LGR – Tandy 1000 Vintage Computer System Review

[theme music] Tandy/Radio Shack started selling computers in the late 1970s in competition with machines from Apple and Commodore. This was the TRS-80 series of computers which ended up being rather popular with home users, as well as schools and some businesses. But in 1981, IBM released the IBM PC, which dominated the business market and set the standard for computers to come. Tandy made a PC XT clone of sorts with enhanced graphics and sound, the Tandy 2000. But due to their choice of the 80186 CPU, it never really took off. Then in 1984, IBM released the PCjr, a home version of the PC. It had been hyped to no end during its development and during this time, Tandy got to work on a PCjr clone. But as Tandy was about to release their PCjr machine, the Tandy 1000, IBM announced that they were discontinuing the failed PCjr. Tandy quickly changed their marketing campaign to remove all references to IBM and the PC instead promoting it as an MS-DOS-compatible machine. It released in 1985 and quickly caught on as a very viable alternative to an IBM PC. Retaining compatibility with the PCjr and PC standards, as well as presenting a great upgrade for TRS-80 users, since it used many of the same peripherals. It was so popular, that the PCjr’s standard for graphics and sounds soon became known as “Tandy compatible.” There are many different Tandy 1000 machines, starting with the original, the 1000 and the 1000HD, both with 128K of RAM, and a hard drive in the HD model The 1000EX and the HX were the same as the 1000, but with smaller form factors and a built-in keyboard, the former with a 5.25″ drive, and the latter with a 3.5″ drive and DOS in ROM. There is also the SX and TX, with 8088-2 and 286 processors, respectively. Next are the updates to those machines, the SL and TL series. They had varying processors but they also had higher res graphics and even better sound chips, in addition to the earlier PCjr compatible chips often referred to as TL graphics and sound. The last machines made were the RL, RL/HD, RLX and RSX. The RL and RL/HD were similar to the TL machines, with 8086 AT-class processors and more RAM. The RLX with a 286 CPU, VGA graphics and high-density disk drive and the RSX with a 386SX CPU, SVGA graphics, and more RAM and upgrade options. I got my 1000 RL/HD for about $30, I suppose, since I got it bundled with some other items from Yushatak. Thanks again, dude. I also have a 1000 EX, but I’ve never gotten it to work properly. It only cost about $10. Before I get any further, I just want to preface this by saying that I’m going to treat this as a review of all the classic Tandy 1000s, since they really all had the basic same capabilities until the RLX. The RL/HD is the last of its kind and by that, I mean it’s the last with PCjr compatibility intact. See my PCjr review for more, but the big thing about the PCjr was enhanced graphics and sound over the IBM’s CGA and PC speaker capabilities. While the PCjr failed in bringing these extras to the mainstream, Tandy succeeded. The “HD” in RL/HD is because of the hard drive built in. It is a 20MB drive and was a godsend for Tandy games, since they often take several floppies and swapping sucks. But most of the rest of the computer is quite similar to the other 1000 machines. So let’s go over some Tandy 1000 basics. A big goal of the 1000 series was that it was to be compatible with most TRS-80 peripherals. This meant that while it was compatible with the PCjr’s hardware, the peripherals technically were not. The joysticks are a good example. They are the same thing as IBM or Kraft sticks, but have the same DIN connector as the TRS-80, so owners of that machine already has a head start. The earlier machines also had composite output so you could use it with your TRS-80 monitor which was really a rebadged TV set. You have your typical IBM-type ports like CGA monitor, serial and Centronics, or parallel, although the parallel is output only, so no hooking up external drives here. On the RL/HD, you have PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard, which I guess makes sense since the PS/2 came around this time, and the case style somewhat mimics it. But they aren’t exactly the same as the IBM standards, so you’ll probably still need Tandy devices for full compatibility. While we’re back here, it’s worth mentioning the Tandy machines were some of the first IBM-compatibles to use integrated components on the motherboard similar to what a modern chipset does, unlike the IBM machines, which still required the use of several expansion cards to perform base functions. I don’t yet have a Tandy monitor, but my IBM 5153 CGA monitor works just fine, since the Tandy graphics mode is really just CGA with all the colors at once. And don’t take this to mean that it works with EGA games because it won’t. The TL graphics mode might work on it too, but I haven’t yet run across a game that uses it. A sound output is built into the system with headphone output, a speaker and volume knob. The RL also has a mic input and we’ll get to that soon. Unlike the PCjr, there are no cartridge slots, but it does have the same 360K floppy drive, and RL has a 720K 3.5″ floppy drive. On the EX and similar machines, the drive is required for use, since there is no hard drive or built-in DOS. Many later machines had DOS in ROM, and of course the hard drive negated the need for booting from a floppy. But another big part of Tandy machines was its optional operating environment, Deskmate. At the time, environments like MacOS and GEM were all the rage, and Tandy had their own. It’s a GUI for DOS which contains its own programs as well as helping to manage DOS programs and files. It’s pretty darned awesome to use, especially if you have a mouse, like this ugly freak. It’s pretty similar to AmigaOS and GEM, and makes it feel like its own machine and not just another IBM clone. My favorite things are the sound programs. You can take full advantage of the Tandy DAC and listen to and compose music. [synth piano] And even sound effects, which you can also record using the mic input. [synth strings] It even has built-in audio manipulation, which was absolutely *insane* for 1991, when sound cards were still a luxury. Still, this is only on the TL and higher machines, like the RL here. The earlier 1000s had Deskmate available, but not with these advanced audio features. In my PCjr review, I mentioned how the thing was pretty much suck because while the capabilities were there, so many games were made to take advantage of Tandy hardware and more RAM. Well, if you get a Tandy 1000, you can just forget those issues. The RL/HD is especially nice with 768K of RAM, with 128K devoted to video, the PCjr compatible chips and a 9.56 MHz 8086 processor, putting it in the AT category. A good example of this extra speed boost is really noticeable in games like Digger. On a PCjr, it runs almost too slow to play, but on the RL, it is, quite simply, great. Also the RL’s CPU, extra RAM and hard drive make it ideal for many Tandy games since the enhanced graphics and sound add a bit more processing and memory requirements. There are literally hundreds of games that take advantage of the Tandy capabilities. Here a few that stand out. [computerized sound effects] [female voice]
“Sega Computer Software Presents” “Out Run” [engine revving and tires screeching] [three-tone Arkanoid theme] [three-tone music and sound effects] [synth music] [three-tone music] Regarding the RL/HD, probably the biggest hurdle you run into is the 720K 3.5″ drive Many Tandy compatible games still came on 360K 5.25″ floppies, so you’ll need to either convert them or get 720K versions. Thankfully, writing the 720K disks is easy enough on any 3.5″ drive provided you can find 720K disks, that is. I prefer using DSDD disks, but you can just use the 1.44 Meg disks with the classic taping over the hole trick. There’s also the excellent DOSBox and Tand-Em emulators for emulating the machines and their enhanced capabilities and for the most part, they do quite well. But with the breadth of hardware and software made for these things, you’ll no doubt run into several little quirks that emulation just can’t deal with. So, is the Tandy 1000 series computer worth buying? In short, yes. Yes it is. If you’re into late-’80s/early-’90s DOS gaming, especially those that take advantage of the Tandy hardware which seems to be most of them, it’s well worth looking into. The RL and TL series especially because of their extra enhanced modes on top of the normal Tandy/PCjr modes. Now of course, their success didn’t last forever. They were quickly eclipsed by the capabilities of later computers which used cheaper sound cards like the Sound Blaster that did a lot more than the Tandy and VGA cards, which surpassed Tandy graphics pretty quickly. Still, for the time and today, they’re small, affordable, and can do a whole lot in a very neat little package. So if you have any interest in one of these things, I would say go for it. It blows the PCjr out of the water and is probably gonna give you a lot more enjoyment than many other DOS machines in the long run.

100 Replies to “LGR – Tandy 1000 Vintage Computer System Review”

  1. Now I want one. I love old computers anyway, but the Tandy 1000 RL just has that appeal that brought me to love computers in the first place. <3

  2. It's a nice computer for the time but at the same time if gaming was the priority I'd rather go for the Amiga 500. It was cheaper and had better graphics and sound.

  3. dude thanks for the awesome review dude. It's great seeing young folks digging in. No plug and play and you had to know your stuff. Even the TL/2 was mind wracking. entire weekends spend getting Chuck Yeager Air Combat to run. expensive too. a new TL2 with CM5 monitor was over $2200!!! great reviews guy!

  4. The earlier 1000's had an edge connector for the parallel port, just like the TRS-80. Deskmate was a character mode interface, using the extended IBM character set of graphics like characters. I had access to the SDK back in the day, but I never made anything for it.

  5. If I were looking to get one of these, should I get an RL/HD, or a TL/2, as an HD doesn't matter too much to me, and the TL/2 has a 286 processor, as well as more slots, so I could add an EGA/VGA combination card for even more options. Maybe even a CGA Card for composite support.

  6. I now need to start doing some more stuff with my Tandy 1000 SX, which now has a permanent home. I just wish I could find a way to hook a CF card up to it to make transferring games to it much simpler. Disks are great, but I only have but so many and so many games just won't fit on a disk. But it's such a cool machine and I look forward to seeing what it's capable of.

  7. Do any of your late model 1000's have the default DeskMate sound file? It said "Welcome To DeskMate. For help at any time, please press the key labeled F1". I'd really like to hear that sample again!

  8. The Tandy 1000 RLX was my first computer. I loved the original civilization game, just not the multitude of disks and hours to create the world. LHX Attack Chopper was the shiite too.

  9. I was one of those poor sobs stuck with an IBM PCjr! lol. I was always disappointed with the performance of that thing, and after seeing so many "Tandy 1000 Compatible" lines on the back of game boxes, I always dreamed of what it must be like to have a Tandy, where all my games would run at full speed. Never got to try one.
    But i suppose I was lucky to have anything, and at least I could still play Wizardry and Boulderdash II, and Castle Wolfenstein… anything that didn't look too pretty 😀 And I liked just learning to program and use DOS back then. It's not all about the games (though video games are awesome).

  10. I my grandpa had a tandy sx/tx in the mid-80s. it worked pretty well, had … two games. golf and Ducks Ahoy. I do remember that it was a bit crap compared to the apple IIgs, but the graphics were good. it was just slow.

  11. I got one back in 1986 with the dual 5.25 and the tandy graphics 16 color.. I had the computer for like a 2 years before I realized I could play some games in 16 color not just 4 color lol… Upgraded it to 640k and was still working when I sold it in 1992.. Wish I never did

  12. I had a 1000RLX and out of the several different computers I had it was the only one that came with built in software allowing one to make music with realistic sounding instruments.

    Tandy I believe were way ahead of the competition in a lot of respects.

    Had Tandy just kept up doing things that nobody else was really doing I suppose they would still be making computers.

    They even had their own OS while for the most part being fully IBM compatible.

    Also I think it or maybe a later Tandy would play the PC speaker audio through the sound card as well. Don't know of any other computer from then through now that can do that without some program running to send the pc speaker audio to the sound card.

  13. Thanks for the feels, man. My famly had a TL and after a few years I did eventually learn how to do some fun(-ish) stuff.

  14. When I was a kid I had a Tandy TRS 80 Color Computer 2 and I was happy with the games and graphics, I thought it couldn't get any better then I remember walking into Radio Shack and for the first time I saw a Tandy Color Computer 3 that was set up demoing and I was like WoOo look at how much better the graphics are on that computer compared to mine! I wanted it but my parents wasn't about to spend that kind of money, looking back I can't blame them.

  15. Had a tandy 1000 hd growing up complete with monitor, keyboard, and mouse, back 1999-2002 era as a kid. It was fucking fantastic.

  16. I had a Tandy 1000 EX growing up. My parents bought one used for cheap in the early 90's used though my dad got more use out of it than I did. I was 9 at the time and I had a really tough time figuring out DOS.

  17. I had one of these as a kid, and a stack of hundreds of games on floppy disks. When I got home from school one day, my mom had cleaned my room, and I could never find the stack of disks anymore. I think she threw them away. Still pretty mad about that.

  18. oh man, Tandy's PCB edge printer ports, I was a radio shack general manager in the late 2000s and we sold those centronics to tandy printer cables all the way up to 2007, and there was in fact demand for them; a lot of schools and CNC machines used Tandys

  19. i do remember you could also either knockout a plastic peg or bend pins down to either get a tandy kb/mouse to work with PS/2 or vice versa, don't remember which anymore but i recall we had to do that A LOT for customers who would balk at adapters. (i was a radio manager in the late 2000s and separately an RS employee in the early 90s)

  20. OH MAN! what was Tandy's windows 3.1x front end, similar to packard bell navigator and MS bob, it was… TANDY SENSATION!!!! omfg rofl google that

  21. i had one as a kid. it had that printer with the holes in the paper. plus a dual disk drive. neat computer. to bad my mom threw everything away.

  22. 1:26, Mr. Bixby says, "Buy the Tandy 1000! Because you don't want to make me angry. You won't like me when I'm ANGRY…" And the rest is history, because nobody, NOBODY makes Mr. Bixby angry!

  23. Did this system have a version of Silpheed, an oil pipe drilling game with a dinosaur, and a game with animals in a tree house?

  24. My favorite computer of all time. Mostly because it was the first PC compatible that I owned. I had used PC compatibles at school and some that my dad brought home occasionally from work, but this was MY computer and I remember endless hours of making it do things it wasn't intended to do! I had Windows 3.0 running on it. I ran Indianapolis 500 on it. Ran DOS 5.0 on it. I ran a database program by Leading Edge called Nutshell on it and loved it. In fact, Clint, the story of how Leading Edge published the Nutshell Database program and how it morphed later on into the ubiquitous FileMaker would make a great LGR Tech Tales episode. Nutshell was for DOS and yet FileMaker really became popular on Mac. What a turn of events! Anyway, I don't know how I missed this ancient episode from you, but I'm glad I came across it. Great memories!

  25. I know this video was done over seven years ago, but I just wanted to say. You have summed up the production & the special options of the Tandy line of 1000's extremely well. Being a part of Radio Shack for some time (Store Manager). I was there when the 1000's made history by out selling all other computers. It was why Radio Shack was a Fortune 500 company for many years. It was a very happy time for me, so much so I have dedicated a large portion of my upstairs to a Tandy Computer Museum.

  26. I've definitely considered one of the later 1000s with a 286 or better like the TL, but I worry about stuff like parts and expansion cards…

  27. Minor correction, the 1000 RL-HD didn't come with 768K. It shipped with 512K. If yours has 768K, it's because the owner got more chip RAM from Radio Shack. Very easy upgrade, you just unscrew the cover and install it.

    I don't recall whether the RLs had ISA slots. The HXes definitely didn't. If you wanted an internal modem, you had to buy it from Tandy because ISA cards couldn't be installed to the proprietary Tandy slots.

    The RL-HD has a daughter card with the sound hardware on it, and does native wavetable synthesis with system RAM. Upgrading that to 768K gets you a longer maximum time for recording audio. I don't remember how many channels the wavetable synth could handle, but it might have been four. I think it was mono. DeskMate's bundled music software came with a pretty good set of samples and songs, which were composed with a standard sheet music-style interface. The wavetable synth gave the system the ability to play .mod-like music, although I don't know if anyone ever wrote an actual .mod player for it.

    The system was advanced enough to run MS-DOS 6.22, and you could use DoubleSpace (later renamed DriveSpace) to wring more out of the 20MB drive.

  28. I was born in 1991 and all I had until 2000s was a Commodore C64.
    And this thing had real music editing tools and could record and edit audio! Mind-boggling!

  29. the t1000 had bad 3.5" drives, as in poor quality. Disks often got stuck as the ejector failed to eject the disk. the disk lifter did not lift it to the proper height to slide out thru the hole in the case.

  30. I had Tandy 1000 Serial #936! I ran a BBS in Santa Rosa, CA on it for years back in the day! I have another one waiting in the garage for my son to move out so I can have an office!

  31. Cool vid. I met you and your channel about 4 months ago and just going through your back log. My in-laws told me they had a Tandy machine, I want to get one for them, (or for me), but I'm still trying to narrow down with them which model they exactly had. I think this video will help, so thanks!!!

  32. My Grandfather was an electrical engineer who worked for Belltone and would opperate IBM computers that took up an entire room. My grandfather knew a lot about computers and was a very good programmer. He bought a commodore 64 and made small games for it. He never liked the Apple 2 or Tandy 1000. He tried the Apple 2 once at a neighbors and didn't like it. He has not used a SINGLE Apple product since then. He also didn't like the Tandy 1000 for he felt that it was too expensive for what you got. He even went as far as calling the Tandies the "Trash" 1000! (Snicker) I mean why should you spend more if you dont get much? That's not saying the Tandy 1000 is a terrible computer, but durring their prime they were more expensive than the Commodore and in the same price range as the Apple 2.

  33. I remember when the Tandy 1000 series came out. While not outrageously expensive, it wasn't cheap. What really pushed the budget into the stratosphere where the peripherals and software.
    They worked well but were financially out of reach for most.
    I was 20 when all this stuff started happening and had no way of affording such tech.
    In a way, it was a godsend for me that I couldn't afford a good PC until 1998. I did get a Vic 20 and Commodore 64 while going to school, but I still couldn't afford all the peripherals that came with them. The only peripheral I could afford was a tape data drive… LOL!
    In the 80s and most of the 90s, tech moved along so fast, you had to be rich just to keep up. I'm so glad that in 2017, I can purchase a PC and not worry it'll be obsolete in the next 6 months…

  34. I had a 1000hx with dual 3.5 drives. It had a version of DOS on rom, which sounds like a good idea until you load a game that expects to be loaded from the A drive. Because of the way the rom loads, it doesnt necessarily make any of the drives the A drive. To get around it you have to boot it from whatever drive you want to be the A drive, which then becomes the A drive.

  35. This is an OLD video but wouldn't it be cool if some sort of Tandy 1000 mini was put out there with all the games and deskmate built in? They could probably impliment the whole of the actual hardware of that computer on a single chip these days.

  36. Thanks brought back memories of using the Tandy computer at Radio shack at my local mall. I would go by and stay there the whole time while my parents were shopping. When they come get me then say what are you doing this whole time and I would say I need this computer I never got one I got the Coleco Adam instead.

  37. thanks for making videos like this. Long times when I was a kid there use to be these in radio shack but my family was too poor to purchase one. nice to know how it would haved worked

  38. I remember my 1000 RLX like it was yesterday. Ahhh yes, no hard drive (though there was a 20MB and 40MB available), and with the Ram upgrade, I could run wolfenstein in a medium sized window, at a respectable frame rate. Games like Commander Keen ran great! I loved the sound manipulation and Midi support. I used both heavily. I then moved on to the Tandy Sensation II 486SX/33, which later got pimped out with a DX4/100, Soundblaster, and a WD 1GB drive. That machine still works to this day! Even the monitor stand speakers with subwoofer.

  39. I had a Tandy 1000 plenty of great old games and also early DeskMate. It was my first computer, my grandfather bought in for himself in 1985 and gave it to me when I was 9 or 10. Somewhere along the way I also got a Tandy 1000 EX with GEM. A friend of mine had a later 286 Tandy HD with the slicker mouse driven DeskMate.

  40. This was my first PC. I had no idea how to build or upgrade them. I had this thing for about 6 or 7 years.

  41. I remember my Dad having to drag me out of Radio Shack at the mall in the 80's because I didn't wanna stop playing with the Tandys

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