A quick look back at Microsoft’s first PC hardware product back in 1980, the Z80 SoftCard

When Microsoft to start with introduced Home windows 8 in 2012, it also released the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT. Many individuals considered at the time it was the company’s first undertaking into creating Pc components.

Oh, positive, the enterprise had designed and offered Computer add-ons like its a lot of mouse and keyboard goods, and it also was in the recreation console hardware small business with its Xbox division. Some analysts considered at the time that it was a mistake for Microsoft to enter the Pc hardware world. They believed other Personal computer makers would flip on Microsoft, which right until then experienced only produced program for their techniques.

Microsoft Z80 SoftCard

However, many persons at the time failed to recognize was that Microsoft experienced actually offered a Computer system hardware item, perfectly ahead of it launched Windows, and even right before it released MS-DOS. Then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer really mentioned this point at the to start with Area push event in June 2012.

It was identified as the Z80 SoftCard, and it was 1st launched 43 decades back this month, on April 2, 1980. In an even more ironic twist, the product was produced as an incorporate-in card for the Apple II Computer system.

The card released not far too lengthy following Microsoft moved its headquarters from its initial workplaces in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Bellevue, Washington. According to a Computerworld difficulty from Oct 1980, the original thought for the Z80 SoftCard arrived from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The card used the Zilog Z80 8-little bit processor, which was in fact made various decades right before in 1976. It had a clock speed of 2.041 MHz, according to Nicole Specific. The card itself experienced no RAM onboard.

While the Apple II Computer was preferred, it could not run a good deal of business enterprise programs that a lot of folks desired to use on Apple’s device. These packages were being not suitable with its processor. The Zilog Z80 was suitable with programs that ran on Intel 8080 CPUs. Allen considered that an include-in card for the Apple II would allow for Microsoft Simple to operate on Apple’s device. The Z80 SoftCard could also run the CP/M functioning system, which permitted a lot of more programs to be utilised on the Apple II.

Ad for Microsoft Z80 SoftCard

The first price for the Z80 SoftCard was $349 when it launched. To the firm’s surprise, it was a large profits strike and at a single stage created 50 percent of Microsoft’s overall yearly profits. The company afterwards created a RAM card for the Z80 SoftCard (sure, an insert-on for an insert-on) that set in 16KB of RAM. Microsoft later on produced a variation of the add-on card for the Apple IIe, which had 64 KB of RAM onboard and it did the exact for the Apple III, It also encouraged other businesses to make their individual add-in cards for Apple PCs.


Just one of the explanations for the Z80 SoftCard’s first achievement is that, simply because it could run CP/M packages, it could also operate WordStar. WordStar was the word-processing software program big in the early 1980s. Obtaining the card on the Apple II allowed a lot of people today to use WordStar that could not do so prior to. Indeed, some consumers also bought a second increase-on card, the Apple 80-Column Textual content Card, that authorized the Laptop to display 80 columns of textual content as a substitute of the Apple II’s initial 40 textual content columns.

(Enjoyable reality: Game of Thrones’ original creator George R.R. Martin nonetheless employs a DOS version of WordStar to publish his novels and tales.)

Microsoft went on to make add-on cards and items for IBM-compatible PCs (Maybe we will compose a independent posting about individuals units someday). Nevertheless, the period of Microsoft’s 1st foray into Personal computer hardware solutions was quite brief-lived, The firm’s remaining Pc increase-on playing cards were introduced in 1988.

By that time, Microsoft decided to focus on its program solutions like Home windows and, a couple of many years later on, the to start with variation of Place of work. It did of program make input components components like mice, keyboards, and joysticks. On the other hand, we would have to wait over 20 many years in advance of the company returned with a full-fledged Computer system product.