The ZX Spectrum Next Arrives

Sinclair Research was best known in the United States for the tiny ZX80, and the ZX81, under its Timex branding. However, they also made the ZX Spectrum which had many features that were — at the time — unusual. A few years ago there was a Kickstarter to recreate a modern version of the Spectrum, and [Nostalgia Nerd’s] new ZX Spectrum Next has finally arrived. As you can see in the first part of the hour-long video he was very excited about it. Almost too excited for YouTube.

The new incarnation of the Spectrum claims to be fully compatible with the original but also offers improved graphics modes, SD cards instead of tape, and an optional 7 MHz clock speed. The 512K of RAM would have been sinfully luxurious back in the day when the original model came with 16K, although the most iconic Spectrums would be the 48K models. The new version even has the option of taking a Raspberry Pi Zero to act as an accelerator.

Unlike its older siblings, the ZX Spectrum could output graphics at a whopping 256×192 pixels with two shades of 7 colors or black for a total of 15 colors. Before you get too excited though, be aware that the colors were mapped to the 8×8 character blocks, not to the pixels, so that reduced what you could practically do with the display. That is, in one 8×8 block you could only use two colors.

The keyboard on the Next looks like a ZX Spectrum+, which traded the famous rubber keys of the earlier machines for a more conventional design. A variant of that model had a whopping 128K of RAM, apparently to avoid paying a tax in Spain on computers with 64K of RAM or less (that’s according to Wikipedia, anyway).

If you didn’t love this machine before, you will by the end of the video. Maybe not as much as [Nostaliga Nerd] does, but still. If you want to get to the bootup, that’s around the 12:30 mark.

Of course, these popular computers exist in FPGA form. An engineering prototype for the original recently surfaced, and is now in a UK museum.

33 thoughts on “The ZX Spectrum Next Arrives

    1. Kind of, they added sockets to allow the end user to expand the ram (to give around 1.7MB of usable ram). They also have 14 and 28MHz modes. You’ll soon see a second Kickstarter if you don’t want to pay the stupid prices on eBay.

      I’m really happy with the build quality of them, and I have to say the keyboard feels period correct, so was deffo worth the additional cost and wait (over the board only offerings) for me.

  1. I had the other one with rubbery keyboard & 48KB RAM – with loaded assembler,debugger,graphics & source code there was still shitload of RAM available (almost 19KB left). Imagine all the stuff one can do in 19KB of assembled code… These days I allocate 12GB for buffers & tables and brute force through stuff … miss the good old times when I actually had to think.

    1. I don’t miss the development cycle of:
      Load assembler from tape (5 minutes)
      Load source code from tape (1 minute)
      Assemble, save to tape.
      Restart
      Load object code from tape (1 minute)
      Load graphics data (3 minutes)
      Watch it crash
      Pull the plug
      Back to the start, trying to guess what went wrong (no debuggers or anything like that back then)

      That game never made it to production, though. Mainly due to me not being Matt Smith.

      I did write some almost-not-unsuccessful games, thoughm if you have forgotten just how many mediocre games have been forgotten since then ( https://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekpub.cgi?regexp=^Andy+Pugh$ )

      1. There was a reason other developers cross developed for the Spectrum – Oliver Twins used a CPC with disc drive and serial transfer to the speccy for testing, then there was the PDS (?) x86 game dev cross dev system a lot used.

        1. The company I sold my games to had a few cross-development systems (with hard drives!) but as a 15-year old schoolboy working in my bedroom I didn’t qualify for one.
          To put things in perspective, they paid me £75 for the ZX81 game “Privateer” and £375 for “Johnny Reb” on the Spectrum.
          As I said, Matthew Smith I was not (though I do sometimes bump in to him on IRC)

  2. I had both the 48k version and later the 128k which also had better sound and the rubber keyboard was replaced by the keyboard from the Sinclair ql which had been released a year or so earlier love both of them I have a pc spectrum emulator on a CD with over 1000 games on it I bought about 20 years ago

  3. It is more like an Atari/Amiga. A Spectrum to me is block colour clashing graphics. This is just a glorified Amiga with a Spectrum OS. Not a Spectrum in my opinion. I think those who want to spent 500 quid on something my PC can do about 1000 times better then it is their choice. Modern games for any Spectrum are rubbish. I only enjoy the games I had as a kid because I was a kid. Games today are not as good. But the Spectrum scene will wanna kill me for that. I grew up and acceped the Spectrum was fun but it was also slightly naff.

    The Spectrum Next is not a Real Spectrum. Not too me anyway.

    1. Good job opinions are just that and not facts.

      First of all, saying modern games for the spectrum are just rubbish kinda sets the scene for how much you actually know about the system. Some of the best games the machine has seen have been released in the last few years.

      The Next is what the spectrum would have evolved into if Sinclair hadn’t gotten bored of micros and wanted to build electric vehicles. The case was designed by the original designer (Rick Dickinson)

      The Next is very much designed for people who want to get back to working direct on HW, you can’t get closer to the CPU. All the new features are accessed in a sympathetic way that makes coding this machine a dream. It is a Spectrum in every sense, and certainly deserves the term Next.

      Everyone who backed the 1st KS and who has received theirs has seemingly fell in love with what has been done. It can be your old classic machine to play anything from the back catalogue faithfully or, maybe for weekends it can play games that have a bit more oomf.

      Part of the idea is to encourage people back into bedroom coding where you don’t need a powerful PC, a million libraries and dev tools and multiple languages to develop a game. The Next does that superbly.

      1. Wasn’t the QL supposed to be the replacement for the Spectrum? The Sinclair machines just never seemed to catch on here in the states. For micros it was mostly C64s followed by Atari’s and a very small number of Apples. Later a surprising number of Amigas here along with rise of the PC. I always wanted to pick up a ZX-81 Timex to make a robot out of but never found the time which school and such.

        1. Yes, I think “Uncle Clive” priced it a bit too high though, and it was a bit Apple Lisa-ey, a slight step beyond what people were looking for at the time. The spectrum fared better in UK because C64 was a little slower getting on the market and a bit higher priced, so the home grown computer for the regular guy had an edge. In US it was reversed, and in Germany it fought on an equal-ish footing both being imports, and I think C64 won there. Apples seemed almost priced on a par to IBM PCs in UK. The all in one Amigas managed reasonable pricing but the big box versions seemed too pricey, particularly after Amstrad had it’s cheap PC clones out.

      2. The Next is *NOT* what the spectrum would have evolved into for several reasons : official sinclair evolution was the QL, unofficial was the SAM Coupe, the Next is FPGA-based and not based on a real CPU, the Sinclair line (from ZX80 to Spectrum 128K including the QL) has always been about keeping the costs very low (while you can find much more powerful PC for less than the price of the Next).

        We are quite far from the CPU… the Next features an hacked Z-80 core with some instructions that don’t make sense in the Z-80 mentality… Z–80 evolved but these modifications don’t follow neither the real Z-80 nor these evolutions. Where a “machine control register” may have some sense to avoid polluting I/O space and keep compatibility with real Spectrum hardware, some of the new instructions don’t make sense.

        There are some welcome additions : more sound cores (you can run in dual AY for example), DivMMC, more memory, new video modes (you may note that these already exists for a real spectrum through expansion port extensions)… and some nice ideas like the possibility to load TZX through the included Raspberry Pi…

        I think that the Next is a nice machine with lots of tinkering potential (after all, the FPGA core is available which means that people could strip it down to a spectrum 128K with divMMC and debug though the Pi or the Wifi then use the freed core room to try their own additions). It’s also a nice programming learning tool (thanks to the old-school manual)… but definitively *NOT* the next spectrum… it’s just something else, a clone…

        If you want a modern version of the Spectrum, you should better look at the Omni128K which support composite/RGB video output, DivMMC and the Spectrum 128K features at a reasonable price. If you want to do some hardware tinkering, the harlequin (48K or 128K) is for you with it’s replaceable IC’s (just add a DivMMC to avoid long tape loading time)… If you want a powerful yet expensive platform with lots of bells and whistle, and/or tinker with FPGA, the Next is for you.

  4. But the excitement of the first rush of basic programming is captured here. The raspberry pi almost caught it when released. But here we have a recreation of the whole feel of the experience. I look forward to going through the manual and getting my offspring to type in the codes. Maybe will spark a coding interest. I get it “spectrum was naff, and anything not as naff is not spectrum”. But this DOES recapture the feel of a “micro”. I suppose it depends on what spectrum means to the individual!

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. I remember with my Vic20, I could have an idea to try and code, and it was as simple as switch on, wait seconds (literally the time it took our ancient CRT to warm up) and you were able to start typing. Albeit it was a bit naff and at times flaky but it didn’t matter – it was fun! And secretly 40 years of coding on from those days, a little bit of me misses it.

  5. Article needs correcting – it also has 14MHz and 28MHz modes (so 8x faster than the original), and comes with 1MB RAM (2MB user expandable).

    Additionally, the graphics capabilities have been overhauled completely, with a major multi-layered solution (original graphics (or new modified ways of displaying these), 256-colour bitmap layer, tile layer and sprite layer) and other useful features like hardware scrolling. Also has 3 AY chips, not one, and a DMA controller.

  6. If you want something resembling a next generation Spectrum then I’d suggest investigating the Sam Coupe.
    At the time it was supposed to be similar to a spectrum but with greatly improved hardware (for the time)
    There were however backwards compatibility issues with getting original Spectrum games to work on it with tools / utilities to try and make spectrum games work.

    One big improvement they made was the connectors at the back, since the Interface used for things like Kempston Joysticks etc had a tendency to break along the plastic bit which was basically just a PCB edge connector (not to mention the fun times of resoldering the 9 core wires inside the joystick since this was before the days of USB or digital control lines)

    And well it never really caught on, expecially with the 16bit machines just being around the corner such as the Atari ST and Amiga’s

    1. I agree, lovely little computer, shame they are selling for an absolute fortune on ebay these days. I kind of wish I hadn’t sold mine when I was young, but the Amiga showed up and made it look instantly outdated and clunky.

    2. Having had spectrums, I was lusting after the Sam Coupe for at least a year. Maybe it’s age scrambled neurons but I thought at some point (Maybe pre-release hype or speculation) it was supposed to have a 16bit native mode. In any case, it looked less appealing as time went on, particularly as it dawned that 48k compatibility was patchy and 128k was nil. When I finally began to have spare money, I bought an Amiga. Turned out that emulators on that loaded 100% of my speccy favorites and played them fine.

      I did however want to get the pinnacle of original spectrums, the disk equipped plus 3 with CP/M capability, and spent probably a good 7 years rooting around for a used one at a decent price. It seemed that they were rarely for sale, and although they could be found in places like Micro Mart listings, they were often bundled with so many extras and software that the package was over the 200 quid retail the bare machine last went for. At this time you were doing well to get a fiver for a 48k or 20 for a 128 +2. I was tempted to grab a cheap plus 2 and convert it, the schematics were around, didn’t get to it.

  7. The Spectrum Next is absolutely fantastic! It is awrsome in every aspect. They really captured the wholly experience of having a computer in the 80’s even the thrill, the anxiety of owning one.

      1. Absolutely! Same as ZXSpectrum when you use crappy tape or poor quality cassete player (or both). That is even shown on the video, but cassetes tapes are not for beginners, no no.. Newbies should load games from SD card.

  8. Is there any way to wrangle a composite or rf video signal out of the Next? I am trying to get mine to run on an old (40 years) CRT set, like what my original Speccy ran on. The set predates rgb signals, the various DVD and VHS recorders I’ve tried to try to convert the signal do nothing. Apparently Scart to rf modulators won’t work either. The routine conversion systems look for a composite signal which is usually always sent in tandem with a RGB signal. But the Next doesn’t have that accompanying Composite. Because of this there’s no way to get the picture on my TV, all I get is a blank black screen.
    Does anyone here have any ideas on how to convert the signal from RGB, or maybe to mod the Next for a composite output maybe?

  9. Where did you get it? How much did it cost? I left after 4 minutes as I couldn’t be bothered with his over excitedness at a computer that was out before he was born and the fact he went on like he felt nostalgic.

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