Cambridge Z88
Announced:February 1987
Released:August 1987
Price:UK £249.99
Weight:900 grams / 2 lbs
CPU:CMOS Zilog Z80A @ 3.2768 MHz
Memory:32K RAM built-in
Display:640x64 graphics LCD display
 8 lines of text; 4 shades of blue
Storage:removeable EPROM cartridge
Ports:serial port
Power:4x "AA" batteries
 6.5vdc, 500mA, tip +
Operating System:proprietary task-switching "OZ"

The Cambridge Z88 was the last computer from the mind of Sir Clive Sinclair, who in the 1980s, was indisputably the most colourful and influencial figure on the British microcomputing scene. The British entrepreneur and inventor had been marketing his own electronics and computers since the 1960's.

  • Starting as Sinclair Radionics in 1962, he sold hi-fi equipment, including radios and amplifiers, and spent most of the 70's concentrating on minature electronics, including handheld calulators, electronic multimeters, digital wrist watches, and even a tiny television.

  • When it became clear that Radionics was failing, Clive Sinclair activated a dormant company of his and named it Sinclair Instrument, and went on to develop the miniscule £11 (US$19.95) Wrist Calculator, which surprisingly became a commercial success.

  • In July 1977 Sinclair Instrument Ltd was renamed to Science of Cambridge Ltd - they developed and released their first computer, the MK14 - Microcomputer Kit 14.

  • In 1981, again renamed as Sinclair Research, they entered the home computer market with the Sinclair ZX80. At £99.95 (US$199.95), it was the cheapest personal computer for sale in the UK. They went on to sell the even cheaper Sinclair ZX81 (sold in America as the Timex-Sinclair 1000), and other computer systems throughout the 1980s, including the Spectrum and QL. In 1985, Sinclair marketed a tiny electric vehicle, the Sinclair C5 (video), but unfortunately it was a failure.

  • In 1986 the company sold its entire computer product range and the "Sinclair" brand name to Amstrad for £5 million.

  • No longer able to legally market computers under his own name, Clive Sinclair rebranded himself as Cambridge Computer Ltd. Their first and only product? The Z88 computer.

  • The Cambridge Z88 was first introduced to the public at the "Which Computer? Show" in Birmingham, England, on February 17, 1987.

    Later in the same year, the Z88 was offically launched at the "PCW Show" in London, on August 1987.

    It appeared in the US at the 1987 COMDEX show in Las Vegas, on November of 1987. The price was stated as $499. January 1989 magazine advertisements increased the price to $599.

    Perhaps the smallest and lightest laptop in existance at the time, the Cambridge Z88 has a non-backlit supertwist 8-line LCD display capable of displaying 106 tiny characters per line, and a full-size, one-piece "rubber" dust- and water-proof keyboard.

    Having a unique and proprietary operating system, only program written specifically for the Z88 can be ran. Luckily the Z88 comes with these useful built-in programs:
    Diary - organise your engagements, plan your time
    Terminal - communicating to another device over RS232
    PipeDream - a powerful combined wordprocessor/spreadsheet package
    BBC BASIC - programing language - instruct the computer to carry out a sequence of operations
    Printer Editor - alter the printer driver to suit a particular printer's facilities

    Additional "popdown" utility programs can be used while still working within another application:
    Filer - list, move, rename, copy, delete files
    Index - enter applications, popdowns, or suspended activities
    Panel - control settings
    Clock - see the current time, and today's date
    Alarm - set alarms and reminders
    Calendar - look up dates
    EazyLink - transfer of files to a desktop computer, using Z88 remote file management
    Calculator - perform calculations
    FlashStore - manage files on Flash cards
    Import/Export - transfer files to other desktop computers

    The "OZ" operating system is built-in, and allows task-switching between applications without closing the programs.

    If you return to the "Index" after creating a document in PipeDream or writing a program in BBC BASIC, your activity will be suspended, and you will see it listed in the list of SUSPENDED ACTIVITIES. You can re-enter any of many suspended activities by selecting it on the list of SUSPENDED ACTIVITIES. All programs and data will be maintained unless you specifically "KILL" the document or program.

    There is usually no need to worry about switching the Cambridge Z88 off - if you do not type anything for several minutes the machine will automatically switch off (really just goes to sleep) to conserve power. You can turn it back on and all of your data is present for you to contiunue your work. Hitting both <SHIFT> keys at the same time toggles the system on and off (to sleep mode).

    Like the Psion Organiser from 1984, the Z88 has expansion slots to install additional memory and data storage. While the Z88 has 32K RAM built-in, this can be expanded by installing additional RAM cartridges. On the front of the Z88 is a clear plastic panel which folds down to give access to three cartridge slots. The cartridges can hold extra RAM (256K maximum), additional software on ROM, or EPROMs for storing your data files. Slot #3 is the only slot which can write to an EPROM.

    RAM and EPROM cartridges were available in 32K (£19.95) and 128K (£49.95) sizes. Although you can transfer your data to another computer using the serial port, since the Z88 has no removable drives of any kind, EPROM cartridges are the only method to permanently store or archive your data.

    October 1988 USA prices:
    Z88 computer$599.00
    32K RAM45.00
    128K RAM110.00
    32K EPROM45.00
    128K EPROM110.00

    The 2009 BBC television drama Micro Men (YouTube video) documented the rise of the British home computer market. It focuses on the rivalry between Sir Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry - former protégé and later "BBC Micro" competitor.

    Related Links

  • Z88 Forever!
  • Cambridge Computer Z88
  • Rakewell's Z88 page
  • Centre for Computing History
  • "Cambridge Z88 portable computer" review
  • Z88 User Manual
  • Z88 User Manual
  • New Scientist review - February 19, 1987
  • PC Magazine review - April 12, 1988

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