Matt's Hobby Pages
the possible and impossible ....
Vintage Computing - P8000 Emulator

The P8000 is a 80's UNIX System III Release 7 work station. It runs at 4MHz on a Z8001 processor, having  1-4MB DRAM managed by 3 Z8010 MMUs. The system also provides a full fledged Z80 platform architecture with i8272 floppy controller and 64KB banked DRAM.  The 8bit part run typically CPM and RIO, but was mainly used as floppy station and terminal extender for the UNIX system. The Unix system provided up to 8 ADM32/VT100 terminal connections for independent login use. A second tower housed a Winchester disk drive controller for up to two MFM drives. Typically, a 54MB hard drive was shipped.

 I've owned a P8000 system after the collapse of communism in East Germany in 1990, when the system became obsolete for industrial use. The system came with 3 terminals and tons of software. However, the MFM drive gave up arround 1991. In lack of Torx screwdrivers, I've drilled out the drive cover screws to have a look inside the drive. Shure, powering up the opened device seemd a cool idea. Much to my amazement, the drive functioned again perfectly and finally croaked in 1995, which gave me still enough time to study the UNIX kernel inner workings in detail. I still find the system very cool - given that all basic UNIX knowledge I've gained with the P8000, from sysadmin tasks to vi, lex, yacc, awk ... are building the foundation of my job today. - There is just no equivalent to UNIX.

The 90's would have been a very painful time, struggling initially with 40MHz 386 runing Windows 3.1 or DOS wouldn't there been Linux. It was an exciting time, downloading the 40 install floppies for a Slackware distribution. I remember vividly how my 386 tower froze by calling startx. But still, this UNIX was much faster and cooler than a P8000 ever was.
Things got better and faster, and after 20 years of trial and error, even MS Windows got usable with XP. At that point I've added Cygwin and got just too lazy switching to Linux at boot time. Well, this was until I've discovered Oliver Lehman's P8000 website. Oliver has done an exceptional job archiving every possible material about the system. From firmware sources and complete UNIX kernel sources, to complete transcripts of all system handbooks. This made me remember how cool the system really was and - not possessing the physical system anymore, thought about emulating it on a PC. Professionally, I'm somewhat familiar with ESL tools - but none really seem to fit the bill for the P8000. That was until I found MAME - the MultipleArcadeEmulator.

Mame provides a truly great framework to support multi processor systems having classical architectures. It provides great graphics and sound means. For me, it became the starting block for a one year hobby project, which started out as modelling the 8bit board until it run CPM in all details. From there, a long path modeling the Z8001 and  Z8010 to creating the actual system model without any available schematics lead finally to a UNIX boot to begin of 2009. Few more details are still to fix, before the system becomes available for public use. I truly enjoyed building the system, it is exciting to see a first bootup, or to fix a kernel panic caused by bugs in the CPU modeling earlier.

Well, if you are interested in the system - have a peek at the webcast below. Also, a beta version of the emulator is available to try.

Cheers and Enjoy,

BETA v0.99 Release Download:
P8000emu v0.99BETA download (precompiled package)

P8000emu Release History:    v0.99BETA    March 15, 2009

Related Links:
Oliver's phenomenal P8000 site
MAME emulation home

Contact:   p8000 at knothusa dot net

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