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Modern portable Z-80 computer?

By RangerElf in MLP
Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 08:07:59 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

I was browsing around looking for an electronic organizer, when I found this little toy. It's a little organizer by Sharp (some specs on it) which contains a Z-80 @ 9MHz, 128Kb of SRAM (or 256 if you get a now-defunct oz-750) and 1.5 or 3 Mb of flash ram storage, a bitmapped monochrome screen, and other goodies.

Has anyone played around with these things? Any info on the posibility of porting CP/M or something hackish to it? Can any serious (as in "seriously fun") development be done on it?

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comments (24)
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Modern portable Z-80 computer? | 32 comments (20 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Wait... the Z-80? (none / 0) (#3)
by Leimy on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 08:09:10 AM EST

Wasn't that the processor that we found in many arcade machines of the 1980s? Its interesting that the architecture is still being used.
Wrong numbers are never busy
Don't know about arcade games (none / 0) (#6)
by atrodo on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:32:58 AM EST

But this is the for-runner chip of the x86 archetcture. Don't accually know what it was used in, but i do know that it's around still. For instance, it's still used in Texas Instrament calculators (I know it's used in TI-82/83's, i believe that the TI-85/86 have a diffrant chip, but i could be wrong, never messed with those calculatrors), and it's also used in the Game Boy. In fact, what i always liked was that my TI83 was at a fast Mhz then my orginal GameBoy (you know, from 1988) by about a whooping 8 Mhz or so. Anyways...

-Jon Gentle(atrodo@geocities.com)

[ Parent ]
TI Calculators (none / 0) (#12)
by cbane on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 12:56:44 PM EST

Quite a few of the TI-8X calculators use the Z80. I found a (mostly) complete reference here. Most of them have a 6MHz Z80. The TI-80 has a 2MHz one instead, and the TI-89 and TI-92[+] have a 10MHz Motorola 68000 processor. TI is also coming out with a new version of the TI-83+ (called the "Silver Edition") which I heard somewhere has a 12MHz (or was it 15?) Z80 processor, but I can't seem to find anywhere.
"[A]s every programmer knows, there is only one Right Way to write code. Sadly, all of them except me are mistaken as to what the Right Way actually is." Captain Derivative
[ Parent ]
Silver (none / 0) (#30)
by atom on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 04:05:42 PM EST

FYI, the TI-83+ Silver Edition will have a 15MHz processor (info here and here).
dotcomma.org - Resource for programmers
[ Parent ]
It's still useful- it's cheap. (none / 0) (#11)
by discoflamingo13 on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 12:24:07 PM EST

<nostalgia>When I took a class on digital electronics, our professor could buy lots of 50 for about $20USD. We built little Von-Neumann style machines with about 512 bytes of memory, and we made them into oscilloscope graphics generators, morse-code signal processors, etc. It's the best way to learn about the lowest level of a computer- build one. If you can afford a breadboard, some wire, a Z-80, some breadboard-style RAM, and some logic chips, you'll never regret playing around with it. </nostalgia>

I don't know about arcade games, but the Z-80 was the processor in the original Gameboy (which feels like a long time ago . . .). And of course, some of the TI calculators. The Z-80 has one huge advantage going for it- it's asm is clean and simple. We may never see another chip this easy to program for ever again.

The more I watch, the more I learn ---
If you set yourself on fire, the world will pay to watch you burn.
--- Course of Empire

[ Parent ]
Not only that but... (none / 0) (#14)
by Smiling Dragon on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 04:29:36 PM EST

They can be interupted mid-instruction, very cool for education and certainly very rare. Had a lot of fun building Z-80 computers up from base components on a breadboard.

Mmmm, recalling hand optimising an interupt driven assembler program to make it more compact and efficient, then spending hours on a blackboard trying to explain it to my pure-physics lab partner <grin> to convince him it would work.

-- Sometimes understanding is the booby prize - Neal Stephenson
[ Parent ]
Color Gameboy (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by fluffy grue on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 04:05:10 PM EST

The Gameboy Color still uses a Z80, 16MHz IIRC. The Gameboy Advance will be dropping the Z80 hardware, but it'll have a (software) Z80 emulator so that it can still play Gameboy [Color] games. Oh, and the original Gameboy was a long time ago... it came out in what, 1989?

And I agree on the assembler's cleanliness. One of the problems with computers today is that they're so complicated that in order to learn anything you're expected to plunge head-first into using C++ and OpenGL and other insanely-high-level stuff, and so most programmers these days don't have any understanding at all of what's going on at the low level. Even explaining the call stack seems to be a lost cause these days...
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Clean!? (none / 0) (#24)
by davidduncanscott on Sat Mar 10, 2001 at 01:47:36 AM EST

It's funny you should say that. Way Back When I worked on 6502 machines, the Z-80 looked spiffy (two whole sets of registers!), but it also looked fairly clunky, with special I/O instructions and all (we had memory-mapped I/O and we LIKED it!). It seemed sort of flashy and cheap by comparison to the grace of the 65xx.

[ Parent ]
Nothing new (4.00 / 2) (#4)
by Defect on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 08:41:45 AM EST

TI (texas instruments) has been distributing graphing calculators with z80 processors for years. I think the most advanced one (with a z80) is the ti-86. IIRC it runs at 9Mhz as well (might be 12) and people have been writing games and applications (ticalc.org) in asm for a long while now. An asm shell was first hacked to run on the ti-85 and once TI learned of the popularity of ASM applications they more seamlessly integrated the ability with the ti-86.

So if you're looking to hack on a z80, a ti graphing calculator's probably the easiest way to go as there is a lot of documentation on the web.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Uzi? (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by Floyd Tante on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 04:56:39 PM EST

Has anyone heard of Uzi, the Unix port to the Z80? I believe that the sources used to be floating around on the old oak.oakland.edu FTP site, but they seem to have disappeared.

At any rate, having Unix on such a Z80-based organizer would be much cooler than CP/M, though I would give anyone who did a CP/M port props as well. Actually, CP/M might not be so hard, owing to the fact that it was developed with porability in mind. Just write a custom BIOS, and you should be most of the way there. In fact, DRI's CP/M manuals came with assenmbly code listings for one BIOS implementation, perhaps building on it would be possible?

-- Floyd
UZI & CP/M (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by betel on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 04:39:52 AM EST

UZI has been implemented on the MSX in the form of UZIX and it's an impressive piece of work. I believe it even includes a CP/M emulator.

Implementing CP/M on z80 machines with an existing OS isn't at all easy to do - you have to coax the machine into letting you access the lower 16k of memory. I'm currently playing around with UZI for the z88 which reserves the lower 8k for the OS - I'd like to have done CP/M but...

Actually there's a lot of life left in z80 this Sharp machine is the second `new' one that I've heard about this week - the other being the Xircom Rex 6000 PDA.

[ Parent ]

The chip that launched a thousand micros (5.00 / 6) (#17)
by Ming D. Merciless on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 07:46:19 PM EST

The Zilog Z-80 and its kin were the microprocessor that IMHO launched the computer revolution of the early '80s. This was basically the chip of choice for CP/M machines at the time and has remained utterly ubiqitous ever since.

One of the most popular and revolutionary machines to use the Z-80 was the Sinclair ZX-81, successor to the Sinclair ZX-80. The ZX-81 (which actually used the Z80A) was the first home computer that could be had for "under $100" ($149.95 assembled). For all its limitations this computer was wildly popular and many professional applications were written for it, including word processors (word processing on a membrane keyboard with a cassette interface to save files to!). Originally these machines were sold by mail order in the US, but after forming an alliance with Timex, and renaming the machines to the Timex-Sinclair 1000 you could find these little beauties everywhere from department stores to discount drug store chains.

Sorry to wax nostalgic here, but for those of you who aren't old enough to remember (mid-30's), the Z-80 was the chip that powered many of our first computers. To know that it is still in wide use is gratifying (and sort of wierd to know that somewhere my Z-80 assembly language programming skills are still relevant). I would love to get my hands on one of these little Sharp beasties and hack CP/M onto it. 3MB is a lot more to play with than my old ZX-81 which had a whopping 1K (16K with the crappy expansion module). Unfortunately I sold all of my original DRI CP/M manuals years ago (what an idiot I am!)

A little slice of 1987 on the internet. Visit KAOS -- Central NY's premiere BBS. Multi-user, telnetable, Citadel/UX.
Maybe I'm just not geeky enough. (3.25 / 4) (#18)
by hotcurry on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 08:35:20 PM EST

I can't bring myself to get excited over an 8-bit CPU.

Lest we forget (4.66 / 3) (#20)
by andrewmuck on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 02:41:51 AM EST

Keeping an eye on what simple Tech can be exploited by begginers is important in a world where technology has become black boxes.
Keep close to the hardware, for one day we may not be allowed to use un-athorized computers.
my ZX-81 clone (in development) aims at being buildable by anyone.
I like the idea of taking something like an organizer and rebuilding it.

cya, Andrew...

Great Comment (none / 0) (#22)
by Ming D. Merciless on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 12:25:36 PM EST

You're absolutely right. It is important to have technology that can be exploited by beginners. An intimate understanding of the hardware goes a long way. It benefits even the most abstract coder.

You're also right that current computing devices are tending ever more toward black box technology. I saw this becoming a problem in the '80s when surface mount chips started becoming popular. No longer would it be possible for the average person to be able to solder their own circuits. Unfortunately, in some respect this is necessary as VLSI increases chip circuit densities.

A little slice of 1987 on the internet. Visit KAOS -- Central NY's premiere BBS. Multi-user, telnetable, Citadel/UX.
[ Parent ]
Complex Chip (none / 0) (#32)
by k31 on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:31:55 PM EST

Compelx chips don't necessarily mean that the hardware has to be "black box"; the problem is that the common practice of most hardware companies don't release the documentation at all.

This is a sharp contrast to, say, the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide, which even included schematic diagrams, as well as timing information and extensive documentation of the hardware registers of the chips, and the design philosophy behind them.

Anything that is simple enough to build is simple enough to play around with, once documentation is available.

Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....
[ Parent ]
Easy to hack (none / 0) (#27)
by slothman on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 09:51:35 PM EST

I think older computers based on the 8086 rather than the newer pentiums are easier to program and hack in. Its alot harder to work with 5 zillion chips and 9 hundred asm instructions than with only a few dozen supporting chips and 100 or so instructions. Even RISC chips have too many instructions and registers to deal with. Plus debug from DOS works with older chip better.

Texas Instruments Graphing Calculators (none / 0) (#28)
by TheLer on Sun Mar 11, 2001 at 10:38:51 PM EST

IIRC the TI series of graphing calculators (TI80-92) are based on Z80 processors. Can anyone confirm this? If so, I'd assume a port of UZI (Unix for Z80) would be possible, at least to calculators with memory upgrades (they are available online)

Close (none / 0) (#29)
by atom on Mon Mar 12, 2001 at 03:59:40 PM EST

The TI-89 and TI-92(+) use a 68000 processor, but the rest (TI-73 through TI-86) use a Z80 processor. I don't know about porting UZI, but it will sure be interesting to see if it happens
dotcomma.org - Resource for programmers
[ Parent ]
I have a Sharp organizer... (none / 0) (#31)
by nstenz on Tue Mar 13, 2001 at 01:20:24 PM EST

I think it's an OZ-250 or something. It has 128k of RAM, and it's been a while since I've used it. I'm not sure if it has a Z-80 in it, but I'm guessing it might...

Modern portable Z-80 computer? | 32 comments (20 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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