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25th Anniversary of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the never-even-seen-one dept.


Alioth writes "Twenty five years ago today, Sinclair Research launched Britain's most popular home computer of the 1980s — the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Costing about one third of the price of its rivals such as the Commodore 64 while having a faster CPU and a better BASIC interpreter, the machine sold well in many guises throughout the 1980s and had more than a staggering 9,000 software titles. The machine may well have done well in the US too, had Timex — the company building the machine under license in the US — not already been in financial trouble and about to fold. The machine was also extremely successful in Russia, although not for Sinclair Research — because the Russians made dozens of different clones of the machine, and did so right into the mid 1990s. The machine still has a healthy retro scene, including the development of new commercial software by Cronosoft, and new hardware such as the DivIDE, which allows a standard PC hard disc or compact flash card to be connected to the machine."

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And, as we all know... (4, Insightful)

BluhDeBluh (805090) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839013)

The Speccy was better than the C64. Obviously.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

florin (2243) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839041)

It sure made a better doorstop.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839097)

I loved my speccy. Its the first computer I ever used (at age 5) and probably part of the reaosn I'm a software professional now. Manic Miner is still fun to play now and its amazing how you never forget how to get through the first few levels. Like riding a bike...

Re:And, as we all know... (3, Interesting)

Admiral Ag (829695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839231)

Me too. Seeing this thread made me feel really happy and pretty old at the same time.

A 48K Spectrum was my second computer after a ZX81. I don't think I ever got so much pleasure out of any other possession I had as a child (and I didn't even have Sam Fox Strip Poker [props to those who actually remember her, and double to those who remember the game]).

The Spectrum just went to show how limited hardware resources would force game developers to write creative, original and addictive games. Knight Lore, RedHawk, Manic Miner, Heavy on the Magick, Spellbound, Knight Tyme, Skooldaze, Sweevo's World and above all Lords of Midnight and Doomdark's Revenge were among the best games I have played on any platform. Shame on game developers for the formulaic crap they spew these days.

Does anyone else remember CRASH magazine? Whatever happened to those guys? It was almost worth being a spectrum owner just for that mag. Best and funniest game reviews ever, and Oliver Frey's covers were fantastic. For years I wanted to meet a girl like the one on this cover he did. es/Crash/Issue18/CRCover18.jpg []

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

Ashe Tyrael (697937) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839433)

I was always more into Sinclair User than Crash, to be quite honest.

I used to have one the the +2 series (in my case, the +2A, all the fun of the disk-based version, without the, umm, disk drive.) One thing I did notice was that probably one of the first things to go was the video connections. The modulator board used to come lose from the rest of the system, which meant amusing hours finding the right combination of books to weight down the plug on tehvideo cable to keep everything in proper contact. Of course, at that point, I was still too young to be let near a soldering iron, so no chance of fixing it, alas.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839645)

There are clubs for girls like that...

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

NexusTw1n (580394) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839745)

Crash was the best magazine for the Spectrum gamer by miles. In fact, the talent writing and drawing that has never been surpassed by any gaming magazine since.

Over the years I had a Spectrum, c64, amstrad, amiga and ST, and nothing beat the sheer brilliance of the spectrum.

Hobbit, ant attack, deathchase, manic miner, jetpac, psst!, tir na nog, wheelie, and the ultimate spectrum game, Lords of Midnight.

Happy times, I shall be booting up an emulator tonight to celebrate.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839141)

only for the appliance operators. Those of us that liked hacking loved it as it was a cheap computer for interfacing. I remember getting my first one imported to the USA by a penpal I sent cast to. I was up and running external projects with it far faster than the C64. Only the TRS80 CoCo was easier to interface and hack.

My absolute favorite though was the Kim-I. ran off of battery power easily and made the best robotics platform.

Re:And, as we all know... (3, Informative)

iainl (136759) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839071)

Obviously. God, I wish I hadn't sqandered all my mod points on tedious factual argument elsewhere.

Specifically, Jetpac, Knight Lore, 3D Deathchase and Quazatron along with better versions of Elite, Head Over Heels, Spindizzy and R-Type mean C64 LOSES.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

malf-uk (456583) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839127)

Indeed and also most Speccy users had to only wait approximately 3 minutes to find the game would crash upon finishing loading, instead of anything up to 10 minutes on a C64.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

florin (2243) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839153)

.. Jet Set Willy, Skool Daze, Tornado Low Level, Underwurlde, Sabre Wulf..

Re:And, as we all know... (3, Informative)

Zaiff Urgulbunger (591514) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839181)

...although it should be noted that Elite was better on the BBC Model-B; especially if you had analogue joysticks.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

Ford Prefect (8777) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839225)

Specifically, Jetpac, Knight Lore, 3D Deathchase and Quazatron along with better versions of Elite, Head Over Heels, Spindizzy and R-Type mean C64 LOSES.

What you should do is set your love for the little rubber-keyed monster to music...

Oh wait, it's happened already!

Hey Hey 16K [] - which might explain some of the peculiar British affection for these machines...

Re:And, as we all know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839093)

Speccy V C64 fanboim was SO much better than Windows V Apple fanboism.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839203)

Speccy V C64 fanboim was SO much better than Windows V Apple fanboism.
Also remember that many of the people in those crowds "graduated" to being Amiga fanboys. (I also remember that there was a third group of fanboys, the BBC Micro crowd. They were regarded as being strange anoraks with far more money than sense, and a tendency to indulge in train-spotting when using a virtual train simulator...)

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

rjshields (719665) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839227)

Don't forget the Amstrad CPC fanboys ;)

Re:And, as we all know... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839441)

There were no CPC fanboys. Even a CPC owner would admit the systems were trash.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

maharg (182366) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839465)

.. and the Dragon 32/64 crowd. Very similar architecture to the CoCo/TRS-80, some common peripherals (analogue sticks etc) and an identical version of BASIC, although the tape cassettes sadly weren't cross-compatible.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

MROD (101561) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839621)

Ah, but to begin with it was more a fight between the SIC^H^H^HVIC-20 fanboys and the Spectrum fanboys as the C-64 came along a little later. :-)

Ich Bin German (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839253)

Bitte please, my English is nicht gut.

In what way was das Spectrum BASIC better then das Commodore 64 BASIC? Ich was using das Commodore 64 BASIC, und I had to use a Spectrum in das school, but ich hat nicht been using it for FUNF MINUTEN before I thought WO IST DAS INKEY$ BUTTON und DAS IST SCHEIßE und ich throw it in das bin.

Today I still use das Commodore 64 BASIC for mein projekts, ist nicht Scheiße, ist gut!


Your problem is caused by the "keyword" system (4, Informative)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839795)

Huh? The C64's MS BASIC implementation was crude and archaic; it originated on the PET. That lacked support for the most simple facilities; you had to use POKEs to get them. The Spectrum BASIC was not brilliant, but it was better than that.

I think that your problem with Spectrum programming is due to Sinclair's "keyword" system. This first appeared on the ZX80 [] . A single touch of a ZX80 key gave you a whole BASIC keyword (e.g. PRINT, GOTO). This was fast and simple. Symbols were accessed with SHIFT, and you could still type single letters when it was required.

A similar system was used on the ZX81 [] , but because it was more powerful, there were more keywords to squeeze onto the keyboard. Thus, some keywords required the user to type SHIFT+NEWLINE *then* hit the key.

Sinclair retained the "keyword" system for the ZX Spectrum. Unfortunately, this was *much* more complicated, and there were lots of keywords to fit in. This made the system complicated. Even at its release, the Spectrum was criticised for this. From "Your Computer" magazine:-

Sinclair invented the "one-touch key" system for the ZX-80, which ensured that the computer knew that the first key pressed after a line number, or after the word Then, would produce a keyword, such as Let, Print, Poke or Goto. This meant that programming was fast and positive. The ZX-81 demanded a sequence of key presses - such as Shift, then Function, then a key - to get the results you wanted. Sinclair is obviously wedded to the one-touch entry system, but it is really not suited to the Spectrum. The sequence of key presses required for Ink and Atn, for example, requires the same number of key presses as would be needed to type the word in directly. [..] The one-touch entry system, retained from the ZX-81, is not suitable for the Spectrum and leads to complicated multi-shift operations when keying some functions. It should have been discarded.
I also found the Spectrum's keyword system too complicated. I remember having an argument in the school playground where a Spectrum owner said that he could type "RANDOMIZE" in less key presses than my machine.

Of course, at that time, I didn't realise that many BASIC keywords on my Atari 800XL could be abbreviated; for example "PRINT" could be "?", "LIST" could be "L.", and so on. Sinclair should have done that on the Spectrum instead.

Incidentally, when the enhanced 128K Spectrum was released, the new BASIC abandoned the keyword system.

Re:And, as we all know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839301)

Unless you had ears of course, in which case the computer that had sound was better (and no I am not including the Amstrad variants).

Or wanted to type in which case the one with the keyboard was better.

Or wanted to save your data reliably in which case the one with the disk drive was better (the microdrive didn't count, or for that matter the C2N).

Or were not colour-blind in which case the one without attribute clash was better.

And that missing 16K of RAM could sometimes have been useful.

I'll grant you the CPU was OK, but that only helped with games that were CPU dependent and not sprite/char based, i.e. Elite (for 3d) or Chess (for AI).

Oh and the BASIC was better, but that was just commodore being cheapskates. The BBC B probably had the best BASIC.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839375)

Or wanted to save your data reliably in which case the one with the disk drive was better (the microdrive didn't count, or for that matter the C2N).

Actually, disk drives (both 5.25" and then-newfangled 3.5") were available for the Spectrum. Just not from Sinclair.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

forgotten_my_nick (802929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839369)

It wasn't that it was better. TBH the C64 had a lot going for it.

Where Sinclair won out was he was able to mass produce computers with cheap/sub-standard parts. Which is why they were so cheap.

Nice machine though and what I liked about it was how the developers squeezed everything in. Nowdays we just throw more memory/diskspace at the issue.


Re:And, as we all know... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839403)

I gather it was the European C64. OF course, as the OP noted, we had it here in the U.S. too, but it never really caught on. It was sold as a "beginners" computer for kids and marketed more as a toy than as a serious machine. I remember that Sears and other retail outlets sold them, but there wasn't much demand (or software available). By contrast, the C64 was a mammoth, with more software than any one person could ever own. It was more a matter of poor marketing by Timex (and poor software support) than anything else.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

Novotny (718987) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839437)

I always had American machines for some reason - a vic-20, an atari 600xl and then a c-64. Most of my mates had speccys. Not to knock Sinclair, but I was always very grateful to have had the machines I did. Only regret was insisting on the Atari instead of a BBC model B, and thus having to spend an entire summer round at a mate's who had the 'proper' elite. It sucked on the 64. Ultimate play the game did some great speccy stuff.

Re:And, as we all know... (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839603)

I know you're kidding, but the submitter obviously wasn't:

Costing about one third of the price of its rivals such as the Commodore 64 while having a faster CPU and a better BASIC interpreter
... and 1/4 the RAM, lower screen resolution (with a color attribute design flaw), single-channel sound, no composite video output, and a terrible "chiclet" keyboard. The C64's only real flaw was the horribly slow 1541 diskette drive, which was adequately resolved with both Fastload carts and the 1571.

And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839023)

Commodore 64 was by far a better machine.

Re:And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839051)

Only better if the game you were playing required 12 shades of chunky brown graphics.

Still, I'll admit the SID chip was better than AY-3-8912 used by the Spectrum 128 and Atari ST.

Re:And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839105)

Man, you need to have a look at some good Commodore games. 12 shades of brown? This ain't Quake. Just look at stuff like Mayhem in Monsterland or Creatures.

Re:And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839121)

Well, the spectrum's BASIC was far better than the C64's truly awful Microsoft BASIC 2.0. On the plus side, if the C64 BASIC hadn't been so awful I wouldn't have got an early start on non-BASIC languages like FORTH and assembly - I think I'm a better programmer for it.

But the c64's raw hardware capabilities were undoubtedly superior in pretty much every area. Some people might subjectively prefer the speccy's clear but near-monochrome graphics as another poster apparently might have - but the superiority of games like head over heels on the C64 (a port from the Speccy!) show that the C64 could outdo the spectrum there too - the c64 had higher monochrome resolution and more colours.

Plus, all C64s actually had usable keyboards rather than hand-destroying rubber monstrosities. :-)

Re:And we all know that . . . (1)

florin (2243) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839183)

The Atari 800 was the most advanced machine of the 8-bit generation.

Re:And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839359)

The Atari 800 was the most advanced machine of the 8-bit generation.

You misspelt 'Commodore C128'.

Re:And we all know that . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839443)

You misspelled "SAM Coupe".

Okay, SAM failed miserably in the market, but it had let's say 75% of Amiga/ST levels of native graphics and sound, but an 8-bit CPU, even if most people who had one just used it in Spectrum-48k emulation mode. :-(

Check out wikipedia screenshots [] of native SAM Coupe games.

The Birthplace of the Megahertz wars (4, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839881)

The 1 Mhz 6502 was significantly faster and had a more advanced instruction set than the 3.5Mhz Z-80.

The Z-80 was essentially an 8080 with twice as many registers but no significant changes to the instruction set. the Z-80's. (well DMA but it was hard to use). I/O was a separate operation than memory access. And most instructions took 4 clock cycles but some took more and a few took 3.

The 6502 had a much leaner but more powerful instruction set with some very sophisticated computed branch offset instructions. It had fewer registered but mapped all of the first 256 bytes to behave like registers. (At that time It did not pay a significant speed penalty for accessing main memory over register memory.) All I/O was memory mapped. This allowed a simpler bus structure.

it ran at 1Mhz but most instructions were 1 cycle so it was faster than the Z-80.

These design features allowed for the two greatest innovations in modern computing history. Dynamic memory and Graphical displays

1) Dynamic memory.
Prior to the pet and apple, nearly all computers used Static memory which was not dense and used lots of power. Many bankrupt companies had tries to use Dynamic memory with the 8080. They all failed because no one successfully mastered the problem of robustly refreshing the memory without severely compromising the machine. The problem was that irregulat 3,4,5,6 cycle instructions set length. one could not predict easily when and how much of the time the memory bus would be in use by the CPU. As a result the refresh controller had to just opportunstically try to refresh the memory. This resulted in complex logic that sometimes failed to get through the whole row-address space in the required time. As a result, the only viable approach was to insert wait states into the process to give the refresh a guarenteed access. This slowed the CPU and also had complex logic. It even messed up timing loops like those used in I/O for baud rates and such.

The 6502 had a regular heart beat. The second half of the cycle was gaurenteed not to access memory. So the refersh sould be poot on the back side of the cycle. no special logic was needed. No wait states.

Of course eventually refresh controllers got better and that did allow the intels to work with dynamic memory. But the 6502 got their first.

2) Graphics.
Most graphics on the 8080/z-80 used I/O ports. Think CGI graphics. There were of course exceptions. But the reason for the lack of memory mapping was How was the video card supposed to access the main memory. It would have had to use wait states. lots of them. and would have halved the CPU rate.

Memory mapped graphics were of course natural for 6502. Wozniak went one better. He used that backside clock cycle to access the memory for the video output. Now wait you say, how can he use the backside clock cycle to video access if it's already in use for the refresh? That's the genius part. He used the video access as the refresh. The video was just incrementing over the entire row-addrress space in a very regular cycle. Refresh was assured and no circuits was needed.

the Dynamic ram and overall lower chip counts, simpler bus logic, video, refresh all meant smaller power supplies too. the expansion cards required less logic to decode the complex bus signals so the expansion cards on the apple were literally 1/4 the size of the ones on the s-100 bus that was standard in the 8080 world.


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839945)


Spectrum will never die. (1)

Rastignac (1014569) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839057)

Spectrum's ghost is still alive and kicking.

Why not emulate? fun for all bored students! (3, Informative)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839061)

All of us math students with Ti-89/92 partial with the ZX can emulate it right on the calculator [] . No more waiting to be at home to play our favorite ZX programs. (mind you the screen may be small, but it's still better than nothing!)

Why is this in 'Games'? (3, Insightful)

aurelian (551052) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839063)

I learnt to program on my Spectrum - and a lot more besides. It wasn't just a gaming console, and it's significance for the industry was much wider also.

argh.. apostrophe gremlin strikes (1)

aurelian (551052) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839075)

its not it's..

Re:argh.. apostrophe gremlin strikes (1)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839297)

It's not its.

Re:argh.. apostrophe gremlin strikes (1)

at_slashdot (674436) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839335)

it's its.

Re:argh.. apostrophe gremlin strikes (1)

Asgerix (1035824) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839501)

In summary: It's not "it's", it's "its".

Re:Why is this in 'Games'? (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839085)

indeed. If it wasn't for the spectrum, or more notably, the ZX81, I wouldnt have an interest in programming at all, and right now, I'd be working for someone else doing a really tedious job.
Hurrah for sinclair!

Re:Why is this in 'Games'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839089)

Wider than your mom's ass? Impossible!!

Re:Why is this in 'Games'? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839145)

Interestingly though (and a bit OT) a variation on the Z80 processor was used for Nintendo Gameboy.

Re:Why is this in 'Games'? (2, Interesting)

dkf (304284) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839339)

I learned to write machine code on the Speccy. This was because the manual came with a listing of all the X80 instruction set, and a printout of a disassembler in a magazine showed me how to put it together. Once you've written machine code (not assembler, honest direct machine code) for a while, you learn to really appreciate what a pointer is and high-level programming languages like C hold no great terrors. (Curiously, it took me a long time before I thought of writing an assembler...)

The Speccy was also an excellent platform for hardware hacking. That excellent manual gave you a complete description of the expansion slot, and that meant you could fabricate your own add-ons using an off-the-shelf connector, some veroboard, a simple TTL logic chip and plenty of solder. What better way to learn practical robotics?

Re:Why is this in 'Games'? (1)

Shemmie (909181) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839761)

That was the beauty of it. I admit I came in late, with the Spectrum +2, sporting 128k, built-in tape drive, and plastic keys. Oh the luxury! I remember my older brother sitting down with me - I must have been 6 or 7, and helping me input the Spectrum BASIC hangman game that was in the back of the manual. The fun I had with that machine, and the hours I spent coding it, and playing the games. I'd alternate between the Speccy and my Lego - wholesome kid fun! As a bonus, my Mom and Dad owned a newsagents that sold the cassette games - try before you buy! Actually, on a down-er note, I remember my Dads heart problem kicked off playing a golf game (can't remember the name) - it got him so wound up he got chest pains :( But for sheer educational value - it was probably my most important computer, starting me off coding - the Amiga was a beautiful machine to upgrade to, but the Spectrum was a classic for its time. Manic Miner, Bear Bovver, Target: Renegade, Barbarian - oh for the good old days. As I sit here now, coding and writing up my dissertation in Computer Science... I almost certainly wouldn't of been sat here doing this if it wasn't for Sinclair.

ZX Spectrum emulation for QEMU (1)

stuie (100520) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839677)

On that basis, I seem to have written ZX Spectrum emulation for QEMU [] . Oops! :-)

BTW, there's a list of emulators in the comp.sys.sinclair FAQ [] .

Z80s all around us (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839077)

A friend who did ASM on these chips said that the Z80 processors and variations there of is still (or at least until recently) the most common microprocessor in the world.

Apparently they are common in dishwashers, washing machines and other programmable appliances. (Can your dishwasher run Linux?) []

Re:Z80s all around us (2, Informative)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839521)

The "classic" Z80 (as used in the Spectrum) is still made and can be bought from most electronics supplies firms (only in CMOS versions these days, but the CMOS version is a drop-in replacement for the old NMOS version). Zilog also make several advanced variants designed for microcontrollers, including one with a built in Ethernet MAC (the eZ80). They are cheap and easy to use, and are popular because of this.

Re:Z80s all around us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839649)

Am I getting this straight, my washing machine may have built in Ethernet capabilities?

I bet there's a market for sock tracking software.

My childhood in a nutshell (3, Interesting)

fruey (563914) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839079)

I started with a Sinclair ZX81, 1Kb of RAM expanded to 16Kb with a "RAM pack" that had an edge connector to the main PCB inside. It got hot (as did the power supply) and was often unstable. You could suddenly lose everything you were working on because the system just froze.

Along came the ZX Spectrum, 48Kb (and later 128Kb) with 8 colours (the ZX81 was black & white), sprites (the ZX81 was limited to the built in character set which included blocks & things until someone worked out how to hack that) and rubber keys (the ZX81 had touch sensitive membrane things).

It was a revolution, at my school we swapped tapes which didn't always load, had multiface cartridges to enter POKEs (changing a value at a particular memory address) for cheats and in order to create backups... and a big magazine scene.

I even ran an emulator on my PC to play one game in particular: the game that everyone tried to beat, and still fiendishly hard (and created by a mysterious genius who "disappeared", Matthew Smith [] ) : Manic Miner [] (link to a Windows version).

Those were the days [] . The UK 8 bit scene was dominated by this machine.

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (0)

iznogud (162711) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839149)

Actually, ZX Spectrum didn't had sprites. Graphics was clunky, the screen was divided into 8x8 pixels "character" placeholders that was able to display only 2 colors in the same time (forecolor and backcolor), and if you remember Manic Miner, for example, you can recall that square "ghosts" around the character. It was amazing what people did with that shortcomings - does anyone remembers Uridium, for example?

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

fruey (563914) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839239)

Yes now you mention it, you're right. But I still thought of them as sprites, I used to think of "sprite" clashing. What's the difference, in the end? Character placeholders are "virtual" 8x8 sprites, if you mess around in your code anyway, no?

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839327)

If you've used real sprites, like the C64 had, you'd realise there is a substantial difference between hardware and software implementations.

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839397)

Graphics was clunky

Sure that had their shortcommings, but the best bit was that you could use them really easily once you had defined that 8 by 8 grid. Just use them like any other character (print). The square ghosts were only a problem if you tried to put any detail in the background. Whether or not an 8 by 8 binary grid can count as a sprite I am not willing to argue about but it was super easy to use it as one.

One of the reasons there were so many great games available for it was that it was not that hard to write your own.

The other great thing about the speccy was that when you were starting to program and could not remember everey single basic command, they was a built in cheat sheet (the keyboard) and it even had its answer to command completion.

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

uohcicds (472888) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839539)

No it didn't and that was perhaps the point. Unlike the C64 where you had SID to do some of the work, on the humble speccy a programmer had to get creative to squeeze every last bit of performance out of it. Anyone remember the surprise when games like Popeye were released, that seemed to get around the age-old attribute clash problems of old. Remember, Knight Lore was released on the Spectrum first. I remember running into town to buy it one Christmas just after it was released and being blown away by it when I played it. If that wasn't enough it had a decent programming environment, a good ecosystem of tools and supporting information for the time. What wasn't to like? The Speccy was my second computer (my first was a ZX80, though I used an uncle's BBC Model B a lot) and is a major part of my late childhood and early teenage years. I feel kind of old now, because most of the undergrads here where I work are younger than the ZX Spectrum.

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839155)

Ditto really, my crowning achievement in Spectrum land was writing an Atari ST GEM style interface that kinda-worked - no disk drives obviously, so it went straight to Load "" and used the joystick to move the cursor. I wouldn't even know where to start on a WinTel box...

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839185)

Sometimes loading a game (around 3-5 min) would fail and I had to retry and retry, each time adjusting the volume of the tape player just a little bit.
Or I'd be playing a game for 2 hours (with no way to save)... to see it crash in the end...

I remember that interrupting the loading of the games at specifc times would allow me to look into the memory by using PEEKs.
I'd look for loops or decrement instructions, then would try to modify them with POKEs, in order to gain infinite lives or ammos. Modifying jump instructions was a bitch cause the operand had to be "calculated" by hand.

My favorite games were Fat Worm Blows a Sparky (solid 3D), Mercenary Escape from Targ, Academy (with cusomizable GUI).

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839189)

Alas, the spectrum didn't have sprites. Maybe you're thinking of the UDGs (user defined graphics) where you could set your own 8x8 pixel characters? That was only for those using BASIC, once you went assembler you'd have to do everything you're own way. I used to create a nice font by shifting the bottom 4 rows of the ROM's character set and ORing back to the original. Always looked nice that one, plus saved having to have a charset bitmap in RAM.

Those were the days. The UK 8 bit scene was dominated by this machine.

I still have mine, complete with a large plastic shopping bag full of cassettes!

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839247)

Along came the ZX Spectrum, 48Kb (and later 128Kb)
For a short time, the base model of Speccy was a 16kB model, which was still large enough to be interesting. I know, because I had one (you always remember your first computer). Later upgraded to a 48k model, which I've still got somewhere in a box, and which still worked when I last tested it (OK, maybe 4-5 years ago now.) Take that, bit rot!

Re:My childhood in a nutshell (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839511)

Ah yes, I had one of those too. The upgrade from 16 to 48 kB involved inserting the 8 memory chips, plus 4 others to control the extra memory. One of those control chips had to be hacked (one pin removed, and the adjacent pin bent to fit in the 'wrong' socket). Thankfully a friendly neighborhood nerd helped me out with that one (I was something like 14 yo at the time, had no idea the upgrade would be this complicated).

Matthew Smith reappeared in 2005 (1)

TAZ6416 (584004) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839415)

Interview with him - []

I got my parents to buy me a ZX Spectrum for Christmas 1983 to "help with my homework" but all I did was play games. But I work in IT now because of the wee bugger.


Happy Birthday Speccy!!! (1)

kaos.geo (587126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839087)

I was 11 y.o. in 1984, got a Timex Sinclair 2068 for Christmas (they were being dumped into Argentina, where I live). I got that manual (basically the same as the ZX Spectrums) and in a couple of weeks was writing Basic programs. It was really my way into programming. I think the manual was as important as the machine. I DID stumble when I got into 4th dimension Matrices, though. The book said something like "If you can draw a 4th dimension Matrix, then you dont need to be reading this book" :P

Re:Happy Birthday Speccy!!! (1)

BlueTrin (683373) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839261)

Imagine a 3D matrix where each element is not a number but a vector (a 1D matrix)

Re:Happy Birthday Speccy!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839517)

I was not so lucky as you because on 1985 I got a TK-85 (I was 10 at the time) that the Brazilians were building. I do not know about the 2068, but the TK-85 was "discrete", read: no ULA. only 38 or 39 ICs if I can remember correctly. I think Pirelli (if I remember correctly) was doing some electronic equipment (I mean in Argentina of course), like the clones CZzerweny 1000/1500/2000 or samething like that.

Inaccurate summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839095)

rivals such as the Commodore 64 while having a faster CPU and a better BASIC interpreter

You're joking, right?

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

Mprx (82435) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839217)

No, that's accurate. The difference in speed isn't as dramatic as the difference in clock speeds would suggest, because of the C64's 6502's zero page addressing and the Spectrum's contended ram, but the Spectrum's Z80 is definitely a faster CPU. The Basic interpreter is also obviously better, at least in the 128K versions. However, the C64 has hardware sprites and scrolling, which means it doesn't need such a fast CPU for most games, and of course the sound chip is far superior.

Re:Inaccurate summary (1)

qray (805206) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839407)

C64 was a 6510 processor not a 6502. I owned the Timex Sinclair 1000, was my first real computer. Bought the 16k expansion. I even bought a flight simulator for the 1000. But it's membrane keyboard and problems with static causing the machine to die I ended up moving to the C64 fairly quickly.

I liked the z80 processor. I enjoyed writting z80 assembly better than the 6502 of the Apple I had worked with in the past. I always thought about hooking up the 1000 to the 64 to see if I could just use the CPU from the 64 to load and write programs

Oddly enough I just came across the 16k expansion pack, if anyone is in need of one. Haven't come across the 1000 itself, but I think it's around. If I do, I'll have to fire it up

Re:Inaccurate summary (1, Informative)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839485)

No, I'm not joking. ZX BASIC was miles ahead of Commodore BASIC.

The CPU itself is also unarguably faster. While the 6502 and 6510 generally can perform more instructions per cycle (the fastest 6502/6510 instructions complete in 3 clock cycles rather than the Z80's 4 clock cycles), this is more than made up for by the Z80 having more registers and 16-bit register pairing - meaning programs need far fewer instructions to write. Add to that the Spectrum being clocked 3.5 times faster than the C64, it makes a noticable difference.

An example: to do 16 bit addition, the 6502 would need 20 cycles to do what the Z80 can do in a mere 11 cycles.

Thank you Sir Clive (4, Interesting)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839143)

Here's me and a million other Brits aged 25-35 saying 'thank you' for the Spectrum. If it wasn't for this little rubber wonder I doubt I'd be sat at this desk today, working in IT as a career. I'll be botting up the emulator" [] tonight to celebrate!

It's also worth noting Amstrad's healthy attitude to the retro scene (they bought Sinclair Research in 1986, and many of those million Brits will think of Spectra every time they watch The Apprentice...). Anyway, the Spectrum ROM was cracked & emulated before permission was sought. When someone decided to approach Amstrad to seek permission, one Cliff Wilson [] stepped forward with a simple reply: "Yes, do what you like with the Spectrum ROM, just don't charge money for it and don't remove our copyright message." Such an open attitude towards the scene in 1999 means that it's still thriving today.

Re:Thank you Sir Clive (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839405)

I'll be botting up the emulator tonight to celebrate!

That's a really confusing statement. Do you mean you're running your botnet inside an emulator? Surely that's inefficient, and doesn't show any of your m4d h4xx0r ski11z?

Oh, great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839205)

Costing about one third of the price of its rivals such as the Commodore 64 while having a faster CPU and a better BASIC interpreter

Horray for reviving pointless 25 year old arguments! The oldtimers wake up and are trembling with rage! False teeth may be knocked out, please watch where you step carefully.

Nice little Speccy tribute in flash (3, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839221)

Hey Hey 16k []

First and Most Significant For Me (2, Informative)

GaryPatterson (852699) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839229)

It was the first computer in our household, and in many ways by far the most significant.

I remember learning BASIC and assembly (Z80), playing Elite all through one night, playing games and learning lots of stuff.

And that little silver-paper thermal printer!

I've still got the 1981 ZX-Spectrum 48K in a box somewhere, with tapes of many games and that printer (and some spare 'paper'). The keyboard membrane has pretty much had it, making the computer almost useless, but one day I'll get a replacement, just for the nostalgia.

I had a TS-1000 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839251)

It was earlier than the Spectrum. I learned to program on that thing, firdt BASIC then assembly. I still have some tapes with programs on it, wish I still had a machine to run them on. Are there any TS-1000 emulators out there that will read a tape plugged into your modern PS's sound card?

Market vs "good products" (1)

VincenzoRomano (881055) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839275)

ZX Spectrum was meant to be an aid to the young programmer, not the gamer. But the "market" was made by gamers.
Sr Clive also gifted us with the Sinclair QL [] , another product the market largely ignored despite its potentials.
The Acorn Archimedes [] was meant to be a powerful innovative PC. But the "market" was aimed to IBM PCs and to Amigas
That was the history: the market can esily ignore techinical advances against fancy worse products!


rapiddescent (572442) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839367)

I got my spec
trum 48k to c
onnect to the
internet and
work with sla

REM disconnec


tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839623)

That's nothing, I got mine to boot off a remote ser
R Tape Loading Error, 0:1

I was a zx pirate (2, Interesting)

jerryatrix (984426) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839411)

I'll admit I ordered games from Britain, copied them and sold them to my mates and people I hardly knew. I was only 13. Attic Attack was a big seller. Happily my life of crime finished there, and my life of programming took off.

As a 25th anniversary tribute (3, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839447)

I've also made a 25th anniversary hardware project for the Sinclair Spectrum - an add-on board to be used for helping diagnose problems with sick Sinclair Spectrums: []

It uses LEDs to display the test progress and status, so even if you can't get a picture out of the Spectrum, you can at least find out if the CPU and memory is working, and a good idea whether the ULA is servicable.

Alioth fucking sucks, fuck you! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839455)

Yaaaa! - afe.

I'm a woman with blunt, square-tipped fingers... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839469)

And I blame it all on my using a ZX81's membrane keyboard when puberty hit. Instead of developing sleek, feminine fingertips I have hands that resemble welding gloves.

Thanks a lot, you bastards. :P

And, here's to the next 25 years (1)

Zerbey (15536) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839481)

My proudest Spectrum moment remains getting two solid colours in the border using a clever switching technique with no attribute clash. Took me weeks to figure out how to do it. Things were sooo much simpler back then. :)

The spectrum was only beaten by one machine in the 1980s, the BBC micro. Without that, it has no equal.

Some starting points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839483)

Some starting points for those of you who are new to the Spectrum's current enthusiastic and nostalgic retroscene (the buzzwords come free) available from []

It's a fun scene, well worth exploring.

Web browsing on 48k ZX Spectrum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18839489)

Is it possible to web browse on a ZX spectrum in any limited fashion? I'm not talking about an emulator, but actually connecting an old 48k spectrum to the net and browsing, even in text mode. any tcp/ip stacks or gateways?

Commonly repeated incorrect factiod alert! (2, Informative)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839507)

"Commodore 64 while having a faster CPU"

It did not have a faster CPU. It had a CPU running at a higher external bus clock. You'd think that after all these years that people would realize that MHz != performance, but I guess not.

The 6502 ran on a bus multiplier, meaning it ran faster internally than it did externally. This is true of practically any modern CPU, but was not so common back in the day. In general terms the 1MHz 6502 and 4MHz Z80 ran at the same internal speeds. That said, the 6502 was much more efficient and RISC-like. In practically any benchmark that scales for speed, the 6502 comes out ahead.

Arguably the fastest, in theory, 8-bit machine was the Atari series. They ran a 2 MHz 6502 (declocked to sync with video), which was twice as fast as any of the other 6502 machines and effectively the same as an 8MHz Z80. But again, these machines always finished at the bottom of the heap in BASIC benchmarks, which again demonstrates the point at the top.


Today's It's Birthday! (1)

simpl3x (238301) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839619)

You're going to make our little challenged friend feel bad... Let it have it's day in the sun.

Between all the Apple, Commodore, TRS 80, and Sinclair fans there is no winning.

Re:Commonly repeated incorrect factiod alert! (2, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839719)

The 6502 had fewer registers and fewer instructions - it took more code to do the same thing. A Z80 could do a 16 bit add in 11 cycles - it took the 6502 around 20 cycles to do the same thing. The fastest 6502 instructions took 3 clock cycles to complete, the fastest Z80 instructions took four.

Machines like the BBC Micro got better performance than the Spectrum not from the 6502, but because they had more hardware support which meant the CPU didn't have to do everything. But a BBC Model B, while undoubtedly a mighty machine and much more powerful than a Spectrum cost three times as much as a 48K Spectrum. Again, the Commodore 64, at the Spectrum's launch, was three times more expensive and had less RAM available to the user for BASIC programs.

Great machine (1)

Centurix (249778) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839559)

I purchased a zx80 kit early on, a little bit of assembly (and a phone call to Sinclair to help me un-fuck-up what I did) and it was running with 1Kb and a zilog cpu. Learn't Z80, fiddled around with it a lot and it helped me understand the basic architecture because it such a low-level computer. There were a few quirks, plus it tended to get really hot. I don't know what happened to it in the end, I think it was passed onto a family member. Then I upgraded to a ZX Spectrum 48K. Colour, swimming in RAM (after 1Kb, 48Kb was a dream), improved BASIC support, more peripherals (scored a speech synthesis add-on from somewhere and a thermal printer, oh I still remember the smell!). Upgraded to a +2 when Amstrad released the integrated tape recorder onto a 128Kb version. Thank you for the education Sir Clive Sinclair!

But honestly, the C5? WTF were you thinking man, a 3 wheeled lay-back scooter made from a washing machine motor?

Yea, it was 24 something years ago, and i remember (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839687)

some acquaintance of my father brought a zx spectrum, and i played with it just 50 cm away to where i am sitting now. i remember it like tomorrow. i was what, 7 or so then.

Homage post (2, Interesting)

fsmunoz (267297) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839691)

Not really much to add, but I feel compelled to post in homage of the computer that changed the life of so many people, including my own.

My very first computer was a ZX Spectrum 48k. I still remember the beautiful banner: "(c) 1982 Sinclair Research, Ltd. Chuckie Egg II was my very first game, and BASIC the very first programming language I tried. The ZX Spectrum and the Timex had an almost monopoly here in Portugal in the '80's, to the extent that I never really saw a C64. The Timex plant in Portugal continued making them after the main branch closed its doors, and exported the machine to several countries (Poland was one of the main markets IIRC).

To Sir Clive: Hip! Hip! Hurrah!

Nostalgia time (2, Interesting)

scrm (185355) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839711)

I started with a ZX81 and its 1kb of RAM, little flush keys and built-in BASIC. Moved up (or should I say 'was moved' - I was five years old) - to a ZX Spectrum when that came out. Ahh, the white-knuckle action of Arcadia [] ! The blistering platform mayhem of Horace and the Spiders [] (by Psion no less)! I spent many a late night (sometimes not retiring until 8pm) hammering away at the rubber keys, navigating some hideous pixellated sprite.

Damn I can still hear the staticky 'eeeeeee-ktsch' of the tape drive now.

Modern computing seems so flat, routine and devoid of character by comparison. What happened?

But... (1)

harry666t (1062422) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839739)

Tell me, can it run Linux?

Re:But... (1)

stuie (100520) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839859)

Unfortunately, it can't, but the MSX can run UZIX [] !

Memories (2, Interesting)

CrazyTalk (662055) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839799)

I remember that machine well - a friend of mine actually had one. Without the memory expansion pack, it was pretty much useless. Still, if you you wanted a computer (And who didn't?) you couldn't get any cheaper than that. I remember towards the end, they were literally giving them away for free at our local service station with purchase of an oil change.

Hail Sir Clive (1)

networkz (27842) | more than 7 years ago | (#18839927)

Just to say I had a 48k, 128k, +2, +3 before moving onto the Amiga 500.

The Spectrum made me who I am today. All hail the bald git, Clive!
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