The Tandy TRS-80 MC-10 was Tandy’s attempt to compete with the Commodore VIC-20. Released in 1983 and based on the TRS-80 CoCo 1, this machine retailed for a paltry $119.99, which did not give you much at all. It used a Motorola 6803 CPU clocked at 890KHz (that’s under a megahertz!) with 4K RAM and 8K ROM featuring BASIC. It could do color video with the same MC6847 found in the proper CoCo system, and be upgraded to 20K RAM with an addon.
However, it was a complete and total mess. In 1983, a new microcomputer was expected to have things like:
- Full travel keyboards
- Disk drive support
- Medium resolution graphics
- 64K of memory
This system has a chiclet keyboard, only used cassette tapes, low resolution graphics, and barely any memory. It also has really bad RS-232 serial functionality. The 6803 CPU has a built-in UART, so it SHOULD be able to do it without needing any special hardware or hacks. But the engineers only provided one timing crystal – a 3.58 MHz TV colorburst crystal to properly generate video – which did not divide correctly for serial communication timing. Instead, all serial communications are done manually in software, which results in a very unstable and difficult-to-use connection. The MC-10 was canned in 1984, less than a year after it was released. Now, what to do with all that unused stock…
Tandy produced a confusing array of incompatible computers with the TRS-80 label. First up was the main TRS-80 line that started with the TRS-80 Model I and continued through the Model IV many years later. These were all essentially compatible with each other. Then there was the TRS-80 Color Computer line. This was a completely different line of computers that was incompatible with the first though they were sold at the same time. The Color Computer line eventually dropped the TRS-80 designation and was just known as the Tandy or Radio Shack Color Computer or CoCo for short. The last in that line was the CoCo 3.
Then there were the one-off machines that weren’t compatible with anything else. There were a number of these. The one pictured above is the TRS-80 MC-10. It was basically a scaled down version of the Color Computer meant to compete with inexpensive computers like the Commodore VIC-20 and the Sinclair ZX-81. Released in 1983, it was really much too little and too late. By 1983 the VIC-20 was on its way out in favor of the Commodore 64, a much more advanced machine. The same was true of the ZX-81 which never had a huge amount of success in the U.S. anyway.
The TRS-80 MC-10 had a number of big disadvantages. While it was only $120, the VIC-20 was already (or would soon be) $99. The VIC-20 only had a 22-column display (without add-ons) but it had excellent hardware and software support and a much better keyboard. The MC-10 had basically the same graphics capability as the Color computer (based on the MC6847 VDG) but it used the less advanced Motorola MC6803 processor (as opposed to the 6809 in the Color Computer). This and other differences made almost all Color Computer software, even most BASIC software, incompatible with the MC-10. The MC-10 only ever had a very limited amount of cassette based software available for it.
The MC-10 would only be on the market for about a year. By the time it was released in 1983, the world was moving on the bigger and better computers. The Apple II had already been around a while, the Commodore 64 and IBM PC had recently been introduced, and because of the Commodore instigated price war, Atari’s 8-bit computers and others were rapidly dropping in price. The MC-10 just didn’t have much of a market.
For those that have an MC-10 or are interested in seeing what one was like in action, checkout http://faculty.cbu.ca/jgerrie/Home/jgames.htmlwhich has tons of mostly fan-made games (screenshots of a few above). For those with a real MC-10, most of these require the 16K expansion. However, there is also an emulator linked at the top of that page.