Sunday 6 October 2019

Sharp MZ-80K (1979)

Sharp MZ-80K
Introduced October 1979

By 1979 the fledgling microcomputer market was already up and running, with the Commodore PET, Apple II and TRS-80 Model I leading the way in most markets.

Although US-based computer makers had gained the lion's share of the market, they were concerned about the rising Japanese competition. Leading the way was Sharp, who in 1979 launched the MZ-80K personal computer to a worldwide audience, having been available in kit form in Japan for about a year.

A smart-looking all-in-one unit, the MZ-80K was pitched at the upper end of the market, but it was probably the most capable computer of that particular era. Based on Sharp's own LH0080A CPU (which was Z80 compatible) there was also a large software library available. A combination of reliable Japanese technology, good packaging and relative ease of use made the MZ-80K a popular computer for its time.

There were some odd features though - most microcomputers of the time would boot up into BASIC from a ROM, the MZ-80K just started up into a simple bootloader where you could load whatever programming language you wanted from tape or floppy, which took more time but gave more flexibility.The biggest detraction was probably the keyboard, which was somehow even worse than the one on the original PET. Made up of a large grid of keys with the return key for some reason down at the bottom near the space bar and a surprising number of buttons just for the MZ-80K's rather primitive graphics.
Sharp MZ-80K keyboard detail

The improved MZ-80A followed with a more conventional keyboard, and variants of the MZ line were sold by Sharp until the mid 1980s at which point the bottom fell out of the market for 8-bit machines.

Today the MZ-80K and its descendants are pretty collectable, although the original RIFA capacitors need to be checked and replaced before using it, as they are quite likely to explode. Typical prices for a restored version in good condition are around £400 or so.

Image credits:
Wolfgang Stief via Wikimedia Commons
Marcin Wichary via Flickr

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