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39-year-old Radio Shack laptop gets new CPU, keeps original screen

A 1983-era TRS-80 Model 100 as action hero, exploding onto the scene.

Enlarge / A 1983-era TRS-80 Model 100 as an action hero, dramatically exploding onto the scene. (credit: Radio Shack / Benj Edwards)

Faced with a broken Radio Shack laptop from 1983, IEEE Spectrum editor Stephen Cass didn’t throw it away. Instead, he pulled out the logic board and replaced it with a modern microcontroller so he could control the vintage screen. Cass wrote about his adventure in detail for Spectrum last week.

Cass performed his operation on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100—one of the first laptops ever produced—which features a one-piece “slate” form designed by Kyocera and released as the NEC PC-8201 in Japan. Its claim to fame was not only its small portable size (at 2 inches thick and 3.9 lbs), but having a great keyboard paired with its ability to run for up to 20 hours on four AA batteries.

The Model 100 included a 2.4 MHz Intel 80C85 CPU, 8 to 32K of RAM, and an eight-line, 40-character monochrome LCD with no backlight. It doesn’t sound like much compared to today’s portable beasts, but journalists loved the Model 100 because they could comfortably write stories on the go using its built-in text editor. It also included Microsoft BASIC, a terminal program, and an address book in ROM.

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