In 1981, when this book was first released, the Z80 processor was already five years old, but it’d still be included in commercial products for, well, at least another 38 years (check back next year to see if it’s still going strong). Part of its appeal is that it’s a well-understood chip that’s simple enough to be easy to use, yet complex enough to be useful. At this sweet-spot, it’s a great choice for learning the nitty-gritty of how computers work. That’s why we looked at building a Z80 computer in issues 7 and 8, but this book goes into far more detail.
In Build Your Own Z80 Computer, Steve Ciarcia takes the reader through everything they need to know to build their own computers. When we say everything, we mean it. The book starts with a detailed guide on building your own power supply and voltage regulator – integrated regulators were still new in 1981, and many people preferred to build their own.
Moving on, the computer is built up mostly from logic circuits, allowing the reader to really understand what’s going on at the most basic level.
While the final machine isn’t as fully featured as most people would expect a computer today – it’s probably more analogous to an Arduino or other microcontroller than a desktop. However, it does work and can be used – the book even includes a basic operating system written in assembly language.
Although building a Z80 machine might be a niche hobby, this book covers the low-level details of how most computers work, even today, and it is an enjoyable read, even if you’re not planning on actually building a retro machine. The book is still available from large internet retailers, but if you aren’t able to get hold of a physical copy, the digital version is available for free here.
Verdict: 9 out of 10
A nostalgic and informative look at how computers used to be made.