Z80 Assembly programming for the ZX Spectrum

When I was young, The ZX Spectrum was the cheapest of the 8 bits, and frequently looked down upon by CPC and C64 owners... Despite its more limited graphics, they do yield some interesting advantages... compared to the CPCs 4 color mode 1... the ZX Spectrum has similar resolution, and twice the onscreen colors - what's more, it uses half the screen memory which means Spectrum games are often significantly smoother than their CPC equivalents...

These days, clever developers are able to work around the spectrums color limitations, and produce impressive looking games with fast gameplay on this classic 8 bit.
Cpu 3.5mhz Z80 3.5mhz Z80
Ram 48k/128k 128k
Vram 8k 8k
Resolution 4-color 256x192 8 color / 2 brightness per 8x8 tile 256x192 8 color / 2 brightness per 8x8 tile
Sound chip Beeper AY




AY Sound Chip:
Register Meaning Bit Meaning Details
0 Tone Pitch L - Channel A LLLLLLLL Lower value = Higher pitch
1 Tone Pitch H - Channel A ----HHHH Lower value = Higher pitch
2 Tone Pitch L - Channel B LLLLLLLL Lower value = Higher pitch
3 Tone Pitch H - Channel B ----HHHH Lower value = Higher pitch
4 Tone Pitch L - Channel C LLLLLLLL Lower value = Higher pitch
5 Tone Pitch H - Channel C ----HHHH Lower value = Higher pitch
6 Noise Generator ---NNNNN Higer = Faster noise
7 Mixer  --NNNTTT   N=Noise T=Tone (Channel --CBACBA 1=mute 0=normal)
8 Amplitude - Channel A ---EVVVV E=Envelope (1=Enabled) VVVV=Volume
9 Amplitude - Channel B ---EVVVV E=Envelope (1=Enabled) VVVV=Volume
10 Amplitude - Channel C ---EVVVV E=Envelope (1=Enabled) VVVV=Volume
11 Envelope L (Volume over time)  LLLLLLLL Lower=Faster Envelope
12 Envelope H (Volume over time)  HHHHHHHH Lower=Faster Envelope
13 Envelope Selection ----EEEE Envelope number (See PDF)
For more details, please see the AY sound chip PDF

Beeper Sound Chip:
The "Beeper" sound chip is incredibly crude... it is controlled by bit 5 of the port &FE... by turning it on and off we can make simple sounds...

See the example to the right... by changing the pause (caused by BC) we can change the pitch of the sound... 3000 will be a relatively low pitch... 500 will be higher...

Some clever programs even manage to "Fake" multiple sound channels!

The big disadvantage to all this is that the CPU will be busy during the whole time, so the Beeper chip isn't very helpful, and we'll want to use the AY sound chip on the 128k systems... but on the 48k machines, it's all we've got!
    xor a
loopy:
    xor %00010000    ;---S-BBB        S=Sound B=Border
    out (&fe),a
    ld bc,3000    ;Lower number=higher pitch
pausey:
    dec c
    jr nz,pausey
    dec b
    jr nz,pausey       
    jr loopy

Ram Banking
Ram banking is controlled by port &7FFD and &1FFD - they can be written, but not read, therefore, you should keep a backup of the value last sent to this port... by default the firmware keeps one at &5B5C and &5B67

Port Backup Bits Details
&7FFD   &5B5C    - - IRSMMM   MMM= ram bank at C000 (0-7)   S=Screen page bit    R=Rom Low bit    I=I/O Disabling 
&1FFD &5B67  - - - SDR - P P = paging mode (0=norma 1=+3)    R=Rom high bit    D = Disk Motor    S=Printer strobe

The ZX Spectrum 128 has 4 banks of 16k, the first is always rom on the 128k... the +3 CAN have ram in this bank, but this will mean you cannot support the 128k system (only about 15% of spectrums on the market are +3's) 
Note... the Black +2 has the same hardware as the +3... the Grey +2 has the same hardware as the spectrum128 system
ZX 128K
&0000  ROM
&4000 Screen 1 (5)*
&8000 Ram (2)
&C000 Screen 2 (7)
* ZX Firmware uses &5B00-&6000

Ram Contention
'Contention' is banks of memory which are slower due to sharing with the screen memory, unfortunately, the banks that are contended are different on the 128k machines and the +3
128K +3
Ram 0 Ram 0
Ram 1 Ram 1
Ram 3 Ram 3
Ram 4 Ram 4
Ram 6 Ram 6
Dark=Contended

Spectrum +3 Ram Options
As Mentioned, the spectrum +3 has some special banking options, which were used to allow CPM to work on the Spectrum - they are enabled by setting bit 0 of &1FFD to '1' to turn on this special mode

&1FFD  Bits 2,1

00 01 10 11
&C000 Bank 3 Bank 7 Bank 3 Bank 3
&8000 Bank 2 Bank 6 Bank 6 Bank 6
&4000 Bank 1 Bank 5 (S) Bank 5 (S) Bank 7 (S)
&0000 Bank 0 Bank 4 Bank 4 Bank 4

S=Screen Bank


Spectrum Links
Fuse - My Spectrum emulator of choice!
Spectrum 128k and Spectrum 48K reference - Great summary of the hardware - provides much of the info you'll want for ZX dev
Basic Manual - You'll want to know at least enough basic to do calls and operate the computer
Spectrum Computing Forum - Web community full of helpful people!

General Z80 Assembly Tutorials:
B. Beginner series - Learn the basics
A. Advanced series - In more detail
M. Multiplatform series - programming methods that work on all systems




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