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Z 88

Amstrad bought the rights to use the Sinclair name on computer products. However, while Sir Clive Sinclair (the creator of the ZX 80, ZX 81, ZX Spectrum and QL) retained ownership of Sinclair Research, he couldn't use the Sinclair name. Sir Sinclair therefore created a new company called Cambridge Research, with the intention of realizing an old project, the Pandora Project. The result of this work was the Z88 (it was achieved in 1988). Sir Sinclair at the time thought it was a revolution and said that this computer would be one of the best commercial successes. Actually it was Clive Sinclair's last contribution to the computer world!

This small machine was quite powerful; its operating system could exceed the 64 KB limitation of the Z80 with a good memory manager. It could also divide the memory into 16 KB pages, so the RAM could be expanded up to 3 MB thanks to 2 expansion ports. RAM cartridges of 32 KB and 128 KB were available. It had a built-in EPROM programmer available on the 3rd expansion port, so data could be saved directly on 128 KB EPROMs.

The ROM contained a lot of software: Pipedream (spreadsheet, word processor and database), the Z80 version of the BBC Basic (the Basic of the BBC or Electron), a diary, a calendar, a clock, a conversion tool, a VT 52 terminal emulator, Filer (the file manager of the Operating System) and a utility to transfer data to a PC compatible via a RS232 link. This transfer utility exported text and spreadsheet files into Wordstar or Lotus 1-2-3 formats.

It's probably worth pointing out that BBC basic built into the Z88 also contains a machine code editor, which allows you to embed Z80 assembly language into your Z88 BBC Basic programs! This feature was used quite often for the 'extra speed' portions of programs. Of course, having the assembly language embedded inside your source code meant that the code was very portable, and all loaded in one go - no messy 'support files' for your application.

Jan M.L. Bosmans reported to us that the BBC Basic in the Z88, although very powerful, lacks an essential feature: there is neither an editor nor debugger! This means that mistakes in a line can only be corrected by typing the whole line again. While it's true that the BBC basic had no editor built in, but one of the first 'type in programs' in the BASIC section of the manual was a program you could enter (and save to battery backed memory) that provided a line editor feature! It was just a few lines of BBC Basic, and worked very well.


Contributors: John J. Diamond, Mark Wills

NAME  Z 88
MANUFACTURER  Cambridge Computers
TYPE  Portable
ORIGIN  United Kingdom
YEAR  1988
BUILT IN LANGUAGE  Diary, PipeDream (combined wordprocessor/spreadsheet), Terminal, Printer Editor, BBC BASIC, Index (application/card manager), Filer (file/EPROM manager), Calendar, Calculator, Clock, Alarm, Import/Export (file transfer) and Panel (control settings).
KEYBOARD  64 rubber-key QWERTY arrangement, including full-size spacebar.
SPEED  3.2768MHz
RAM  32 KB, 128 KB or 512 KB depending on models (the Z88 can address up to 4Mb of memory, subdivided into 256 banks of 16K each)
ROM  128 KB (up to 1 MB)
TEXT MODES  104 chars. x 8 lines
GRAPHIC MODES  640 x 64 (the screen is typically shared between a text area of up to 104x8 characters on the left and a graphics area of up to 256x64 pixels (on the right). Additionally there is a 16x64 pixel status information window at the far right)
COLORS  3 shades of gray
SOUND  Miniature loudspeaker, used for alarms or warnings.
SIZE / WEIGHT  A4-size notepad (294mm x 210mm x 23mm). Weight 900g.
I/O PORTS  RS232, 3 Expansion ports (RAM or EPROM), Z80 Bus
POWER SUPPLY  4xAA alkaline cells, providing up to 20 hours of use or one-year standby.
AC mains adaptor (6.5v DC @ 500mA). Internal capacitor provides power while batteries are being replaced.
PRICE  £199.95 exc VAT

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