[Ben Heck] found an old card-swipe point-of-sale box at the Goodwill store, took it home, and tore it down to see what was inside. He found a completely serviceable single board computer based on the Z80. In fact, there’s a whole family of four Z80 chips: the CPU itself, the DART chip (dual UART), the PIO chip (parallel input/output interface), and the CTC chip (counter/timer circuit). That’s not all — there’s a landline telephone modem, a real time clock, 32K of RAM and UV-EPROM. The second PCB of this assembly holds a hefty sixteen-key keypad and a sixteen-character vacuum fluorescent alphanumeric display. All this for the bargain price of $2.99.
Surely [Ben] will dig into the Z80 system in the future, but in this video he tries to make the display work. An OKI Semiconductor controller drives the VFD. After tracking down the data sheet, [Ben] wires it up to an Arduino and writes a quick program. Only a few YouTube minutes later, he conquers the display, drawing sample text anywhere he wants on the screen with any brightness he desires.
You never know what you may find lurking inside old equipment like this. You might find a proprietary ASIC with no documentation, or like [Ben] did here, you could find a fully functioning embedded computer. If [Ben] can whip up a RAM-based emulator to replace the 32K UV-EPROM, he’ll have a perfect evaluation board for Z80 projects.
Let us know in the comments if you have found any treasures like this. Also, how would you use this board if you had found it? Thanks to reader [Nikša Barlović] for sending in the tip.
For seven months, [Bernardo Kastrup] at [TheByteAttic] has been realizing his childhood dream of building his own computer. It was this dream that steered him into the field of computer design at the age of 17. After thirty years in the industry, he finally has some time to design the computer he dreamt about as a kid. His requirements are ambitious: fully open design, gate-level details, thru-hole or PLCC for easy hacking, well-established processors with existing tool chains, low-cost development tools for CPLDs, no FPGA, standard ITX case compatible, and so on. He quite reasonably decides to use more modern electronics for video (VGA), keyboard (PS/2), and program storage (flash drive). Along the way, he chooses to put three processors on the board instead of one:
Zilog Z84C0010 (Z80)
WDC W65C0256 (6502)
AVR ATMEGA328 (RISC Controller)
When coming up with the concept and requirements, [Bernardo] had a fictitious alternate history in mind — one where there were follow-ups to the ZX80, PET/CBM, or TRS-80 from the late 1970s that were extensions to the original systems. But he also wanted a clean design, without cost-cutting gimmicks, in order to make it easier for learners to focus on computing itself — a didactic architecture, as he describes it. Turn the crank for seven long months, and we have the Cerberus 2080. [Bernardo] has put the design on GitHub, and made a video series out of the whole process, of which the introduction video is below the break. There’s even an online emulator developed by retro hacker [Andy Toone].
The Z80 was a big deal in the 1970s and 1980s, and while its no longer a dominant architecture today, its legacy lives on. [James Andrew Fitzjohn] is a fan of the Z, and decided to interface the real silicon with the Raspberry Pi, by and large for the fun of it!
The Z80’s address and data lines, as well as the clock, are hooked up to the Raspberry Pi through several MCP23017 GPIO expanders. The Pi’s GPIO lines aren’t known for their speed, of course, and using expanders through I2C isn’t exactly quick either. However, speed isn’t necessary, as the clock only goes as fast as the Raspberry Pi desires, since it’s controlling the clock along with everything else. There’s also an LCD for viewing the Z80s status, along with some era-appropriate blinkenlights.
This setup allows the Pi to run code directly on the Z80 itself, while managing the CPU’s RAM in its own memory, all through a Python script. It’s a fun hack that lets you run retro code on retro silicon without using an emulator. Techniques like these are useful for finding undocumented or edge case performance of a processor. If this hack isn’t enough Zilog for your liking, consider throwing one in your pocket as well!
If you follow retrocomputing — or you are simply old enough to remember those days — you hear the same names over and over. Commodore, Apple, Radio Shack, and Sinclair, for example. But what about the Lambda 8300? Most people haven’t heard of these but [Mike] has and he has quite a few of them. The computer is similar to a Sinclair ZX81, but not an exact clone. All of his machines need some repairs (he’s promised repair videos are on their way), but for the video below he wired a monitor directly to the PCB to get steady output, so apparently the RF modulator is the failing subsystem in this case.
Once the video cleared up, you can see a walkthrough of running a simple BASIC program. As was common in those days, the computer used an audio cassette recorder for data storage. [Mike] picked up some dedicated recorders meant for computer use, but neither were in working shape. However, a consumer player works fine.
[Plasmode] has created several Z80-compatible board designs, at least four of them using the oddball Z280. The Z280 was a special variant of a Z80 that could bootstrap itself with no external PROM, making it ideal for anyone trying to build a system on a breadboard. According to his post, the cost to build the board is about $35.
Although the 8080 CPU got a lot of glory, it was much harder to use than the Zilog Z80. The Z80 only required a single clock and power supply, so it was much easier to build a system, even on a breadboard. On top of that, the bus wasn’t multiplexed and it could refresh DRAM memory by itself. Maybe that’s why you can still get Z80-derived chips readily. There was one thing, though, you needed an EPROM or some other way to run some initial code to bootstrap your system. Zilog knew this was a problem. In those days, you had to use a special tool to burn a PROM and, unless it was erasable and you had the special UV light to erase it, any mistakes cost you a chip.
One of the humbling things about writing for Hackaday is the breadth of experience among our colleagues, despite one’s own skills or achievements there is probably for all of us a level of impostor syndrome when we look at their work. This week provided a reminder of this, while taking a closer look at the crowdfunder for a documentary about the Galaksija, the Yugoslavian 8-bit computer from the 1980s designed by our colleague [Voja Antonić]. Not only will the documentary be produced, but also they are recreating the Galaksija as a kit, so you can experiment with this historic computer for yourself. The campaign has reached passed its goal a couple times over but still has a few days left, so jump in if you are interested.
With the advantage of being able to reach out to [Voja] as a colleague, it was time to secure the straight dope on the project. Though he’s not spearheading it, aside from appearing in the documentary he’s also produced the new Galaksija PCB to take advantage of double-sided manufacture and remove the wire links that were a feature of the original.
In that sense this isn’t so much a clone of the original as an updated version from the same designer, with only a few other updates such as key switches and connectors where the exact original component could no longer be sourced. A particularly fascinating side-tale comes from a reprint of the first Galaksija magazine. Photo-reproductions of the original printed pictures did not yield good results, so [Voja] built from scratch an entirely original Galaksija, carefully recreating the framing of each step shown in those original photos.
This project has faced its fair share of obstacles before launching on Crowd Supply, so it’s very good indeed to see it receive its funding with time to spare. We look forward to seeing the results, meanwhile you can see a promo video in Serbian with Youtube’s English subtitling below the break. You can read [Voja]’s writing on the machine in Hackaday articles past, but don’t miss the opportunity to meet him at a live event — he’s the mastermind behind a number of hardware badges at Hackaday events.
If you want to run an old CP/M program — maybe you want to run WordStar or play StarTrek — you have several options. One is to acquire some classic hardware. You can also build a new computer using a Z80 or some other processor that will emulate a Z80. Finally, you can emulate old hardware on your current computer. The iz-cpm project from [ivanizag] takes this last approach. Unlike some emulators, iz-cpm doesn’t try to emulate everything in one simulated environment. Instead, it directly accesses your file system so it allows CP/M executables to run more as though they were a native program.
You can think of it as Wine for CP/M. The code is portable to Linux, Windows, or MacOS. The author mentions, though, that it won’t run on CP/M itself! The program can run an executable standalone which means you could set .COM files up to execute automatically if you wanted to.