Back in 1980, Tandy introduced their Color Computer line to homes. Affectionately called the “CoCo”, the computer could be hooked up to color televisions and came with Microsoft Color BASIC for tinkering programmers. It was a surprisingly powerful PC for its day, although it was eventually trumped by cheaper alternatives such as the IBM clones that stormed retail afterwards.
This was also during the era when dot-matrix printers could cost around $2,000 and programs came on cassette tapes. A lot of the things that we take for granted today were bleeding edge ideas back then. For example, no one bothers to really think of how their PC or any other smart device keeps track of time nowadays. It’s such an integrated function of so many things that it’s like posing the same question to a watch.
But back then, if you wanted a “Real Time Clock/Calendar” for your CoCo, you needed something like the BT-1000 Expansion Interface Unit which this ad from 1983 shows off. With the proper cartridge, it, too, can give you accurate timekeeping for your programs! Need a printer? After getting a bank loan to get one, plug in the cart and you’ll be in dot-matrix heaven. Disk drive? The right cartridge unlocked a world of 5.25″ mysteries. It was like adding brain power via plastic and circuit boards.
Price-wise, these things weren’t cheap. A BT-1000 with 8K of RAM set you back $300 in those days. Today, you can get an Xbox 360 for that price or even less which puts out more processing power turning on than the CoCo did in a day of crunching spreadsheets.
Yet the BT-1000 also used the same tech that game consoles would also bank for for nearly 20 years whether it was the Atari 2600 or the N64. Even the use of batteries to maintain its clock would be a technological concept that would later be used in everything from motherboards for new PCs years later to saving your game in The Legend of Zelda for the NES.
Which reminds me, I probably should replace that battery in my Saturn so that it actually remembers what year it is.