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This mini forum is intended to provide a simple means of discussion about the Research Machines RM-380Z computer. If you want to share your own experience or memories, or add relevant information about this system: post a message!

  Click Here to add a message in the forum


Saturday 4th March 2017
Andy Pagin (UK)

I learned a lot of my early programming skills on a 380Z in the sixth form. It was quite unlike most of the micros of the day. Had more of a ''mainframe'' feel about it, from the steel casing down to the bootstrapping bios. I wrote my first proper application on it. A system for recording in real time the scores for Enfields inter-school ''one day olympics''. Meant they could know the outcome on the day instead of a week after the event. Using the app involved countless swapping of floppies to handle the data which vastly exceeded the memory capacity.
Programming was much more fun in those days.

Thursday 26th March 2015
J. Gareth Williams (Canada)

And I just fell victim to the same quirk as my mentor. The engine presumably strips out the word d r o p, to prevent against embedded S Q L attacks.

Thursday 26th March 2015
J. Gareth Williams (Canada)

For anyone not in the know - the Brian Reffin Smith who posted below on Feb 10th, 2015, is the author of an absolutely fantastic children''s book on programming in BASIC. I''ve been trying to get in touch with him for years. So if you read this, Brian, visit my site and $ me a line. I wanted to thank you for bootstrapping me my career. :)

Thursday 19th February 2015
adrian (United Kingdom)

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.

Tuesday 10th February 2015
Brian Reffin Smith

No, it wasn''t me, but the odd system here.

Tuesday 10th February 2015
Brian Reffin Smith

Sorry, typos - can''t edit the post: "Royal College of Art", and "can be $ped off buses".

Tuesday 10th February 2015
Brian Reffin Smith (Berlin, Germany)

I wrote ''Jackson'', a digital painting program for the 380Z, at the Royal College of rt, London. In the first days I used to bring in my own machine, until we got several all-singing, all-dancing models in the computer art studio. The box was very heavy. One day, as the bus on whose platform I was hanging rounded Hyde Park Corner, the computer slid from my numb hand and crashed onto the road. I managed to retrieve it, and on testing it worked perfectly, disk drive included. I believe Research Machines did a spoof advert for it, "Can be $ped off buses…"
On an unrelated note, I have the strongest impression that the manual for the BASIC language contained a note that it had been written by a certain Bill Gates. Is this possible?

Friday 7th September 2012
Sean Charles (Plymouth / United Kingdom)

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!

Sean Charles

Sunday 11th December 2011
Keith Jamison (Belfast, United Kingdom)

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.

Thursday 18th August 2011
Rob Gale (US, ex-UK, Thatcham, Berks)

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.

Tuesday 19th July 2011
Chris Thompson (United Kingdom)

I remember in my 2nd year of secondary school (1978), we got a RM380Z, which was in a light blue box with a cream coloured front (don''t know if this was a prototype version), but it had 2 illuminated buttons on the front, one blue and one white). The keyboard was very big and clunky too, and the machine often got reset by mistake by pushing the keyboard back into the reset button on the front panel.

This machine was later replaced by the black 380z which is pictured on this site. This one had a key instead of the push button to reset, which saved a lot of frustration! The keyboard that we got with this was a lot more slimline too than the original.

The machine had Basic v3 on cassette, which seemed to take forever to load. We also had something called a dual cassette controller, which meant that the machine could decide which of the 2 cassette recorders it would use, I think one played and one recorded.

The $ key only worked if you held the shift key down as well, which I always thought was a bit of a pain.

There was a game on it too, called ''shoot the duck'', which was about entering the right angle to fire a trail of pixels across the screen in an arc to get the duck... very high tech in those days.

The following year we got another 380z with a dual floppy disk drive... wow! This used CP/M and yes, I remember ''PIP''... think this was an acronym for Program Interchange Program or something like that. It was for copying and moving files across the drives.

Remember the J103 too!

We eventually got the high-resolution colour graphics with a CUB colour monitor, which was amazing at the time.

I think it must have been about 1979ish that Research Machines launched ''Basic v5'', which really had all the bells and whistles, and was a great programming language for it''s time. Was then on a par with the Basic that was provided on the TRS-80 and later the BBC model B.

A year or so later we got a networked system with a 380Z working as a ''master'' machine running something called M/PM as I remember, with about 10 480Z''s networked up to it with coax cableing in a sort of daisy-chain.

Ah... the memories $-)

Thursday 21st April 2011
Vincent Murphy (Dublin/Birmingham)

I used the 380z at St Philips 6th Form College, Birmingham 1983-86. I loved that machine, using Edasm and Assemble and BasicSg2!! We all used to spend lunchtime playing ... MouseTrap!! Good days at the dawning of the PC era.

Friday 11th March 2011
Richard Spurr (UK)

First computer I used. Well excluding the ASR33 connected to County Hall''s mini.

We had a 2 "computing" teachers. One was good $ keen. The other not so! He always used to check out programs with the "LOADGO" command in RML''s BASIC. So I did something like:
10 normal program...
100 Print "Ready"
110 GOTO 110
Took him ages and the help of the keen teacher to work out why the machine had packed up after running my code. It was fun watching the keen teacher trying sooo hard not to laugh.

Half the fun of the RML was using it to learn about a "real" business OS like CP/M. Anyone remember "PIP"?

Tuesday 2nd February 2010
Paul (UK)

On your page, 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."

It was called TXED. Back in 1979-83 I was a grad student who went hacking at RML''s establishments (which varied over the years) at evenings and weekends. I was later the first employee of the spin-off company High Level Hardware where my principle role was writing the system microcode.

I still have a blue-box RM380Z in my attic, as well as a pair of black-box systems fitted with 5.25" floppies. Two sets of 8" floppy drives are up there too.

Happy days.

Saturday 20th December 2008
Andrew Gordon (United Kingdom)
Views on Information Technology

The 380z was the first computer I ever used at school in the late 70s. I''ve been in Computing ever since! That''s the inspiration for naming my Blog on IT

As Alan Drew has commented, the machine I used had cassette as media, not diskettes. We upgraded to a 480z - that had floppies and CP/M

My first real computing program was a game on the 380z called ''Shoot the Rapids''. Taught me the basics and got me hooked on programming!

Tuesday 1st July 2008
Alan Drew (UK)

We had one of these at my school (Charters, Sunningdale), the tape deck (we had no floppies) was used to load Basic rather than the operating system. I think CP/M was in ROM.
(though for all I know the Teacher had already loaded CP/M from the tape)

They were shipped in to schools when CSE Computer Studies was first introduced to secondary school education.

Ctrl-F bought up the CP/M Front Panel: register contents stack pointers and a dis-assembled memory map. My first introduction to Assembly language programming, much fun hass been had since with the knowledge gained from that front panel.

As per Ben Jones post, I was one of those geeks who used to hang around in the computer room Z80 Pontoon (blackjack) was my goal though.

Monday 7th April 2008
mark p

nb-- *oh so ADVANCED 386s

Monday 7th April 2008
Mark P

Wow, so that's what this thing is (and was capable of!). One of these was a permanent, never-disturbed fixture in the Economics room at my secondary school, like a large black anachronistic lump amongst the oh-so (I thought at the time..) 16mhz pizzabox VGA 386s taking its place. I don't know if it was ever run while I was there - possibly for the higher level Economics lessons that I dropped after the first couple years, but probably they'd lost the key... the screen would turn on, but not the main box. It was a bizarre sight, the system box like a victorian travel chest, with the tiny little 9" (?) screen perched on top :D It sounds like quite a cool thing really, more so than the beige clones crowding it out. Still, someone in the faculty must have loved it - as I remember, it (and an Amstrad PCW of all things, equally unused) survived unscathed a cold hearted purge of a number of other old machines, including some kaypro-looking thing, and a massive stack of perfectly servicably 486s (only about 6 or 7 years old at that point!) and still-fully-functional BBCs and their much-sought-after Cub screens... much salvage was had... but the 380Z was not one of the rescued items!

Monday 8th January 2007
Adam Billyard (Earth)

I was the geek jumping for the white reset button when lores and hires both tried to drive the bus! The graphics card supported many interrupts, in particular hblank to change palettes per scanline. Years later I met Dr Shima (a key architect of the Z80) in Tokyo and when he put me on the spot as to what I liked about the Z80, and I mumbled how neat the EXX instruction was for interrupts, to which he turned on his heels and wandered off! CLM with Dr.Shima I guess. :-)

Wednesday 19th July 2006
Neil Loughran (UK)

I remembers seeing this machine in my school around 1981/82 or so. the teacher was demonstrating the maths package and drawing fancy line patterns.... don't think he understood it as he kept asking me about "superimpositions". I certainly didn't understand anything.... but then I was only 12! I did my computer science project on it, just an adaptation of a simple database program I'd written on a Commodore PET 4032 with cassette (serial access, can you believe thats how we used to do it??)... The 380z was my first introduction to the floppy disk... and so random accessing of files, however it took me an age to do as I kept typing in the wrong PUT number... I think it was PUT 15 which disabled the Escape key... and I hadn't saved my program to disk!! Oh well... I also remember taking part in some kind of group project with other schools (all in the same location for a day or two) where we would program a small part of a database application and merge them together at the end and see if it worked (I don't think it did!). I remember I was sneaky and kept accessing their computers over the LAN and checking their code.. altering it... sabotaging it... usual schoolboy trickery... ;-) Ahh... nostalgia.

Sunday 25th September 2005
Pete Fenelon (York, UK)

The 'excellent text editor' that various people recall was called TXED, which I later discovered was a (somewhat cut-down?) version of the legendary TECO.

RML supplied some other good software to educational users, I seem to recall there being quite a good free-text database called SIR (Structured Information Retrieval?). All the usual CP/M stuff ran very nicely on the 380Z, too. Wordstar in 80 columns on a decent monitor was a very nice way of banging out text mainly due to good video output and a very, very comfortable keyboard.

The DSDD floppies were odd, they treated each disc drive as two volumes; one drive was A: and C:, the other was B: and D: - obviously saved some effort somewhere but very inconvenient!

The very first 380Zs were white, although I've never seen a white one 'in the wild', only in ads.

I remember being really disappointed when I first used a 480Z to discover that the absolutely magnificent keyboard on the 380Z had been abandoned in favour of some slack thing!

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