A Tribute to the Dick Smith System 80
(aka Video Genie and PMC-80/81)

Why I built this website?

Terry Stewart

My first experience with any computer was back in 1978 when I took a computer course as an elective at University. Those were the days! I spent many an hour punching out holes in punch cards trying to get a simple program working. You would then submit these cards via pigeon-hole to the "high priests" who looked after the Uni. computer. These would be run overnight and you could collect printouts from the same pigeon-hole in the morning. Mine usually said something like


and that was that. Interactive they were not!

1980 rolled around and my soon-to-be wife showed me a "micro-computer" that her University Department had purchased, with the aim of running some psychological tests. It was a cassette-based TRS 80 Model 1 running a blackjack game, written in Level 2 Basic. I was amazed. I was TOTALLY amazed! Here was a computer you could actually interact with! And so small!!

Anyway, a few months later, I was walking past an office hardware shop (Viscount Electronics in Palmerston North actually), when I noticed a few microcomputers in the window. They looked very cool and tantalizing with their demo programs playing on their VDUs. There was a Commodore Pet, an Apple II, a TRS 80 model 1 and an elegant-looking computer called a "System 80" being marketed by an Australian electronics chain, Dick Smith Electronics. The System 80 was wired up and lo and behold, it was playing the same game my (now-) wife had shown me on the TRS 80! The unit looked a lot more robust than the latter though and had a nice full-stroke keyboard with a built-in cassette drive and TV RF interface. What's more, it was only 2/3 the price of the Tandy machine!

It just seemed to whisper to me....

In the greatest example of impulse buying I have ever experienced in my life, I duly arrived home with the sparkling System 80 under my arm, to the chagrin of my wife, who felt the money would have been far better spent on the deposit for our first home.

From then on, life was never the same. I duly discovered Scriptsit, Big Five Software, 80-Micro Mag, Micro-80 Mag (an Australasian one), 80-US and Scott Adams Adventure games and a host of other wonderful things. I even dabbled in assembly language, a necessity as the System 80 wasn't completely compatible with the TRS 80 and I had to patch Scriptsit in order for the print command to work. The thrill when the patch actually worked was unforgettable.

The Scott Adams games were played amongst my whole family, with frequent long distance phone calls from brothers, sisters and parents which went along the lines of "Have you tried throwing the beef jerky at the iron pharaoh?" etc. The concepts behind those adventure games spilled over to my work, and I adapted the approach into problem-solving adventure games to train students in my discipline. This led me to getting more and more involved in computer-aided learning and now e-learning. Much of my work now concerns e-learning. I've moved a great deal from my roots in applied microbiology to where I am now, and it is thanks to this microcomputer. It's been a blast!

I used the System 80 for work and pleasure right up to 1987 or so. By the time it was retired it had 48K, two Double-Sided 80 track disk drives, a specially-constructed RS 232 Box and a kitset modem. In 1985 I even wrote my Masters thesis on it, a chapter at a time, then uploaded it through the phone lines (at 300 baud) to our university PRIME, for formatting and final copy. I used the System 80 for editing as LazyWriter was FAR superior to any text editor I could find on the PRIME mainframe!

After I purchased an IBM compatible XT, the System 80 was gracefully put out to pasture. As in other households I'm sure, it sat up in the attic for many years along with its manuals. In 1999, I moved house. A good time to throw out all that computer "junk" I thought. By this stage I'd purchased a good System 80 emulator, so there was really no need to keep all that hardware and "stuff".

As I was shifting the gear out of the attic, I started to look through the old manuals. I looked at all the software boxes, and the bits and pieces that had made such an impact on my life. Then it dawned on me that, unlike the TRS 80, the System 80 was not well-documented anywhere! As a model, it was popular in Australia and New Zealand, more so than anywhere else in the world. In fact, I would say that in the years 1981 and 1982 it was probably the most popular microcomputer "down under", but nothing had been put down in books or on websites for posterity. It would just fade from memory and younger people researching the history of microcomputers in this part of the world would be unaware of what it was and its impact. It deserved to be more than just a footnote!

That is why this site was initially developed. To capture (hopefully forever) a slice of computer history, before I threw all those artifacts out and the details were lost forever.

Over time the site has grown. Every now and again I get a letter from someone who cut their teeth on the System 80, and enjoyed the nostalgia. Initially the site was a personal reflection based on what I had and knew but over time people have added to the tale. They are still adding to it. It's grown to encompass not just the System 80 in Australasia but also other EACA offerings elsewhere. As time goes on, I aim to document its FULL history.

Terry Stewart

P.S. the gear is STILL in the attic!! In fact, there is more gear than ever! I've started collecting other computers of similar vintage, and will be developing other sites regarding those. See the root of this URL at classic-computers.org.nz (-: