A Pico-Based ZX Spectrum Emulator

The ZX Spectrum was a popular computer of the 8-bit era. Now, it’s possible to emulate this machine on a microcontroller so cheap that it’s literally been given away on the front cover of magazines. Yes, we’re talking about the Pico ZX Spectrum project.

The project consists of all the necessary code to emulate a ZX Spectrum upon the hardware of the RP2040 microcontroller that makes up the Raspberry Pi Pico. The community has then taken this code and run with it, using it as the basis for all manner of different ZX Spectrum builds. If so desired, you can go barebones and use the Pico to run a ZX Spectrum off a breadboard with HDMI video output. Alternatively, you can build something like the PicoZX from [Bobricius]. The handheld computer features a PCB-based housing, along with an LCD and an integrated keyboard. Other configurations support features like USB keyboards, VGA outputs, and working sound output.

It’s great to see a classic 8-bit computer reimagined in all kinds of new tribute form factors. The Spectrum was always beloved for its neat all-in-one design, and there are several modern remixes that riff on that theme. The fact that they can all be powered by a cheap single-board microcontroller is all the more astounding. Video after the break.

12 thoughts on “A Pico-Based ZX Spectrum Emulator

  1. The project from the picture looks like it achieved something I tought was absolutely impossible:

    Building a computer with a worse keyboard than the original Spectrum.


    A ZX Spectrum was my first computer. I loved my speccy. I still have it. I typed in endless programms on that gummy atrocity of a keyboard it came with and I still feel the pain today.

    1. If you want a DIY keyboard, especially for small and low profile, the switches used here are the most common. Unfortunately, they are also crap. The small top is great for poking out of a (labelled) backplate, but lousy for actual typing.
      If manufacturers have a switch with the same PCB area, but a larger area button on top, it’s not easy to find. There are several projects besides this one, that would benefit from such a switch.

    1. I think the same, but in a more sarcastic way. Graphics like ZX Spectrum and CGA deserve a monochrome screen. Both would looks most eyefriendly on a 1950s-1970s b/w TV set over RF cable. I really mean it.

      PS: I think the handheld was well done, all in all. I’m just not a ZX Spectrum fan due to the way graphics work,I guess. I’d rather use a ZX81 instead. The game collection of the ZX is very depressing, very British I think. Not my taste. On the bright side, the ZX Spectrum has a few nice amateur radio programs for RTTY and SSTV. So that would be an interesting aspect to tinker with.

      1. ‘The game collection of the ZX is very depressing, very British I think’
        I really don’t understand…one of the universally acclaimed strengths of the ZX Spectrum was the huge amount of game software it had from all manner of developers
        I mean people are still writing games for the Spectrum now, 40 years after its release

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