My first job after university was working for a small (at the time) Ottawa company named “dy-4 Systems Inc.” programming an “Orion-V” computer. This was an extremely solid, industrial grade microcomputer, which used a z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system.
(Yes, those are 8″ Floppy drives.)
Well, the other day I was in a nostalgic mood, and I wondered if anyone still made z80 CP/M hardware, or whether they were all relegated to history by devices like the Raspberry Pi Zero, which is literally 3 orders of magnitude faster and has 8 times the memory of the old Orion-V, for 14.00 $CDN.
Well, it turns out that it is still possible to buy a z80 machine, from a few small makers out there. Here are some examples:
- MinZ-C : Small Cased 33 or 36 MHz Z180 with CP/M
- MinZ – Z180 System with 512 KB at 33/36 MHz
- MakerLisp eZ80 Lisp & CP/M Computer
- Z80 Microcomputer Kits from CPUville
Note that these are all real, physical hardware devices running z80 class CPUs, not emulations running on modern hardware like this or this.
Since I don’t have a 3D printer to build a case, and even using a project box of some kind seemed like too much work 😛 , I ended up getting one of the MinZ-C devices from Circle M Systems, with the added benefit that it supports a small, Canadian company.
So… Keep in mind the monolith that was the Orion-V above, in all its glory, and now here is the MinZ-C (loony for scale):
What I find particularly hilarious about this is that it runs at almost 37MHz, which might look slow compared to the 1GHz (!) RPi Zero, but keep in mind that the Orion-V ran at (as I remember it) 2.5MHz. In fact, this machine is something like 8x the performance of any z80 CP/M machine in existence in the period I was using them.
This isn’t a full review of the machine, but I will say it worked flawlessly OOTB, and included a MicroSD card that had both the CP/M OS and a ton of other software written for CP/M. Remember Wordstar? MuLISP? TurboPascal?
Trolling around internet archives I even managed to find a copy of MINCE (i.e. “MINCE Is Not Complete Emacs”), which was my absolute favourite editor back in the day. It took a bit of work to train it to use VT100 protocol, but once I did it came up and ran perfectly!
The next step is to find a decent free CP/M FORTH. I actually did some of the programming on the Orion-V machines in FORTH, but I remember that it was a commercial product that was quite expensive. I guess we’ll see what’s out there.