Saturday, 9 May 2015

Remembering… ZX Spectrum

ZX Spectrum

David Hayward goes all mushy over his favourite computer ever

Aweek or so ago, on St George’s day, there was another celebration taking place among the retro computing fanatics. That was of course, the thirty third birthday of the ever wonderful ZX Spectrum.

Indeed, 33 years old. That amazing little rubber, ‘dead flesh’, keyboard machine with its 48K of memory, seven colours with two brightness levels including black, and an image resolution of just 256 x 192. It was quite extraordinary.

What’s more extraordinary, though, is the fact that despite its limited hardware, the games that were produced were by far some of the most playable and exceptionally imaginative titles we’ve ever come across. And all within a mere 48K. This Word document I’m writing now, at this very point, is 14K and I’m only 130 words in.

Okay, so not all the games and memories of the Spectrum are wonderful, and it did have its bad points, we’ll agree on that. But for many of us the Spectrum was our first home computer, and it was cherished and loved by us for many years, until it finally gave up the ghost and was retired to a box in the loft.

Its History

Sinclair Research launched its first computer late in 1979. That was the ZX80, a follow-up to the MK14 kit form computer. The idea of a cheap computer, one that everyone could afford, had been forming in the substantial cranium of Sir Clive for quite some time by then, and the ZX80 was just the first step in the process.

As components dropped in price and the manufacturing processes improved, the ZX80 was soon followed by the cheaper ZX81, which cost roughly £80, and then the familiar ZX Spectrum on 23rd April 1982.

The 16K version was first, costing around £125, then within a few weeks the 48K version became available, for about £175. The prices soon dropped, and by 1983 you could easily pick up a 48K Speccy for less than £100.

The result was a computer that sold by the millions and brought fame and fortune, plus a title, to Sir Clive. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Spectrum was a giant in the newly emerging digital age. It conquered the market, became one of the most successful computers of all time, was presented to world leaders as a gift by Margaret Thatcher and pretty much kick-started the British computer games industry.

However, as we know, Sir Clive eventually sold the Spectrum to Sir Alan after the 128K and went on to make things like the C5. Regardless of what he and the company did next, the Spectrum is what 80s computing will be remembered for.

The Good

Where do we start? The games, the programming, the cost… the list goes on.

The Bad

Colour clash, poor sound, overheating, and how on earth did we ever manage to type anything on that keyboard?


The ZX Spectrum was and still is a wonderful little computer. Not only did it give many of us our first taste of computing technology, but it fired the imagination of future gamers, and it provided many hours of pure joy.

Did You Know…

• The Spectrum was originally going to be called The Rainbow or ZX81 Colour or LC3 (Low Cost Colour Computer) or ZX82.

• It is one of the most cloned computers ever. In fact, according to internet myth, there’s still a Spectrum clone in production in Russia.

• The Z80 assembler was written by external consultants and was never documented very well. Sinclair Research therefore heavily relied on an £8 book, The Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly, by Dr Ian Logan and Dr Frank O’Hara, for their work on the Spectrum 128K.

• You could network several Spectrums, at a blistering rate of 100Kbps using the ZX Interface 1.

• There were over 25,000 games written for the Spectrum, and there are still many more being written today.