The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched 30 years ago today. At the Churchill Hotel, Clive - now Sir Clive - Sinclair stood before reporters and a barrage of camera flashbulbs to unveil the machine, the successor to the popular ZX81, on 23 April 1982. Comparing the new machine to the BBC Micro Model A - released the previous …
Re: Those were the days...
Said punch up was re-enacted in Micro-Men:
1 minute 10 seconds. And it has been confirmed the words used by Sinclair are verbatim!
Re: Those were the days...
Even Apple had Acorn's PR team up the curtains at one point.
During their campaign o/t original PowerMac (1994) (when Apple self-declared it to be first personal computer with RISC processor) while it actually was the Acorn Archimedes (1987), which was the first personal computer with RISC cpu. I remember that in 1994 Acorn presented the 2nd generation Of their systems with the fantastic Risc PC 600.
Another one of those times that I walked around with that stupid big grin on me face.
I taught myself to program on one of these and am still paying the bills with code. Looking at the comments above I'm not alone.
Happy birthday the Speccy!
Thoroughly enjoyed this trip through history. I was a CBM64 owner, but most of my schoolmates were Speccy owners and I recall several of them buying an after market keyboard that appeared to add a compact "Commodore" style keyboard. What it actually did was to sit on top of the original squidgy keys, and press down on them with plastic prongs. It quickly knackered the original keyboard.
Happy Birthday you rubber-keyed wonder!
Excellent article Tony!
For all my anti-fanboi trolling I must admit that I am a secret ZX Spectrum fanboi. (Double-standards? I've heard of them...)
Happy Birthday Speccy!
Thanks for everything!
Speed of Progress
We think we live today in a fast moving world of technology and built in obsolescence, where the latest smart phones, tablet things and iFads are old-hat after a few months. However, those days were no different. State of the art one christmas, was obsolete by the next summer, and consigned to junk within a year or two. Cutting edge state-of-the-art manufacturer one year, bankrupt two years later.
(though i do concur with the earlier poster - *what if* Sir Clive had created windows......)
Re: Speed of Progress
Even when they were replaced with a better model the older one tended to live for some time. People were running their C64s and speccies into the 1990s when even my Amiga A500 was getting long in the tooth.
The long life of the Spectrum
The machine did have a very long commercial life. The final issue of You Sinclair was dated September 1993.
And amazingly there are still games coming out today and a commercial magazine (Retro Gamer) that covers the Spectrum scene.
In the final issue of Your Sinclair came out, I think it was Jon Nash who wrote something along the lines of "The Spectrum isn't dead, it's just entering a new phase of its life". I don't think even he would have believed that in 2012 the Spectrum would still have new games and would have a high street computer magazine cover it.
Long live the Spectrum. And also the Amstrad and C64. All 3 have defied death and live on. And if you haven't seen the new version of R-Type released for the CPC the other week, prepare to pick your jaw off the floor!
10 Print "boobs... I mean happy birthday"
20 goto 10
happy birthday and thank you for the wonderful childhood memories and my career in IT.
Also, for teaching me that "go to" is one word in all my english exams.... well lets maybe forget about that bit.
Just found this picture. It's the staff of Your Sinclair waving goodbye in the September 1993 issue:
Terrifyingly the official shed sprog on the bottom right would now be about 20!
My mate and I were so desperate to get hold of one about 2 years after release but being kids were we almost always broke. We found a broken one in a local junk shop fully boxed with a couple of games, we begged, stole and scraped together the £20 asking price and took it home. Found one of the power transisters had blown, pinched one that was almost identical from my mates brother's stereo ( denied and knowledge about how the stereo broke! ) and got it working again. Of course we had to take it in turns to have at each other's house, I think it lasted about another 6-9 months before it finally died for good. We both later got Amstrad 464's around the same time so we both betrayed the cause in the end!
Time to hit the emulators methinks, get a blast of Uridium and Head Over Heels!
Thanks for everything Clive
And thanks for the nostalgia El Reg :)
I was 3 when the Speccy was released, and between that and a +2A (basically the +3 but with a tape deck), it laid the foundations for who I am today.
I think it's pretty hard to overstate the impact that it had on making me the person, and the developer I am today.
And I still think BASIC is underrated as a beginner's programming language. Nothing teaches you the benefits of structured programming, functions, packages, objects, sophisticated types etc, than not having any of those.
Having GOSUB as your most sophisticated programming feature really makes you appreciate modern languages :)
Program: Jet Set Willy
Re: LOAD ""
And if you're missing the sound effect:
Click on 'BASIC'.
At the prompt press
The colours are wrong but the screaching is there. Oh and another blast from the past:
That'll make it beep as you type.
Amazing what the ol' brain remembers :)
Re: LOAD ""
Am I the only one who had a C-60 of "offsite backup copies" with about 20 games on it who could identify a game by the sound of it loading.
Re: LOAD ""
I always knew that "Chequered Flag" was within the last few seconds of loading because there was a very distinctive bit in the loading noises near the end!
Spectrum - This is where my love for computers began :) Got to hand it to my dad for buying one though, never really thought before about how that shaped me :)
Happy times. I did the first year or two of university using my speccy 128 for word processing and stuff - Tasword 2, +D interface, and an Epson dot matrix printer; it wasn't all playing Bomb Jack and Thrust 2. It has to be said, it wasn't work or games that made speccy obsolete for me, it was porn. Sam Fox Strip Poker on the speccy just did not cut it once I got an Amiga with 4096 colours.
By the way, if the bastard who borrowed my Interface 1 and microdrive at school and never gave it back is reading this, I still hate you.
This was my first computer and leg into IT.
Custom Speccy anyone ?
My first spectrum was a 16k jobbie bought my my stepfather for "school work" *cough*
I save ages to buy an upgrade to 48k which meant putting in new ram chips. My very first hardware upgrade, that actually worked out cheaper than buying the 48k machine in the first place.
Later I had a plus 2 then a disciple disk drive before finally getting a plus 3 in about 1991/92 secondhand with interface 1 and microdrives. Of course it would only work properly in 48k mode as the +2a and +3 were different internally so a friend of mine converted it to a proper 128 by piggybacking a 128 rom and a switch so I could use it as either. It was possible to boot up as a 128,load a program from microdrive,then flip to save it onto the internal +3 drive. Later he added a 720k PC drive that I had working with the plus D from Datel,again,setting it up to switch and be seen as the A: drive instead of B:. I also had a multiface3 unit that meant I could convert all my games to disk. The final addition he did was to add a 3.5 inch jack to the top left of the case with the psuedo stereo modification that many demoscene coders were using, ACB stereo which worked brilliantly.
I even got an old Cub monitor used originally with a BBC and had a scart lead made up for a better picture on a telly.
Apart from the original 16k rubber keyed version, which got nicked everything else was done on the cheap second hand.
Now,I'm emulating the speccy on my android phone and on my laptop, but still have a ZX81 and a Plus3 in the cupboard.
Re: Custom Speccy anyone ?
There were a few issues I ran into with the +3 having compatibility troubles with 128k software, though it happened surprisingly few times in the 5 years I was actively using the +3.
One was the different syntax for RAMdisk use in BASIC. The 128k used something like LOAD! (or !LOAD) while the +3 treated it as drive "M:". I think the "128k Music Box" software was one which I had to go through and manually edit the code to run on the +3. I also recall modifying a couple of programs so that the "save to microdrive" option saved to disk instead.
The other was that RAM page 7 on the 128k was used only for the second screen area, but PLUS3DOS used it as a temporary store and for some system variables and any program which wrote into it could cause major problems.
There were differences in ROM and RAM paging as well because of the extra 32K of ROM needed to house the DOS. No problem if the older code pages ROM and RAM properly, but like the keyboard reading problems on issue 3 Spectrums, I suspect some programming shortcuts could lead to the wrong ROM or RAM pages being in place.
I recall there being a software hack which set up RAM in the full 64k address space and loaded a straight copy of the original Spectrum 48k ROM in the bottom 16k, allowing some otherwise totally incompatible programs which wouldn't even load in 48k mode to work.
End of production
At the end of the article it mentions that the end of manufacture was 1990 (or even 1988).
Amstrad officially discontinued the +3 model ahead of the launch of the revamped Amstrad CPC Plus machines which came out in August 1990. This was carried as front page news on the weekly magazine New Computer Express.
I can't find the article at the moment but the cut of it was that the +3 was discontinued but the +2 would continue. I personally believe that the +2 was probably discontinued sometime in 1991 but can't find any evidence to hand at the moment.
I don't think Amstrad shouted about the death of the +2 because they probably had large stocks sitting in warehouses that they needed to clear. Certainly there was no shortage of machines to buy (I had cause to buy a new +3 late 1991 and had no trouble sourcing one).
Happy Birthday old friend. If you weren't 200 miles away I'd connect you up again tonight and relive the fun we used to have.
Ah, happy days...
Count me in as another el Reg-ular who cut his programming teeth on Sinclair BASIC - both the vanilla flavour and then later with the extra commands provided by the AMX Mouse software, and who now earns a comfortable living from writing code. So thanks to Sir Clive and his team for the Spectrum, indeed to everyone involved in those halcyon days of home computing, I raise my virtual glass to you all!
Love the design sketches
It's hard to believe there was a time when designs were put together on graph paper by pencils and rulers. Sometimes the early 1980s feels a very long way away indeed.
I never owned a Spectrum, but I was always in awe of the Ultimate: Play the Game titles.
Re: Love the design sketches
Adrian Newey still uses paper when drawing his F1 car designs, he's probably one of the most successful designers too.
There's no computer screen that lets you look at a drawing as a whole in such high contrast and resolution as paper. With CAD you're zooming in and out all the time.
Changed my life.
Literally, I was meant to have different career to computing, but this rubber keyed thing came along, lead me to write about computers a bit, get a degree in computing, a career in it, and now I'm doing a PhD in it , only a corridor or two away from Steve Furber.
I remember the day I got mine vividly. It had colour, that was an amazing step up from the ZX81. Back then the there was no way the family could afford a Beeb, and even the C64 was too expensive, and this was the closest we could get to owning something similar.
Thank you all who created this little wonder.
The 48k Spectrum is what got me interested in programming (as well as the games!) and led me to a career in IT. Great memories of an amazing computer and games.
Thanks, mum & dad for buying me & my brother one 30 years ago!
Happy Birthday to ZX Spectrum, the machine...
...I got when I was 12-13 ys old, I wrote my first piece on - a game! - a year later and the computer that's responsible for me ending up in this field. :)
I'd say without question the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 were the two first personal computers penetrating truly en masse entire Europe (even behind the Iron Curtain though thanks to the COCOM-list we had to smuggle them in like mine from Vienna ;)), giving it such a boost that can be felt even today eg most of my generation (40 and older) started on these little machines.
PS: http://retro-treasures.blogspot.com/2008/05/zx-spectrum-2-james-bond-action-pack.html - last year I bought one like this from eBay UK and I decided to only open this year, celebrating the double anniversary.(40/30)...
Software price control
The software pricing was another key aspect: since too few good games came out, Sinclair commissioned some. They also managed game distribution, and on the way imposed a price standard - Standard games cost £5, SW-house games like The Hobbit or Scrabble were maybe 2-3 times that.
I got a spectrum 48k for Christmas 1985. It was £129.99 I think, which was a HUGE amount of money back then. Many, many great hours playing games and learning to program. That and Lego were my best toys.
A wonderfull piece that brings back many happy memories so a huge thank you for that. However, I can't believe any piece on the Spectrum is complete without mention of the Kempston Interface pack. This plugged into the back of the machine and, if memory serves (I was only 6!) went straight into the memory interface. It was sold as a general interface but was REALLY just so that you could plug in the same joysticks that your mates were using with their Comodore 64s. The only problem was, because it plugged directly into the memory interface, if you got a bit "enthusiastic" with your jojstick and pulled the cable out you killed your RAM. I have a vague recollection of this costing the better part of £100 to replace back then.
...but could you type ZAP, PING, SHOOT or EXPLODE like you could on an Oric-1?
My dad bought me an Oric-1 from Laskys - the complete lack of software availability (without ordering games from France using bad schoolboy French) led me to learn how to program and ultimately to a career in IT. And an understanding of how technical superiority means nothing if the public don't buy your product.
Alas poor Oric
Yay! –A fellow former Oric owner. I am not alone!
I remember preferring the Oric to the Speccy, when getting my first computer as a Chrimbo pressie from Santa as, even tho' the Speccy had far more software and was far more popular, the Oric had a 'HiRes' [320 x 240, I think] graphics mode.
And, all these years later, while all you ex Speccy owners are working in IT, I work as a designer. Funny thing fate, isn't it?
The good old days
I start with a zx81 from school and then went onto a a 48K speccie, the amount of Quickshot joysticks I broke playing daley thompsons decatholon, or Kick off or international karate ... damn good days :) Sniff.. now I program ASP.NET and try not to fall asleep at the keyboard :(
One thing I loved was the C64 V Spectrum wars, they were legendary,
Re: The good old days
My c64 is better than your speccy!
Not very reliable though...
They were the Xbox of the 80s. Incredibly unreliable. I used to work in a computer shop so had first hand experience of them dying. Plus I personnally killed a few.
Wasnt just the first generation either. Problem was the add-on hardware. If you dared moved the computer you a fair chance the add-on would come away slightly and short out the connectors taking the ASIC out.
I did though do one of my most epic soldering jobs on a Speccy. A friend was reporting that his machine was dying after a few minutes of being turned on. I didnt have any freezer spray so I told him to put his finger on some ice for a few minutes and then we went about diagnosing which chip was causing the problem. Turned out it was the Z80 which I happen to have a spare off. I desoldered the CPU and replaced it. The real tricky thing with those boards is if you put too much heat on them the tracks would lift - it was a really nasty motherboard.
Of course, as a BBC B owner, you wont find me saying anything nice about the Spectrum. :P
Good times though. (I remember the Jupiter Ace. Bizare machine it was....)
Re: Not very reliable though...
It's probably one reason why Sinclair failed, they were just a little too cheap when compared to the competition. It made the next generation of 16-bit machines seem much better quality and by then he'd sold the company to Amstrad after wasting so much on the C5. I suppose being in MENSA is no substitute for common sense.
While you look back with happy memories at your first ownership of any gadget, you tend to move on. How many people are sitting there with Nokia phones in their hands? very few I expect.
Like many here, I broke my computing teeth on the Spectrum, first with a 48k bought by my parents as a joint Christmas present, later after wearing out the keyboard I bought a Plus upgrade kit, so basically moved the motherboard over into the new case, a couple of wires to solder on, and a Spectrum Plus was born :-)
I later got a 128k, then after that moved to an Amiga 500, then a 1200, finally a A4000 (040 with a GFX Card).
Unlike most though, with the Specy I was more interested in using it as a control and command system, with monitoring. So went down the building of custom hardware (after reverse engineering a Kemston joystick), wrote software to run various things, from motors to light boards and scrolling LED panels etc.
Because of that, I ended up moving into micro-electronics as a career, which lasted about 10 years.
Oddly though, I got the itch about 10 years later (which is now well over ten years ago!) to switch career, and ended up in IT anyway!
I still have the 128 and a Microdrive somewhere!? (Still got the A4000 as well, and it works fine (once I soldered the keyboard socket back in, anyway!)).
Last of the rubber key Spectrums
My first computer at Christmas 1984 was one of the last rubber-keyed 48k machines. The Spectrum+ was already on the shelves at this point (I seem to have a knack for this, later ending up with one of the slightly oddball Amiga 500 machines with 1.3 Kickstart but an A500+ style case).
I actually preferred the rubber key version, though that might just have been through familiarity. I could hammer out program code and text at a pretty rapid pace on that thing. The very nice ring-bound manual was much better than the sorry excuse for a booklet that my + owning friends got, and effectively taught me to program over the course of a couple of weeks.
Turned out I had little choice but to go through the manual, as my old 1970's era tape recorder wasn't up to the task of loading anything from tape. I finally got to play Chequered Flag, Horace Goes Skiing, the Horizons tape and so on several weeks later, by which time I'd worked through the manual cover-to-cover including all the exercises. Right around then I was introduced to INPUT magazine and continued my growing love of programming.
Upgraded to a +3 later on and spent so much time using it that I wore the textured plastic smooth where my palms rested! It ended up with custom ROMs downloaded from the Internet burned onto a pair of EPROMs and a small hard drive in place of the old 3" drive. I also hacked up an interface cable to connect an Amiga external 3.5" floppy drive to it. My 48K also has a custom EPROM, a 32KB chip with a copy of the stock ROM in the bottom half and a 3rd party ROM in the upper 32K with a toggle switch on the back to select which one to use. If I can get it to display properly on NTSC tellies I'll be all set for some proper retro programming fun all over again!
Modern computers are so much more capable, yet they bore the crap out of me compared to the old Speccy and its 8-bit peers.
Good and bad memories
Spending hours typing in code distributed via magazine (was it Crash?), only for the speccy to reset because someone breathed on the power supply lead, or saving it to tape and crossing your fingers that it would ever load again.
But writing my own code, and seeing a poxy sprite wander across the tv, trailing lines no less with all the precision a slightly knackered Kempston joystick could offer, like a god I was.
Happy Birthday Spectrum, you made me into the nerd I am.
Actually, the Spectrum was remarkably tolerant of abuse!
I remember I once shorted together A8 and A9 with a dodgy homebrew add-on (8255 card originally meant for a ZX81, modified and bodged onto a 37-way edge connector, and connected to a homemade lighting controller). The speccy lived, once I had removed the extraneous blob of solder.
Also did a couple of keyboard membrane replacements, just to eke out my meagre student grant. (And VCR idlers, and power transistors in amplifiers that blew fuses. Basically, if it plugged in and wasn't a TV, I mended it.)
Never did finish my combined joystick / printer interface design that ran to nearly half a pad of graph paper, though .....
My most memorable memory of computing from childhood is going to a friends house to play on their speccy, spend 5 minutes listening to the tape deck screech all whilst holding the tape connector at just the right angle so the game loads - and then the inevitable "LOAD ERROR".
Hey Hey 16K
Of course no birthday celebration is complete without a burst of Hey Hey 16K. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts96J7HhO28
Some of us had real computers with proper keyboards & disk drives
Vic-20 +16k rampac
Commodore 64 + 1541 disk drive - the beauty of 6502 assembly language
Commodore 128 + 1571 disk drive - ran CP/M nicely with its built in Z80 2nd processsor - Wordstar & dBase II
Diversion to Atari 800XL - for a fortnight
Amstrad CPC6128 - 3" disk drive 100 times faster than Commodore
Amstrad PC 1640 with 30MB hardcard
etc etc etc
An evening at the house of an atomic scientist from Harwell trying to get his child's ZX80 to load anything at all put me off Sinclairs
What! No mention of the Plus One
This plugged into the expansion slot, and provided the Microdrive interfaces, along with a joystick port, a serial port and some strange network which allowed you to link several similar systems together in a peer network, sharing the microdrives.
My father bought an early 48K system (I had a bought my own BBC model B), and it did indeed have light grey keys like the picture. In addition, it had the 32K add-on board, and also had a heat sink that ran the entire width of the system under the keyboard, leading to a warm programming experience.
I never really liked the Spectrum, it was too slow, had poor sound, the screen attributes just felt clunky, and that keyboard!
My Beeb, although supposedly lacking in memory, was just a class machine, and ended up being used for things you just could not consider using a spectrum for. OK, it was not suited to large dungeon type games, but I would contend that Snapper, Planetoid, Meteors and Arcadians were great copies of arcade games that the Speccy could not hope to match, and Freefall, Starship Command and especially Elite showed what you could actually do even with a supposed lack of memory.
But the Spectrum was an influential machine, no doubt.
Oh how Shareth stole my heart... and countless hours of my youth
I stand at the Gate of Varenorn looking North to the Plains of Anviniel.
ZX Spectrum love.
Thought now is as good time as any to plug a very long blog post I wrote about the ZX Spectrum which covers many of the games and developers I loved as a child - Mike Singleton, Matthew Smith, Mel Croucher and companies like Ultimate Play The Game (now Rare) - lots of videos, game maps and links to interesting interviews from some of the major players back then.