Research Machines is based in Oxford, England and the RM-380Z was their first model. It was designed specifically for the education market and the vast majority of its users were in this area.
The computer was based around the Z80A processor. It had a clever physical bus made of ribbon cable with IDC crimp on connectors obviating the problems of poor connections associated with edge connectors.
The basic system was composed of a 4 KB main unit, a typewriter style separate keyboard and a monochrome monitor. Single or dual floppy disc drives could be inserted in the main housings. 8" floppy drives (2 x 500 KB) were also available as well as a ‘High resolution’ colour graphics board.
The CP/M operating system was used to run lots of educational software.
Before and during the time that the BBC computers were introduced in English schools, the 380Z and its successor the Link 480Z met a great success, mostly due to their high reliability.
The RM-280Z should be the kit version of the 380Z but RM never shipped any kits but only pre-built 380Z machine, thinking better of the support problems it would cause.
Cassette tape version, by Simon Elliott:
I seem to recall using an early version of the RM380Z that used to load the OS from cassette tape, not floppy disk.
Once loaded, if the reset button was pressed, the 'J103' trick could be used to bypasss the reload; but the initial load was a real pain.
When the school I was attending purchased the disk drive and memory upgrade, all us CS students thought we'd entered computer heaven. ;-)
I also recall a very primitive add-on sound option, beeps from something not unlike a modern PC speaker.
The 5.25" floppy drives were renowned for sudden failure caused by the rubber drive band coming off the drive. It was a simple matter to pop open the lid and re-seat the band.
Ben Jones remembers:
I remember using a 380Z in Canterbury, around 1980. As well as the excellent text editor (can't remember what it was called now, but I found nothing comparable for a decade afterwards), I loved the simplicity of programming it in assembler.
Two geeks I knew used to hang out in the school's computer room, one writing a version of Defender in 6502 Assembler on the BBC, the other writing Space Invaders in Z80 on the 380Z (I myself did a PacMan-like game on the 380Z - and I've still got the floppies). Any time the Space Invaders code hung, its author would pause an instant, look up, sniff, comment that he "could smell the 380Z's hi-res board burning" and dive for the white button. :-)
But best of all was the fact that even after a 'hard reset' like that, you simply had to enter "J103" to jump back to where you were before ("J100" did a full reboot). I think 0103 as a recovery address stayed around for years (or even decades) -- disassemble any .com programme even now, and you'll probably find that the first, 3-byte, instruction at 0100 jumps to the main start routine, while the next one jumps somewhere else. Oh if only that worked with Windoze... :-(
My mother was Mike Fishers PA and later became a manager in the company. There was indeed a famous picture of Mike standing on a 480Z to prove how tough they were. I worked for RM myself, as a temp. and helped develop RM Basic 6, Arrow and RM logo. I ported the entire 380Z software library to the 480Z and aided the development of CPM on Rom and enabling disk drive storage for the 480Z. Windows was launched on the RM Nimbus PC, which was itself backwardly compatible with the 380Z, 480Z and BBC micro (the latter well before Acorns own PC. ). RM were offered the BBC micro contract but rejected it and suggested Acorn (which had been started by a couple of RMs ex employees). Rm were among the the first to use rom packs(on the 480Z), usb technology(on the Nimbus) and network their computers in schools(the 380Z being the hub, and the 480Z being the terminals). Sadly, my suggestion of retailing the 480Z to the general public was rejected. Rm also supplied managers on secondment to Apple. When they came back i was prevented from taking up full time employment with Rm because my mom was a manager by that time and Rm changed their employment rules in line with those of Apple.. So anyone with friends or family already employed by Rm in a managerial capacity was prevented from joining Rm themselves. Otherwise, I would still be there.