V20-MBC homebrew computer: first impressions

The V20-MBC homebrew computer I ordered finally arrived and I started checking it out.

The V20-MBC is a single-board computer by the same maker of the Z80-MBC2. Most of the design is common to both. However, unlike the Z80-MBC2, instead of a Z80 the V20-MBC has a Nec V20 chip that implements the instruction sets of the Intel 8080, which runs CP/M-80 2.2 on the V20-MBC, and the Intel 8088 with CP/M-86 1.1.

I got a V20-MBC Black Edition. It's a version of the V20-MBC with higher quality parts and a black PCB that, along with most of the other components also black, makes for a slick look:

V20-MBC homebrew computer.

I already love the device. These notes are my early impressions, but I'll continue sharing my experience with the V20-MBC.


Both homebrew computers have similar size and layout and are accessed the same way, i.e. with a terminal emulator running on a desktop computer, a Chromebox in my case, connected via a USB serial line. Here is the setup, with the Chromebox at the top:

V20-MBC homebrew computer connected to a Chromebox.

The performance of the 8088 of the Nec V20 under CP/M-86 is noticeably better than the Z80-based Z80-MBC2. I estimate CP/M-86 software on the V20-MBC is 2-3X as fast as CP/M-80 programs on the Z80-MBC2.


The V20-MBC is operated the same way as the Z80-MBC2, except for a couple of differences.

To account for the two CPUs, the boot and configuration menu duplicates the entries that load executable code. This is the menu in a Minicom terminal emulator session under Crostini Linux on the Chromebox:

V20-MBC boot and configuration menu.

There are two options for uploading an executable in Intel HEX format to run on the bare hardware with no operating system, iLoad for 8086 code and iLoad-80 for Intel 8080 code. Similarly, Autoboot automatically boots a designated 8086 binary, Autoboot-80 an 8080 one.

Although I never used CP/M-86 before, thanks to my prior experience with CP/M-80 the 16-bit operating system looks familiar and I already feel productive. Aside from the additional transient commands of CP/M-86, the only major difference is executable program files have the .CMD extension instead of .COM as on CP/M-80. This screenshot of the A: drive directory shows the extensions:

CP/M-86 session on a V20-MBC homebrew computer.


A quick check reveals some CP/M-86 files are missing, such as the TOD.CMD and ASSIGN.CMD transient commands. This is not unexpected as the Z80-MBC2 is also missing some files, e.g. STAT.COM and the Turbo Pascal sample .PAS sources. No big deal, it's easy to find and download suitable replacements.

#v20mbc #sbc #retrocomputing

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