MZ-80K History

A brief history of the MZ-80K

Written by Maurice Hawes / SUC/UK 
Source: SUC-magazine November 1999, Volume 19 Number 3, p. 7  

Prototype models of the MZ-80K computer first appeared in Japan in 1978-9, in kit form. These models appear on the development graph as the MZ-40K and the MZ-80C; but as they never reached these shores, we have no details of their specifications. ( Remark by Karl @ www.sharpmz.org: The MZ-40K was sold in Germany in 1978. I could buy one )

The MZ-80K proper, ready-to-run, was officially unveiled in the U.K. in October 1979, at the Birmingham International Business Show. A review in PCW Magazine at that time concluded that:

“If, in November 1979, I want to spend £600 on a personal computer, my choice will be between PET, TRS-80 and MZ-80K. Without question, the MZ-80K has the smartest packaging, the fastest BASIC, and marginally better system software.“

The same reviewer went on to give the MZ-80K 5 stars for ‘ease of setting up‘ and 4 stars for most of its other features; but only 3 stars for ‘compatibility‘ and ‘bus connection‘. In other words, he rated the MZ-80K as a very good buy, but foresaw that there might be some interface problems. How right he was!

Initially, 3 models were available – with 20K, 36K and 48K of RAM respectively. But most U.K. dealers soon twigged that the 20K and 36K models sold more profitably if they were upgraded to 48K, so a high proportion of the machines actually sold had 48K; but one advert in PCW in October 1980 still offered the following:

 

MZ-80K with 20K RAM £380
MZ-80K with 36K RAM £423
MZ-80K with 48K RAM £475
Interface Box £83
Twin Floppy Drives ( with card ) £650
P3 Printer ( with card ) £431

All these are ‘EX VAT‘. In the same advert:

PET 3008, 8K RAM £389
PET 3016, 16K RAM £454
PET 3032, 32K RAM £600
TRS 80 L-II 16K RAM £365

I bought my MZ-80K in December 1980. By that time most Sharp dealers were offering just the 48K model, and I paid £475 plus VAT for a machine that, as I later realised from labels on the box, had been imported as a 20K machine and upgraded by the dealer.

I added an interface box soon afterwards, so that I could run a printer; but I did not add disk drives for many years, on account of their high price. Eventually, in May 1986, I found a used set of Sharp 5.25″ drives for £125 and a floppy-disk interface card for £50, and thus completed my MZ-80K system.

My original MZ-80K main unit is still going strong in 1999, and has never given me any serious hardware problems. However, the tape heads require regular cleaning and the PRESS PLAY contact, which is very easy to get at, requires an occasional rub with fine emery paper. Otherwise the machine has performed to specification for almost 20 years, and is still doing work for the Club.

As a collector‘s item the MZ-80K, with all its major chips in sockets, is extremely easy to maintain. But with its 40-column screen limitation, its rather slow and low-capacity disk drives, and its funny keyboard, it cannot be put at the top of anyone‘s list of collectable Sharp computers. Nevertheless, it was the first, and in many people‘s books that will be enough!