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ZX Spectrum Next rips through its crowdfunding goal

ZX Spectrum Next rips through its crowdfunding goal

A crowdfunding campaign to launch a recreated, open-source, and massively upgraded Sinclair ZX Spectrum has beaten its £250,000 goal in just a few days.

Yet another attempt to recreate the success of Sir Clive Sinclair's ZX Spectrum microcomputer has hit the crowdfunding circuit, but this one's a little special: an entirely new machine in a full-size case designed by Rick Dickinson.

To say that previous attempts to relaunch the 8-bit Sinclair ZX Spectrum have been underwhelming is not an understatement. The first to hit the big time was the ZX Spectrum Vega, a compact device which lacked the keys for full compatibility with all Spectrum software and hit the market at a whopping £100 - almost as much as the ZX Spectrum cost at launch, without correcting for inflation. Its follow-up, the ZX Spectrum Vega Plus, has fared even worse: a PlayStation Portable inspired design again lacks a full keyboard, while the company behind it is reportedly suffering financial and legal troubles while backers clamour for refunds of the long-delayed device.

The ZX Spectrum Next, though, is different. Based around a Xilinx Spartan field-programmable gate array (FPGA), the machine features an implementation of the Z80 processor architecture that ran the original machine - but switchable between 3.5MHz and accelerated 7MHz modes. This use of, effectively, hardware rather than software emulation promises full compatibility and none of the glitches associated with its competitors, while the rest of the system has been brought bang up to date too: the 16KB or 48KB of the original ZX Spectrum machines has been upgraded to 512KB expandable to 1.5MB internally and 2.5MB externally, there are RGB, VGA, and HDMI video outputs, an on-board SD Card slot while still supporting external tape decks, three AY-3-8192 audio chips, DB9 joystick and PS/2 mouse support, an on-board Multiface interface, and even the option to insert a Raspberry Pi to use as a fully-addressible co-processor.

All this hardware comes housed in a full-size case based on the post-Amstrad-acquisition Spectrum models, complete with full-size keyboard, which has been designed by Rick Dickinson - the brain behind several Spectrum models as well as the ill-fated Sinclair QL.

The project's creator, Henrique Olifiers, has pledged to release all hardware, firmware, and software created for the ZX Spectrum Next under a permissive open-source licence, and his call for funding has been a resounding success: since launching late last week, the campaign has shot past its £250,000 goal with £255,205 raised at the time of writing. While the reduced-cost 'early bird' pledges are gone, the project can still be backed with rewards starting at £99 for an uncased motherboard, £175 for a fully-cased version, or £215 for a Plus edition with on-board real-time clock (RTC) and Wi-Fi network module. Shipping for all models is scheduled for January 2018, though as with any crowdfunding campaign this is not guaranteed.

Full details are available on the project's Kickstarter campaign page.

22 Comments

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bawjaws 24th April 2017, 12:00 Quote
Looking at the Kickstarter page, it appears that if you're not afraid to do a bit of dremelling then you can actually stick the Next motherboard inside an original Spectrum case :D Seems like absolute sacrilege to abuse an original shell like that, but I guess there'll be a decent number of dead Speccies out there that could be used for this purpose.

I absolutely loved my Spectrum+. It was my first ever computer, at the age of 8, and was the machine that got me into computer games and programming. But I have to say that I don't really see the point in a new Spectrum these days, other than as a nostalgia trip for former Spectrum owners. If you want to play Spectrum games then emulation is pretty much perfect these days (playing in a browser means you don't even need an emulator as such), and if you want to get into programming then there are going to be far more cost-effective solutions than this (and Sinclair BASIC wasn't great anyway). I wish this project all the best, but it just seems a little redundant to me.
Vault-Tec 24th April 2017, 12:02 Quote
I wonder if the keys all fall out when you turn it upside down? :D

Love the idea but man, that is spendy. One for when it comes out I think.
IanW 25th April 2017, 08:56 Quote
The original cost £125 for 16K & 179 for 48K back in 1982. Is £215 really too much?
Jimbob 25th April 2017, 08:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by bawjaws
Looking at the Kickstarter page, it appears that if you're not afraid to do a bit of dremelling then you can actually stick the Next motherboard inside an original Spectrum case :D Seems like absolute sacrilege to abuse an original shell like that, but I guess there'll be a decent number of dead Speccies out there that could be used for this purpose..

A couple of years ago I took a BBC Model B and refit it with a Core i3, 8GB RAM, SSD and Windows 10. Had the original Keyboard, speaker and tape drive lights working too. (-:
Nexxo 25th April 2017, 09:10 Quote
You'll find that the Beeb housing will outlast the next ten generations of PC innards. :p
Speed 25th April 2017, 09:39 Quote
I assume this has nothing to do with the rather trouble stricken Spectrum ZX Vega+?
David 25th April 2017, 10:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by IanW
The original cost £125 for 16K & 179 for 48K back in 1982. Is £215 really too much?

Yes. In 1982, the Z80 processor probably helped, from a value for money point of view. It doesn't have quite the same impact now that you can emulate the whole thing on a bog standard RPi.
Gareth Halfacree 25th April 2017, 10:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Speed
I assume this has nothing to do with the rather trouble stricken Spectrum ZX Vega+?
Nowt at all, bar the fact that Rick Dickinson was hired to do the design for both.
Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Yes. In 1982, the Z80 processor probably helped, from a value for money point of view. It doesn't have quite the same impact now that you can emulate the whole thing on a bog standard RPi.
There's a distinct difference 'twix emulation and implementation on an FPGA, though. This thing is absolutely 1:1 hardware and software compatible with original Spectrum gear, some of which is getting pretty rare and spendy in its original form: the Romantic Robot Multiface, which is included as standard on all ZX Spectrum Next models, will set you back £50 or more on your auction site of choice, then you're going to need an AY-chip audio board (£40 for the Zaxon AY-Magic), a Kempston joystick interface (£5 or more when you include postage), an SD card interface (£66 for a DivMMC Future, which includes the Kempston interface so you can ditch the prior add-on), mouse adaptor, composite mod, and so forth - and that doesn't even get you the hardware sprites, 256-colour mode, additional memory, 7MHz Z80, RGB, VGA, or HDMI outputs, new and reliable keyboard that won't break, or the ability to use a Raspberry Pi as an accelerator board.

£175 (plus £10 postage) for the main model, lacking only Wi-Fi and an RTC, compares very favourably indeed to £50 for a decent-quality original ZX Spectrum plus £40 for a Zaxon AY-Magic, £66 for a DivMMC Future, and £50 for a Multiface (£206 total.)

Disclaimer: the process of writing the news piece convinced me to plonk down my hard-earned for the upper-end model with Wi-Fi and RTC. Excite!
bawjaws 25th April 2017, 10:57 Quote
Maybe I'm just a jaded and cynical old barsteward, but personally I still can't see the point of owning one of these, beyond satisfying nostalgia. I just don't feel any sort of urge to fire up a Spectrum, despite the countless hours I've spent using one in the past. If I do want to play any of the old classic Spectrum games once in a blue moon (Quazatron being my personal favourite) then I can do so on an emulator. Okay, it might not be exactly the same as sitting on the floor of the living room in my parents' house in front of a 14" TV, fiddling with the volume and tone controls on a tape deck, but times change :D

And just for the record, satisfying nostalgia is a perfectly valid reason to buy one of these, so I'm not trying to pass judgement here :D
jb0 25th April 2017, 12:41 Quote
THIS is how you do a retronostalgia product! No X-in-1 TV game boxes, no crap emulators, no stripped-down barebones experience. An FPGA configured to work like real hardware, with a full suite of expansion connectors. Add an SD card reader and HDMI encoder, don't use them instead of the original IO.

Open-sourcing the whole thing is icing on the cake.


Really, there's only one choice they've made that I can find fault with: it's a flipping Spectrum! Sure, it was popular, and there's a lot of nostalgia, but... it is still one of the worst computers ever made.
Gareth Halfacree 25th April 2017, 14:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jb0
THIS is how you do a retronostalgia product! No X-in-1 TV game boxes, no crap emulators, no stripped-down barebones experience. An FPGA configured to work like real hardware, with a full suite of expansion connectors. Add an SD card reader and HDMI encoder, don't use them instead of the original IO. Open-sourcing the whole thing is icing on the cake.

S'fantastic, innit? The others have all started with vague Spectrum compatibility then removed features, this thing starts with complete compatibility then adds features from there. Lovely.

Have you seen the Turbo Chameleon 64? It's an all-singing all-dancing expansion cartridge you can plug into a real Commodore 64, or you can use it as a standalone Commodore 64 - or, just 'cos, an Amiga. I'd love one, but it's €250...
jb0 26th April 2017, 08:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by jb0
THIS is how you do a retronostalgia product! No X-in-1 TV game boxes, no crap emulators, no stripped-down barebones experience. An FPGA configured to work like real hardware, with a full suite of expansion connectors. Add an SD card reader and HDMI encoder, don't use them instead of the original IO. Open-sourcing the whole thing is icing on the cake.

S'fantastic, innit? The others have all started with vague Spectrum compatibility then removed features, this thing starts with complete compatibility then adds features from there. Lovely.

Have you seen the Turbo Chameleon 64? It's an all-singing all-dancing expansion cartridge you can plug into a real Commodore 64, or you can use it as a standalone Commodore 64 - or, just 'cos, an Amiga. I'd love one, but it's €250...
I had not seen it before! It is definitely a neat piece of gear, and I find the dual-purpose "C64 expansion cart/standalone C64" design exceptionally cool.


Seen too many lazy ARM-and-emulator boxes lately. Which, sure it is EASY, but it is such a waste of perfectly good effort. Most recent one was a C64-ish on one of the crowdfunding sites. Crammed an ARM in a custom case and now he's talking like he's created God's gift to Commodore users.
Gareth Halfacree 22nd May 2017, 13:58 Quote
Last few hours of the campaign now. Final stretch goal tally: SLX9 FPGA replaced with SLX16, 60% more gates; socketed memory; Next-specific sequel to Jas Austin's REX; Next-specific Dizzy game; 1MB of RAM as standard; wire-bound manual; Dreamworld Pogie and a new Castlevania; Internet Toolbox with game downloads, Twitter API, and multiplayer; Nodes of Yesod remake; posh packaging; video tutorial series by Jim Bagley on writing a ZX Spectrum Next game from scratch; and not one but *two* joystick ports.

I also may have upped my pledge so I can get a board in August ahead of the machine proper in January (assuming it goes to schedule, which crowdfunded stuff never does.)
wolfticket 22nd May 2017, 16:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by bawjaws
Maybe I'm just a jaded and cynical old barsteward, but personally I still can't see the point of owning one of these, beyond satisfying nostalgia. I just don't feel any sort of urge to fire up a Spectrum, despite the countless hours I've spent using one in the past. If I do want to play any of the old classic Spectrum games once in a blue moon (Quazatron being my personal favourite) then I can do so on an emulator. Okay, it might not be exactly the same as sitting on the floor of the living room in my parents' house in front of a 14" TV, fiddling with the volume and tone controls on a tape deck, but times change :D

And just for the record, satisfying nostalgia is a perfectly valid reason to buy one of these, so I'm not trying to pass judgement here :D
I'm inclined to agree.
I'm not immune to retro charm and nostalgia but I do find myself looking at kickstarters like this and wondering whether once the the dust settles exactly how much of that dust will settle on unused hardware with limited scope that seemed like a great idea at the time.
Speed 22nd May 2017, 23:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Last few hours of the campaign now. Final stretch goal tally: SLX9 FPGA replaced with SLX16, 60% more gates; socketed memory; Next-specific sequel to Jas Austin's REX; Next-specific Dizzy game; 1MB of RAM as standard; wire-bound manual; Dreamworld Pogie and a new Castlevania; Internet Toolbox with game downloads, Twitter API, and multiplayer; Nodes of Yesod remake; posh packaging; video tutorial series by Jim Bagley on writing a ZX Spectrum Next game from scratch; and not one but *two* joystick ports.

I also may have upped my pledge so I can get a board in August ahead of the machine proper in January (assuming it goes to schedule, which crowdfunded stuff never does.)

NEW DIZZY GAME!! :D
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2017, 09:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Speed
NEW DIZZY GAME!! :D
Yolkfolk represent!

The campaign closed last night at £723,390 from 3,113 backers, making it to my knowledge the highest-funded vintage computing campaign in crowdfunding history.

Looking forward to getting my board in August, if everything goes according to plan (and the FPGA switch, sockets, extra memory, and second joystick port don't delay things too badly.)
Speed 23rd May 2017, 10:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Yolkfolk represent!

The campaign closed last night at £723,390 from 3,113 backers, making it to my knowledge the highest-funded vintage computing campaign in crowdfunding history.

Looking forward to getting my board in August, if everything goes according to plan (and the FPGA switch, sockets, extra memory, and second joystick port don't delay things too badly.)

;)

I was quite annoyed the previous Dizzy kickstarter failed, so this is good news indeed!
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2017, 10:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Speed
;)
I was quite annoyed the previous Dizzy kickstarter failed, so this is good news indeed!

What's interesting is that no money from the campaign is being used for it, and everyone's working for free. Also, the Oliver Twins and Codemasters (who each own 50% of the rights) have jointly agreed to donate all proceeds as and when they sell the game to non-backers to charity, which is jolly good of 'em.
Speed 23rd May 2017, 10:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
What's interesting is that no money from the campaign is being used for it, and everyone's working for free. Also, the Oliver Twins and Codemasters (who each own 50% of the rights) have jointly agreed to donate all proceeds as and when they sell the game to non-backers to charity, which is jolly good of 'em.

That is very good of them! Part of me wonders whether the failure of the kickstarter has something to do with it. I would be shocked if there wasn't a few "higher ups" at Codemasters who were very fond of the original games.
stuartpb 23rd May 2017, 11:11 Quote
I started out with a ZX81 in 1981 or 1982 then moved on to the Speccie. I spent waaaay too many hours playing games on the Speccie back in the 80's, from the original through to the +2 before moving on to the Amiga. Happy days!! I'm not sure I'd splash out on the Next though. I do like a bit of retro gaming once in a flood but not enough to justify the spend. I still have the ZX81 and Spectrum 48k in the attic at my Mum's house, with a load of games for the Speccie and a load of the old magazines you could buy with the ZX Basic programs/games you had to input on the ZX81 :-)
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