Z80s From The ’80s Had Futuristic Design

Ever heard of a Dutch company called Holborn (literally, born in Holland)? We hadn’t either, but [Bryan Lunduke] showed us these computers from the early 1980s, and we wondered if they might have appeared in some science fiction movies. They definitely look like something from a 1970s movie space station.

The company started out tiny and only lasted a few years. The Holborn 9100 looked like a minicomputer and, honestly, other than the terminal, looks more like an air conditioner or refrigerator. While it was a Z-80 system, it was clearly aimed at business. The processor ran at 3.5 MHz, there was 72K of RAM that could expand to 220 K — a whopping amount for the early ’80s. They also could accept loads of 8-inch floppies. It even had a light pen, which seems exotic today but was actually fairly common back then.

When we heard you could go to 220 K of memory, we assumed it used a version of CP/M or MP/M that understood bank switching. Nope. They developed their own multiuser operating system. The OS was totally in ROM, so finding out any details about it is difficult.

Their next computer was a cheaper version that only supported two terminals, the Holborn 7100. There were only 200 9100 systems sold (or at least, claimed to be sold), and presumably fewer of the stripped-down model.

By 1982, CP/M was rising, and the company realized that its OS was not catching on. That led to the Holborn 6100 which was a CP/M machine that could handle 192K of RAM. Same mod terminal, but a much smaller box that could pass for a floppy disk NAS today. They sold about 100 of these computers.

The next computer was to be the 6500, but the company filed for bankruptcy before any of them could be shipped. The bankruptcy proceedings revealed that the company had actually sold only 50 units of the 9100 and 7100 combined! They also had about $7 million in debt.

The post has lots of pictures, ads, and even an internal shot of one of the devices. You can imagine with 50 units in the wild, there is little left of the Holborn computers today. But if you happen to run across one, you should definitely rescue it!

Old computers are like actors. Some are remembered, and some are forgotten. Despite looking like a minicomputer, a typical mini of that era would have had a bitslice CPU, not a Z80.

26 thoughts on “Z80s From The ’80s Had Futuristic Design

  1. I saw one a few months ago in Enschede next to a restaurant I went to. It looks really cool! I didn’t know anything about Holborn up till then and I also didn’t know that they were from Hengelo (where I’m from) which is a small town next to Enschede.

    Super cool looking device :D

  2. I kind of like that design. One thing about that time period, there was a lot of creativity in computer presentation until the PC box (standard size motherboard, memory sockets, etc.), a keyboard, mouse, a monitor were ‘standardized’ for obvious reasons. In a way it is kind of ‘boring’ now :) .

    1. I guess it is up to hobbyists/makers to take the ‘standard’ computer parts and make a unique creation out of them now :) . Like the Pelican case creations we see now and then…

    2. Well, yes and no. It depends.
      There were IBM PCs (and compatibles) and so-called ‘MS-DOS compatibles’.
      The latter one were running custom versions of MS-DOS and were not IBM compatible.
      Just think of various S100 computers running MS-DOS or 86-DOS.
      Other systems had used ECB bus (Europa Card Bus), like the c’t-86 computer.
      These systems were built like Z80 / CP/M systems, pretty much.

  3. What an astonishingly good design for what it is and the period it is from. The user interface looks both reasonably ergonomic and really easy to keep clean. Both of which is something even modern stuff tends be terrible at with lots of extra purchases to put your monitor in the right sort of position topped by lots of fiddly fan grills, decorative ridges and the like to hold the finger grease and dust with tenacity…

  4. Other than me constantly slobbering on it, it would be beautiful to have on a desktop again. Does anyone know of some decent place to get repros of these kind of designs? I check every now and then and was happy to see commodore, atari, etc get their repops but not really anything like this. Any sites or ideas are appreciated.

  5. I love Z80 systems, there was so much diversity going on.
    There also were numerous clones and compatibles (supersets) of the Z80.
    Like MME’s U880, Sharp’s LH0080A, Hitachi’s HD64180, MSX R800, ASCII Corp’s R800, Zilog Z280..

    1. Typo (2x R800). I meant to mention the NSC800, too. It was a very elegant Z80 compatible, I think. It was 8085 hardware compatible and Z80 software compatible (mostly). A fine upgrade to get Turbo Pascal (CP/M) running on outdated 8085 systems.

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