The TRS-80 Color Computer 2 – A Look Back


In my previous ‘A Look Back’, I discussed my first modern computer that our family had owned which was the Tandy Sensation.  Ah, but notice that I said modern because in this one we are going to take a look back even further!  In this one, I look all the way back to the early 80’s at our first computer that I remember owning.  It was… the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer 2!  (CoCo2).

The Color Computers (CoCo’s) were a line of computers under the Tandy name sold by Radio Shack.  There were three models: CoCo1, CoCo2, and CoCo3.  Each went through a few revisions.  These computers used a cassette deck that would connect to the CoCo to transfer data (such as games).  Crazy, isn’t it?  I can’t comment on what each model did or didn’t do or even what peripherals were available, but as for the CoCo2, it had a cartridge slot on the side of it as well for different kind of data.

But before I even get into the whole thing, let’s take a look at the specs of the CoCo2’s main unit (should be mostly correct):

–          Introduced in 1983

–          53 key keyboard

–          Motorola 6809E CPU at 0.89Mhz

–          16KB, 32KB, 64KB of RAM (varied on revision)

–          Graphics: 256 x 192 (2 colors), 128 x 192 (2 and 4 colors), 128 x 96 (4 and 2 colors), 32 x 64 (8 colors)

–          Support for 9 colors

–          1 Voice (6-bit DAC) sound (64 different volume levels)

–          OS-9 Level II multi-tasking operating system

–           Reset Switch, Channel Selector(3-4), RF output, Cassette port, Serial I/O port, Right/Left Joystick ports, Cartridge slot, and the power button.

(The back of the CoCo2)

Oh how far we’ve come huh?

I have always found it amusing in the modern times when I tell people, “Yea, I have this old computer sitting around.  You load data through cassette tapes.”  And I get this very awkward look!  Of course, that wasn’t the only thing you could do with it.  It had a very simple yet easy programming language.  You could create your own fun little programs and other things.  I can’t get too in depth with that because I never really used it for that reason, but I do remember a friend coming over once and trying to write out a text-based adventure game based off of Zorro.  It worked pretty well.

I was too young to really remember how we went about getting this system.  I do have slight memories of being at my uncle’s house (again) and he was really into the whole thing.  I believe these games that I still have sitting here were from him.  I’ll just assume that my parents based the decision off of them which is cool, because this is nice little piece of history to own still to this day.

So how does this thing work exactly?

Well for one thing, it connects to your TV.  It has the same type of video output as the Atari which is an RCA phono cable.  Depending on the type of TV you had back then, it was a little difficult to connect at times.  We used to always connect it to a switchbox that would screw onto the TV.  There is a much easier way of doing this with a Coaxial (F-type) to Female RCA Adapter.  You can find this part at Radio Shack with the part #278-276.  It makes connecting those old systems on newer TV’s much, much easier.

(Yuck, switchbox)

Have it connected?  Well then we just hit the power button and see that lovely green screen pop up waiting for text input (this is old so you’ll have to make sure you have it on channel 3 or 4).  You can do some things here such as programming and we can even change the color!  It really is a simple interface (obviously) but remember, this is the 80’s.  But let’s do a little more with that cassette deck.

(That lovely green screen)

Alright, as I’ve said, this is how you can load data into the CoCo.  You can also save data as well if you were programming your own ideas.  I can’t give exact specifics on how data is loaded and saved, but it does deal with sound waves.  As someone told me, we are still dealing with 1’s and 0’s.  A 0 bit will transmit at 1200 Hz while a 1 bit will transmit at 2400 Hz.  Sounds like pretty complicated stuff for that time!  Then again, if you really knew how everything was running under that pretty operating system that you’re using right now, it would probably blow your mind.  So maybe it isn’t all that complicating.

(The Cassette deck)

CLOADM…. CLOADM…. Ah, that’s the famous command that I remember even now.  I used to call it cloud m when I was young and I think that helped me remember.  This command is what I type in order to load up that data!  How this works is (and it can be a bit of a pain) with the cassette deck connected, you put your tape in with the data you want to load, you rewind the tape, you push play, and you type in that command.  Say for instance, I wanted to play Warkings.  On this one tape, it’s the second game.  I type in CLOADM “warkings” (yes this is the filename), the tape starts playing and an S pops up on the screen.  This is the CoCo searching for the proper data on that tape.  It will go through each data till it finds that filename.  Once it is found, the S turns into an F and it loads that data.  Once all data is loaded, the tape will stop, the screen will say OK, and then I type EXEC (this is the execute command).  And boom!  The game loads up on the screen and we are ready for some classic gaming action!  Grab those two classic joysticks if needed and have a go at it!  Simple!  Right?  It may take awhile to find the data, but it is easier if you know where it is on the tape (there is a counter on the deck so you can mark where each thing is).

(Cassette tapes with games you say?)

(Ah yes, games!)

I can’t sit here and say it all worked perfect when I got the CoCo2 out.  It has been sitting for a long time in the attic.  I had to refresh my memory a bit on how everything worked and in fact the keyboard didn’t even work properly!  Some keys would work, others would not.  I tried fixing it on my own but it just came down to being a bad keyboard.  Thank god for eBay and finding replacement parts!  Totally worth fixing it up though and having it in my classic collection.

This is a very cool piece of my life growing up.  Sure, we had the Atari first but being able to use an actual computer was something special.  There was simply more to it.  I don’t think the CoCo2 was the machine that got me completely into my computer habits at all (that still goes to the Sensation), but it sure was a start and I recall a lot of fun memories such as my brother and I battling in Warkings, my older sister using the paint program cartridge and trying to figure out how you color the damn thing, and of course being at my uncle’s house and just amazed at how much he seemed to know about it.  Everything is so different now and much better obviously, but this little CoCo will always be that cool part of my life.

For a lot more information on the CoCo’s and some really nice folks, take a look over at www.coco3.com.  They have a very nice support group and archives upon archives since the 80’s!

(Good ole’ CoCo2)

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One Response to “The TRS-80 Color Computer 2 – A Look Back”

  1. Guinavere Says:

    This came out before i was even born. . . but i tell you what, fun as hell. Its really interesting, and got some really addicting games. ❤ it, lol

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