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... :-(
Sigh. Here I am at the age of 46 and three quarters *still* addicted to software development because of a the 280Z cassette machine and then the 380Z twin-floppy machine with high-res and four colours. My computer studies teacher (Mrs. Turpitt) was brilliant considering it was a "new" thing at the time, about 1977/1978 when I got hooked by the "shoot the duck" game that cost 2p a go at the school summer fair when new first-years were invited to see the school before the term started in September.
I too remember the joys of the "front panel", J100 and J103. Hand coding Z80, calculating jump offsets with a pencil and paper. I was one of the "nerds"... one day I changed all the BASIC keywords and forgot to reload BASIC at 8:50am. I surely got my butt kicked that day as nobody could use it until Mrs. Turpitt found out and had to reload it herself. She was none too pleased, told me off, but then at the end of it praised me for being that clever with it! She was a great teacher, I wonder where she is now!
I wrote a version of "Scramble" in Z80 using TXED when the twin-floppy machine arrived. It had a Pascal variant on it, TXED the editor and ZASM, the assembler, as I think it was called. I also got involved in building a small square-wave powered sound generator that was driven by some assembler code I wrote for a project and with some help, we extended the BASIC with a "SOUND" command. Wow, that felt like rocket science.
I have one of the beautiful thinner keyboards from the 380Z, it''s totally shot out but the keys are good and I plan (one day) to rewire it and stick a PIC microchip inside it to make it USB compatible. Those keyboards were absolutely lovely but I don''t miss the awful wrist cramps from the hand-pressed steel cased "brick" of a keyboard that came with the 280Z!
I remember the screen flickered like made. It was driven by an I/O pin from one of the PIO-s, you had to "open" and "close" the RAM that contained the screen and it wasn''t synced to the refresh. When my Scramble game ran, it would have caused a major headache with epilictics I am sure! Those were the days indeed, everything was so exciting and interesting. Now people just buy more RAM or a bigger CPU... back then you *had* to be creative and inventive, sometimes I miss that feeling.
To this day I think that it was those formative years learning "the craft" and understanding registers, Z80 etc that made me so "attuned" to software. It is a strange beast indeed. Information processing, and we still cannot explain what information "is".
Stopping now, bordering on philosophical mindefields and stuff and it''s Friday and late!
This was the first computer I ever used. I must have been in 5th form and it prompted me to take Computer Studies at O-Level during my sixth form. Having only one computer and maybe twenty of us ''wanting a go'' meant I lost out then but I got an A when I took the course at the local tech college. I swapped Modern Languages for Computer Languages.
I remember one bright spark hacked the OS so that the READY prompt read RANDY. I have memories of a text adventure game but I forget the name - all I remember is the spell "Sleep ye foul fiend that I may escape and preserve my miserable soul."
Another competent hacker gave the game responses a speech impediment when he tried to emulate the lisp of the main computer teacher. The spell then read "Sleep ye foul fiend that I may escape and pweserve my misewable soul."
I managed to salvage some parts from my own place of work (a school) with a view to refurbishing it... still waiting for the time to do that.
Happy days, partly because we received some BBC Model A''s after that, then some B''s and finally a Master. But the RML380Z still captured the attention of the ubergeeks.
Sunday 11th December 2011
Keith Jamison (Belfast, United Kingdom)
I believe our year at Kennet Comprehensive in Thatcham was the first with this beauty, probably in ''79. Prior years were on teletypes to the local college I think. I still remember Ctrl-F J103 to this day.
Thursday 18th August 2011
Rob Gale (US, ex-UK, Thatcham, Berks)
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Full stroke 60 keys QWERTY layout
4 KB expandable to 56 KB
2 or 3 KB (Monitor)
40 chars (later optional 80) x 24 lines
80 x 72 monochrome as standard 320 x 192 16 colours and 640 x 480 4 colours with optional HRG board