The VZ200

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Release Date

The VZ200 was released by Dick Smith Electronics (in Australia) in April or May 1983 for $199.

It was squarely aimed at the lower end of the market but still boasted colour graphics, sound and standard Microsoft BASIC. The price of $199 represented a breakthrough for a personal computer this powerful - and so the advertisements would have you believe!

A big coup for Dick Smith Electronics was the reception it received from the editor of "Australian Personal Computer" who was often and famously quoted: "I'm certainly going to buy one." It got solid reviews from Australian Personal Computer, Creative Computing, and Electronics Australia. The following quotes were used in advertisements by Dick Smith Electronics:-

  • "...this is a great machine and one that is likely to change the face of Australian personal computing" - Editor, APC
  • "We are impressed with the excellent implementation of Microsoft BASIC, full on-screen editing, repeat keys and easy-to-use graphics features." - Creative Computing, May 1983
  • "If...you want a computer for playing games, for self-education, for learning about BASIC and perhaps for writing your own programs, the VZ-200 has one overwhelming advantage - the number of features for its price." - EA, July 1983

It was also reviewed quite favourably in the July edition of Electronics Today International.


Specifications

  • CPU: The VZ200 was powered by a Z80A CPU running at 3.58MHz.
  • ROM: 16K ROM in total, made up of two 8K ROMs in earlier VZ200s, but as one 16K ROM in later VZ200s. The ROMs contain Microsoft's BASIC interpreter.
  • RAM: 8K RAM in total, made up of 4 x 2K RAM chips. 2K was reserved for video, while the remaining 6K was user RAM.
  • Keyboard: a 45-key rubber keyboard (often known as "chiclet-style") is provided. Most keys have 4 possible meanings when used with the Shift and Ctrl keys.
  • Display Output: both RF and composite video are available.
  • Graphics: provided by a 6847P-1 video controller chip. There are two graphics modes. Mode 0 (Text/Lo-Res Graphics) gives 16 x 32 characters . Mode 1 (Hi-Res Graphics Mode) gives 64 x 128 pixels.
  • Sound: a piezo speaker is driven by a push-pull latch.
  • Input/Output: a 600 baud cassette interface is provided as standard. All other input/output requires expansion modules.


Success

Dick Smith Electronics claimed in advertisements to have sold more than 30,000 VZ200 computers. The key factors in its success were competitive pricing, early favourable reviews, good product positioning by DSE, and its appeal to the hobbyist. As a computer it was cheap enough for most Australian families to buy as a learning tool and games computer. This was especially true after the price was reduced to $99 in August 1984. DSE themselves were marketing the VZ200 as a cheap way into self-education about computers, and thus published a number of books that assisted that aim. It must also be remembered that DSE had a strong electronics hobbyist customer base and there is little doubt that many of these recognised the value of learning about computers. DSE provided an appropriately priced learning computer in the VZ200, as well as a number of hardware projects to complement it.


Sources: Hunter Valley VZ Journal issue 22; VZ200 Technical Reference Manual; VZ300 Technical Manual; ETI July 1983; ETI December 1983; EA August 1984


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