History

A Brief History of the MZ-80A

The MZ-80A first appeared in the U.K. around June 1982, only a few months after Sharp had launched the MZ-80B, and many people were initially disappointed to find that the MZ-80A appeared to be nothing more than a slightly upgraded version of the MZ-80K.

Nevertheless, the upgrades were significant, as they included a proper QWERTY keyboard; a facility to bank-switch the Monitor ROM and RAM; a better disk System; and a double-screen VRAM which allows the user to ‘scroll back‘ past the current top-of-screen.

The MZ-80A was reviewed in the PCW Magazine in June 1982. The reviewer obviously had mixed feelings because he was expecting the next Sharp machine after the MZ-80B to be something special, and he ended up with the following comments and typical prices:

“Throughout this benchtest I found myself saying.. if only Sharp had given it the graphics from the MZ-80B….if only the screen had 80-column capacity… if only there was a colour option… if only the processor had been uprated to 4MHz – any one and preferably all of these would have made me… more enthusiastic“

MZ-80A with 48K RAM £478
Interface Box £100
Single Floppy Drive ( with card ) £400
Twin Floppy Drives ( with card ) £590
P5 Printer ( with card ) £402

All these are EX VAT; in the same Magazine a TRS80 Model III with 48K & no data recorder cost £599 ( EX VAT )

I bought my first MZ-80A second-hand in February 1985, for £500; with I/O box, twin 5.25“ disk drives, Disk Basic, and a printer card. Shortly afterwards I obtained MZ-80A CP/M and converted the double-screen VDU circuitry to switchable 40 – 80 columns so that I could run most CP/M applications; however, the TPA in the MZ-80A CP/M system is only 38K, and DBASE II therefore refuses to load.

The MZ-80A main board is easily converted to run at 4MHz instead of 2MHz. This modification does not affect the disk drives, but it does affect tapes, so contra-mods have to be made in hardware or software in order to read or write tapes meant for a standard 2MHz machine. This makes life complicated, so I never use this upgrade.

My original MZ-80A 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 requires an occasional rub with fine emery paper – this job is more difficult than on the MZ-80K because the tape deck has to be removed to get at the contact, and even then it is a fiddly operation. Otherwise the MZ-80A is easy to maintain – probably the easiest machine of all the MZ-range, as when you lift the hinged top cover everything is revealed, including the VDU circuitry.

As a collector‘s item the MZ-80A, fitted with the SUC 80-column modification, can run a lot of useful software. And in spite of its technical limitations it is a curiously attractive little machine – neat, compact, relatively lightweight, and with a very nice keyboard ( easily reprogrammed to remove its only drawback, the need to use SHIFT to access the DOWN and RIGHT cursor keys ). Overall, the MZ-80A is a handy little machine, and I would not want to be without one in my collection.