Thursday, 10 March 2016

Remembering… Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2

Remembering… Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2

David Hayward has fond, but painful memories of his Speccy

After Sir Clive sold his company name to Sir Alan (although he wasn’t a Sir back then), it was a significant blow to the home computing community. What was to happen to the much loved Spectrum? Where next for the games? The future remained uncertain.

For a mere £5 million, which is peanuts by today’s standards, Alan Sugar’s Amstrad became the new owner of the Sinclair brand and its range of home computers. That was in April 1986, and it wasn’t long before we began to see what was to become of the Spectrum computer through the pages of Crash and other such notable magazines of the time.

The ZX Spectrum +2 was the first of the Amstrad Sinclair computers, launched in 1986 for between £150 and £200. It’s remarkable likeness to the Amstrad CPC 464 wasn’t really surprising. After all, the company had seen some success with that particular model and layout.

Of course, it was a different beast to any Spectrum that came before it. The spring-loaded keyboard, built-in dual joystick ports and the attached tape recorder – the Datacorder – were a startling new look from the old ‘dead flesh keyboard’ and previous ‘Toastie’ versions. But it wasn’t a bad new look.

Although there were some reservations at first, the Spectrum +2 actually proved to be a far more reliable and effective home computer than its older siblings. The improved manufacturing process from Taiwan, the first time a Spectrum had been made outside of the UK and better testing meant that this model was more stable and significantly more reliable.

It was slightly faster (3.5MHz), it included the wonderful Yamaha AY-3-8912 sound chip, and the familiar 128K menu had changed slightly too, with the removal of the Tape Testing option. Although there were some problems with the ROM addressing with older Spectrum games and the fact that the tape deck did occasionally die, the +2 proved itself to be one of the best home computers of the time.

Its History

After spending £5 million on the Sinclair brand, Amstrad needed to come up with something new, yet familiar enough to bring the already established Spectrum user base on board, while tempting new users to spend their cash on this model rather than the still magnificently popular Commodore.

The first batch of Spectrum +2’s were sold with a collection of interesting extras, such as the James Bond 007 Action Pack, with a light gun. This was quite a change in direction, as the Spectrum was now being regarded as a gaming machine, compared to Sir Clive’s original educational-only platform.

It was a clever move on the part of Amstrad, and it sold around a quarter of a million units in the first year – less than Amstrad expected, but still enough to turn a profit and continue the production of the Spectrum into the +2A, +2B and finally the +3 models. There was even a rumour of a +4.

However, despite the new lease of life the Spectrum was enjoying, the end of 8-bit home computing was rapidly approaching. The + models of the Spectrum were eventually dropped in favour of 16-bit machines.

The Good

A well designed machine, reliable and fairly cheap too.

The Bad

Problems with early ROMs meant some older Speccy games didn’t work. The occasional hissy fit from the Datacorder. Twiddling Azimuth screws.


The Spectrum +2 was a personal favourite of mine and one I still dig out from time to time.

Did You Know?

• The +2A and +2B model motherboards differed slightly due to production being moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan.
• There was a 32KB ROM, split into two 16KB ROMs for the 48KB and 128KB Spectum modes.
• Replacing the Sinclair Research copyright notice on the screen changed the memory addresses and caused problems with some games.
• When the tape drive finally died on my +2, I could get it working by removing the lid and gripping the tape against the heads and the front of the Spectrum while the games loaded. As a young teen, I developed remarkable forearm strength.