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Sinclair ZX Spectrum celebrates 30 years

Sinclair ZX Spectrum celebrates 30 years

The ZX Spectrum, one of the most iconic home computers ever made, celebrates its 30th anniversary today. (Image courtesy Bill Bertram, Wikimedia Commons.)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum, one of the most iconic home computers of the 1980s and the device which propelled Clive Sinclair's company from near-insolvency to a billion-pound giant.

While home computers predated the 80s, it took the combined - and competitive - efforts of Sinclair Research, formerly Science of Cambridge, and Acorn Computers to bring the technology to a level where it was affordable for general-purpose use. Put simply: without the Spectrum and its predecessors, it's highly unlikely that home computing would be as ubiquitous as it is today.

Designed as a response to Acorn's Atom microcomputer, itself an attack on the popularity of Sinclair's simple but low-cost ZX81, the ZX Spectrum was a powerful machine for its era: a Zilog Z80 processor running at 3.5MHz and up to 48KB of RAM in the initial production models - later expanded to 128KB - offered computing enthusiasts impressive performance at a very affordable cost.

Designed by Richard Altwasser, with the casing and its iconic 'dead-flesh' rubber keyboard designed by Rick Dickinson, the Spectrum was a marvel of low-cost computing: unlike its predecessor the ZX81, the Spectrum offered graphics in seven colours at two brightnesses for a total 15 colour palette. To conserve memory, Altwasser had the colour stored separately from the main bitmap in a 32x24 grid of character cells - a novel approach which would win him a patent for his efforts, although one which resulted in the tell-tale 'colour clash' when sprites overlapped.

As with the majority of home computers from the era, the Spectrum loaded directly into a programming language. Written by Nine Tiles' Steve Vickers, Sinclair BASIC provided a powerful programming language with in-built keywords for accessing the graphics modes and sound modulator while providing backwards compatibility for programs written for the older ZX81.

At its release in 1982, the Spectrum cost £125 with 16KB of RAM or £175 with 48KB. While this was a significant bump over the ZX81's headline-grabbing £99 retail price, home computing fans found the Spectrum a worthy upgrade and sales were brisk. Even when rival Acorn won a contract to produce the hardware for the BBC's home computing initiative - the BBC Micro - Sinclair continued to sell thousands of Spectrums, with demand of 200,000 units a month causing supply problems for the company.

The Spectrum would give birth to a range of successor systems, including the ZX Spectrum+ with revised keyboard and the ZX Spectrum 128 with 128KB of memory. Following Sinclair Research's acquisition by rival Amstrad in 1986, the Spectrum would continue to form the heart of the company's home computing offering with the Spectrum +2 adding an in-built tape recorder, and the Spectrum +3 offering a 3in CPC-style disk drive.

The Spectrum would eventually be discontinued in 1992, following several successive hardware projects - including the ill-fated Sinclair Quantum Leap, aimed at the business market - marking the end of the British home computing revolution.

Many in the computing industry today - and, in particular, the games industry - owe their careers to being bought a ZX Spectrum at an early age. Despite this, Sir Clive Sinclair himself is often reticent to discuss the machine - seeing the popularity of the system for gaming, rather than serious computing, as an insult to his creation.

For a great background on the creation of the system, the BBC is running an interview with its designers to mark its 30th anniversary.

49 Comments

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guvnar 23rd April 2012, 11:34 Quote
Oh happy days, went from Vic 20 to this...
Snips 23rd April 2012, 11:44 Quote
I had the +3, no sitting around listening to the whole silly tape for it to not load properly. I only waited about 30 seconds for it to not load properly :)
Siskodata 23rd April 2012, 11:47 Quote
Got my 1st computer (ZX Spectrum) in August 1984 as I started working as a student worker. It was my second greatest purchase I had made in my live the first being a Walkman. Had computers ever since from Amigas to PCs. After the Spectrum i was going to buy a Sam Coupe but instead got an Amiga 500.

30 years ago! I am getting old.
Tynecider 23rd April 2012, 11:49 Quote
My first comp, spent many a day with my head buried in a copy of Input magazine, then spend hours typing up lines code for entertainment, which was better than holding your breath in case a game did not load, lol.
philheckler 23rd April 2012, 12:06 Quote
I upgraded my speccy with a 48k ram pack , hard keyboard and microdrive... loveed games like - manic miner / jet set willly / elite / all the utimate games (jetpack / atic atak / sabretooth.) those were the days
Flexible_Lorry 23rd April 2012, 12:07 Quote
I was 6 when I played Match Day at a friend's house. I learnt Z80 assembly from Andrew Hewson in Sinclair User, and made my own disassembler.. in assembly. I made a silly Space Invaders clone in BASIC then assembly. Then I made a shooting gallery sort of game. And I made a paint programme, and my own word processor. And now... I play games and do shift work :)
Hustler 23rd April 2012, 12:12 Quote
Not as good as my Commodore 64....na.na.na.na.
tonyd223 23rd April 2012, 12:32 Quote
I had it's daddy, ZX81
gcwebbyuk 23rd April 2012, 12:44 Quote
I have a Spectrum +3 Action Pack collecting dust in our spare room. It was my Wife's when she was younger, and as far as we know is working. I just haven't had time to plug it in and test it out! What are these worth now - is it worth selling?
favst89 23rd April 2012, 12:46 Quote
My first experience of programming was on my dad's old spectrum, a few years older than me. I will have to dig it out when I get back home from work.
cjmUK 23rd April 2012, 12:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hustler
Not as good as my Commodore 64....na.na.na.na.

This.

The Speccy was a pale imitation of the all-powerful C64, and anyone who had one was a complete loser and a dosser too. At least, that's what I told my school friends.

Manic miner, anyone?
gcwebbyuk 23rd April 2012, 12:51 Quote
I grew up with an Acorn Electron. I used to spend hours copying code from magazines to build programs - saving them to tape and then running to find I had mis-spelled a command at line xx. Load it up, edit, save and hey presto a little white ball moving around the screen :)

Happy days
RichCreedy 23rd April 2012, 13:11 Quote
i was more of a commodore fan, vic 20, commodore 64, amiga 500(converted with denise)added a cdrom drive, then a cd32 with sx1 module.
Coltch 23rd April 2012, 13:13 Quote
Had a Speccy 48K (rubber keys) before moving onto the Commodore 64. The Ultimate games (Tranz-AM, Sabrewulf, Knightlore etc) were classics but who could forget firing up Chequered Flag in the tape deck!.

I now have a ZX Spectrum+ and Spectrum +2 hooked up and my 10 year old son loves it (not as much as Sensible Soccer on my Amiga's though), I'm even going through Sinclair BASIC with him - and realising how much of a pain in the a*** it was when you type run and got an error!
RedFlames 23rd April 2012, 13:23 Quote
I still have one [possibly 2] and a zx-81 somewhere, still worked last time I checked...

might have to dust them off and have a play while TVs still have analogue tuners...
Almightyrastus 23rd April 2012, 13:53 Quote
I had a second hand 48k rubber key jobbie for a while before getting a 128k +2 for christmas in 1987. I remember exactly what year it was as that was the year that The Living Daylights was out and I had the tie in special edition pack with the HUGE box and light gun. The whole boxed set is still in my parent's loft and as far as I know still works fine (well it did last time it was used)
ViPPeR_666 23rd April 2012, 15:22 Quote
It's quite obvious that their designers were Pink Floyd fans. lol
numanoid 23rd April 2012, 16:21 Quote
Awesome, i remember playing ELITE on this, had to put a stupid glass thing onto the tv screen to see the code...loved it....shooting at ferdilance ships and bloody flying saucers (who battered me) lol
johnnyboy700 23rd April 2012, 16:45 Quote
Yes, I remember the "Lenslok" security system, bloody awful it was too but it seems the a lot of the games I liked had it.

I loved my old Speccy, the ingenuity that some of the programmers had more than made up for the lack of processing power. I really loved the isometric 3D games, Knight Lore was the first one I remember playing, loved Batman and I thought Head over Heels was just brilliant. I also reckon that I don't recall a better first release strategy game than the Lords of Midknight - I played that game to death!!
Bleech 23rd April 2012, 16:59 Quote
I got my ZX Speccy 48k for my 13th birthday in 1983. Some of my greatest gaming moments were had on this little machine. Later I bought a C64, then an Amiga 500, and upgrade that to the 1200. Great days indeed.
Coltch 23rd April 2012, 17:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by johnnyboy700
Yes, I remember the "Lenslok" security system, bloody awful it was too but it seems the a lot of the games I liked had it.

I also reckon that I don't recall a better first release strategy game than the Lords of Midknight - I played that game to death!!

Lenslok was a nightmare, I still have Elite on Cassette and can never get the bloody thing to work properly!.

Lords of Midnight and Doomdark's Revenge took up loads of my time as a kid (I have Sorderon's Shadow on tape but haven't played that yet).
numanoid 23rd April 2012, 17:37 Quote
Lol, yer thats it lenslok, only had 3 goes (i think) then had to start over again lol, went from this to an atari st (cousins) and the commadore amiga (mine) mysels and cousin couldnt figure which was better, the st or amiga lol, used to play super sprint on his atari st (killed loads of joysticks with that game)...i used to play bloody donkey kong on my amiga lmao.....fun times
RedFlames 23rd April 2012, 18:08 Quote
Quote:
lenslok

see... games being crippled by copy protection is hardly a new thing
Eldorado 23rd April 2012, 18:41 Quote
Still got my 16k speccy. It needs a ztx650 transistor, but it will still work.
If only I had a tape player/microdrive...
freshsandwiches 23rd April 2012, 18:59 Quote
I had a 128K.

I wish I still had it. I should never have given it away to a neighbour (my Mum made me!)

Thinking back I'd be quite excited when I took it downstairs to hook up to the "big" tv. I wonder what it would look like on my 42" plasma?

Awesome I expect.
pbryanw 23rd April 2012, 21:14 Quote
Happy birthday ZX Spectrum - you were slightly before my time - but I do remember playing on one at a friend's house. This video seems relevant and always makes me think of that time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts96J7HhO28 (Hey Hey 16K)
Andre_B 23rd April 2012, 21:20 Quote
Good days indeed. I had a ZX Spectrum 128k. The day my dad brought one home, my life changed forever. My favourite games were Rainbow Islands and Target Renegade.

It was such a treat to play on the colour TV, as I had a small black and white TV in my room.
Coltch 23rd April 2012, 22:44 Quote
Quote:
I wonder what it would look like on my 42" plasma?
<br/>
<br/>Awesome I expect.

Colour clash in hd :)

Sent from Bittech Android app
mi1ez 24th April 2012, 01:19 Quote
It's all about the chiptunes these days...
Stef 24th April 2012, 07:41 Quote
There's still a loyal following on the Speccy, and lots of addons both software and hardware.

IDE storage, CD Rom capability, compact flash storage, pc-spectrum interconnect (handy to download games and load/play them on an original speccy).
Coltch 24th April 2012, 09:18 Quote
New games are being released for the Spectrum, which for a 30 year old machine is outstanding.

Using a PC to load games rather than a tape deck (not for the +2 though) is a bonus, although it still takes over 10 minutes to load Robocop 2 on the 128
Chris_Waddle 24th April 2012, 10:53 Quote
I loved my spectrum and spent many hours learning to program on it. At one point I became quite obsessed with dimensional arrays and databases and used it to record all sorts of meaningless information (such as every single and album I owned). It was so frustrating when it would run out of ram.

The spectrum was also my first 'upgraded' machine. I remember buying a ram upgrade kit, taking the spectrum apart and swapping over the ram chips. It has a lot to answer for.

I never really spent that much time gaming on it, I preferred to write my own stuff, but I did lose many, many hours playing Jetpac. I also have a strange recollection of a Frankie Goes To Hollywood game, though I can't remember too much about it now.
johnnyboy700 24th April 2012, 13:10 Quote
I remember the FGtH game, I never bought it but I do recall that it got brilliant reviews in Crash (THE Speccy mag at the time, the others were just irrtiating) for being actually quite good and very different from what you would expect from a tie in game. I'm sure there must be mag scans on line somewhere if you need to look up any reviews.
Chris_Waddle 24th April 2012, 20:35 Quote
Nice find. Takes me back, god knows how many hours I spent trying to get to the pleasuredome.
Nexxo 24th April 2012, 20:45 Quote
I still have FGtH on a C64 emulator on my PC. Its one of my all-time favorites.

Good times, good times...
thehippoz 24th April 2012, 21:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by cjmUK
This.

The Speccy was a pale imitation of the all-powerful C64, and anyone who had one was a complete loser and a dosser too. At least, that's what I told my school friends.

Manic miner, anyone?

and c64 paled to the atari 800xl and later 130xe.. you guys had the slowest disk drives known to man- you could watch 2 bruce lee movies in the time it took to load up one game :D
erratum1 24th April 2012, 22:25 Quote
My mate had an Atari but had trouble getting games he had to order them from a specialist shop.

The speccy wasn't the best but you could get games for it anywhere, I remember my cousin lending me 2 cassette cases full of games..... and I taped most of them, lol.
Nexxo 24th April 2012, 22:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hustler
Not as good as my Commodore 64....na.na.na.na.
Quote:
Originally Posted by cjmUK
This.

The Speccy was a pale imitation of the all-powerful C64, and anyone who had one was a complete loser and a dosser too. At least, that's what I told my school friends.

Manic miner, anyone?

I disagree. I had a C64 but really liked the Speccy too. It was no worse or better --just different, and had some really good games that the C64 did not have. I would have bought both if I had had the money.
cjmUK 24th April 2012, 22:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by thehippoz
and c64 paled to the atari 800xl and later 130xe.. you guys had the slowest disk drives known to man- you could watch 2 bruce lee movies in the time it took to load up one game :D

What are these disk drives you speak of??

Real men used tapes: http://bit.ly/Jmn3gL

[PS 800XL came 3 yrs before C64 (and couldn't compete) and the 130xe came 3 years afterwards - whereas the C64 and speccy went toe to toe in 1982]
GravitySmacked 24th April 2012, 23:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by numanoid
Awesome, i remember playing ELITE on this, had to put a stupid glass thing onto the tv screen to see the code...loved it....shooting at ferdilance ships and bloody flying saucers (who battered me) lol

I've still got my copy :)

The Speccy is where it all started for me, loved that machine.
Coltch 25th April 2012, 08:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by GravitySmacked
I've still got my copy :)

The Speccy is where it all started for me, loved that machine.

You're missing the poster! :D

Elite was good on the Speccy (faster than the C64 but no docking music :( ), I've had to download the 128K version as my original does not work on the +2 - It's also easier as I don't have to contend with Lenslok like on my Spectrum+.
GravitySmacked 25th April 2012, 08:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Coltch
You're missing the poster! :D

I think 10 year old me must still have that :D
maverik-sg1 25th April 2012, 11:12 Quote
Happy anniversary Speccie - We will always love you!!

Even with it's colour clashing etc... this was an awe inspiring moment when I got my 2nd hand 48k ZX Spectrum, joystic adaptor, the kensington joystick, jet set willy, manic miner, Elite, Delta Wing, sabre wulf, attic attack, Daley Thompson's decathlon, chequered flag - all fantastic games and just hearing the name reminds me of my own computing history..

Had the Spectrum for a few years, moved to C64 where (after a few years of tape loading) I had my first disk drive (5.25" floppy disk drive that was the size of a shoe box) god bless Action replay and 'Turbo Loading' unsung heroes of gamers of those times.... Gunship, F117A, Ninja, pit stop2, Attack of the Mutant Camels. Paradriod, Uridium, Rescue on Fractalus... then came the arcade conversions of Outrun etc....

Atari ST came next, enjoyed loads of mostly arcade conversions, Elite Plus, although the F16 combat simulator was awesome and I played my first serial connected head to head dogfight with a mate (hauling a CRT around was aweful).

Then an Amiga 600 that did not last that long before I moved to my first PC, DX2-66 CPU, 8xCDROM, 4meg ram, 540mb hard disk etc.... my first game was Star Trek TNG.... rest is also history.
Gradius 25th April 2012, 18:07 Quote
I remember when I started with a TK83 (a clone from them).
barbary 26th April 2012, 07:47 Quote
Does anyone remember what it cost in 82. I've seen those prices on wikipedia before and I think its been shown before that they are wrong.

Never got the appeal of the spectrum by 85 the C64 seemed to be almost the same price and was far better.
Tattysnuc 26th April 2012, 08:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by barbary
Does anyone remember what it cost in 82. I've seen those prices on wikipedia before and I think its been shown before that they are wrong.

Never got the appeal of the spectrum by 85 the C64 seemed to be almost the same price and was far better.

For some reason I can;t get £179.99 out of my head.... It might be worth while looking up an old copy of Your sinclair or Sinclair user to see if you can find one in there...
Tattysnuc 26th April 2012, 08:58 Quote
How about this for some serious flashbacks...

http://www.sincuser.f9.co.uk/
Gareth Halfacree 26th April 2012, 12:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by barbary
Does anyone remember what it cost in 82. I've seen those prices on wikipedia before and I think its been shown before that they are wrong.
I can assure you, they're right. Behold this original launch advert for the 16K and 48K versions:
http://golfyball.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/spectrum_ad1-scaled10001.jpg
(From Golfy's Blog.)

£125 for the 16K, £175 for the 48K.

(The Spectrum 48K was the first computer I had that was mine and mine alone - previous machines had been 'family' computers. After it released the magic smoke, I upgraded to a Commodore C64, then a C128, then a Schneider Euro-PC II IBM-compatible.)
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