System 80/Video Genie/PMC-80 Reminiscences
These machines intrigued and enriched the lives of many people. For some, they were the spark that began a life-long interest in Information Technology. To others, they simply conjure up fond recollections of the games played and programs coded.
Some past and present owners share their thoughts (in no particular order) in the links below...
From Garry Howarth, Australia (4th September, 2011)...
"Back in the early 80's I arrived home with a Level-II cassette based System-80 under one arm and a carton of VB under the other. OK, now that I've got it, what do I do with it? I knew what to do with the VB :-)
With help from magazines like 80-Micro, Micro-80 and SYDTRUG etc, I was able to learn Basic and later Z80 assem. I also tried my hand at hardware mods, the usual extra ram and CPU speed-up mods.
Later came an expansion box with floppy drives, RS232 etc - I was in heaven :-)
My crowning glory was a thing I designed called ROMDOS-80. ROMDOS-80 was an add on board with Newdos-80 stored in an eprom and it also had a battery backed up RTC. Instant boot from rom and no system disk required - fast. "
From Malcolm Davis, Australia (13th January, 2009)...
"The System 80 was my first computer. At the time, I was about 12 years old, living in Adelaide, and all set to get into amateur radio. My Dad and I went into Dick Smiths to buy my first transceiver, and he managed to convince me to look at a computer instead – the System 80 was the unit we chose, given the Sorcerer was too expensive at the time. It had a massive 4K RAM, and a fast cassette drive with a black and white monitor. I’m glad he convinced me on the computer, because I found the computer much more interesting (and probably would not have passed the ham radio exam to get my licence anyhow!). I had the System 80 for a number of years before donating it to a local primary school, and replacing it with one of the very first Apple Mac 128 computers to arrive in Australia in 1984.
The System 80 was a great computer, especially given that it could run all the TRS-80 software. Of course I used it mainly for games, but also made a start on learning BASIC programming, which I think helped later on in University computer science courses, and remember typing up an essay on an early word processing package that to me at the time, was a complete relief from using a typewriter or writing by hand.
This site really takes me back to the early days of PCs, when it was much more of a ‘hobby’ than the tool that it is now."
From , Australia (19th August, 2005)...
"I wanted to just indulge a little here and reminisce about my System 80 experience. I was only a young boy at the time, about 14 when I saved up all my pennies and spent them on a System 80 (I think my mum might well have helped a bit too). I really wanted an Apple ][ or even and Apple clone of some kind (A friend of mine actually had a clone which was called a Pineapple!). We had Apple ]['s at school, and I was learning to program in BASIC on them. But the System 80 it was, and I was still immensely proud of it. I had a computer - not many people at the time could say that.
I have mostly fond memories of my System 80. It largely worked well. I recall that it was perhaps the only computer I've ever seen with fake wood laminate on the sides. There just isn't enough wood in computers these days! Also, the built in tape drive with volume control was something unique at the time I think. It seemed self contained and very capable at the time. I did have to hook it up to a horrible blurry colour monitor, which I'm sure contributed to the bad eyesight I now endure. I remember a little later I sprung for a much much clearer mono screen (that was actually amber) and the difference in pixel clarity was chalk/cheese. Mono monitors are very sharp, even by today's standards, because there is only one gun to worry about, and you don't need precise alignment.
Anyway, I used this computer to play games and write simple programs. I enjoyed learning the art of programming. At the time, the computer seemed to have limitless capabilities. Anything you could dream up you could program. Graphics programs, text games, simple calculators, whatever. I made plenty of mistakes, and learnt to avoid "spaghetti code", which was a great mess of GOTOs. I even once learn assembler, but it was a bit low level for me. Fast, but too much like hard work. PEEK and POKE don't do it for me really.
I remember one program I wrote, with a smile. It was a parody of the demo application that came with the system, which had a cheesy picture of Dick Smith. In what might well have been one of the earliest pieces of electronic porn, I wrote a program that drew a large lifelike penis - the real "electronic dick". When I showed some of my friends, I'm sure they thought I was gay, which I'm not, not that there is anything wrong with that as they say.
I also remember writing some software which displayed a 3D maze, in simple wire frame. I'm fairly certain that I did it in the most inefficient method possible. The maze was 3x3 grid only, and drew only 2 squares deep. Still, it was cutting edge at the time, and kept me amused, which was the point really. It was like the maze you saw on Wizardry I, if that makes sense to anyone.
Over time, like a few years, the System-80 got less and less use. The computers at school were upgraded and oh-so-much-better. I became a "computer monitor" at school. Which is a stupid name, because a monitor means the display of course. Anyway, I then went on to do Computer Studies and then BSc in Computer Science. I sold Apple computers for a while. I now am the National IT Manager at the company I work for, and still dabble in programming, using the techniques and discipline I learnt way back then on this now humble machine. I still have a preference for BASIC, it's my "mother tongue". VB.NET is quite a capable language now.
I no longer own a System 80, and can't remember exactly what happened to mine. I have, however, been recently given a working TRS-80 Model 100 "laptop" which is similar in many ways but using a LCD display. I am having fun revisiting my youth on it, and teaching my two children programming on it! Haha. They think I'm crazy. Perhaps I am!!
From , Upper Hutt, New Zealand (24th November, 2006)...
"This was my first PC back in 1981 when there were only two shops selling computers in Auckland. One was a TRS 80 shop in Fort Street Auckland and the other was Dick Smith in Newmarket.
Apart for the time that it took to download a program from a cassette tape one of the biggest problems was that the System 80 used to generate a lot of radio frequency interference that affected people' TVs.
Good memories though. It was the start of interest in computers and a whole new career in computers and IT related positions.
Yes it all began with the Dick Smith System 80."
From , Penrith, NSW, Australia (1st April, 2007)...
Meteor Mission was my favourite game by a long way. We bought our System 80 in February 1982. Eventually expanding its 16k up to 32k by following a memory piggy-back modification plan published in Electronics Australia magazine.
My old System 80 died in late 1984 following a major Sydney thunderstorm - so we then converted to a Commodore 64, which went on to be our favourite machine - however the System 80 started it all for us :)
I still have a manual for the old Microsoft Assembler for the TRS80/System80 somewhere in the garage!
From , Windsor, England (31st May, 2007)...
The VG was my second computer after the Sinclair ZX80. I built an expansion unit for disk drives and printer and attempted to get to grips with Assembler programming with some reasonable success. As I am a radio ham my efforts were in that direction and I managed a working system to decode RTTY.
Not long afterwards I bought a Dragon computer which did not use the Z80 CPU so I soon forgot what I had learned and I then got overtaken by technical advances and the availability of off-the-shelf systems.
The VG has now been taken out of storage and Peter is trying to get it working (ed.)
From , Brisbane, Australia (28th July, 2007)...
"I had a huge number of Programs and games for the Dick Smith System 80, on cassette and disk. I wish i still had them, as the gameplay was amazing for its time. The games were more fun than anything produced these days. So long ago it is hard to remember all their names.
I still have "Rescue at Rigel" somewhere, although i haven't seen it in a few years. There is also an emulator for that game.
I have literally spent thousands of hours in front of my System 80, and learnt most of my programming and computer skills from it."
Brad Henry's System-80
Photo date unknown
From , Wanganui, New Zealand (6th August, 2007)...
I remember the excitement at age 15 of collecting my System 80 Blue Label from a Dick Smith agent in Havelock North in 1982. It wasn't my first computer - this was an upgrade from a ZX80 with which I had cut my teeth on for about 18 months previously. As I was at boarding school, I could only use my System 80 during holidays, however my computer appetite was being satisfied at school with their multi-user Basic DEC system.
After a year or so, the yearning for disk drives & printer became paramount. This was met with a NZ-made Expansion Unit, I recall from a firm in Christchurch. It came with one Remex 80 track double-sided drive. The printer was next, sourced in Hawke's Bay - it was a Super 5 brand. This was a 9 pin dot matrix clone of the Epson FX-80 and it had NLQ. I remember the printer costing a heady $1000.
By 1985 I was at Tech where my peers had microcomputers as well. While they had flashy colour graphics et al, none could match my System 80's disk system, which was now twin Mitsubishi 80 track double-sided drives - giving over 700K storage. I used it to wordprocess assignments, play a few games, generally learn about microcomputers & Basic programming. I was envious though of those that could program in machine language - I just never applied myself to learn that.
In 1989 I went into business selling Land Rover new & used parts. I wrote a stock system tailor-made for the business and with Lazywriter & Visicalc - I had all the tools I needed to run the business. On observing my System 80 set-up, other business owners with computers (PC type), often showed envy at the speed with which I could switch on & do useful things - particularly with my purpose built stock control software. In 1996 I reluctantly retired my System 80 set-up and ported the business system over to a PC base. The only reason being I would soon be leaving the business and I figured I'd better get a 'normal' system installed for the new user.
Today if I was still in that business, I'm confident I would still have the System 80 doing it's work - just to make a point that 8 bit micros are cool. (I would however, probably relent and have a PC as well...)
It was a sad day in 1997 when a house-move required disposing of unnecessary stuff. I never foresaw such a hobby as retro-computing in my future and the System 80 was put out on the roadside for inorganic collection. However, it maybe exists somewhere as someone scooped up the System 80 before collection, but alas they didn't take the expansion unit (probably didn't realise what it was).
Forward to 2003 - while trolling the net I came across Ira Goldlang's TRS-80.com site. This rekindled my 8 bit micro spirit, so I pondered what should I now get, what have I always wanted. The answer was a TRS-80 Model III. They were just so expensive in NZ in their day, but I was always envious of their all-in-one-cool-box design. Looking around NZ for several months, I just couldn't find an existing Model III. Finally I sourced one from Australia (Ian Mavric) and I was back in the game. With the resources on Ira's site, I soon had more software & documentation than I did in the 1980's. It wasn't long til that age old taboo came up again - machine code/assembly language. This time I delved right in to it and have become quite proficient at it over time.
I still use the Model III regularly, but have also veered on to another micro - the TRS-80 Model 100 (a 8085 laptop of 1983). With a strong user group still active, I've completed several assembly language projects for this machine and currently I spend an hour or two each day on my latest project for the M100 - a Basic compiler
All the best to the System 80 enthusiasts out there.
From , Australia (9th January, 2006)...
"I purchased my first System 80 for $999 back (er some time ago now), from Dick Smiths, just so I could learn something about these things called "computers". Somehow I knew that they would be important in the future. And so they were, in fact they have provided me with an excellent career.
I have managed to keep two System 80 computers, the first, a Business Computer (ie a numeric keyboard instead of a cassette player) and the second a basic System 80 with Cassette player.
I never had a "real" Dick Smith expansion unit, but my first Disk Controller was a kit I purchased from someone in Queensland (he was a truck driver by day, and a System 80 enthusiast by weekend/night).
I breadboarded my own printer driver, piggy backed three banks of memory to give the computer 48KB of RAM.
Later, after completing an Associate Diploma in Electrical Engineering, using a breadboard, I made a Single/Double Density Disk Controller with Printer driver (the sound amp never did work).
I have purchased quite a lot of Tandy software just before they got rid of it all (I hate to say how much money I spent on this, even having to take out a personal loan, what a stupid idea that one was).
As time went on, friends, others and myself all lost interest as the IBM PC (and a few other distractions) took our attention and time. Even these days, the wife, children and certainly work, all demand much of my time, leaving me with a little for home maintenance, garden, etc and not much for playing Linux or System 80.
However, even during our moves, and house contents re-evaluations that this caused, I still have two System 80's and bits and pieces, and original software, plus quite some old disks (who knows whether they are still readable, and I have yet to have time to put my computers together so I can transfer more of the files from old disks to the IBM world. (Though this is a task that I have set myself to complete this year).
Before the end of the System 80 days (for me), I managed to create a circuit and some hardware to implement a "memory drive" of a maximum of 1 MB which could be accessed via 256 byte pages in the 256 byte memory hole that was designed for the Model I but never implemented. A friend wrote the software to interface with NEWDOS 80 and it made the use of SuperScripsit so much better and faster, no physical disk access was needed for spell checking or SuperScripsit's modules. I keep the document on a disk to ensure it was not lost should the computer have problems. The memory disk could be formatted using NEWDOS80 to any particular size up to 1 MB.
I would love to talk one of the TRS80 emulators writers into implementing this feature, even if only for demonstration of what could be achieved."
George is a very busy family man, but has a keen interest in Linux, and 80's emulation in that environment (ed).
From , Australia (19th July, 2006)...
"Recently whilst cleaning out the garage I came across an old System 80 (dad found it at the dump originally) and have since re-newed my interest in the old girl.
I was still in Primary school when dad introduced our home to computers with the System 80, I remember many late nights and early mornings playing with the thing, typing in many programs from the micro 80 magazine. We were never fortunate enough to have disk drives only the inbuilt tape.
I think Dad still has this machine and every issue of micro 80, but never adventured into the world of disk drives.
I would love to hear from other users of these machines."
From , Warrimoo (Blue Mountains), NSW, Australia. (11th August, 2005)...
"In 1980 I attended a Crusader Union Computer Camp for two weeks during school Holidays. It was great fun and eye opening. There were all sorts of enthusiasts, Uni students and businessmen that were in the early IT industry and wanted to help others get started. I really didn't know much about computers except that they were complex electronic machines AND I loved electronics.
After the camp, my Dad purchased a System-80. I don't know why he did that. I don't recall asking for one - probably because I knew they were expensive. I am sure that Dad didn't know what the end result of this purchase would be.
My brother and I quickly learnt BASIC, Z-80 machine code and began decoding the 12K ROM. Occasionally we would have a competition that involved agreeing on a specification for a machine language program and then independently writing a program that would run the fastest and be the smallest size. The winner would have the program that executed in the fewest number of CPU states calculated manually. One competition was to treat a byte as two nibbles and each nibble described setting or resetting a graphic bit in one of the 8 surrounding pixels. My brother won by one state per loop as I recall by careful assignment of registers so that he could use the DJNZ opcode which combined two instructions into one saving 3 states. Another competition was to clear the screen. My brother again had the fastest code, but it was one byte large in size so it was a draw (he doesn't think so).
We did a lot of machine code programming and experimented with 'hidden' Z-80 instructions to do with IX and IY registers. I learnt a lot and had a good understanding of how high level languages are eventually decoded and interpreted or compiled into machine code.
Then I became interested in the hardware. I somehow contacted a guy who worked for Dick Smith and he supplied me with Technical Bulletins and even circuit diagrams which I slowly studied and eventually understood everything about the machine from it keyboard interface, tape deck, memory, video memory, character ROMs etc. I added 32k to the 16k by piggy-backing RAM (4116?) chips onto the existing RAM chips and then using spare gates to build the necessary CAS signals. Another project was to increase the speed of the System-80. It ran at 1.7 MHz which was derived by dividing a standard 10.something MHz crystal by 6. I used the Page button and spare logic circuits onboard to bypass a divide by 2 stage to run the PC at 3.5 MHz. It worked but the problem was that the tape deck signals were software timed and when the Z-80 ran at x2 it could no longer read tapes. So I had to load in the program at normal speed, and then switch into 'turbo' mode. Half the time the machine would lock-up which I later realised was caused (mainly) by switch bounce.
I eventually purchased another System-80 in 1984 and also a hi-res unit. A year later I bought a IBM clone and I remember being disappointed with it's speed.
I still have both System-80s and I think I have most of my old tapes as well. I should get them out from storage (they are in a friend's shed) and let my children see what the early days were like before disk drives."
Phil's modified System 80. The plastic-covered circuitboard is a parallel interface to a S-100 Microbee prototype
From , U.S.A. (30th April, 2006)...
"Mine was a 16k version on which I played many of the games you talk about on your site.
I also played Deathmaze 2000. Like everyone just happens to have a copy of Beowulf lying around! I liked the game mechanic though. Typing and "1st person" graphics.
We bought thePMC-81 because I had done everything I could do with my sinclair ZX80 and my family couldn't afford a TRS-80. I really learned my assembly language chops on that machine. Penetrator especially inspired me."
From , Australia (16th February, 2001)...
"In the early 80s the Electronics Today International magazine published a circuit for an interface between the System 80 and an Atari-style joystick. It was unusual in that it plugged into the expansion connector rather than taking the simpler (and in my opinion neater) method of connecting a 9-pin panel plug to the relevant keys on the keyboard, to allow an Atari joystick to be plugged in.
I thought a circuit diagram might still be available from Electronics Australia, and an AltaVista search showed up this URL:http://www.electronicsaustralia.com.au/files/eti_proj.txt but EA doesn't seem to have a web site anymore either.
My System 80 aspirations only go as far as acquiring an expansion unit, as I picked my machine up at the dump for $5 (they run a for-profit scavenging programme called "Revolve" here in Canberra). System 80s were prolific there in about 1994-5, but now you seldom see anything other than PCs, Macs and the occasional Amiga.
I used a System 80 at high school in the late 80s. I was the only person in the entire school to use it, and it felt pretty good at the time since all anyone else knew how to do was stuff disks in an Apple II and turn it on.
I tried to buy it from the school in 1991 but unfortunately I was too late, as it had already been dumped. That was a shame, since it had the printer interface, expansion unit with twin drives, DosPlus and quite a bit of software on tape and disk. I managed to retrieve the DosPlus manual and the taped software - they'd already overwritten the disks with Appleworks or something (*sigh*).
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, I'll be dusting off the old box and firing it up sometime soon.
PS - If I use an Apple II monitor with my System 80, does that make me a heretic? :-)"
From , Australia (29th April, 2005)...
""System 80". Today was the first time it even entered my head to google it to see if there was any traces of these computers left. Wow, now seeing a system 80 again after 18 years has put a grin on my face.
This was my first computer when I was in year 10 high school. I mowed lawns and did odd jobs for over a year to buy a computer, my Dad finally said I had enough money to buy a System 80, I think he put in the majority of the money. I remember not being able to sleep for what seemed more than a week before I got it home. Now that's when the excitement was seriously doused as my machine worked for one night before it died!, That was the first of four under warranty; the man at Dick Smiths was even going to come out to our house to see if there was a huge magnet under my room.
I learnt a little BASIC and remember writing a basic space invaders game and a lot of other programs to help me at school. I couldn't afford that much software as my lawn mowing time was now taken up by computer time. I did purchase a light pen though and I still have that some where.
My Dad gave the System 80 away after it sat in the cupboard for a few years. If I hadn't discovered girls I don't think it would have ended in there.
It is so weird seeing a photo of it again. Can't wait for my partner to get home so i can show her the photo, as she always gets the story "when i was young my computer had 16k, a tape player"."
The System 80 started an obsession with computers that has lead to the above. 11 PCs!! (dual and quad core)
From Casey Bennetto, Australia (1st September, 2004)...
"Thanks for putting up your System-80 site. Looking at it brought back a lot of memories (of the "Oh yeah! That's what the manual looked like!" and "Wow! Penetrator! Scarfman!" variety, and even of the
"Oh nooooo!" variety). But I must take issue with the exclusion of "Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio" from the Favorite System 80 Games category. Alright, so maybe it's not one of your favourites, but c'mon! You could become a Lord! A Duke!
I notice it's even been ported to Windows...
I actually had my System-80 modified out at Nunawading Computers in Melbourne; there was some kind of EPROM added, but I have absolutely no idea now what it did or improved. Eventually I gave it away while at college. (I think the tape drive was close to dead anyway. At least, that's what I tell myself...)
Still, being able to run the MESS emulator is fun. It takes me back."
From Anonymous, New Zealand (3rd January, 2006)...
"A great walk down memory lane. I still have my system 80 and don't have the heart to biff it, it cost me an arm and a leg in the "good old days", maybe even my soul.
I bought it through the PSIS - when they use to have shops. It was the first computer that I ever learned to write machine code on (had to poke values into the memory to create the programs). I even attempted to write a computer game "Ice Cube" based on the Atari game Pengo.
I must have wasted a fair percentage of my life playing Scott Adams games (what do you do with a juju bag?). "
From Anonymous 2, New Zealand (26th February, 2004)...
"They can say what they want about the TRS80 and it's clones, but for many of us in the late 70's and early 80's it (the System 80) was our gateway into the world of computing. I still have several Sys80 machines plus expansion units, along with a couple of video genies, and a stack of books (many which you showed) and a ton more that you didn't.
Looking at the old games almost brought tears to my eyes, and brought back a lot of old memories. I bought my first Black Label from a cop in Auckland for $600 bucks... no sound, or lower case, but I soon rectified that, and then the collection began to grow until I purchased my first IBM XT. Even then I hung onto the old machines and with the help of Dave Ried Electronics in Auckland I kept adding bits, but with the IBM beginning to offer more in the way of software I was gradually weaned off the Sys80, but still look at them now and then with fond memories.
Our favorite game of the time was Voyage Of Valkyrie. Brilliant graphics for the time, and way above much else.
Amazing the stuff we could cram into the old system and put up with poor recordings and the ongoing probs that we fixed as they happened. I did manage to convert a few programs to the VZ.. but the magic had gone... even with the colour he he."
These last two are anonymous either because the emails asking permission to use their text bounced back to me, or they submitted an anonymous letter. If this recollection is yours, please get in touch so I can add your name or remove the entry.
Also, check out the Links page. Many of the sites listed there are from dedicated System 80/Video Genie/PMC-80 enthusiasts and include a number of recollections.
Please , if you have your own memories you wish to add to this site.