Food Teardown: VTech PreComputer 1000 is an Iconic PC in a Toy Wrapper


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Back again in the times just before little ones could be placated with a $fifty Android burner mobile phone, a lot of a youngster was gifted a so-identified as “educational computer” to continue to keep them occupied. Invariably on the lookout like a fever dream version of the real laptop or computer their mothers and fathers did not want to allow them use, these gizmos supplied monochromatic exploits that would makeZorkglance likeFortnite. Due equally to their inherent hardware restrictions and the premise of remaining an academic toy, the “games” on these computers usually took the variety of completing mathematical equations or answering historical past queries.

The VTech PreComputer one thousand is a great specimen of this particular fashion of academic toy. Produced in 1988, it was marketed as a way for pre-teenagers to develop into extra snug with running a real pc considering the fact that at that place, it had turn into abundantly distinct that the coming decade would see a beige box on every professional’s desk. Its complete-size QWERTY keyboard was precisely described in the product’s accompanying literature as a way to get youthful palms accustomed to the approaches of touch typing.

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Text of wisdom from the PreComputer 1000’s manual.

By the mid-1990s these products would have progressed far more than enough to include satisfactory text-to-speech abilities and primitive graphics, but the junior expert who discovered him or herself seated in entrance of the PreComputer 1000 was dealt with to a considerably more spartan experience. It is potentially just as effectively that this certain academic personal computer was listed as a training tool, because even in 1988, certainly a session with this toy must have felt very significantly like get the job done.

But that is not to say the PreComputer a thousand is with no its personal one of a kind charms. In an effort to assistance cement its job as a “trainer” for additional common desktops, VTech saw in good shape to equip the PreComputer with its individual Standard interpreter. They even provided generous written documentation that walked younger programmers by way of the various commands and functions. Even now, there’s one thing oddly desirable about a cell device with a entire keyboard that can run Primary applications for superior than 24 hours on batteries (even if they are alkaline “C” cells).

Let us acquire a glance inside this far more than thirty 12 months aged cell product, and see how the designers managed to make a affordable facsimile of real computing on a child-helpful budget.

Food Inspired by the Greats

If the layout of the PreComputer a thousand appears odd to modern day eyes, it’s only since we’ve turn out to be accustomed to the now ubiquitous notebook sort issue. But the legendary clamshell format would not have intended substantially to a youngster in 1988. The Toshiba T1100, thought of by some to be the 1st industrial “laptop” as we know it right now, was only released a handful of several years prior and wouldn’t accurately have been a popular sight provided its substantial rate.

If the youngster had any 1st-hand expertise with a computer, it would more possible have been with a little something along the lines of the Apple II, the Commodore sixty four, or the TI-ninety nine. As such, the PreComputer 1000 is clearly a nod to the well-known “console” computers of the working day, with potentially much more than a contact of inspiration coming from portables like the TRS-eighty Design 100.

But as it turns out, the comparison to common eight-bit computer systems is a lot more than just beauty. On inspecting the PreComputer 1000’s PCB we can see that it’s driven by a Zilog Z84C0004PEC, a 4 MHz Z80 processor.

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There is also a Hyundai HY6116AP-10 offering 16K of RAM and a 1Mb VTech branded TC531000CP mask ROM that suppliers the computer’s firmware. Dotted around the relatively sparse PCB are numerous assist ICs like the 74HC244AP line driver, HCF4011BE NAND gate, and the CD4508BE 4-little bit latch.

Food Underwhelming I/O

Offered the factors on the PreComputer 1000’s major board, it is harmless to say that this is as considerably a actual computer as any of the desktop devices from the late nineteen seventies and into the early nineteen eighties. For reference, the TRS-80 Product I that launched in 1977 only had a 1.4 MHz Z80 processor.

However, VTech had to lower corners someplace to get the selling price down to toy ranges. So though it could have what would have been a desktop processor much less than a ten years earlier, it was paired with a fairly weak keyboard and screen. Any potential the Z80 inside the PreComputer a thousand may well have had is severely hindered by the plodding ancillary components.

Waiting around for text to march throughout the small 1×20 character Lcd is very lousy, but then, the displays on these desktops are virtually generally quite very poor. What’s definitelydisappointing is the keyboard. It may well have a full-sizing 60% structure, but sad to say, it is a person of the most mushy and unresponsive membrane boards I have ever had the displeasure of applying. Anyone who discovered how to style on this detail must have been in for a actual shock when they bought their arms on a good keyboard.

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Food Expanded Choices

Like a lot of other educational pcs, the PreComputer 1000 capabilities an growth slot that accepts cartridges which can augment the foundation abilities of the system. In this kind of an early case in point of the notion, the cartridges right here merely improve the quantity and assortment of concerns that the technique can inquire the person, with offered titles this kind of as “Super Science” and “Bible Knowledge”.

The auction for this computer system bundled a “Sports Trivia” cartridge, and inside we can see there is practically nothing on the board but a couple of passives and a further TC531000CP mask ROM. Curiously, this indicates that each individual enlargement cartridge has as considerably storage potential as the computer system itself. At least in theory, it would seem to be that the cartridges could have included a considerable amount of software had VTech preferred.

As we’ve noticed in latest assignments aimed at growing the capabilities of comparable “toy” computers, it could be that the enlargement port on the PreComputer 1000 might a single working day see additional in depth utilization should really any one in the neighborhood experience so inclined. Though the Lcd would stay a stumbling block, it is challenging not to be intrigued about the chance of slapping a Collapse OS cartridge into the side of this equipment.

Food A Piece of Record

It is easy to dismiss the VTech PreComputer 1000 as a easy child’s toy, but in its own way, it definitely is a legitimate piece of computing background. With its authentic Zilog Z80 processor, up to date circumstance structure, and built-in PRE-Fundamental interpreter, this unit is like a microcosm of early 80s residence computing.

The Consistent Reader will possible know that most of the devices showcased in these regular teardowns close up as a pile of intriguing or helpful factors destined for some as of but not known undertaking. But these an unglamorous fate seems nearly disrespectful this time about as Dr. Henry Jones at the time said, an artifact like this belongs in a museum.

So the PreComputer one thousand will be going up on the shelf with the other exciting bits of technological bric-a-brac I have collected above the years. But I’ll also confess to ordering a 2nd a single on eBay that, with the aid of fashionable contrivances and additional than a very little tinkering, may get a new lease on lifetime. In the meantime, I’ll depart you with a brief video walkthrough of this fascinating toy turned time capsule.