You want to make a retro computer, but you do not know where to start and what to buy?



UPDATED :
October 14th, 2018 : Added the ZED computer option

This article is inspired by and based on a discussion on the RC2014 forum.

Many who wish to enter the retro-computer world aka RC2014, (I will only cover RC2014 compatible items here) are maybe unsure where to start and what to buy. The RC2014 system is very flexible and versatile, so there are no correct answer or solution, but most of all personal preferences will decide.

For many acquiring an RC-kit, will be a first major soldering project in many years. So, a few necessary types of equipment are needed to complete such a project, like soldering iron, solder tin, multimeter and so on.

You could start with a simple project and add to it as you go along. Alternatively, you can plunge straight into it, and acquire a full set of modules. With a basic kit, you are very limited in what you can do; like running a small program under Basic. With a more advanced kit, you can run the CP/M operating system, with many types of apps available like word processors, spreadsheets, games, utilities, software development tools and more. Having a system running CP/M is for many the ultimate goal of the retro project.

Beginners also have to take in consideration how much time and money they want to spend on a retro computer.

Buying a full kit from TINDIE is convenient, and you have your "first" retro computer running in no time. However, you can save significantly if you source all the components yourself. You may have to take into account that this process steals your time, and you may end up with wrong parts. If you are unlucky, the benefit of sourcing your own parts is counteracted by high shipping cost and taxes. If you are a beginner, buying a complete kit is safer.

GOING MAINSTREAM

So what are the main options? There are three kits offered at Tindie.com by RFC2795 Ltd/Semachthemonkey, the Classic, Plus, and Pro kit. The Classic and Plus kits do only run Basic and have 32kb Ram and no storage device, while the Pro kit has 64kb RAM, Compact Flash storage device and run CP/M. The Classic kit can be upgraded to run CP/M with the upgrade kit ($88.00). The upgrade kit can also be applied on the Plus kit, but you may save a bit by obtaining the compact flash drive ($55.52), a new ROM ($4.50, have to ask for a ROM with code 24006000 or 24886009) and a 32k RAM chip (about $5).

KITS (available at Tindie.com )

RC2014 Classic - Homebrew Z80 Computer Kit $99.00
5 modules and 1 backplane w/8 slots
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-classic-homebrew-z80-computer-kit/
- runs Basic, 32k RAM, no storage, many modules
- very limited
- upgrade to CP/M --> $99 + $88 = $187 total

RC2014 Plus - Homebrew Z80 Computer Kit $144.00
5 modules and 1 backplane w/8 slots
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-plus-homebrew-z80-computer-kit/
- runs Basic, 32k RAM, no storage, many modules
+ SIO/2, better specked modules
+ can easily be upgraded to cp/m --> needs 32k RAM, new ROM, storage device (CF drive)
- upgrade to CP/M --> $144 + $88 = $232 total /or/ $144 + $65 = $209 total

RC2014 Pro - Homebrew Z80 Computer Kit $199.00
6 modules and 1 backplane w/12 slots
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-pro-homebrew-z80-computer-kit/
- many modules
+ good choice, everything you need, runs CP/M

UPGRADING TO CP/M

RC2014 CP/M Upgrade Kit for Full Monty $88.00
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-cpm-upgrade-kit-for-full-monty/
- easy upgrade, running CP/M

STORAGE modules
It is possible to run both the CF drive and IDE drive simultaneously

Compact Flash Module for CP/M RC2014 Computer $55.52 + (ROM $4.50) + (32k RAM, $5)
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/compact-flash-module-for-cpm-rc2014-computer/
- partly assembled, including 128 MB Drive

8255 based IDE disk drive interface for RC2014 $55.82
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/8255-based-ide-disk-drive-interface-for-rc2014/
- this is an excellent storage replacement to Compact Flash Drive.
- drive not included


THE ALTERNATIVE ROUTE

As mentioned earlier the RC2014 system is very flexible, and there are numerous alternative configurations.

There are two main routes to running CP/M on RC2014 systems, RC-CP/M and ROMWBW-CP/M.
The ROMWBW is actively developed and do support many new third-party modules.
If you are going to run CP/M and applications, the RC2014 Pro kit is highly recommended (RC-CP/M).
If you are planning to go a bit further, ROMWBW-CP/M is in my view more future-proof.

512k ROM 512k RAM RomWBW Module for RC2014 $102.40
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/512k-rom-512k-ram-romwbw-module-for-rc2014/
+ 512k RAM, + 512 ROM, contain CP/M, runs CP/M easily, excellent product

Adding to RC2014 kits

alternative 1;
RC2014 Classic + 512k ROM 512k RAM RomWBW Module + Compact Flash Drive $256.60

alternative 2;
RC2014 Plus + 512k ROM 512k RAM RomWBW Module + Compact Flash Drive $301.60

alternative 3;
RC2014 Plus + 512k ROM 512k RAM RomWBW Module $301.40

alternative 4;
RC2014 ZED - Homebrew Z80 Computer Kit $179.00
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-zed-homebrew-z80-computer-kit/
Includes: z80 2.1 CPU Module, 512k ROM 512k RAM Module, Dual Serial SIO/2 Module, Dual Clock Module, Backplane 8
with Compact Flash Module or 8255 IDE Disk Drive Interface: $230.12

alternative 5;
RC2014 ZED PRO - Homebrew Z80 Computer Kit $210.00
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/rc2014-zed-homebrew-z80-computer-kit/
Includes: z80 2.1 CPU Module, 512k ROM 512k RAM Module, Dual Serial SIO/2 Module, Dual Clock Module, Backplane Pro
with Compact Flash Module or 8255 IDE Disk Drive Interface: $261.12


MIXING ANG MATCHING

alternative 6; 4 modules / 5 slots back-plane
Z80 CPU, Clock and Reset Module for RC2014, Tynemouth Software $25.00
512k ROM 512k RAM RomWBW Module for RC2014, RFC2795 Ltd $102.40
Compact Flash Module for CP/M RC2014 Computer, RFC2795 Ltd $55.52
SIO/2 Dual Serial Module for RC2014, RFC2795 Ltd $39.00
Backplane 5 for the RC2014 Bus, DTRONIXS $15.00
Total $236.92

Alternative 7; 5 modules / 5 slots back-plane
Z80 CPU, Clock and Reset Module for RC2014, Tynemouth Software $25.00
64k RAM Module for RC2014, RFC2795 Ltd $22.42
64k Pageable ROM Module for RC2014, RFC2795 Ltd $21.67
8255 IDE Disk Drive Interface for RC2014 Computer, RFC2795 Ltd $55.82
SIO/2 Dual Serial Module for RC2014, RFC2795 Ltd $39.00
Back-plane 5 for the RC2014 Bus, DTRONIXS $15.00
Total $178.91

64K RAM Module For RC2014 - Z80 Homebrew Computer $22.42
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/64k-ram-module-for-rc2014-z80-homebrew-computer/
Pageable ROM Module for RC2014 Homebrew Computer $21.67
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/pageable-rom-module-for-rc2014-homebrew-computer/
SIO/2 Dual Serial Module for RC2014 $39.00
https://www.tindie.com/products/Semachthemonkey/sio2-dual-serial-module-for-rc2014/

This is just a few routes to getting your system running CP/M. Many enthusiasts want to add their personal touch to the retro computer and adds their self-designed modules. One good example here is S. Cousins SC108 module, contains CPU, RAM, and ROM. In a very minimalistic but still powerful setup of three modules (CPU/RAM/ROM, Serial interface and Storage device) CP/M can be run. Other options are to incorporate other processors like Z180 (Scott Baker) and Z280 (Bill Chong).

Again, there are no right or wrong set up, only a range of chooses. And it's up to you to decide, depending on time, money and personal preferences.

karl