS-80 was something my father stumbled upon as he was looking to interface hardware to the machine for custom projects.

The Z80 has two pins. A Bus Request pin, and a Bus Acknowledgment pin. Outside electronics send a signal the REQ pin, and the CPU will essentially "finish what it is doing", go in to a sleep state of sorts, and then trigger the ACK pin to let the requester know it is done.

Another thing the TRS-80 had was a series of tri-state buffers, notably, interfacing RAM to the CPU. Without getting too technical, the tri-state buffer lets one set of electronics, roughly, disconnect from other electronics in the same circuit. So, these were a mechanism to isolate the CPU from the RAM.

But on the TRS-80, the tri-state buffers were tied to the Bus REQUEST pin, not the Bus ACK pin. That means, when someone from the outside wants to ask the CPU for the bus, the first thing it does is disconnect the CPU ... from the bus! So, it's very possible that the CPU can't "finish what it's doing". For example it could be reading a multi-byte op code (like, a JP instruction), and after reading the opcode, the RAM just vanishes before it gets the actual address. The bus request lets the Z80 finish things like that.

But not on the Model 1. That RAM gets yanked out from underneath it before it can say "Wh...".

Very strange design decision. Naively, you would think they would tie the tri-state toggle to the bus acknowledge pin.

This was the wild west, folks. Don't be amazed at the problems you see, rather be amazed this stuff worked at all.

All that said, we were happy with the TRS-80. When I was getting my own first machine I was debating between a Model III and an Atari 800. I ended up with the Atari. Good friend of mine loved his Model III, however.

  • In those early years, having access to any computer was a source for gratitude. As a young Atari owner, I'm guessing you tended to drop "Trash-80" bombs on your friend occasionally too. – Brian H Feb 25 '18 at 15:48
  • Nah, I was too busy criticizing the C-64. – Will Hartung Feb 25 '18 at 16:32
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    The expansion interface also had a problem because the connectors were made of two different metals, and would corrode. We would have to maintain ours by every so often cleaning off the connectors with a pencil eraser. – Ben Crowell Feb 25 '18 at 21:11

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