ZX Spectrum is 30

Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, the astoundingly successful sub-£100 personal computer, is 30 years old today. [BBC. Photo: Iñaki Quenerapú]


  1. My first computer (well, it was my dad’s).
    Playing Manic Miner on that is one of my earliest memories. I couldn’t even get past the first level :)

    And because we live in the future, you can now play a flash remake of MM online  http://www.darnkitty.com/manic/

  2. When first launched it actually cost £125  (16K) or £175 (48K).

    The first sub-£100 computer in the UK was 1980’s ZX80, whilst 1981’s ZX81 only cost £69.95.

  3. It’s bizarre to me how local the computer market was back in the day.  I had to read the entire thing to figure out that this wasn’t some kind of alternate history article , because I’d never heard of  the Spectrum…or Sinclair…or even any of the competitors like Acorn.  World’s best-selling personal computer?  Did they ever make it to the US? 
    Makes you wonder what  the industry would be like if it hadn’t devolved into the mega-companies we have now. 

    1. They sort of did, as the Timex/Sinclair 2068 (depending on your age, you may remember the Timex/Sinclair 1000, which was the US version of Sinclair’s previous computer, the ZX-81).

      The TS 2068 didn’t do well for several reasons 1) The US home market was already pretty full with competitors from Apple, Commodore, Tandy, and Atari, and 2) Timex stupidly redesigned the ROM, making it incompatible with the Spectrum.

    2. Acorn was famous originally as being the makers of the BBC Micro, but sort of lives on in one of its one-time subsidiaries, ARM; acc to Wikipedia on ARM:

      “ARM is a 32-bit reduced instruction set computer (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by ARM Holdings. It was named the Advanced RISC Machine and, before that, the Acorn RISC Machine. The ARM architecture is the most widely used 32-bit instruction set architecture in numbers produced. Originally conceived by Acorn Computers for use in its personal computers, the first ARM-based products were the Acorn Archimedes range introduced in 1987.”

  4. I did 3D CG on a Timex Sinclair when I was in high school. Even made an animated 16mm film. My program kept and transformed object vertices, projected them into 2D screen space and provided me a frame-by-frame list. I graphed them on paper animation cels, connected the points with a ruler, did hidden line removal with an eraser, then inked the frame and photographed it on an animation stand. Then in college —

    1. Awesome; I bow to you.

      My lifelong fascination with CG started the same way.  (Ah, attribute clash, how I miss you.  Working round the colour limitations of the Spectrum really taught you to plan your sprites.)

        1. …correction noted, with shame for not daring to go there myself.

          (Also, creating UDGs at age 8 taught me more about binary and logic than anything I’d learn in Maths for another 12 years…)

          1. Not meant as a correction, rather a sudden nostalgic exclamation. ;)
            I got through so much graph paper…
            It was amazing how much detail you could get in 8×8. One pixel could make all the difference.

  5. Now I feel old, and existentially fulfilled, all at once. Weird.

    Off to fire up the emulator and play Chaos.

  6. And the ZX81 – which is the first computer (but not the first viable computer, cough Apple ][c) that I owned  is 31 years and almost 2 months.. and the Heathkit H89  – the first computer I actually used – is already 33 years old and the altair… oh, what was the point again?

    Oh, that we’re old.  Get off my lawn.

  7. 10 Print “Richard is Skill”
    20 goto 10

    aaaahhhh, the extend of my programming career executed with such beauty on my dad’s ZX81

  8. During recent clearing of a bedroom to get flooring put in, we came across the Timex Sinclair 1000 and 1500 rigs that were my father-in-law’s.  16K RAM expansion, Timex personal printer, all in original boxes.  Software on cassette — Critical Path Analysis, Chess, VU-CALC, The Organizer.  No cassette deck…but I may try to fire them up before long.  The 1000 has a built-in RF modulator.

  9. my love of computers and subsequent career is also exactly 30 years old, having started with a ZX81 which my completely technophobic mother had the insight to buy me at age 10. Thanks mom, your insight and generosity changed my life forever. Bless you and Sir Sinclair.

  10. Oh man, my first computer.  I remember getting some sort of magazine or something with code in it.  Was it basic?  On July 4th I was like 11 and wrote some code to make really bad fireworks and my family almost fell over.   It was the height of my programming career, lol!

  11. I still have my spectrum + somewhere , maybe a even a microdrive , should have a look i guess 

  12. Ah, the good old days … I started on a ZX81 as well ..(huge discussion with my mom if I could have cheap, not really working B/W TV in my room .. at age 13) .. then finally got enough money together to upgrade to the ZX spectrum .. and a few months later the upgrade to 48 KB …  never managed to get that Kensington Joystick (was never available) … always fought with Commodore users which machine is better. (C64 had great games I have to admit) … my last purchase was the microdrive, which was a fun concept … 

    … and then I discovered GIRLS :) 

    I still have the outer housing of my spectrum .. and once I find it, I will frame it and put on the wall. 

  13. First machine I was ever paid to program, It was a delight too – a processor and some memory and no complications. I used to envy the guys doing C64 games at the time, but in retrospect – nahh. Spectrum, you are the one for me.

    Without the Spectrum Rom Disassembly book by Ian Logan and Frank O’Hara it all would have been so much harder. The Spectrum didn’t come with anything you could call an operating system, but it did have 15k of useful assembly code in ROM, and these guys disassembled it all, gave everything meaningful labels and commented the lot. 15k is too small to bother measuring these days, but 15k of 8 bit assembler is a hell of a lot of code. All praise to these guys.

  14. Acorn was my first, but this was my favourite!

    A BBC article about this said that some people thought they keys were like dead human flesh. WTF? I know the BBC is good at weasel words like this, but did anyone seriously think this?

    They felt like rubber to me. But some people are nut jobs…

  15. The Spectrum was actually the second computer in my house, after the (frankly ridiculous) Vic 20. My parents made me a very special birthday gift – a combination lock briefcase.

    When opened it contained the Spectrum, a tape player, a small removable joystick and a tiny ‘cartridge’ drive that would accept plugin versions of Jet-Pak, Horace and the Spiders, Trans-Am and a few more. No need to load games from tape? AMAZING! 

    If only I’d paid more attention to the ‘how to program’ books that came with them at the time. Still, I suppose I was only 7 years old…

  16. Mmm, nostalgia. Smells like hot transformers.  I had to grovel and grovel for my first computer, and because we were all blue-collar types it was the basic 16k speccy.  Which meant that summer was upgrade time, tinfoil and mild terror trying not to bend the legs of a 32k upgrade chip.  Happy days.

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