Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2A Slims Down


[Carl] got his hands on a dead Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2A. He decided he wasn’t just going to fix it, he was going to improve it! The ZX Spectrum Compact is literally a “sawn-off” Spectrum +2A. [Carl’s] inspiration came from a similar mod at the Old Machinery blog.

Amstrad seems to have had a habit of bolting on additions to their products. In the case of the Spectrum +2A, it was a tape drive. Tapes weren’t a great storage method in the 80’s, and today they’re downright annoying. [Carl] didn’t need the tape interface, as he’s using a DiVide ATA interface.

The modification is rather straight forward. [Carl] broke out the hacksaw and cut the right end cap away from the tape drive. He then cut the entire tape drive away. The motherboard wasn’t safe from the saw treatment either, as the printer interface was cut off. Thankfully there were no components on the printer interface. Apparently [Carl] didn’t short any traces as he went to town with his saw.

With the motherboard modified to fit the abbreviated case, [Carl] was ready to begin reconstruction. He glued the cap onto the sawn-off case with Grip Fill glue, which also served to fill any gaps. Some sanding, priming, and painting later, The ZX Spectrum Compact was finished. This isn’t a perfect mod, as the gap is still slightly visible under the paint – but it’s good enough for [Carl]. Hey, it’s good enough for us, too – we can’t all be [Ben Heck]!


37 thoughts on “Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2A Slims Down

  1. Actually you can be ben heck, instead of glue you can heat weld ABS plastic like that quite well. even low end Harbor Freight sells a plastic welding kit that can do fantastic plastic welds that if the cuts were straight and clean, you could make it as invisible as possible.

    Everyone is capable of Ben Heck levels of work, you just have to put the effort into it.

  2. Funny how you call built in non-volatile storage an ‘addition’, since these days it’s so critical a core component that you can’t even *have* a computer without it. Amstrad just recognised it earlier than most.

    1. I wonder if you’ve ever had the “pleasure” of trying to store data on a cassette tape.

      If you haven’t, just let me state simply that having no non-volatile storage is almost better.

      1. Back in the day most kids had hundreds of games on tape. In the UK budget games sold for 2 pounds each. Compare to disk drives, which were subject to the standard UK Computer Pricing Scheme, “take the dollar sign off and put a pound sign in”. Which is not the same as “#”, which is called “hash”. Anyway that aside it meant goods often cost 1.5x to 2x the US price in the UK, simply through greedy vendors all down the line. This persisted even as far as the 486 era in PCs.

        Anyway it meant there were very few disk drives in the hands of personal computer owners. Businesses had them, and some schools. Same thing with ROM cartridges, which have always been a ripoff anyway, wherever in the world. It was just worse in the UK.

        American home computers seem to have been built with a mainframe mindset, using peripheral chips for everything, and usually the 300 baud Kansas City method of tape storage. Sinclair, who invented the Spectrum, later bought up by Amstrad (booo!) did it the clever way. A line from the ULA, driven directly by OUT statements from the Z80 CPU, connected straight to the tape input / output thru a couple of passives. The CPU itself generated the beeps simply through timing loops. For loading, it counted the length of audio pulses in the same way. It worked reliably at about 2000 baud, so Speccy games would load in 3 or 4 minutes for a 48K game, compared with half an hour for the Commodore or Atari.

        Why none of the Americans thought of doing it this way, cheaper, quicker, cleverer, is curious. It’s a win in every way.

        Overall it wasn’t too bad, on the Spectrum at least. And certainly a good alternative to buying a disk drive that cost 3x more than the computer did. Tho Sinclair invented an alternative to THAT, too.

        1. It was done similar on the C64, some GPIO pin driven in timing loops. That was the reason, programs like “Fast tape”, etc. were possible. As it was only software driven they raised the data rate by 10. For the Floppy drive you could gain a 5 times increase with a software only method.

    1. Yes, in 1986, they bought Sinclair and all of their old stock.

      Also, no, Amstrad did not have a “habit of bolting on additions to their products”. They started out their business as an all-in-one hifi manufacturer and consequently took that concept over to their home computers and later to the new Sinclair machines they made. Amstrad home computers always had a tape or disk drive in their keyboard.

      1. Amstrads where not really popular in my area of the US. By 1986 the Amiga was getting big. For some reason Atari’s, Tis, Apples, and Sinclairs were rare in my area but Commodore 64s and Amigas where pretty popular.

    1. I’d agree, but the +2A was an especially horrible red-haired step-child of the Sinclair range. Invented by Amstrad after they bought Sinclair, and plagued by money-saving ideas.

    2. Thing is, these computers were BUILT with end-user modification in mind. Hell, the Sinclair computers gave birth to a whole cottage industry of companies out to sell you any number of upgrades to combat perceived shortcomings of the machine.

      Sinclair built ’em cheap, then you paid for the extra bits you felt you couldn’t live without.

  3. In actual fact that’s a +2B motherboard which is already a “sawn off” version of the +2A/+3 motherboard which had an external floppy drive edge connector even further to the right and was rectangular instead of the slightly odd stair-step panellisation.

  4. So wierd seeing Amstrad’s name on a Sinclair, or Timex for Matter.

    This isn’t really an Amstrad computer though, the CPC 464 is an Amstrad, Mr Alan Michael Sugar Trading co.

    Sinclair had the microdrive

  5. Thank you for all your comments, I knew from the moment I decided to commit to do this that I would not only divide my speccy but also divide opinion. I like the new dimensions of my machine, it maybe because my first Sinclair was the Spectrum Plus, which looks like this in my opinion. Amstrad got a lot of things right when they took the brand on, but the tape deck was not one of them IMO, but thats opinions! YMMV.

    Tapes were great, but the Divide ata is the best these days, I have a tape in for .WAV files to be loaded in via an MP3 player if I need to audio load anything. (the tape deck was VERY messy on this, suspect it was an ashtray for a previous user)

    thanks for reading.

    1. Carl, I hate you for hacking a +2 but love you by the result :) Congratulations! :D I have a +2 and +2A, and cannot ever imagine me doing a hack job like this. But I confess the result is interesting. I wanted to have this +2 since I was a small child, Have not courage to hack it :) Greetings from Brazil!

  6. Fantastic!

    Really good to see a Retro Computer community member, on Google+, being featured.

    In the 1980’s I was a little sad that Amstrad took over Sinclair. Turning this post-Amstrad buy machine and making it more akin to the 128+ is a really cool nod to the past, as well as being pragmatic about the fact that tapes aren’t that useful any longer. And this is coming from someone that prefers restoration to modification.

  7. can someone explain to me the “plastic weild kit”? I’m very interested in that piece. I only knew the hot-wire method hobbiest are using to cut plastics for their planes and ships. does it work similar?

      1. AIUI it spins a rod of plastic very fast, which is melted by friction with the object of the welding. I’d guess the object melts a bit too.

        There’s a thing called “Friction Stir Welding” where metal is welded in the exact same way.

    1. Not really, the internal tape drive of these machines have a tendency to fail anyway. It was always a concern even back when the machine was first released. It was supposed to be possible to load and save from an external tape at one point in just that eventuality.

      As far as mods go, this is a pretty reasonable one: Basically an Amstrad version of the 128k Toastrack.

  8. Lots of computers had built in tape drives. Original Commodore Pet, Sharp MZ80k, Epson HX20, Amstrad CPC, etc.
    Ive had most of the Spectrum models, and a couple of the CPCs. And a lot of other common micro computers. Tape drives were always a pain. Tho Spectrum +2s seemed to be better than the others for loading reliably.
    I think modifying computers is ok, unless its a bunch of stickers and flashing LEDs. Make the machine your own. If it suits you that way, and if it makes it actually better to use. Fair enough.

    1. The Epson HX20 in particular used a dictaphone micro-tape drive! I think it was even built-in to the base model, along with a 4-pen receipt-paper plotter. Unless it was a thermal printer.

      Plenty of other computers of that type had external bays to slot into, for printer and tape interfaces, maybe a modem. Some had only a 1×16 LCD, some had 4 or even 8 lines, 20 characters per line or more. Lots of different types of those portables, mostly Japanese, but I think having the tape drive included was the best idea. Usually that type would have battery-backed RAM, often the main batteries that the computer ran on. They were designed to keep software loaded in through the day, so you wouldn’t need the tape deck on the road. Still, I’d rather have one.

      You don’t get a lot of data on a dictaphone tape, I assume. OTOH the motors are much smaller so less battery use.

      As I’ve moaned on about before, the Sinclair Spectrums only took 3.5 minutes to load 48K. Ataris and Commodores took 30 minutes or more. And gods help you if a single bit comes through wrong, cos it’s start-again time. It was such a pain, some genius invented Invade-A-Load, and later Pac-Loader, giving you a game to play as the main game loaded into RAM. Very clever! Dunno if the Spectrum ever did that, but really it wasn’t needed. Maybe one game, Joe Blade II rings a bell, on the Speccy had that.

  9. neat job! There’s a video or two I’ve seen where others have done this but that was long ago.

    I actually thought about doing this to an Amstrad 464 but never got around to looking how much board I’d have to remove (and there’s lots of revisions of it) hmm….

  10. “He decided he wasn’t just going to fix it, he was going to improve it!”

    Hack it to bits and turn it into a cut and shut +2 with a circuit board that looks like it’s been attacked by a drunk with a hacksaw. Just say no.

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