Technostalgia Defined

Z88 Graphics

Just got an expanded Z88, a neat little ultra-portable from 1988 by good old Sir Clive Sinclair that does database, spreadsheet and word processing work – running for up to 20 hours on 4 AA batteries! It’s about Letter size, 20mm thick and very lightweight.

Fired up my soldering facilities today, cleaned the bench and got all the bits organized. They really had been collecting dust for too long. After decoding a weirdish ASCII pinout I made the special serial cable to connect the Z88 to the PC. When I’d get the connection working, I could download BASIC programs and lots of other stuff from the internet and send it to the Z88.

Tried the cable out with a good old terminal first, to make sure I could send bytes. Started at 1200 baud and made sure both machines had the same serial communication settings. Worked like a charm. Now to send word processor files to the PC. Got a transfer program,WinSrv88, from the great Rakewell’s Z88 Page (one of the Free Link programs in the table). Worked great, although it took half a minute to send a few sentences! Decided to postpone increasing the speed until it worked the other way, too.

(By the way, Rakewell seems to be able to help novice users with most of the software and hardware upgrades, if you feel you’re not nerd enough.)

Fiddled around with the protocol but without any real problem the handshaking worked. Increased the speed to 9600 baud. I would say “Vroom!” only it still felt distinctly turtley. Great! Now I could expand the Z88’s BBC BASIC interpreter (same site) to include bitmap graphics, among other features. (The picture above is the screenshot you get when the shown program is run, with the expanded BASIC.)

Sigh. What’s so cool about an old, slow computer that doesn’t run Oblivion? I hear you cry.

Well, having been part of the great home computer explosion in the 1980s, I get a good feeling when I find a neat, very well designed part of computer history to add to my collection, preserve for the future, toy with, and generally enjoy. And I discovered this little piece of technostalgia still has a little community, unlike other, more famous name brands. Apparently, it’s still very much usable (‘in the field’, as it were) for a lot of people.

And this little one actually has some nice expansion possibilities. I was surprised to see the stuff people still develop for it; megabytes of RAM and Flash cards, printer adapters, ROM OS upgrades… I certainly will have a fun time making my Z88 the best it can be!

One of the things that makes your Z88 way more useful is the ability to use the Z88 as a data collector (or word processor on the porch on a sunny day) and transfer what you entered for use in the PC. Dennis Gröning’s Page contains a program for just this – PipeDream Viewer. I tried it, and it worked great under Win 2000 Pro, saving files as text, RTF or HTML. Grab the software before the page disappears…

What this means is that by paying £26 on eBay I suddenly got a machine that doesn’t lull me to sleep with harddisk and fan noise, doesn’t feel like a hot brick in my lap, and delivers a technostalgic feeling while using it to blog in the sun!

Thinking of getting one and enjoy upgrading it? Here‘s how to upgrade to the Version 4 System ROM. The Z88 Webring already links to some of these pages.

If I ever get hold of a book describing the Z88’s memory map and OS calls, I’ll use the Z80 Cross Assembler I developed to program MSX cartridge games with… it’s all about getting that nostalgia tingle ;-) Please, let me know if you know which one I need!

The biggest hurdle was getting hold of the correct serial cable pinout. When it comes to such simple matters as a cable I like to do it myself, but of course you could buy one cheap from Rakewell. I finally found the right one in a cached page, so I thought I’d put a more clearly typed version in this blog.

Pin Signal
1 - unswitched +5v at 10 uA - output
2 TxD transmit data - output
3 RxD receive data - input
4 RTS ready to send - output
5 CTS clear to send - input
6 - reserved for future use
8 DCD data carrier detect - input
9 DTR switched +5v at 1mA - outputPC 9-PIN CONNECTOR:
2 RxD
3 TxD

Z88 ------- PC
----------- 1 - 4
2 --------- 2
3 --------- 3
4 --------- 8
5 --------- 7
7 --------- 5
8 - 9

The 1-4 connection means connecting PC plug pins 1 and 4. The 8-9 connection means connecting Z88 plug pins 8 and 9. You should also make sure you're using a shielded cable, and connect the shield wire to the hull of the respective ends.
The best thing would be to open a working serial cable, like I did. Solder with care, isolate the unused wires, and test the connections with a multimeter.


About maximilion

I seek truths and try to make you see them. View all posts by maximilion

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