back to article Twitter on a ZX Spectrum

Britain's first Vintage Computing Festival took place over the weekend at Bletchley Park, which was the perfect excuse to visit the National Museum of Computing, a recent addition to the Park site. All three are a tribute to the passion of volunteers – the state has only very recently saw fit to give any money to the historic …


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  1. charlie wallace

    real hard to guess

    what that pdp is, when its written underneath for the "next"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Dragon 32

    I don't think it was as successful as the other models, but quite a few were sold.

    I remember seeing them at the computer fairs though.

  3. Jim 59

    Dragon Flame

    Cool, very cool.

    Your "relative of the TRS-80" is of course the well known Dragon 32. It was not an obscure box, but one of the front runners circa 1982. It came with a "proper" keyboard: a rarity at the time, and perhaps its main selling point, at least to aspiring programmers. Mine came from Boots (via Santa) for £199.95.

    It was a repackaged Tandy Color Computer. 6809 processor running at 0.9 mhz. By typing "poke 65495, 1" you could double that to 1.8 Mhz. Overclocking.

  4. Jim 59

    more droning on about my Dragon 32

    It wasn't ideal for action games because the colour maps were a bit restricted. But it did have one outstanding game - The Ring of Darkness, from Wintersoft. Whoerver wrote that is a genius. A large graphical adventure that used both sides of the program tape, and saved data to a second tape. A superb playing experience from 8 bits and something of a "killer app" for the box. Remarkable.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    That Sinclair ZX PBS+ Executive IV keyboard looks the same as the one on the Sinclair QL. And it was anything but good - the keys were very difficult to actually press.

    I had an NC100 whilst at school - excellent machine with something missing from stuff these days - a decent battery life. It'd go weeks on 4xAA's. Was also pretty hardy too - it got dropped often enough... Had the NC200 too - that even came with a floppy drive.

    Damn, now I'm all nostalgic. I'll have to go and dig them out and see if they still work...

  6. Oatman
    Thumb Up

    The fair was awesome!

    I was there yesterday too, I came away with fond memories and a ZX Spectrum! A steal for £20.

    Even without the fair, the place makes a great visit any day, the Museum of Computing is pretty amazing!

  7. Sonny Jim

    The American MIL were still using PDP-11's up until at least 4 years ago

    I worked at a place where we produced a form-fit and function compatible USB drive to replace their aging RK-05's. They were using them as part of a PDP-11 based system that was used to calibrate their 'Firefinder' system:

    The problem was that even though they calibrated fine whilst in the US of A, by the time they had travelled half the world they had a tendency to hit the wrong targets. So glad I don't work there any more, my concious feels a lot cleaner.

    Mines the Archimedes with the 486 co-pro

  8. MrT
    Thumb Up


    Got several of these still knocking around in the attic....

    BTW, that Sinclair ZX Suitcase looks like it uses the same keyboard overlay and keytop design as the Sinclair QL, which itself span of the ICL One-per-Desk.

  9. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    Oh happy memories.

    This was when we called a byte the width of the address bus. So it used to vary.

    I've still got my working Sharp PC1500 hand computer from the 1980s which used an enhanced 6502C CPU that has a 16bit stack.

    Display was 155x8 pixels by 1bit. Battery life is 40+ hours. :-)

  10. Jon Double Nice
    Thumb Up

    Dragon 32 WOOT!

    Oh the nostalgia. If anyone else remembers the fantastic game 'Juxtaposition', man that was awesome.

  11. chuBb.

    Dragon 32 not popular???? think the company folded as demand outsripped supply....

  12. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Fear the wrath of the Welsh Dragon!

    Fancy not recognising the Dragon 32 - one of Wales' biggest high-tech exports in c.1984! How old is the reporter? They were only EVER "over here"!

    BTW it's based on the Tandy Color Computer (CoCo) featuring the rather nice 6809 CPU.

    1. Parsifal

      Ex Dragon Owner.

      I still have a Dragon 64 Boxed Up with it's OS9 Drive and Discs (I upgraded from a 32 to 64), eventually however I moved to a spectrum then to an Atari 520 ST/FM before finally entering the wonderful world of PC's on a DX2/66 processor. My prize computing possession is a boxed up ZX81 1k :)

      I feel old after going through that list.

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: real hard to guess

      The sub-editor responsible has been taken out and shot.

      (Not really. But we have tied his shoelaces together)

    3. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: The American MIL were still using PDP-11's up until at least 4 years ago

      Archimedes are always under-represented at fairs. I don't know why. Maybe the hardcore Acorn enthusiasts find hacking the 8bits more of a challenge.

      I learned GUI programming on an A310. After that, everything (eg, Motif, Windows, OS/2) seemed needlessly difficult. So I stopped.

      1. helpful

        Archimedes / RISC OS were at VCF

        Maybe the Archimedes and later RISC OS machines are not considered retro enough yet.

        But there were Archimedes at the VCF, mainly in the Acorn World section of course. There were some running retro games, plus the RISC OS User Group Of London were showing more up to date stuff including RISC OS running on a BeagleBoard. As the whole computer is then only 3 inches square you could be forgiven for missing it!

        Not like one unfortunate Acorn fan who missed the whole Acorn World exhibition because he turned up just as Sophie Wilson's talk was on, and the section had closed down because everyone wanted to hear the presentation :-)

        1. Adam 10
          Thumb Up

          School computers

          Perhaps it is because the Archimedes isn't retro enough, but I suspect it's more down to it being a school computer than a home computer.

          The few people I knew with BBCs and Archimedes were bought them "because it's an educational tool". Whereas people got a Spectrum, C64, Atari, Amiga etc "because it's awesome".

          I never quite understood why Acorn used CBM's Amiga model numbering though...

          I recently found all my old CDTV peripherals and CDPD discs.. can't find the actual unit though...

      2. Stanislav

        Archimedes are always under-represented at fairs

        I have no hard evidence to back this up, but could it be because quite a few RISC OS-based machines might still be in use?

        After an initial flirtation with a ZX80 we became an Acorn-obsessed family, finally owning between us an Atom, a BBC model B, two BBC Master 128s, two Archimedes A3000s, an Archimedes A410/1, a RISC PC600 and a RISC PC700.

        Of that little collection, the A410/1 and one of the RISC PCs are still in regular use, which when you consider the RPC is about thirteen years old and the A410/1 is damn nearly twenty years old, is pretty remarkable.

        RISC OS is still a going concern too, of course.

      3. William Towle

        Re: ...still using PDP-11's...

        ...and some UK bowling alleys, although maybe not quite that recently (Shipley's lasted past Y2K at least) - the early Windows-based scoring systems didn't connect to the really old lane-end hardware without (initially flaky) network adapter boards and obsoletion took a *long* time. I was particularly amused when our local league manager noted that "the millennium bug doesn't worry us. We've been having date rollover problems on our systems for years already".

        I got to hulk what turned out to be the remains of Leeds AMF's machine up to the Uni for the department's IT staff to peer at, only to find there wasn't that much computer still in there. But the rarity of seeing one went down well.

      4. heyrick Silver badge

        I feel your pain...

        It seemed to me (but then, I'm pretty weird <g>) that moving from RISC OS GUI programming in C/assembler to VisualBasic on a PC was about an equal level of effort. There was something just so *nice* about the ARM. When you delve into the intricacies of the Windows API, it gets really icky really quickly.

        I use my eeePC most of the time, but my RiscPC is over in the corner. I may write some basic mailserver software for it and run the whole contraption off an IDE/CF combo instead of a traditional harddisc. I have moved away from Acorn kit primarily because the stuff I have doesn't do streaming video and the stuff I can't afford rarely has codec support. I would like to think that would change with newer ARM-based netbook/tablet devices, but I'd imagine those would be ARM+DSP so little to filter down to the older style RISC OS machines...

        ...speaking of which, I am looking into the datasheets of the heart of my Neuros OSD (ARM based digital video recorder) to see about the viability of putting together enough of a HAL to get the RISC OS kernel running... no real reason, just because...

        Referring to other parts of the article - I'm surprised no mention of the ORIC-1? It is a good example of how not to design a computer. Naff BASIC (if it qualifies as an actual language and not just a script interpreter) and naffer keyboard, it coupled with the BBC Micro, is a good example of the variety of machines that could be built upon the 6502. I pity people who only know of Orics and Speccys and never knew the fun that early home computing could bring, from fiddling with homebrew kit on expansion ports to writing drivers on a sane (with vectors) operating system, to programming entire applications without a single solitary GOTO.

        But Chuckie Egg... Oh how my life would have been different if I did my prep (homework) instead of being chased around by a giant badly animated chicken thing while making a mad dash for a raising platform while dodging killer ostriches! (phew!) I dunno, I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I've played some more recent stuff and I'm afraid *nothing* held my interest as much as Chuckie Egg.

    4. Clint Sharp


      The Royal Mail are still using PDP/11 machines... Explains a thing or two really...

      I'll get me coat, mines the one with the BRUSYS tape in the pocket

    5. David Edwards

      Never worked

      I never got past the forrest, theives everywhere and no way out.

    6. melt

      I've got a few -11s

      I've got a few -11s lying around. Where can I get one of these drives? :)

    7. Lottie


      Well, I didn't know it was from there.

      Anyway, I remember a pretty neat diving game for the Dragon 32. Good times.

      We stopped using it when we got the Commodore 64.

      Good times indeed.

    8. Ned Leprosy

      Re: Dragon 32

      I remember being interested in it because it filled that spot between the Spectrum with its nasty "dead flesh" keyboard and the BBC Micro with its nasty price tag! Its main problems were that neither the BASIC nor the graphics were really up to scratch; the BASIC wasn't *terrible*, but it was looking a bit lacklustre by the time of its release and though the screen resolution was okay for the time, the lack of colour options was problematic from a games perspective.

      It wasn't all about games, though, and it was certainly an interesting machine, most of all for those who had deep enough pockets to invest in a disc-based system where more "serious" operating systems than the run of the mill such as Flex and OS/9 were available. Sadly, my pockets were only deep enough for a second-hand Bush cassette deck and the joy of wrinkly tapes!

    9. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Ah the Dragon

      Wasn't that the machine where every game had green on green graphics?

    10. Neill Mitchell

      Spectrum+ keyboard

      It's a bog standard Spectrum+ bolted into a big case. I remember being wowed at having a "proper" keyboard when I bought my speccy+

    11. Anonymous Coward


      ...the comment about never seeing a decent keyboard on a spectrum was pretty lame too - given that the picture is basically a standard Spectrum+ in a suitcase, and the Spectrum+ always had that keyboard.

      It seems the reporter is trying to share some nostalgia for an era he was never actually part of!

      1. Wize

        All they did was put the spectrum+ in a suitcase

        Still had the full spectrum+ case inside.

        Doubt they would do it to the 128 as the heatsync would melt the box

    12. Ned Leprosy

      Based on the Color Computer?

      Was the Dragon actually based on the Tandy Color Computer or just similar to it? I remember this was a bone of contention at the time, with some people claiming it was just a repackaged CoCo and others asserting that any similarities to computers living or dead was purely coincidental.

      I suspect both are products of the off-the-shelf BASIC they employed to run on the 6809 which presumably rather limited the supporting chips that were in use; I remember bemoaning the consequent use of the 6847 graphics contraption rather than the BBC Micro's much more capable 6845, for example, but that's rather getting off the point.

    13. Inachu


      I programmed the TRS-80 and the Model 3 and 4 computers and they were fun to program back then.

    14. N2 Silver badge

      Thats good

      Probably fine for what they had to do & why change if it works?

  13. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!
    Thumb Up

    SD card expansion

    Having a little friendly bet with myself here, the machine with the SD card expansion I think it's an Acorn Atom.

    Mr Orlowski sir, how correct am I?

    I did go to Bletchley Park a few years ago when they had a similar exhibition and I felt like a kid in a sweet shop, I need to go again.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: SD card expansion

      I'm pretty sure it was an Atom, it was certainly an Acorn. Sorry I can't be more certain. Maybe the owner will step forward...

      1. SirMorris

        Bet Win!

        It is indeed an Atom - please feel free to award yourself an appropriate amount of internets!

        You can read more about it if you're interested here:


      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. jason 7
    Thumb Up

    One thing that amazed me was......

    .....the fact that a lot of the 'modders' there were'nt even born when this kit was in the shops.

    I'm gald I was 12 years old in 1983 and could enjoy that wonderful 8bit period of UK microcomputing. It burnt so brightly but fizzled out just as quick.

    The memories will last forever.

  15. Stevie Silver badge


    2966??? Yer toutin a 2900 series as a real ICL machine? Y'soft southern jessies! Yerl be tellin me next yer runnin' VME on t' bugger!

    The only real ICL computer were 1900 series fitted wi' GEORGE. A real man wouldn't use owt above GEORGE II+ neither. And if y'could fit all the operatin' system inter memory AND a program too, you 'ad too much memory.

    Y' c'n 'ave a big fat GO 29 fer that 2900!

    Kids t'day!

    1. Jacqui

      2900 - southern wussies

      My first program was written in fortran on hollerith cards (hand punched) and batch run on a 1900. You then had to wait a day or so and if you were good you got your output as 132 col fanfold - or a list of compilation errors. This forced you to think through any possible

      compile and run time errors. It led to think before type programming.

      Bring back punched cards! Make the bloody students punch them by hand. Make them *think* about whether there are errors before submitting thier software for execution.

      Yesterday I saw the following code on full-disclosure - it was written by what passes for a security expert. The mind really boggles.

      for $countargs (0..scalar(@inputafterquestion)) {

      $numofargs = $countargs;



      system("echo \"wget -q -O gettmp \'@urltotest[$argnumber]\'\" >");

      system("chmod u+x");


      @gotstuff = `cat gettmp`;

      I dont have to explina wht the loop is redundant and what LWP::SImple does

      - and this CPAN module was written so that even script kiddies could grok it.

      Words fail me.

      1. Stevie Silver badge


        'Undred an' thirty two columns??? Luxury! We 'ad ter mek do wi' 'undred an' twenty eight!

        I 'ad mate oo worked onna 1900 wi' shuffle printer. Y' 'ad ter 'ave two operators 'old t'bugger down else ittud walk across t'room until plug were pulled out o' t'socket.

        And if yer tell this ter the kids terday, they wun't believe yer!

        1. No, I will not fix your computer


          The lot of you!

          SFL was the only language to use on ICL kit, still got my SFL manual somewhere, photocopied from an internal ICL copy, so much better than modamending my compiled COBOL, sigh.... nostalga, all these are/were mine;


          Everything from 16mhz 386 to 3Ghz dual quad 54xx (Linux/MacOS/Win3.1-Se7en)

          RS6000/Netra/V880 (AIX/Solaris)

          All this is gravy, what we need is a computer that is yet to come.... 42

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Good old GEORGE

      ..well maybe. I don't remember it myself. My Dad does though back from when he was working at ICL Kidsgrove. He did a lot of work with the tape drives apparently. My computing memories start with the 16k 'rubber thump' Spectrum.

      But as for nostalgia - nah. For me computing is about the advancement of technology and although I'm glad /someone/ is tracking the history I have no interest in it. I prefer to look forward :)

  16. edward wright


    Started with a 16KB ZX81 - yes I had a wobbly RAM-pack which we secured with a bit of wood and glue! Followed by 6 great years with a 48KB rubber-keyboard ZX Spectrum and Microdrive (90KB tape thing, not those IBM tiny hard disks, don't be silly).

    Happy times indeed.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    The Right Tool For The Job

    If I recall correctly, I read that Clive S. was asked why he chose a [mere] 8-bit processor for the Z88.

    "Because I couldn't find a 4-bit processor I liked."

  18. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Up

    The more I see of this article...

    ...and the more I see of the fotos, and the more I read these comments, the harder I'm kicking myself over having donated my old Mac Plus to Goodwill about fifteen years ago, for all of a $100 tax writeoff. I didn't think anything of it at the time; while it worked fine, it was past its seriously productive life, and I needed the tax writeoff, so I donated the thing.

    I fired everything up one last time to make sure it all still worked (and it did, like a champ) before I donated the whole kaboodle -- Mac Plus, keyboard, mouse, full set of OS and app software, ThunderScan snap-in head, ImageWriter II, in one of those really cool padded nylon cases.

    It pisses me off now, to think of it -- a 25 year-old Mac Plus with OS7.0.1 with a massive 4mb of memory, PageMaker 4, MacDraw 7, MSWord, ThunderScan, ImageStudio, some early Internet client apps, two 800k floppies and a 20mb SCSI drive, all in perfect working condition -- and how much it might be worth now. Goddammit (kick!).

    But, aaa-aaanyway, enough pining over my old Plus; this exhibit is largely about old British iron, though. An old programmer buddy of mine had the ultra-small Sinclair ZX, which was fairly popular in the States in the early '80s -- sold under the "Timex/Sinclair" brand, as I recall -- and being an übergeek, he managed to get that puppy to do some pretty cool shit. And, oh, that keyboard, with an action and response not unlike an early fast-food cash register.

  19. Gulfie
    Thumb Up

    More happy memories...

    ZX81, RML 380Z, BBC Micro... all gems, taught me all I needed to decide to go for a career in IT - that plus the fact that it was indoor work with no heavy lifting...

    1. Geoff Campbell

      Ah, the 380Z....

      I must rescue mine from the garage, and move it to the loft with the rest of the Campbell Museum of Obsolete Old Crap.

      I was a Dragon-32 fan, back in the day. The 6809 was head and shoulders above all other 8 bit processors, and I wanted to program in assembler.

      I must get around to cataloging the CMoOOC soon. There are so many good memories up there.


  20. Fred Bauer 1
    Thumb Up

    PDP-8s and TTYs

    The PDP-8 was easy to ID... but then I've got a PDP-12 front panel in my basement.

    As for the Teletype, "The "HERE IS" key was used to alert another Teletype that it was awake" is somewhat correct, but there's more.... It caused the sending if the teletype's "answerback", a (I recall 20) character sequence that was "programmed" by breaking off tabs on a plastic drum.

    Of course, I've seen many Teletypes connected to PDP-8s.

  21. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Up

    1980 ZX80, still looking sweet

    Damn, man. I really dig that ZX80 with the space-helmet monitor.

    Of course, it comes at least eight years after one of my favorite portable TVs of all time, the famous Panasonic "Space Helmet" TV. Had one in high school; was bummed that they didn't make a color version. Still, that thing frickin' _ruled_.

    1. Mr Mark V Thomas

      Re "Space Helmet Monitor"

      The "Space Helmet" Monitor is in fact a JVC Videosphere Colour Television, dating from the early to mid 1970's, and the unit connected to the ZX80 is itself fairly rare, as the most common colour for said t..v's casework, was Bright Orange...

      (Grey/white Versions of this T.V are considered quite collectable due to their rarity, & can fetch up from 2 to 3 times the value of the Orange version...)



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