An Easy Z80 And VGA Upgrade For The Apple II

The Apple II was at the forefront of the home computer revolution when it came out in 1977. In its era, nobody really cared about hooking up the Apple II to a VGA monitor, but these days, it’s far easier than sourcing an original monitor. The V2 Analog is a useful tool that will let you do just that, plus some other neat tricks, besides.

As demonstrated on Youtube by [Adrian’s Digital Basement], The V2 Analog is basically a slot-in video card for the Apple II, II+, and IIe. It’s based upon the AppleII-VGA, which uses a Raspberry Pi Pico to snoop the 6502 CPU bus and copy the video memory. It then outputs a high-quality VGA signal that is far nicer than the usual composite output options.

As a bonus, the V2 Analog can be reconfigured to run as an emulated AppliCard Z80 expansion card instead. This card was originally intended to allow Apple II users to run CP/M applications. The V2 Analog does a great job in this role, though it bears noting it can’t handle VGA output and Z80 emulation at the same time.

Project files are available on Github for the curious. The Apple II may be long out of production, but it’s certainly not forgotten. Video after the break.

14 thoughts on “An Easy Z80 And VGA Upgrade For The Apple II

  1. I didn’t come up with it all on my own, my project is a fork of Mark’s and is a constantly moving target. I both welcome and encourage others to revise the hardware and software. End of next week I’ll have some cards in systems on display at VCFSE, have some cards for sale at the show and I’m bringing some surprises too. It’s both amazing what the RP2040 can do, and infuriating when you find yourself at it’s limits.
    There are purists who argue against putting fancy new hardware in their vintage systems, believing they should remain as they were. That view is valid and I’m not forcing anyone to build or buy a card. I hope that by having approachable ways of connecting the vintage systems to the outside world, we are able to keep them viable and fun for as long as possible.

    1. Have you considered taking it one step further and making the output DVI instead? You’ve still got 640×480 available, use fewer IO pins and can connect directly to newer monitors.

      1. The VGA output is already really pushing things. From what I’ve been seeing with the DVI RP2040 projects, the interface is pushed way outside of spec, and doesn’t work for everyone. I’d sooner toss on a video encoder on that can produce a standards compliant DVI-I interface and Component video (YPbPr). Getting my hands on such has been difficult (Chrontel isn’t as widely distributed as Analog Devices, Analog Devices seems to have abandoned DVI, VGA, and Component, and requires HDMI licensing). Analog VGA is easy, cheap, and flexible. Less than $1 in resistors vs several dollars for an encoder and supporting components. With the later design I’m releasing next week, the video output is a removable module with 14 GPIOs (Needed for IIgs RGB). My other Apple II hardware projects are getting pushed back further, but the software defined peripherals range is expanding.

    2. I cut my teeth on the Apple 2.. Not the Plus System.. I love them and have Four of them.. I also have a Vintage Rayna Duel Disk Double sided 8080 Emulator for it.. Also have CPM Cards, Language Cards, and a 6800 Emulator..

      My 1924 Mostly Stock Model T Ford, has a GM Alternator, LED Tail Lights, and Chevy 350 Engine Valves.. But I still Hand Crank start it..

      What ever makes it still useful and fun..


    3. So just an idea but could you add networking or USB serial port to the board? If you could mount a samba share with a pico-w you could emulate an apple HD :) Maybe even emulate an apple laser writer as well.

  2. One day we will have our retro machines recreated out of a bunch of microcontrollers just because they are dirt cheap and do the job. And you know what? I find that wonderful.
    And i wouldn’t mind having, to stay with the example, an Apple 2 made that way, especially if it means that i can have said Apple 2 remake for under 50€.

    The “Original Joystick”-Theorem still holds, only true snobs might mind an emulator if they have the real controller in hand. If they even see that they are using one that is…

    1. Pick up one of the Chinese PC multi game console emulators that run Batocera Linux and have MESS. Should be able to get emulation running for the microcomputers that have MESS support.

    2. There have been RP2040 based replacements for DRAM chips that I find both amusing and a waste. It makes sense to use a software defined peripheral, but software defined DRAM? There are perfectly good alternatives, such as how you can wire up SRAM to a TMS9918 VDP using a couple buffers to demux the row and column addresses and buffer the data bus.

      1. Thing is, when said DRAM chips are more expensive than an RP2040 and your solution is more expensive too then it starts to make sense from the economic perspective. Even if its totally bonkers on so many levels, the cheapest solution wins. And with current microcontroller prices the answer is more often than one might like, use a microcontroller, don’t think too hard about it and call it a day.

        Heck, we have RP2040s emulating a Gravis Ultrasound and an Adlib and i can totally see myself putting both on one ISA card to get a cheap and good soundcard and not paying ridiculous money for old tech.

      2. It’s a little silly when a Pico is just emulating RAM. However, when you push it further and allow the Pico to inspect, monitor, change, save out, and write back the RAM, it makes more sense.

    3. “One day we will have our retro machines recreated out of a bunch of microcontrollers just because they are dirt cheap and do the job. And you know what? I find that wonderful.”

      I understand, but personally, I’d rather wish for lithography @home.
      So we could print old processor dies on glass or plastic sheets.
      Don’t get me wrong, I like replicas and emulation.
      But there’s something magical about seeing an ancient circuit work “live”.
      Knowing that it’s the real thing is priceless. Because, you’re working with a real ancient circuit of your forefathers. The same thing that developers used. So you can walk on their paths, so to say.
      That’s something FPGAs and emulators can never provide – because the more they advance the less they have in common with the old tech they simulate. It’s as if we’re emulating tubes and relays with transistors, completely different technology.

  3. I just read this one after the one about the large format 3d printer that printed a full-size statue of it’s maker. Commenters were questioning it’s practical purpose. How about this?

    Print a retro-looking enclosure to put a modern monitor in making it look more like it belongs with an Apple II. Or any other retro-computer for that matter.

    Sure, that doesn’t take quite THAT big of a printer. But.. it could do the job. And it is a much bigger than most typical 3d printers can print. (Unless you are printing in pieces and gluing them together… And sanding.. And painting to hide the seams. At some point that just becomes sculpting by hand though doesn’t it?)

    1. Might want to check out the LaserBear mini monitor:

      The photos don’t do a great job of showing the profile; this article has better pics of that:

      They’re using a surplus iPad screen for a very high resolution 4:3 display. There’s a number of upscalers that can take advantage of that resolution to make the display output look a lot more like a CRT.

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