The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Turns 40

It’s an auspicious moment for retrocomputing fans, as it’s now four decades since the launch of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This budget British microcomputer was never the best of the bunch, but its runaway success and consequent huge software library made it the home computer to own in the UK. Here in 2022 it may live on only in 1980s nostalgia, but its legacy extends far beyond that as it provided an entire generation of tech-inclined youngsters with an affordable tool that would get them started on a lifetime of computing.

What Was 1982 Really Like?

Cover of Sincalir User, Sir Clive Sinclair as a magician
Sinclair User issue 3 captures the excitement surrounding the Spectrum launch.

There’s a popular meme among retro enthusiasts that the 1980s was a riot of colour, pixel artwork, synth music, and kitschy design. The reality was of growing up amid the shabby remnants of the 1970s with occasional glimpses of an exciting ’80s future. This was especially true for a tech-inclined early teen, as at the start of 1982 the home computer market had not yet reached its full mass-market potential. There were plenty of machines on offer but the exciting ones were the sole preserve of adults or kids with rich parents. Budget machines such as Sinclair’s ZX81 could give a taste of what was possible, but their technical limitations would soon become obvious to the experimenter.

1982 was going to change all that, with great excitement surrounding three machines. Here in the UK, the Acorn BBC Micro had been launched in December ’81, the Commodore 64 at the start of ’82, and here was Sinclair coming along with their answer in the form of first the rumour of a ZX82, and then the reality in the form of the Spectrum.

This new breed of machines all had a respectable quantity of memory, high-res (for the time!) colour graphics, and most importantly, sound. The BBC Micro was destined to be the school computer of choice and the 64 was the one everybody wanted, but the Spectrum was the machine you could reasonably expect to get if you managed to persuade your parents how educational it was going to be, because it was the cheapest at £125 (£470 in today’s money, or about $615).

This dual-page advert for the Spectrum could be found across all manner of magazines in 1982.
This dual-page advert for the Spectrum could be found across all manner of magazines in 1982.

Never Quite As Good As Its Competitors, But Cheaper

A rubber-key Spectrum
40 years later, the design still looks sharp.

For a teen in 1982 the Spectrum was an incredibly big deal, but from 2022 how did it rack up? It’s very obviously a development of their earlier ZX81, with an updated version of the same Sinclair BASIC and the same single-key keyword entry system. The design came from Rick Dickinson, the same industrial designer who had shaped the ’81, and for the Spectrum there was a new keyboard that topped the underlying membrane with a squishy rubber moulding.

With a 3.5 MHz Z80 it could compete in the processing stakes, but its architecture and memory management model was very similar to that of its predecessor. An improved logic design in its Ferranti ULA now freed the processor up from drawing scan lines, so there was no longer a FAST mode in which the display went blank, and the full power of the processor could be used at all times. The original Spectrum came with 16 MB of memory upgradeable to 48 kB via an internal daughterboard, but these early models were soon supplanted by a 48k-only model that became the huge-selling version.

Typical ZX Spectrum gameplay, in this case Atic Atac
Typical ZX Spectrum gameplay, in this case Atic Atac

The high-resolution graphics came in at 256 x 192 pixels which was a great improvement over the block graphics of the ZX81, but the attribute-based colour system operated on a much lower resolution and gave an effect of blocks of colour. Clever software designers could mask this as much as possible by arranging their tiles to coincide with the blocks, but sometimes this effect could be seen in even the most polished of titles. The Acorn and Commodore both had far better graphical capabilities, but the Sinclair was good enough for its teenage audience to forgive it. (As an aside, clever ZX81 hackers eventually figured out how to make it too do high-res without an add-on, but this came too late to make a splash).

It’s fair to say that the sound capabilities of the first generation of Spectrums was disappointing, being simply a speaker connected to a bit on an I/O port that could make beeps or even poor quality PWM with some very clever programming, but couldn’t be described as competing with other machines that had dedicated sound chips. Later machines rectified this situation, but we’re concerned here only with the original.

Essential for any Spectrum user: You HAD to own a Kempston joystick interface!
Essential for any Spectrum user: You HAD to own a Kempston joystick interface!

Beyond the hardware described, the Spectrum had very little else built-in. Storage was via tapes as was the case with most computers of the day, and with none of the Commodore or Acorn’s array of ports it simply exposed the Z80 signals to an edge connector at the rear. Sinclair themselves produced a thermal printer add-on as well as interfaces that gave access to joysticks, serial ports, simple networking, and of course their Microdrive tape loop storage peripheral. The interface that the majority of owners would have had though came not from Sinclair, the Kempston joystick interface was an essential for any owner.

So the Spectrum was a huge success for its attractive price, despite being in the best tradition of Sinclair products a device that promised much while delivering less than its competitors. It soon spawned a healthy ecosystem of magazines and third party companies supplying every conceivable upgrade or piece of software, and geeky 1980s teens throughout the land would arm themselves for playground arguments over the relative merits of a Z80 versus a 6502. Having been a ZX81 owner I joined the party a little later, and I credit the Sinclair machines with teaching me the fundamentals of how a microcomputer works in a way that no machine I’ve owned since could come close.

The Spectrum, Viewed From 2022

The Spectrum PCB
My Spectrum, laid bare.

After a little looking through storage boxes, I’ve pulled out my box of all things Sinclair for this article. It contains my Spectrum alongside the ZX81, as well as a pile of cassettes and peripherals. My model is an Issue 3, 48 kB version made in 1983, and is from the moment when a Spectrum was the machine to have. Opening it up reveals the PCB below the keyboard, with the Z80, ROM, ULA, and RAM as well as the video modulator in its silver can. As Sinclair products went, this was a pretty reliable one, and though I really should replace its ageing capacitors, it still works. I’m not sure I have the patience to get back into Sinclair Basic or Z80 machine code again on real hardware, but that box contains a lot of memories.

For me the Spectrum will always be the classic rubber-keyboard model, but as the 1980s wore on and I drifted further into amateur radio and eventually back into 16-bit computers, the little Sinclair continued to evolve. A “Plus” model followed with a better keyboard and styling similar to the company’s QL 16-bit offering, and then a 128 kB bank-switched model with extra capabilities including a proper sound chip. By then the commercial failure of the QL was dragging the company to the brink, and eventually in 1986 the entire Sinclair computer range was sold to their competitor Amstrad. The Amstrad Spectrums would gain extra capabilities including built-in cassette and disk drives as well as the ability to run CP/M, and I am astounded to find that they continued to be made until 1992.

Everyone who got their technological start through that era of home computers sees “their” machine as the “classic” platform against which all must be measured, and while I may be no exception I am certainly not overlooking its flaws. It was a budget machine with limited on-board capabilities compared to its competitors and requiring extra peripherals to do almost anything not possible with the keyboard, but its value lies in what it gave to the lucky teens who received one for Christmas back in 1982.

Most of them would have used it for games, but in any school there was always a hard core of kids who ran with it, and as one of those kids in my school I am thankful for what it game me and many of my colleagues since. I would never have been able to save up £350 for a BBC Micro and my parents certainly wouldn’t have been able to buy me one, but because Sinclair were providing something I could save up for, I could use mine to gather skills I still use today.

Now that’s an educational computer!

68 thoughts on “The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Turns 40

    1. I was lucky, my dad was a teacher, and his school had a BBC Micro. They didn’t want to leave it in the school over the holidays, so he brought it home and that was my first experience with a computer (I think I was about 3-4yo)

  1. In the fall of 1982, I paid around $500 Canadian for my first printer, a Radio Shack DMP-100, about as cheap as I could get. Not even close to near letter quality, no descenders, slow and noisy.

    But I was going to say in the recent C64 post, it brings out the kids. 1982 is only seven years after the Altair in 1975, but it’s a very different place. It’s not just that you could get a pretty good, for the time, computer for a smaller payment. But computers had spread out. In 1975, you had to be already paying attention, reading hobby electronic or ham magazines. In 1982, there were a lot of magazines, there were more mainstream stores selling computers, the IBM PC was out and “legitimized” the field. At 15 in 1975, I couldn’t afford a computer, in 1982 it would have been a lot easier for kids to talk their parents into buying one, if the parents didn’t buy it first. Schools were more likely to have small computers, unlike the teletype machine in my high school in 1975.

    And it only got bigger with the release of the C64 and Spectrum.

  2. I didn’t buy my Spectrum, I was given it by M C Lothlorien (a software company) for porting my ZX81 game (Privateer) to the new platform. Of course, we didn’t have “porting” then. I re-wrote it from scratch as the tape drive formats were incompatible.

    A friend pointed out several years ago that I had a form of Object Orientation in my next game. Johnny Reb was written in Sinclair Basic. Each game piece had a string in an array associated with it, which was interpreted as a line of code (with eval()). A few user-defined functions to (for example) find the nearest enemy piece or strategic river crossing meant that each computer gamepiece had it’s own strategy “method” which would return it’s next move. sold something like 20,000 copies. On balance the £375 that I got for it wasn’t a brilliant deal, but it bought my first motorcycle.

    1. Never saw a Sinclair in my life in Italy, but Johnny reb was surely one of the best strategic I used (in C64 flavour) because it contains the bones of a complete game, so accept my humble compliments while standing on knees. And was surely the inspiration to make some code in the C16, first computer, to obtain something similar when I was 11/12. Used last time in C64 emulator 2 years ago to show it to my son.

      1. Good point! The C64 was, as well, I vaguely remember. Hams wrapped the mantle of a coaxial cable around the keyboard cable, I vaguely remember. Or routet the wires through an intact mantle, not sure. That helped. There’s an interesting article about RF shielding of the C64.

        Without the metalized cardboard, it was very high. Unfortunately, most users removed it due to laziness, not realizing how much they harmed RF spectrum and other users with a radio hobby. They just thought that the cardboard or shielding in general was some nasty, unnecessary extra to comply with regulations. In fact, most still do. Some may even don’t know what radio interference is. They think that metal shields are for cooling or better ground connection whatsoever. *sigh*

        1. And in the Amiga 1200, if you cut out some of the metal RF shield, you could fit a much cheaper 3.5 inch hard drive in there, instead of the expensive 2.5 “laptop” drive it was designed for.

          Then, of course, you would run into the limitations of the weak A1200 power supply… so you’d go looking for an old one from an A500. Or find a junked PC desktop and adapt the power supply from that. And so on, until your Amiga had been unscrewed so many times that all the plastic threads were stripped, and the screws just fell out of the case. Good times.

          1. I owned a 1200 with an external hd ide (a hand cutted flat connector to a very standard pc homing for hd and cd), and board extension, and colour printer (stylus 500) and SCSI scanner (artscan) and also zip drive… I apologize but I don’t understand what you say about “cheaper” 3.5 inch drive cause as far as I know the problem (or the magic) about Amiga drives was that it can read (and write) more section than standard pc so they were specially engineered to reach more sectors on disk surface… I come in retard but surely it’s a new for me!

          2. @Moxmose: You may be thinking of the Amiga’s floppy drive, which could indeed address a higher capacity. For example a double-density PC-DOS floppy could only take 720kB whereas the Amiga’s double-density floppy was good for 880kB.

            But I was referring to the optional IDE *hard drive* in the A1200, not the standard floppy disk drive. The A1200 had a 44-pin IDE port for a 2.5 inch “laptop” hard drive, but with an adaptor cable, and some cuts to the RF shield, a determined user could fit a 3.5inch “desktop” hard drive in there.

  3. > “It soon spawned a healthy ecosystem of magazines and third party companies supplying every conceivable upgrade or piece of software”

    That was the key. Not unlike the Arduino or Raspberry Pi of today, the key to Spectrum’s success (where I live) was the endless stream of books, magazines and games. Other much better machines, like my own Sony Hit-Bit (, languished in comparison because literature and hobby projects were much harder to come by.

    1. But that wasn’t unique. The earliest home computer magazines were general. But soon there was a magazine from early on about the 6502, the Micro 6502 Journal. And one for the 6800. But once enough of one model sold, there were dedicated magazines. By 1983, a bunch for the Radio Shack Color Computer. In 1982, there had to be some for the Apple II, and I know in 1982, 80 Microcomputing was thick.

      And yes, they not only had articles about the computer, but a place for all the third party companies to sell their wares to the users of the computers. That’s how 80 Microcomputing got so big, the ads paid for the contents.

      Byte kept publishing, but slowly became an “IBM PC” magazine. Dr Dobbs kept going, but most of the other maibstream computers faded.

      1. That’s the US. Those magazines were (a) hard to find and (b) very expensive here in my Dutch neck of the woods. English magazines were half the price and you could soon get them everywhere; even at my small town newsagent.

  4. And 38 years later they released the modern ZX spectrum! …The ZX Spectrum Next –
    I owned a dev board, and currently own a Spectrum Next!

    In year 41, the Rev 2 Spectrum Next will be released to the wild, meaning over 10,000 brand new 8 bit computers sold……in the 2020’s!! who’d have thought the old rubber beermat would have this longetivity :-)
    Who’d have thought an 80’s home computer would be subject to silicon shortages caused by a global pandemic in 40 years time

    1. For me the modernest Spectrum is still the 3B… 128KB with 3.5″ floppy.

      Kind of a shame it had to be Amstrad to do that, if the Spectrum had gone on to that under Sinclair, THEN the QLness happened, we might have got something more like an Amiga.

        1. I’m sure they were somebodies dream computer of 1978, problem was they launched 7 years late and continued unashamedly for 10 years too long. Journos and other writers liked them a bit because they were “very focussed” on text bashing…. which is code for there was not a lot else you could do with them…. I mean you coullllld, but it was a decade behind state of the art, and by state of the art, I mean the lowest priced lowest end computer from anyone else.

  5. “if you managed to persuade your parents how educational it was going to be”

    which is exactly what happened at my home. I had just left school, the economy was in recession with mass unemployment. But my parents had the money and were persuaded that a computer would be A Good Thing and not just an expensive toy. To be honest, it was both. I played a lot of games but it also gave me the opportunity to write code and eventually this led to a fruitful career in IT.

    In hindsight, it was probably the best investment my parents ever made.

    1. Yes, exactly. I /mostly/ played games, but I did also write BASIC, culminating in my last year at school with a very simple word processor that I used to produce my Sixth Year projects. And it did end with a degree and subsequently a job in the computer industry.

  6. I’ve still got 2 of these. Addicted to typing in machine code. Never knowing if the program would work or not. Brilliant machine. One is upgraded to bigger memory and a larger keyboard.

    1. Indeed. Thanks for the link.

      On the other hand, I can partly relate to that mother.
      The first program written was an insult to her, for example.
      Sure, due to the limits of such machines, this was the most cool thing that came to mind of a teen using Basic.

      10 INPUT “Enter Your Name”, A$
      20 PRINT “See you in hell”, A$, “!!!”

      If the machine had been an TI-99 /4A, Amiga, Atari ST, Mac, a C128D or a Tandy 1000, with a printer or a handy scanner – or a home computer with a light pen, their “first contact” perhaps would have been better. But the Sinclair was to simple.

      Instead of writing silly joke programs, the boy might have drawn a cute pic of mom or the hamster, not sure. Or recorded a sound sample (Tandy 1000 could do that)..

      Alas, the time wasn’t ready yet. And so, the mother had to watch his beloved boy being turned into a semi-authistic person. By that annoying little box. Very frustrating.

      I think that’s something we as men/boys don’t realize so much.
      If we’re using our micros, we forget about the world surrounding us.

      And it’s (was) our beloved ones that suffer(ed) from this, unless they share(d) the same fascination/hobby.

      That’s why that mom wrote the article perhaps – to show empathy to other moms/parents that “lost” their kids to the computer, too.
      – A phenomena from the past.

      Nowadays, they’re equally glued to their smartphones the same way the boys did in then 80s to their micros. Oh, the irony.

      1. Cute pics were really hard back then. Nobody had invented drawing programmes yet. If you wanted a picture you needed a line of BASIC to plot every individual pixel and line. I had a bit of a sideline doing Spectrum loading screens (when I was a student and no longer had the time for developing complete games). I _think_ I wrote myself a very simple graphics package, but it is just as likely that I drew it all out on graph paper and typed in PLOT and LINE commands reading coordinates from the paper.
        Part of what made Ultimate (Play the Game) stand out at first was that they had dedicated graphics designers, so their stuff looked way better than what the typical 15 year old coder could cime up with.

        1. “Cute pics were really hard back then. Nobody had invented drawing programmes yet.”

          Of course, programs like Photoshop did not exist yet to the public. There were huge and extraordinary expensive graphics workstations no one could affort for home use
          However, basic doodle programs existed before.
          They were similar to MS Paint.
          The Fairchild Channel F from 1976 had one on its very first cartridge, for example.
          (Videocart-1 from 1976)

          Also, I was doing text art (SHARPSCII) on my Sharp MZ computer at age 7, I remember. ;)

          What I meant to say: That mother was too sophisticated likely. A more advanced machine than the Speccy, with basic multimedia capabilities, would have had left a better overall impression.

          Light pens were extremely cheap to produce.
          They consisted merely of a photodiode and a button.
          The Thomson TO7 series had it built in, for example, and started in 1982, as well.

          The Spectrum surely was a little micro for what it was.
          It was cheap (produce/affort), small and consisted of a venerable Z80 that coukd technically run CP/M.
          But it wasn’t very feature rich by default. To make it useful, expansion had to be installed at some point.

          I mean, even the C64 got GEOS and mice at some point.
          The Apple II from the 70s too got a GUI soon.
          But they weren’t as affordable as a Spectrum.

          All in all, looking back, the Spectrum was the Arduino (or Raspberry Pi) of its time.
          It was easy to expand/interface, could be used as an embedded machine inside a project etc.
          That’s something the both the ZX8x and the Spectrum have in common.

          You could literally take that brick and tie it to a balloon (with batrery), as an payload/on-board computer for an amateur radio project.
          Or use it as an electronic brain for a little robot.

  7. “Sinclair’s ZX81 could give a taste of what was possible, but their technical limitations would soon become obvious to the experimenter”

    Yes there were limitations but at the time (HS student w/ odd jobs) it was perfect! This was the time of punch cards and teletypes. The opening of “what was possible” propelled me into the engineering field! Expectations are too high today, I didn’t care so much about the destination it was more about the journey.

    1. “Yes there were limitations but at the time (HS student w/ odd jobs) it was perfect! ”
      Understandable, from a point of a poor student.

      But there also were real computers with mechanical keyboard already, even though more expensive.
      Apple 2, Commodore PET, Sharp MZ-80A.
      All from the late 70s, released up to four years before the ZX81.

      Anyway, I don’t mean to judge.
      My father also had a cheap ZX81 for a brief moment.
      Like you, it fascinated him so much that he got a higher end machine soon.
      What the ZX81 and siblings were good at, too:
      They could act as digital controllers for electronics.
      In certain magazines, there were articles about interfacing these Sinclairs to transistors, relays, etc.
      In order to water plants, control a light switch, make an alarm system. Things like that.
      A higher end computer was way tpo precious for such tasks. PET and the Sharps had internal monitors that couldn’t be switched off without modification.

      But like an NES, the ZX81/Spectrum could be left running for hours/days without worrying.
      And if they broke, it wasn’t something to cry tears after.

      If memory serves, the Zx81/80s was made of defective parts, after all.
      The RAM chips used were high density types with one defective bank that was being disabled.
      That’s how the price was so low. Sinclair used defective RAM with twice the capacity, but disabled the broken part.
      That was much cheaper than buying flawless RAM of the correct capacity.

      “Expectations are too high today”
      Just like they were too high 30 years ago in ~1992, when “real” computers were considered to be having basic 640×480 VGA, a mouse and DOS/Windows 3. ;)

      But yeah, I get your point. A home computer that boots straight into BASIC allows much more direct control and allows knowing it inside out. Peek. Poke!
      By contrast, today’s PC are so complex that not even their own engineers have a complete understanding how they work internally.

      1. At one point, companies were selling RAM that was half bad. The process originally meant defects. So Motorola, at least, took these where half was bad, gave them a new part number and sold them. But as time went on, the manufacturing process improved. But there was still demand for the “special” RAM so they kept selling it, even though the ram had twice the capacity. So if you had a computer with 32K, it might actually have 64K. That happened at one point with the Radio Shack Color Computer.

  8. I’m currently playing with an Amstrad CPC 6128 which is what the Spectrum eventually became after the brand was sold to Amstrad. I gave up on the 3″ floppy disks a millennium ago and finally gave up on the 3.5″ disks (after it was upgraded to 3.5″) as they’re just to expensive now.

    So now I have an expansion board in the CPC that emulates the floppy with a SD card and I can drop files onto the (Amstrad) SD card via Wi-Fi from my Windows 10 desktop computer. The CPC has a VGA coverter and uses a normal CGA screen.

    I got my first CPC 6128 around ’84 from memory but by then I had at some stage a VIC 20 (Commodore) and a TRS-80 Model 1 with 48KB and 4 FDDs. i use to get OM errors (Out of Memory) in the TRS-80 so I liked the idea of a 128KB machine but didn’t often actually use it.

    I remember how much trouble I had getting a copy of Amstrads book (Soft968) to Australia from the UK. It was a guide to all the assembly ROM routines. I had Learnt Z80 ASM on the TRS-80. Laughably I was still hand coding in HEX as I sill didn’t use an assembler. There was probably an assembler on the CP/M disks that came with it.

    I’m up to getting another PSU as this one is squeeling, it’s a SMPSU. There’s a squeel in the audio to – probably dry caps and I have to lubricate the keys as they stick a bit.

    1. The CPC6128 (and predecessor CPC6464) were quite different machines with only the CPU in common and appeared 1 (2) years before Sinclair was sold. Their hardware was far superior to the ZX Spectrum. Once Amstrad took over they copied a few ideas from the CPC line (e.g. use of 3″ floppy drives / or built-in cassette).

  9. Thanks for the article Jenny! My working-class parents offered to buy me a BBC micro for Christmas 1982, but I declined; partly because I didn’t think they ought to be able to afford it, but also because I preferred the Sinclair environment and culture over the (for want of a better word) elitist BBC Micro one.

    In my opinion, the ZX Spectrum’s single-keyword entry and syntax checking made it a much nicer computer to program on than the BBC, even though the graphics, sound and physical construction paled in comparison. The fact that one could type a single letter and PRINT would appear, or just Shift+Symbol Shift, then a letter and a function would be inserted as a single token, meant that typing in code was relatively error-free. In addition, whenever Enter was pressed, the line of code was syntax checked and a [S] marker would identify the place where the syntax broke down.

    To this day, there is no code editor that comes close, though predictive and syntax-aware editors get some of the way.

    This is why I think, the ZX Spectrum was a better computer for learning to program on, than even the BBC micro with its structured BASIC. Speed isn’t critical for learning how to program, nor is an abundance of RAM, nor the sophistication of the language. What matters is being able to present the smallest hurdle for the things kids (and all of us) get wrong all the time.

    The ZX Spectrum did that better than any computer I know of. And it did it colour. And I can write a simple Banner program for it in far fewer lines than in Python ;-)

    10 PAPER 0: INK 6: CLS : GO SUB 1000
    20 LET oc=0: FOR f=24 TO 28: READ c: INK c: PAPER oc: LET oc=c: FOR y=0 TO 31-f: PRINT AT 21-y,f+y;”[Graphic a]”;: NEXT y: NEXT f
    25 PAPER 0
    30 PRINT AT v+3,h; FLASH 1; OVER 1; INK 8; PAPER 8;”[Graphic 3 x4]”;
    32 LET k$=INKEY$: IF k$=”” THEN GO TO 32
    33 PRINT AT v+3,h; OVER 1; INK 8; PAPER 8;”[Graphic 3 x4]”;
    34 INK INT (RND*7)+1
    35 IF CODE k$=13 THEN LET v=(v+4 AND v<16): LET h=0: FOR f=1 TO 20: NEXT f: GO TO 30
    40 PRINT AT 21,31;k$;: FOR y=7 TO 1 STEP -2: FOR x=248 TO 254 STEP 2: PRINT AT v,h;CHR$( 128+POINT (x,y)*2+POINT (x+1,y)+POINT (x,y-1)*8+POINT (x+1, y-1)*4);: LET h=h+1: NEXT x: LET h=h-4: LET v=v+1: NEXT y
    50 LET v=v-(4 AND h<28): LET h=(h+4 AND h<28)
    100 GO TO 30
    999 INK 0: PAPER 7: STOP
    10000 FOR f=0 TO 7: READ a: POKE USR "a"+f,a: NEXT f
    1010 LET h=0: LET v=0
    1999 RETURN
    9000 DATA 1, 3, 7, 15, 31, 63 127, 255
    9010 DATA 2,6,4,5,0

    1. Heh, is that a game of spot the obvious error, or really an error?

      The BBC as the org though, I don’t think it was meant to be elitist, even though it was obviously the elite-est micro due to being the original platform for Elite… their problem was, they didn’t want to be seen as fobbing off trash on an unsuspecting and trusting public, so had to do a bit of “extra mile” to make the machine a little better than just good enough. Resulting, as it seemed, in an “everyman” computer that was two to four times the price of Commodore’s and Sinclairs et al efforts. In comparison though, it was more like the home/business small micros like Apple II and due to costs of imported tech at the time, half the price of those, so a relative bargain in that comparison.

      1. I know exactly what he meant. Posh kids had BBC micros, and working class kids had Spectrums. It sounds a bit odd to say that now, but that was how the world felt then.
        If you wanted to be able to share tips (and pirated games) and brag about your high score in “Chuckie Egg” with your peers you got the same computer.

      2. Unfortunately, it was a game of: Can I type it out before my lunch break is over? ;-)

        I did pretty well, but the ZX computers couldn’t handle line numbers above 9999. Also, the elitist reference wasn’t well phrased. I think it’s really a combination of the fact that teachers, being professionals, were more likely to be able to afford a BBC micro than the kids they taught in an average school. In addition, teachers want to teach from a basis of authority, and an official computer from the BBC carried that: so it’s more of a case of lifestyle expectations and officialdom (but perhaps that is elitism).

        There was obviously a certain degree of snobbishness about the BBC micro. It was normal in the period for every home computer owner to disparage everyone who had a different model and make of computer. That was part of the fun. We’d trash BBC micro owners, because they only had 32kB to start and in their hi-res modes they had so little RAM left they couldn’t fully exploit its capabilities. Also the Basic editor didn’t seem as nice to a Sinclair user.

        Everyone would trash VIC-20 owners for having such a tiny screen and little standard RAM. Acorn and Spectrum owners would trash Commodore owners for their crude version of BASIC, where you had wonderful features, but they were all accessed via PEEK and POKE.

        A BBC micro owner would naturally trash the quality of the Spectrum. Teachers definitely dismissed us as Spectrum owners during computer studies ‘O’ levels.

        A good case in point at our school was that when it came to doing our ‘O’ level project, the school initially insisted that all the programs had to be done on BBC micros. But this meant that we, who had lots of expertise in our Sinclair computers would end up fighting over the few BBC micros in the computer lab (about 9 to 12 of them) over lunch periods; whereas any kid with a teacher as a parent either had a BBC micro or could get their parent to take one home for the weekend. So, they were at a major advantage and it wasn’t at all in the ‘O’ level rules (and how could it be, because some schools didn’t use BBC micros?).

        So, we won that battle and our year and later years were able to send in their projects using any computer they had (in our case, Spectrums, ZX81s, a Dragon 32, Oric 1, VIC-20s, C64s and BBC Micros. I think one of my friends also had a Commodore PET 4032 or 4016). Of course, none of us had one of those expensive Apple ][s or IBM PCs in 1984 (yet I’m a Mac person now, which means I’ve truly graduated to the elite ;-) ).

        For me, these kinds of battles are irrelevant, because all these computers are wonderful and charming in their own way. I’ve got several ZX81s in various states of modding; I’ve had fun writing VIC-20 machine code programs. I have a working Apple ][europlus and Apple //c. I made it to the BBC micro 30th anniversary celebration at ARM in Cambridge; and I have a couple of BBC micros I need to complete fixing. I have an Oric-1 and C64. It’s a rich and creative heritage all those machines provided us with!

        And finally, that banner program is fun, you can go to JS Speccy and type it in :-) Use Alt+Gr for Symbol shift.

        1. In 1974, I took touch typing in school. Most machines were mechanical, but there were a few electrics thatweren’t supposed to be hogged by anyone.

          In November, the woodwork teacher asked me to help him lift a partsbin onto a bench. He slides it along my finger, where I get quite a cut. Off to the hospital for stiitches.

          But I used that as an excuse to commandeer an electric typewriter for months.

  10. Remember saving my pocket & Christmas money then taking the bus to WH Smith in Cambridge to buy my first 16K Spectrum. Only place for miles that had any stock. Old Black & White TV that took 10 minutes to “warm up”… Start of my lifetime computer journey.. Still have 4 off them!

  11. The Speccy sparked my career as an embedded engineer!

    My dad bought a secondhand Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K for me after I blindly typed in a BASIC program that locked up his Sharp PC-1500 Pocket Computer (containing crucial university notes). It was 1983 and I was 9 years old.

    A few years later I browsed through the April 1987 edition of ZX Computing and found an article on page 57 to upgrade a 16K/48K Spectrum to 128K using a simple BASIC program.

    The web was spun so fine and strong that I truly believed as a 13 year old that I could turn my puny ZX Spectrum 16K into the powerful 128K version. Problem was, the BASIC program was hard-coded to only work on a 48K (even though the article states that it will also work on a 16K). It poked machine code to address 32768 upwards and then executed the machine code. This was a clever way to obfuscate the true purpose of the program.

    I could not get the program to work and I spent almost a year learning enough about machine code and assembly to decode the machine code, fix the absolute addresses so that it would execute at a lower address and turn it into machine code again.

    When I finally succeeded, this was the screen that greeted me:

    I looked a the cover of the magazine and noted that it was indeed the APRIL1987 edition. Alternative Program Register 1 indeed. I learned numerous lessons that day, but what stuck was a love of all things “bare metal“.

    1. P.S. Some more context: I’m from South Africa and English is my 2nd language. It’s an anecdotal example that the ZX Spectrum was a force for good even in the far corners of the world. I’m also convinced that an unintentional positive side effect was neural feedback to improve my ADHD :) If you did not learn attention to detail, typing in that listing in the computer mag would not work!

  12. The ZX Spectrum REALLY was the business. It definitely felt like a rainbow in a world of beige. My mum and dad couldn’t afford one, so I got a 2nd hand ZX81, and I had all the ram packs (16K!!) and a stick on keyboard, and Magazines where you spent hours typing it all in hoping the power wouldn’t go and you lose it all and start again.
    But back to the Spectrum. My friend had one and a joystick and we spent hours and hours playing Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Attic Atac and if I remember rightly there was a version of Track and Field where we nearly destroyed the joystick 🕹 running. Although that might have been another friends’ C64. The C64 felt American and serious and grown up. The Spectrum was pure fun. Never to be repeated. I can understand the nostalgia!!

    1. Ah, yes! Listings! I remember typing in stuff from my dad’s older magazines!

      What makes me a bit sad, though:
      Even in the 80s, there were alternatives already.
      A few magazines had bar codes (black/white) printed below listings that could be scanned
      by a simple reader device thst had a light emitting diode/photodiode.
      My father had such a devices in his possession.
      It’s too bad this technology didn’t catch on.
      It was platform independent.

  13. I just got back my Zx Spectrum which an engineer friend borrowed to work on a Z80 project. 32 Years later. At the time I had just bought my first IBM clone AT computer with an amber monitor, 640K RAM, and a 20 meg HDD.
    I wrote a 3-line editor in basic on my ZX Spectrum , which could both store and read files from tape and using a Centronix interface which provided a parallel port, I connected and printed documents on a dot matrix printer, albeit on sprocket hole paper.
    What few peopke realised about Spectrum basic is that you could assign a number to a variable (say PARTX) an use a GOTO or GOSUB PARTX statement. That is a powerful feature which allowed you to effectively think of these subroutines almost as functions and you only needed to change a value in the first few lines of your code where you declared them, in order to refactor code and modularise your programs.
    While we were being oppressed in the old South Africa, the power I felt when using my Speccy not only made it bearable, but it led to me studying Computer science and a career in ICT.
    Now I have to figure out how to get the Speccy to run, as the original power supply is missing…

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