Ewww...Sinclair? Oh, you mean a *different* Sinclair.
November 10, 2020 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Take a journey back to 1982 with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Re-introducing the world of the ZX Spectrum, "Speccy", the UK's favorite tape-based BASIC computer system.

This beauty had 16KB of RAM for £125 (or 48KB if you had £50 extra), with a 3.5MHz Z80 processor, a sound beeper, BASIC interpreter, and apparently got its creator knighted by the Queen! This lovely machine has a keyboard that begs you to enter BASIC instructions: all you need press is the first letter, and you've entered a BASIC command already! How neat is that?

Relive the roaring 80's by emulating the ZX Spectrum on your system of choice at https://worldofspectrum.org/tools/emulators! Find help in the forums, or check out some new Announcements! Or, play online and check out this year's Game Competition with amazing entries like the rockin' Guitar Weirdo (https://www.connosoft.com/csscgc2020/reviews/027.html) or the dreadful The Hangman (https://www.connosoft.com/csscgc2020/reviews/008.html).

For some real hardcore gaming action, maybe look at some fan-made recreations, like this 2020 update on a classic game, Jet Set Willy in "Madam Blavskja's Carnival Macabre"! (https://xa.bi/jsw/mbcm48k.htm)

Or check out the homebrew scene with Al's Spectrum Annual 2020, filled with reviews of this year's top releases! (http://www.alessandrogrussu.it/annuario.html)
posted by Khazk (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I still have mine somewhere in a box in the garage.
posted by octothorpe at 5:08 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

In about 7th grade my friends brother built the precursor of this from a kit. It was $99 at the time and came with 1k or 2k. Can’t quite remember. I remember there was an assembly hack you could write to make the RF converter make tones out of your TV speaker. It was a cool little computer but then I got a Texas Instruments with a whole 16k. Man that was massive.
posted by misterpatrick at 5:31 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

Is this the moment where I un-subtly mention my small YouTube channel where I play classic ZX Spectrum games and the latest homebrew releases? youtube.com/retrospectrumgaming?
posted by ewan at 5:40 PM on November 10 [18 favorites]

ewan that is so great. I will definitely check out some of the videos. I can't believe people are still making and playing / using software for this old device!!
posted by Khazk at 5:51 PM on November 10

Wow. This really takes me back. The ZX Spectrum is a bit of a sliding doors moment in my life. These computers were coming in all over the place in Bangalore, India and it seems that everyone I knew was getting one of these, except me. I hungrily begged and borrowed time from my cousin, my neighbour's friend, that annoying kid down the road, anyone who would let me play with these wonder devices. I was captivated, but my nascent interest in computers was doomed by a lack of access. Later on, when the PC beige boxes became more accessible, I was already on a different career path to biology.
posted by dhruva at 6:01 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

In the US, we only got the membrane keyboard version, but there was something about it that made me think I should pay attention to it, or ask for it for Christmas, or otherwise keep it in my orbit. It probably has to do with being the smallest device I could 20 GOTO 10 on, over in Macy's stereo section. It probably would have done me well to have this to myself instead of nibbling time on the IBM PC my dad was starting a business on.

On preview, dhruva and I have some similarities in circumstances back in those nascent years!
posted by rhizome at 6:09 PM on November 10

Mine is at arms' length, just past the OLPC XO 1.75 but in front of the Apple IIgs, Mac Dual G5 and Synertek SYM-1. I don't have a computer problem.

There are over 9500 ZX spectrum games playable at ZX Spectrum Library: Games on the internet archive.
posted by scruss at 6:14 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

One year, Santa brought me the predecessor machine. It had 1K RAM and was black-and-white. My first computer.
posted by Orthodox Humanoid at 6:32 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

There’s also the alternative site Spectrum Computing.

The Internet Archive has ZX Spectrum magazines, including the incredibly entertainingly written Your Sinclair (see also its sequel Amiga Power).
posted by BiggerJ at 6:46 PM on November 10

Came downstairs on my 5th birthday to find a 16k speccy with a smiley face on the screen playing Happy Birthday (my Dad had stayed up half the night programming it). And now I'm a software engineer...
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:00 PM on November 10 [9 favorites]

I always thought these were pretty cool, as dad said "it's going to get to the point where computers come as a cereal box toy." I already had an Apple ][ by then.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:32 PM on November 10

I didn't have the Spectrum, but I did program a "Hello World" on a Timex Sinclair with the flat keyboard. On a black and white TV.
posted by Chuffy at 7:42 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

zengargoyle: This has kind of happened: issue 40 of the official Raspberry Pi magazine had not a cover disk but an entire cover computer - not an older model, either, but the then-new Zero model that was launching that day.
posted by BiggerJ at 7:49 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the new Spectrum Next, FPGA re-imagining of a Sspeccy successor with full backward compatibility.
posted by Marticus at 8:25 PM on November 10

I think the Timex Sinclair with the flat keyboard and no cassette drive is the reason I dread programming to this day.
posted by MrVisible at 9:41 PM on November 10

There's an alternate timeline where AskMe is full of:
I need to replace my laptop. Should I get a Timex? Or can I make do with the Psimon Pro with the infrared keyboard?
Or do I splurge on a full Coleco desktop?
posted by bartleby at 11:05 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]

Oh I don't know bartleby, the Timex is nice enough but the Psion has a real WYSIWYG word processor AND has a six-day battery life. The ADAM IV has a 2ghz Z120 and still supports your entire CP/M X library though, plus it comes with a 200-pin dot matrix printer and can play ColecoVision LightWave games. It's a hard one.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:52 AM on November 11 [5 favorites]

Speaking of "cereal box toy", I had to wait to get my first Pi Zero, because the magazine that had it included as a giveaway was all sold out at Smith's.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:02 AM on November 11

Hey, Hey, 16K

(See also: We bought it to help with your homework )

Hey Hey 16K is itself 21 years old at this point. And now I'm feeling nostalgic for nostalgia.
posted by dng at 4:55 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]

Oh man this takes me back...

A 48k Spectrum was my first computer. I got it when I was... nine or ten years old, I think. My dad bought it for me (along with a crapton of tapes full of pirated software) from a second-hand shop. I was so excited and loved the damn thing to death. Taught myself English, BASIC and rudiments of Z80 assembly with the damn thing and finally upgraded (sidegraded?) to a C64 with a floppy drive. That one taught me 6510 assembly as I finally had a proper assembler and didn't have to assemble things by hand on paper and write a basic loader for it every time I wanted to try something!

Its so easy to dismiss these old eight-bits as dinky toys but the way it was possible to learn the core ideas of how a computer works in such an immediate way was something that's just not available for kids anymore. Modern everything has layers upon layers upon layers of stuff and its not that any of it is any harder to learn for a kid than BASIC or Z80 assembly was, its just that there's so much of it.
posted by Soi-hah at 5:12 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]

Ewww...Sinclair? Oh, you mean a *different* Sinclair.
Is that a reference to the C5?

I set myself to writing a program that would calculate a random I Ching and display the hexagram on the screen, and succeeded at doing so. Then I thought "Oh, I can do programming, then", and didn't write anything else. On the other hand, the twelve-year-old brother of a friend of mine rewrote the operating system,* sold it to someone and bought a Mac II (I think) with the proceeds. He became a dub producer when he grew up.

*I had only a vague understanding of what was going on when he told me this. Whatever he did, it was pretty bloody impressive.
posted by Grangousier at 5:58 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Oh, my first computer. I learned to program on it. I wish I had the option not to trade it in when I upgraded.
posted by hat_eater at 6:05 AM on November 11

For my 13th birthday, I got a ZX 81 kit, the predecessor. Had fun putting it together on my father's workbench and learning to program BASIC. Made a few games, including a Conway's Game of Life thing that almost worked correctly at the border of the map. Even bought a cassette tape of a chess program to play against. Was fun, but using tapes for storage was a pain. I really enjoyed getting to play with one of my father's DEC PDPs over the summer, and I never looked back.
posted by Quasirandom at 7:09 AM on November 11

Hey Hey 16K is itself 21 years old at this point. And now I'm feeling nostalgic for nostalgia.
Hey Hey 16K is now older than the Spectrum was when Hey Hey 16K was written.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:16 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine wrote a FORTH compiler for the Spectrum and I helped him run a stand at a Spectrum show selling it. At the end of the day he had over £600 in cash (in 1984!) even after he paid me and bought us both dinner. I used the money to buy the 32k RAM upgrade for my Spectrum and got a lot of free swag from the show. I was 16 and assumed this is what adulthood was like.
posted by YoungStencil at 8:57 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

Kinda true, except with less FORTH compilers.
posted by wildblueyonder at 1:28 PM on November 11 [3 favorites]

I had/have the 48K Spectrum's American cousin, the Timex Sinclair 2068, which was nicer in some ways, but had about 2% of the Spectrum's software library. There was an aftermarket ROM switching board which let you switch between the Spectrum ROM and the Timex Rom to run* Spectrum SW on the Timex. I'm regretting not buying one of those back in the day.
*"run" = sort of mostly work due to hardware differences in sound chip, joystick ports, etc.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:05 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

The machine I wrote my first working games on! The first platform I wrote assembler for! The platform I wrote my first C on as well.

Also the first thing I spent money I actually earned on. I hated that paper round.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 9:50 AM on November 12

here's even more issues of Amiga Power. (Click the Pages button on an issue's main page to read it.)
posted by BiggerJ at 9:08 PM on November 12

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