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Sinclair ZX81 Made Out of Lego

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the blast-from-the-past dept.

Toys 97

An anonymous reader writes "I used Lego's Digital Designer software to build a model of a Sinclair ZX81 — the computer that kicked me off on my interest in such matters way back in 1981. Until very recently, the software allowed you to upload your model, buy it and get a boxed set with all the pieces to build it (as well as instructions). The ZX81 model is as close to the shape of the original as I could make it, considering that Lego is quite a lo-resolution modelling tool. I even made it so that you can lift off the lid and see a representation of the PCB in side. I have also posted the model to Lego's Cuusoo site — a place where you can post ideas, and if they gain enough support they will be considered for production."

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97 comments

Why would anyone care about this? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870645)

I don't understand how this would be important to anyone. I want the last 30 seconds of my life back.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870787)

You'd only waste them.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871155)

Truth. I just wasted even more time reading your comment and responding to it.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (4)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871251)

I want the last 30 seconds of my life back.

If couldn't have taken much longer than that to build the fucking thing in the first place. It's a black box for Christ's sake...

The fact that this was considered /. worthy by anyone has me torn, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38981003)

If couldn't have taken much longer than that to build the fucking thing in the first place. It's a black box for Christ's sake...

The fact that this was considered /. worthy by anyone has me torn, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Its comments like that - that galantly proves that you where never one of the "gang", the ZX81 is CULT, and old farts like me and many others like us, have warm fuzzy feelings inside when one of our glorious toys of the past - that made us understand how computers REALLY work - gets honored this way.

Go play with your Arduino and let us old farts have our fun ;)

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (5, Interesting)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 2 years ago | (#38872041)

I must be the only one in the world excited by this - Only because it taught me about the existance of the Lego Digital Designer - and it runs in wine!

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (5, Informative)

shastamonk (2453530) | more than 2 years ago | (#38873287)

No kidding. Just downloaded and played with it for a bit, this program is awesome! I think it serves as a great introductory step towards 3D modeling for children, learning how to navigate a simple 3D space in the context of positioning pieces, and most kids are already very familiar with lego pieces, not so much with vertices and polygons.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (1)

keeboo (724305) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875555)

Looks interesting, though I didn't run this Lego program yet (and I cannot conform Wine compatibility).
Perhaps more interesting for some, is that it is freeware [lego.com] .

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875103)

the designer itself is ok. but if you no longer can order the parts easily from it, it's kind of late news.

I read the article to see if someone had built a mechanical version of the cpu etc systems from zx81 - they had not, they had built a lookalike which is friggin boring.

Re:Why would anyone care about this? (2)

xQx (5744) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874413)

How the hell did this make the front page?

We gotta find out how to get more meaningless crap like this to make the front page, and work out how we can do that for PROFIT!

Then my evil plan will be complete!

Next? (3, Funny)

garf (12900) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870661)

RAM Pack?

Re:Next? (3, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871369)

RAM Pack?

Being made of Lego bricks, you could be confident of at least being able to stably attach the model rampack to the Lego ZX81, which is more than you could ever say about the real thing! (^_^)

Wow.... (5, Insightful)

ZigZagJoe (1724868) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870681)

...and this is slashdot worthy, why?

Re:Wow.... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870745)

Absolutely agree... when I first saw this I had assumed he was using mechanical logic or something to simulate the instruction set, but... a black box?!? Why in the world would anyone over the age of 6 care about this?

Re:Wow.... (1)

MoFoQ (584566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870821)

I second that also...now if it was emulating the inner workings as well (either via arduino or some other microcontroller or if it was truly 1337 and did working circuits with legos)...then it would be another story.

Re:Wow.... (2)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871343)

Exactly. The title is entirely misleading, it says, "Sinclair ZX81 Made Out of Lego." When it should say "Mediocre model representing ZX81 made out of lego."

This does nothing other than vaguely resemble a ZX81. If you are going to do a non-working model of a computer at least choose something interesting and challenging. Maybe a Cray-2 with the cooling waterfall in a 1-1 scale.

Re:Wow.... (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875111)

I made a cardboard computer once as a kid.

sure. it just looked sort of like a computer and didn't function. now, it wasn't the sort of thing you'd mention at school and certainly not something you'd post an article on slashdot about..

Re:Wow.... (4, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870915)

Absolutely agree... when I first saw this I had assumed he was using mechanical logic or something to simulate the instruction set, but... a black box?!?

It still has twice as much processing power as an actual ZX81, though.

Re:Wow.... (2)

kenh (9056) | more than 2 years ago | (#38873401)

I'm sure the keyboard is an improvement over the original Sinclair keyboard!

Re:Wow.... (1)

keeboo (724305) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875597)

That's what you get when you cheap enough to use the CPU as a video generator (thus getting 10% or less free for general programming, unless you suspend the video).
I appreciate Sinclair being concerned with costs... Still, good thing Sinclair did not consider a morse-code keyboard.

Re:Wow.... (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876525)

That's what you get when you cheap enough to use the CPU as a video generator (thus getting 10% or less free for general programming, unless you suspend the video).

You're right- though actually it was more like 25%. However, that "being concerned with costs" is what made the ZX81 (and the ZX80) far more affordable than its competitors while still remaining a (just) usable mainstream hobbyist machine that brought computing to people in the UK who hadn't previously been able to afford it.

As you imply, one *did* have the option of "suspending the video" by entering "FAST" (full-speed) mode instead of the default "SLOW" (continuous display). This wasn't quite as bad as it sounded though, because it only blanked the display when it was busy (including flickering while it processed keypresses). As soon as it was finished processing, the display automatically came back on. In fact, the older ZX80 *only* had the older FAST mode, and was still usable- but at least the ZX81 gave you the choice.

Obviously a dedicated display chip would have been nicer- as would a real keyboard, colour graphics, sound or a pony... but it would also have cost a lot more and put it out of many peoples' range.

Re:Wow.... (1)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879747)

Well, now we just have to up the ante and actually simulate the entire ZX81 using legos, then get the 1K chess program to run on it.

Re:Wow.... (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38873655)

Why in the world would anyone over the age of 6 care about this?

Nostalgia. I live primarily in the past. The Sinclair is a little old even for me, but I'd go for a Lego C64.

Re:Wow.... (2)

Threni (635302) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870843)

Is this a joke. I actually checked to see if this was functional, and that just the case was lego, but no. Someone's made a pretend computer out of lego, and it's on the Slashdot front page. Unbelievable. I hope all you Slashdot subscription payers are happy with this; if I had one, I'd cancel it!

Re:Wow.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871249)

About six month ago, a tech-geek site I hang out at was linked in a /. newspost. This went completely unremarked in the daily forum banter there. Nobody had noticed, because none of those guys check /. anymore.

It's ZX-81 month on Slashdot (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871349)

As evidenced by the previous article [slashdot.org] .

Not that I'm minding! The rest of you just step back and let us roll down memory lane. The month's almost over anyway.

Re:Wow.... (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871471)

It isn't even worthy of the typical LEGO fan-site. Saying that LEGO is "lo-resolution" is just an excuse to cover a lack of building skills.

Re:Wow.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871625)

Cos lots of low life fags around here love legos.

Lets try this (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#38872177)

Ok, if enough of us go to options and remove the offending editor we might be able to send a message.

Re:Wow.... (1)

Zaiff Urgulbunger (591514) | more than 2 years ago | (#38872249)

The article itself not so much, but I was interested to hear the that Lego Designer software let you upload a design and buy those specific bits... that's fantastic! And they no longer provide that?

All of this is news to me and I'd love to know more!!

Re:Wow.... (1)

jones_supa (887896) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875497)

...and this is slashdot worthy, why?

Remember that stories are picked largely by how they are voted in "recent stories" (or "Firehose", if you will). So there has been demand for this item to be published, thereby making it worthy.

Re:Wow.... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38877107)

Next week I plan to built a Commodore 64 mock-up from bat guano. I expect front page coverage.

keyboard (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870683)

the lego keyboard doesn't suck anymore than the original.

Lets be honest here, I got to use one when it was new, and it... wasn't that good.

Re:keyboard (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870817)

True. But even with a good keyboard it sort of sucked. Everything had to go through BASIC, if you wanted to do any sort of assembler you had to jump through hurdles to get past BASIC, and if you wanted to do any I/O you had to get BASIC to do it for you.

if you expanded it you had troubles with connections and needed to make sure everything was tight. Ie, you plugged stuff into the back as a daisy chain, bus-to-bus-to-bus.

Add just a little bit to it and replace the ROMs and it would have been a pretty good system. As-is though it was essentially a toy.

Re:keyboard (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879025)

But even with a good keyboard it sort of sucked. Everything had to go through BASIC, if you wanted to do any sort of assembler you had to jump through hurdles to get past BASIC, and if you wanted to do any I/O you had to get BASIC to do it for you.

Not true; or actually almost not true. I wrote a two player battle tanks game for it in assembly because BASIC was way too slow. The only BASIC lines in were REM, which held the actual code, and the line that called that code. Additionaly, you didn't even have to give it a RUN command, because I made it so as soon as it loaded from tape it ran automatically.

Assembling the machine language by hand was actually harder than writing the program, and a whole lot less fun.

Re:keyboard (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870853)

the lego keyboard doesn't suck anymore than the original.

Lets be honest here, I got to use one when it was new, and it... wasn't that good.

Suck any more? Are you kidding? It's an improvement. ;-)

Now (3, Insightful)

CSMoran (1577071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870701)

Next step -- make it compute.

Re:Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870781)

Yes, make a working simulation of a z80 processor using lego. Then we will get excited...

Re:Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38873913)

That's not the next step. That's the fucking FIRST STEP.

Anybody can make a coloured cuboid out of lego bricks. It's quite simple given that that's their original shape.

Dude should have got working ZX boards, and then fitted his lego chassis around them.

Obligatory (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870767)

but..does it run Linux?

Re:Obligatory (4, Funny)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870909)

but..does it run Linux?

Not even with the 16K RAM pack upgrade.

And no, I cannot imagine a Beowulf cluster of them either.

real computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870777)

i only clicked on this, thinking it would actually compute, or do something, via the mindstorms parts. i doubt i was the only one

I like lego (legos?) as much as the next guy... (1, Insightful)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870785)

But why do this? It's not interesting to look at or anything...

It'd be like me building a lego replica of my first computer, a Hewlett Packard 386 beige monstrosity. Who the hell would look at it and say anything other than "why did you build a big beige box out of lego?"

Re:I like lego (legos?) as much as the next guy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871057)

seriously.... whatever idiot submitted this article ought to have their account revoked..

Re:I like lego (legos?) as much as the next guy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871181)

But why do this? It's not interesting to look at or anything...

It'd be like me building a lego replica of my first computer, a Hewlett Packard 386 beige monstrosity. Who the hell would look at it and say anything other than "why did you build a big beige box out of lego?"

A beige monstrosity ; we used to dream about having a BM.

Mostly Harmless (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871347)

To be fair, the ZX81 was more important than some random beige box, as it was many people in the UK's first computer back in the early 80s, and has significance because of that. (But we already had that discussion four days ago [slashdot.org] - the thread is still live(!)- so probably not worth repeating it here!)

That said, I agree that there's really nothing to this. Someone constructed a passable scale model of a ZX81 out of Lego about as well as could be expected. (Given that the ZX81 is fairly small and flat to start off with, it was never going to work that well as a Lego model). But is this really of enough interest to post as a story? Maybe if there had been a whole lot of different computers? It appears that the author's aim is that this gets built as part of a custom(?) series of Lego kits based on home computers or something.

As I said, nothing offensive, but nothing of real interest either.

Re:Mostly Harmless (1)

Dark$ide (732508) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871475)

To be fair, the ZX81 was more important than some random beige box, as it was many people in the UK's first computer back in the early 80s, and has significance because of that. (But we already had that discussion four days ago [slashdot.org] - the thread is still live(!)- so probably not worth repeating it here!)

You're forgetting the Sinclair ZX80 (Z80 processor, 1K RAM expandable to 4K). If you made a lego model of that you'd need to include a model milk carton. That puppy would overheat if you didn't add extra cooling to the rubbish heatsink (in the form of a frozen milk carton).

Re:Mostly Harmless (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871635)

I know that the ZX80 (the first computer under £100) came first, and was very successful by the standards of the time- according to Wikipedia, 100,000 of them were sold. However, it was the ZX81 that took things into another league altogether- apparently 1.5 million were sold!

But! (1)

Snaller (147050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870793)

Can it run my programs I have on this cassette tape right here!?

welcome our evil overlords (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870835)

I knew when I read the headline it would be this, instead of what it ought to be. On /. it ought to be a working ZX81 out of lego, or better.

But that's not /. today. They've been dumbing it down, and even recently said straight-out they were going to dumb it down worse.

Yup, somebody made a frigging lego model of an old personal computer. That's /. today.

I'd ask for recommendations of good nerdsites these days, but I doubt any of them want to be mentioned on /..

What a PoS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38870871)

They had Sinclair demos in the stores, and it seems like the whole screen blinked every time you pressed a key. What was up with that? I felt sorry for anyone who had this as their first computer.

Re:What a PoS (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876623)

They had Sinclair demos in the stores, and it seems like the whole screen blinked every time you pressed a key. What was up with that?

The original ZX80 generated the display mostly in software and couldn't handle processing *and* output at the same time. Handling keypresses therefore resulted in brief blanking.

The ZX81 gave you the choice between this "FAST" mode and a continuous-display but slower mode (er, "SLOW").

Most likely the machine you were using was a ZX80.

I felt sorry for anyone who had this as their first computer.

You shouldn't- given the cost of computers in the UK when the ZX80 and ZX81 came out, for many people it was either a Sinclair or no computer at all, and computers were new, novel and exciting enough then that they would have overlooked the limitations.

Obviously if your first computer was (e.g.) a C64 it's harder to relate to that, but even the C64 was around 18 months after the ZX81, and something like six or more times the price when first released.

ZX80 next? (1)

ifknot (811127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38870995)

A somewhat saccharin homage. Never-the-less eliciting fond memories and affirming that computing, like nostalgia, just ain't what it used to be. I'm glad there's room on /. for such occasional nonsense... HGH

Even better (5, Funny)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871027)

I just snapped together 3 black legos to create a nearly exact replica of an I.C... at least as close to the original as I could make with legos.

If I can find a few more black legos, I think I can make a replica of the 40 pin DIP package of the Z-80 CPU that drives the original poster's ZX81 computer.

there it is... (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871041)

And there we go. Worst. Slashdot. Article. Ever. </comicbookguy>

Close it up. Go home. Drop your account. This verifies Kristopeit and negates the need for Netcraft confirmation.

The Decline of Slashdot (3, Insightful)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871521)

The singularity hub might make a good replacement for slashdot. They have all the great nerdy articles but nothing of psychics on the moon or lego calculators that can't actually calculate. They have a commenting system but no users to comment. We have the commenting users, they have great content. Sucks to say this as I have been here since 97

singularityhub.com

by by karma, something had to be said.

Re:The Decline of Slashdot (2)

wjcofkc (964165) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871713)

I mean bye bye - doh!

Re:The Decline of Slashdot (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38872007)

Mod parent up, since we know he's not really quitting /. any time soon. He'll be back... they always come back.

Re:The Decline of Slashdot (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 2 years ago | (#38872455)

Yeah, but, their articles follow a very narrow subject matter (the "Singularity") and it often has too much of a geeky, sci-fi tone. I read that and /. daily but I wouldn't go without one or the other.

Re:The Decline of Slashdot (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38873627)

The front page of that website is a fucking cluttered disaster of a mess. No wonder they have no users; they may have content, but nobody can fucking see it in that steaming jumble of shit.

Re:The Decline of Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875291)

Come now, the ZX81 was a full computer
https://www.google.com/search?q=zx81+games&hl=en&client=ubuntu&hs=W0B&channel=fs&gl=uk&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=wcEnT54sqK3RBdPylY0F&ved=0CEsQsAQ&biw=1091&bih=736

If it was a US centric computer like the C64 made of lego probably no one would be complaining.

NES case for propeller microcontroller (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871615)

And I build a NES around a propeller chip, so what? Please post these things to zx or Lego boards where they belong. Thank you. forums.parallax.com/showthread.php?94965-First-Hydra-Case!-(NES-Lego)

That's it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871891)

I'm done with slashdot. So long and thanks for all the tacos.

This is kinda neat (3, Interesting)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 2 years ago | (#38871925)

I used to own one of these. I soldered it together out of a kit when I was 11, with some help from my dad. I accidentally left the soldering iron against part of the case though, so there was a neatly melted hole there. :-)

When we added the 16k RAM pack, we discovered that the power supply was stretched to its limit providing the current for all that. So he designed a new case out of wood and aluminum and also reverse-engineered the keyboard hookup and got a keyboard with actual moving keys from a local electronics parts shop. Unfortunately, there is now something wrong with how the tape jack is grounded, and it can't record on tape anymore. :-(

I still have it though, 30 years later. The first computer I ever owned. I even have the sheets I made up collecting machine instructions by addressing mode (since they were listed by number in the manual) to make it easier to write machine language programs for it. I wrote my own binary multiplier since the ZX-80 chip doesn't have a multiply instruction.

This lego thing is vaguely interesting. It's neat to see the familiar shape again. :-)

Re:This is kinda neat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38874801)

There is no ZX-80 chip. The ZX80 was a computer, the predecessor of the ZX81, and occasionally confused with it. The Z80 is a processor, based roughly on the 8088. The ZX80 was released in 1980, the ZX81 in 1981, and until it was renamed by marketing men, the ZX Spectrum was the ZX82, and was released in 1982.

This Lego thing is not vaguely interesting. Someone got some black blocks and made a slight wedge shape, and Slashdot, for whatever reason, thought it was worth posting here. It wasn't. If you want nostalgia there are plenty of better places to find it than some overgrown child making a Lego model that only vaguely resembles the machine in the first place.

Stop press! Virgin builds a box out of Lego!

Re:This is kinda neat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875173)

The Z80 is a processor, based roughly on the 8088.

The Z80 is a processor, based roughly on the 8080.

Re:This is kinda neat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875353)

Dude, you're the Brian May of ZX81s :)

Re:This is kinda neat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876659)

I had to solder mine together, too.
That's why I'm spending well over a minute here!

Pay no attention to these critics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38871951)

... Slashdot used to be a place for geeks, science buffs and hobbyists. These people do not appreciate trying to emulate or re-create a low-powered device in Legos. You do it for the same reason people climb mountains; because it's there and chicks dig you for risking your life.

Now that we got that out of the way -- what's a Sinclair ZX81?

Re:Pay no attention to these critics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38874841)

You haven't bothered reading the article, have you? Of course not, this is Slashdot. But you haven't bothered reading the summary, have you? He didn't emulate a low-powered device in Lego; that would be fantastic. He built a box, something any three-year old can do. He didn't re-create a low-powered device in Lego; that would be fantastic. He built a box, something any three-year old can do. He didn't even mount the original logic board in it. He didn't put a Raspberry Pi in it. Either of those would make it at least interesting enough to put onto Slashdot. He built a box out of Lego. Something any three-year old can do.

I don't know if this is Slashdot's nadir, but it's fucking pathetic regardless.

Sweet. I made a ZX81 cushion cover at high school. (1)

tobych (116596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874273)

Wish I had it, or even a picture of it. That is all.

Gullible suckazzzz! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38874565)

Yes, thats what all you whiney posters are coming on here and complaining because they thought it was a FUNCTIONAL zx81 made in lego!!! Bwahahahahaaaa!!!! I would like to sell you a lego reproduction of a Baby Zuckerburg.. nurture it for a few years and it will invent a facebook and become very rich to look after you in your old age....

Bad title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38874669)

I find it more interesting that there is a place you can order such customized models with all the pieces and instructions. Time to upload the model of the Titanic 1:1.

Well, silly me (1)

Lisandro (799651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876521)

My interest sparked for 30 seconds while i though this was an actual working Lego computer. Oh well. This [acrisdesign.com] should generate enough /. stories for a week.

Minecraft (1)

Mal-2 (675116) | more than 2 years ago | (#38950359)

What? I've been digitally modeling LEGO for a couple years now... it's called Minecraft. Oddly enough, there is now an actual Minecraft LEGO set in the works [slashgear.com] . At least the mapping should be fairly straightforward, but I wonder if it comes with Endermen that tear your lawn apart when you're not watching.

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