My new NEC 8201a (and some comparisons with the TRS-80 Model 100)

A new rest home resident

I thought I’d show off the latest addition to Tezza’s rest home for classic micros; A NEC 8201a!

NEC 8201a

Picture 1. A newly acquired NEC 8201A

This model is a sibling of the (internationally more famous) TRS-80 Model 100, with both models being manufactured on contract from Kyocera, Japan. In the day (1983), the 8201a seemed to have more visibility here in New Zealand than the Model 100. In fact, I’d never seen a Model 100 in the flesh until I imported one from Canada!

NEC 8201a Side and Rear View

Picture 2. Rear and side view. Note the RAM cartridge expansion slot on the left picture

Why did I get this?

The main reason I picked up this machine was pure nostalgia. I used to own one from 1984 to 1987. During those years I would use it every day both at work and home for writing drafts of just about everything. Once these were done, I could upload them to the PC or XT at work (or the System 80 at home) for final formatting, storing and printing.

I loved it! It was reliable, rugged, had a great keyboard and was ready for use as soon as you switched it on! I could even play those BASIC adventure games in bed, which was not possible with anything else at the time!

NEC 8201a versus the TRS-80 Model 100

Now that I have both a NEC 8201a AND a Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 I can compare the two. It could be my nostalgia colouring the evaluation but if I had to choose between the two machines the NEC would win out, despite the fact it’s a little heavier.

NEC 8201a and Model 100

Picture 3. The TRS-80 Model 100 and the NEC 8201a. The family resemblance is easy to see.

The MAJOR thing going for the NEC 8201a is that the cursor keys are arranged in a sensible diamond pattern. I'm sure Model 100 users don’t realize how clunky their “in-line” chiclet keys are for editing compared to the arrangement on the NEC 8201a. The latter's setup is SO much better. Also, the unit is angled towards the back for easier typing. Furthermore, unlike the Model 100, the 8201a assumes any modem would be hanging off the RS-232 port rather than being built-in, so its terminal program is simpler to use. Want to delete a file with the 8201a? It's easy, just highlight the file to exterminate and use the KILL function key. The Model 100 requires you to enter BASIC and type out "KILL <filename>". The BASIC is also faster, as the NEC defaults to single precision whereas the Model 100 does it all in double precision unless told otherwise.

Lastly it is more expandable, potentially holding a total memory load of 96k utilizing three 32k banks, each of which could hold its own directory and data. Bank 3 was an external NiCAD-maintained RAM cartridge which simply plugged into a docking bay at the side (see picture 2). Changing a cartridge could give you a whole new data set to access!

NEC 8201a vrs Model 100 - Note the slope!

Picture 4. Note the slope on the NEC 8201a compared to the Model 100

Just as the NEC 8201a has things I like over the Model 100, the latter has some useful features the 8201a does not have. For example there are lots of graphics characters available for programmers to use in the character set while NEC expected you to design your own. The cassette port takes the same cable as the TRS-80 Model 1, unlike the NEC which has different pinouts (anyone got an 8201a cassette cable?). The 8201a doesn't have the address list or scheduler database. (Mind you, I see this as a negative for the Model 100 because in the day I would never have wanted those anyway; they would have just cluttered up the directory).

Perhaps the biggest plus the Model 100 has over the NEC 8201a is that, being more widespread, there are more programs and third-party support for the Tandy machine.

Work to do

These machines are kept alive by a NICAD battery soldered onto the motherboard. The one in this 8201a is as flat as a squashed hedgehog! Changing it will be a good project for a rainy day. Manuals would be nice, as would a cassette and printer cable. While I'm at it, some more RAM wouldn't go amiss either.

Anyway, I’m happy to have this little beauty in the stash. Ah, the memories!

5th November, 2009

Postscript: The machine now has 64K RAM and a new NiCad battery. It came with a repair, the details of which can be read about here. (26th February, 2010)

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