Someone’s Made The Laptop Clive Sinclair Never Built

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was one of the big players in the 8-bit home computing scene of the 1980s, and decades later is sports one of the most active of all the retrocomputing communities. There is a thriving demo scene on the platform, there are new games being released, and there is even new Spectrum hardware coming to market.

One of the most interesting pieces of hardware is the ZX Spectrum Next, a Spectrum motherboard with the original hardware and many enhancements implemented on an FPGA. It has an array of modern interfaces, a megabyte of RAM compared to the 48k of the most common original, and a port allowing the connection of a Raspberry Pi Zero for off-board processing. Coupled with a rather attractive case from the designer of the original Sinclair model, and it has become something of an object of desire. But it’s still an all-in-one a desktop unit like the original, they haven’t made a portable. [Dan Birch has changed all that, with his extremely well designed Spectrum Next laptop.

He started with a beautiful CAD design for a case redolent of the 1990s HP Omnbook style of laptop, but with some Spectrum Next styling cues. This was sent to Shapeways for printing, and came back looking particularly well-built. Into the case went an LCD panel and controller for the Next’s HDMI port, a Raspberry Pi, a USB hub, a USB to PS/2 converter, and a slimline USB keyboard. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a battery included, though we’re sure that with a bit of ingenuity some space could be found for one.

The result is about as good a Spectrum laptop as it might be possible to create, and certainly as good as what might have been made by Sinclair or Amstrad had somehow the 8-bit micro survived into an alternative fantasy version of the 1990s with market conditions to put it into the form factor of a high-end compact laptop. The case design would do any home-made laptop design proud as a basis, we can only urge him to consider releasing some files.

There is a video of the machine in action, which we’ve placed below the break.

We’ve never bought you a laptop with a spectrum main board before, but we have brought you a recreated Sinclair in the form of this modern-day ZX80.

42 thoughts on “Someone’s Made The Laptop Clive Sinclair Never Built

    1. What’s your source for Z80s in flip-chip BGA POP?

      I mean, yes you can do one entirely using an FPGA softcore but that’s not very retro, now is it? Also, some period-accurate ports (RS232/DB9) are kind of fat.

      1. You can do RS232 using a mini USB port like you see on some routers and switches. It would require a mini USB to DB9 adaptor to attach a serial device to it but at least the form factor would be smaller. You could also use a audio jack for basic TX/RX serial devices but you still need an adaptor for DB9. They even make micro D-sub connectors that are used on a lot of aerospace systems but they are usually too pricey for consumer devices and the size savings for a 9-position d-sub isn’t much (plus you still need an adaptor). USB (and Firewire) really made a world when they first came out, no more clunky D-sub and no more proprietary connectors.

      2. “I mean, yes you can do one entirely using an FPGA softcore but that’s not very retro, now is it?”

        It’s worth noting that is exactly how the ZX Spectrum Next (that this is a case for) was implemented.

      1. Tongue in cheek or not my first reaction to that picture was “Yes! Imagine that with a widescreen in it, it’s perfect!”

        Apple spends all day removing functionality by making keyboards with keys that move down half a millimeter less than before. Give me something where the keys move up and down a bit. With a decent battery, and speakers, and… all the other things the pointless “make it slimmer!” mentality takes away from us.

        The perfect form factor for a small laptop is the original EEE PC.

    2. “Take a cue from Apple”
      which in turn was taken from somebody else

      and isn’t it apple that in pursuit of slim, removes functionality and structural integrity (bendgate anybody?)

    3. Apple is the opposite of what people who do real work actually want. I’d love something the size of an EEEPC but with modern screen/innards.

      Make it smaller, thicker, tougher, and a battery that goes for three days. It’s not like it has to be carried in a back pocket or anything.

    4. What’s the point in silm? It’s too big for a pocket. It’s easy to break. Impossible to fix.
      Do you think those are intentional design choices??

      Toshiba libretto (I think this looks more like a black CT50/CT70) fitted in my cargo pants pockets back in the early noughties. It was hardware hackable yet tiny.
      There is only one laptop today that can replace it and that’s the GPD pocket.

      Companies dont generally build what people want. Apple famously.
      That’s why GPD is selling so many units because people are being ignored by mainstream vendors selling impractical slimlines for hipsters.

    5. Why is slim considered good, for tech? Real question, I never understood that. I don’t like slim phones, laptops. Feels flimsy (no matter if that’s actually true or not), uncomfortable to hold (phones), hard to put in normal capacity battery (phones), connectors placement problems, etc, etc. What are positive arguments for slim?

    6. Key word, “Retro”. Old Computers were NOT sleek or slim by any measure. Not even Apple’s Computers were slim back in the 1980s or 1990’s, in fact, Apple’s first Laptop weighed almost 20 lbs! The idea of a retro project like this is to recreate the look and feel of something old, with Modern Hardware inside.

      I mean sure, they may make them smaller than the original machines they emulate, they still scale it based on the original machine. Making a retro computer or console build “slim” kinda defeats the purpose of making a retro designed computer anyways.

      1. My first PC (I bought it in the early 90’s) was a used 8086 based luggable (not Osborne).
        The reseller installed a hard drive for me. I was a bit upset because he put an RLL (Run Length Limited) drive on an MFM controller to get me 30 Mb’s disk space. This was after I’d read that RLL’s on MFM died sooner. But it lasted long enough to give to my brother and me to get a used 386.

  1. This isn’t just a Raspberry Pi in a case, the main Spectrum board in this can operate completely without the OPTIONAL Raspberry pi co-processor. The Pi just adds extra functionality. The main board operates a full (and largely expanded) zx spectrum supporting onboard, ULA+, Multiface, SD Card access as well as supporting EVERY zx spectrum interface, just as the originals did, and all of this works without the raspberry pi at all. The pi is purely a co-processor to allow the board to be able to do some other extra fancy stuff as well as provide USB input for external keyboard.

  2. parse error, unmatched ‘[‘
    No results for Omnbook
    Search instead for Omnibook

    Externally very sexy early nineties look, clean and proper.
    Internally total mess. Why bother with NEXT board at all when Raspberry Pi Zero availability can most likely (worst case scenario one additional SN75LVDS83 required) drive this screen directly while emulating whole Spectrum with all of its sluggish colour clash and fart noises ‘glory’? throw away NEXT board, lcd controller, and all of a sudden you have tons of space for batteries.

  3. Jenny: a bit off topic but, on the subject of Sinclair design, did they change designer at some point between the original spectrum (which was obviously a thing of beauty) and the later models (which were a bit ‘boxy’), or was it the same designer/s who just changed styles? That pocket calculator you did an article on a while ago also had the same kind of look to the original speccy, do you know if that was the same designer?

    1. Rick Dickinson at Sinclair designed all the Sinclair models. The later Spectrums, from the +2 with it’s built-in tape drive, were designed and built by Amstrad. Amstrad bought up Sinclair’s assets, including the company name and the Spectrum, after Sir Clive went bankrupt designing a small 12V electric cart that people were supposed to use on roads instead of cars.

      The fact you’d be utterly dead if you got caught in front of a lorry was later obviated by the inclusion of a little flag on a pole.

      Sir Clive really didn’t know what he was doing. The C5, and he, became a laughing stock all over the British media for months. Deservedly, really. You can’t just throw money at fighting reality. The C5 was completely unsuitable as a road vehicle, and nobody had asked for one anyway.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.