Sunday, May 17, 2015

A First Look...

It's time for a little "computer archaeology."

Other than pictures in "CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy's Underdog Computer" and a showing at the VCF East 9.1 (April 4-6, 2014 in Wall, New Jersey) and the 23rd Annual "Last" Chicago CoCoFEST (April 24-25, 2014 in Lombard, Illinois), the Deluxe Color Computer has not been seen in the wild. There are two that I know of in existence, and both are in my possession. One is in better shape than the other, and that's the one I brought to the above events.

Chatter on Facebook about a "better CoCo 2" brought me to the idea of finally taking this beauty out of the cabinet she lives in and show her to the world. There is no technical or service manual available anywhere that I know of. The web is rife with speculation about what's in it, so I figured it's time to delve into the details. Who knows where this will lead...

For this post, I'll show pictures of the case.

The Top

The top case looks exactly like the case from a 64K Color Computer. In fact, I think that's exactly what it is. The indention for the badge features prominently in the middle, and the side vents on the left and right match those of a 64K Color Computer case.

The label "CC-23" taped to the top is of unknown significance, but I speculate that it has something to do with where it came from. The provenance of this computer is revealed in the above mentioned book, so I won't give it away here.

The layout of the keys indicate the keyboard to be just like a CoCo 3, but with a black bezel instead of the familiar grey on the CoCo 3. Radio Shack sold keyboards like this in baggies for a time, and it's widely speculated that those keyboards were salvaged from the scrapped Deluxe Color Computers in order to get some value out of the aborted computer. I tend to concur with this explanation.

The Top (Underneath)

There's always something interesting to glean when you see handwritten markings. Underneath the top case and written in red permanent marker are two pieces of information:


The dashes between the dates are actually dots, but it's clear this was marked on April 11, 1983.

The Bottom

The bottom is nothing spectacular. No serial number sticker, no manufacturing code or location, nothing... The only thing there are the common rubber feet. Again, the screw holes and vent holes match that of the bottom of a 64K Color Computer case.

Turning over the bottom and looking at the inside of the bottom case reveals another set of markings:

This date is 9 days earlier than the one written on the inside top of the case. Again, the significance isn't clear, but KJW appears to be someone's initials. This more than likely is documentation of some type of quality assurance check -- a "stamp of approval" if you will.

The Back

The back of the Deluxe Color Computer clearly indicates new hardware features. Again, it's clear that the case itself derives from the 64K Color Computer, and I've stacked one on top in this photo to illustrate this:

It's obvious that the back-top of the Deluxe Color Computer case had to be cut to accommodate the new connectors. In addition to the omnipresent RF modulator, there's composite audio/video and a 9 pin port. Cassette, serial, and joystick ports are where they normally are, as well as power and reset (the power button is missing its black cap on the Deluxe Color Computer).


  1. Thanks for the article I remember seeing references to a Deluxe CoCo in a manual - back then (times of the still clean bi.listserv.coco) I asked and there were only a coule of vague responses from the audience. Guess that had to wait at least 20 years to go by :-)

    1. I too remember seeing it in the BASIC manual that came with my 16K Extended BASIC Tandy Color Computer 2 (26-3136B). That was in the fall of 1985. There were at least three references to a "Deluxe Color Computer" in that manual, and I enumerate them specifically in the CoCo book too.

  2. This is way better than an unboxing video.

    1. Apart from the onboard sound chip and hardware RS-232, what else has it got that a CoCo3 doesn't?

      The CoCo3 has many other extras and I'm glad Tandy dropped the Deluxe CoCo in favour for the CoCo3 as the official update to the CoCo.

      If only they had tranferred the Sound chip as well.

    2. The Deluxe Color Computer would have been released in the fall of 1983, at the same time as the Color Computer 2, so it was never in direct competition to the CoCo 3. Had it come out, I suspect the CoCo 3 would still have been worked on and made available. This is speculation, of course.

    3. Had the deluxe come out the CoCo 3 would have had the sound chip and the uart. The Deluxe also had a RAM drive.

    4. The Deluxe CoCo would have used more "off-the-shelf" components and also would have been more repairable and "hackable". The custom GIME chip locks all the circuitry inside the chip.

      Of course, there are big benefits to this as far as costs are concerned (smaller PCB, easier to manufacture, more reliable etc). I still think the CoCo3 was a great design... perfect if it included a sound chip.

      And imagine if it really did have the 256 color mode! (I'm convinced that it never made it to GIME production).

    5. I think 1983 would have been the right time for the Deluxe CoCo and it would have been the logical upgrade to the CoCo1.

      I'm betting the large white case design was destined for the Deluxe CoCo but when it failed to eventuate, it was used as the large white case CoCo2.

      Tandy seemed to always be 1 year behind technologically. '83 should have seen the Deluxe CoCo and 1985 should have seen the CoCo3. But as I said, they were always 1 year behind.

      Maybe Mark can shed some light on this?

    6. It was not a choice of the Deluxe or the 3 the 3 was going to happen regardless. You say Tandy was behind I disagree. It was Motorola that screwed the timing up. What other multitasking home computer are you comparing it to. The Commodore 64 or maybe the TI99/4. Keep in mind Tandy was also doing PC's

    7. It's not a matter of *who* created the delay, I'm stating the fact that the end product was always about 12 months behind when the technology should have come out.

      Yes, Tandy were into PC's but I was a Tandy assistant store manager at the time and while we were selling the new Tandy 1000 with 16 color CGA, 16+ color EGA was just becoming the norm in other PC circles. When the Tandy TX came out with it's 286 processor, 386's were just starting to come out.

      As I said, 12 months behind.

      Having said that, I was still of the opinion that Tandy computers were better built... just not as cutting edge as what they should have been in comparison to the competition.

      The CoCo wasn't specifically designed to be a multi-tasking computer. That was the choice of OS. And in 1986 the CoCo3 came out with Level II OS-9, a year later than when I was playing with the Motorola 68000 based multi-tasking Commodore Amiga.

      There's that "year" creeping in again. :)

      Even so, I loved my CoCo3. :)

    8. So you really don't think the CoCo 3 was a state of the art product?

    9. He's in Australia. He looks a things a bit upside down ;-)

      The UART would have been a big deal to me (and the sound). Better games, and ability to do faster modems as they arrived. We never really got terminal programs that did faster than 1200 or so on the bitbanger.

      And it would have pushed the CC3 further since it couldn't have taken a step back. Such fun couldabeens!!! I worked for Radio Shack from 88 until 91 I think -- a great time.

    10. When comparing the Coco3 to the aborted Deluxe Coco, keep in mind that the added features (sound chip, UART, floppy controller, etc.) can all be added via Paks plugged into the Mujti-Pak. But what the Coco3 gave us -- hi-res graphics and memory management on a par with DEC minicomputers -- could not be achieved thru outboard plug-ins. So Tandy made the right decision. Adding those Paks to a Coco 3 got you the best of both worlds.

    11. When comparing the Coco3 to the aborted Deluxe Coco, keep in mind that the added features (sound chip, UART, floppy controller, etc.) can all be added via Paks plugged into the Mujti-Pak. But what the Coco3 gave us -- hi-res graphics and memory management on a par with DEC minicomputers -- could not be achieved thru outboard plug-ins. So Tandy made the right decision. Adding those Paks to a Coco 3 got you the best of both worlds.

  3. Hang 10 for a moment. You have a predetermined perception and ignoring the reality of the original message.

    The CoCo3 was a good product. I wouldn't have spent so much of my time developing "tech pushing" software for it if I didn't believe that.

    But that's not to say it was the only product that did so. Others such as the C64 and Atari 800 had features such as sound chips, hardware sprites and custom video hardware in the early 80's that even the CoCo3 in '86 didn't have.

    Every system has it's advantages and disadvantages.

    My message here, if we focus on this, is that Tandy always was a bit behind the tech jumps that other smaller companies had. That's reality, but not a criticism.

    My point was that the Deluxe CoCo would have been released at the right time had there not been delays. Instead, we had a CoCo that remained literally unchanged until the CoCo3 came out in 1986.

    Again, I'm not criticizing. Just look at the C64 which outsold everyone (17 million) from 1982 till the late 80's with hardware that also remained relatively unchanged.

    Call the C64 a toy but it did have some cutting edge AV technology and competitive pricing that gave it such longevity.

    Even today, the C64 retro scene is bigger than the CoCo... and that's our job to improve!

    Hail CoCo! :)

    1. In term of retrocomputing, I'm a promiscuous polygamist and I want to have them ALL!

  4. I love the big case. The CoCo 2/3 smaller case looks, I don't know... lesser. Maybe it's just me.

  5. How different is this white case from the CoCo 1 grey case? I first saw the "white" CoCo 1s (a friend of mine in Lufkin even had one) and thought they were just the original CC1 cases in a different color. I never saw them side-by-side.

    1. Mechanically, probably no difference. I just find them prettier.