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Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Vital Statistics

Introduced April 1982 (16K and 48K versions)
Retired: December 1990 (Spectrum +3), 1992 (Spectrum +2B)
Price: £125 (16K) or £175 (48K) later reduced to £129.95 in 1983, £179.95 (Spectrum + and 128), £149 (Spectrum +2), £249 (Spectrum +3) later £199
Quantity Sold: approx 8M including 90,000 Spectrum+ 128K.
Countries: UK and Europe (in USA, Timex-Sinclair TS2068)
Dimensions: 233x144x30mm (16K/48K), 319x149x38mm (+)
Weight:552g (Original 16K/48K model)
Ports: Ear/Mic (for tape playback/record respectively), 9V DC in, Z80 expansion bus and RF out. (Spectrum 128 and up also RGB, MIDI-out, 2 x joystick ports, RS232 port, parallel port, 2nd disk drive port
CPU: Zilog Z80A (3.5 MHz)
Usable RAM: 16K (16K), 48K (48K/+), 128K (others)
Built-in ROM: 16K (16K/48K/+), 32K (128), 64K (+2/+3)
Colours: 8 colours plus 8 flashing and 8 bright equivalents
Graphics: 256x192
Sound: Beeper on 16K,48K,and +, MIDI-out via Yamaha AY-3-8912 on Spectrum 128 and up
Built-in Language: Sinclair BASIC
Codenames: ZX-82 (Spectrum, Spectrum+), Derby (Spectrum +128K)

Technical Detail ...

What's it like today?

Fun Factor:
: 16K/48K = Very common,
Spectrum + = Fairly common,
Spectrum 128 = Quite Rare,
Spectrum +2 (grey keyboard) = Rare,
Spectrum +2B (black keyboard) = Quite Common,
Spectrum +3 = Quite Common
Typical value: £10 (for common models), to £130 (for Quite Rare/Rare models)
Boxed & Mint: £50 (for common models)

The ZX Spectrum was by far the most widely known home computer of the 1980s - sold in their millions, it was truly a major upgrade over the ZX81 it replaced. Featuring colour and sound, and a lot more memory, it paved the way for home computer games as we know them today. Initially, in April 1982, there were two models available: The Spectrum 16K and the Spectrum 48K, the only difference being the amount of RAM.

In October 1984, the Spectrum+ was released for £179.95 in order to address customer complaints over the rubber keyboard on the original Spectrum. Since the launch of the Spectrum it's looks had been somewhat revolutionary, but two years on it was looking small, insignificant, and dated. Furthermore, issues with the original's keyboard were well known, and a number of manufacturers were successfully selling third-party keyboards as replacements for the Spectrum rubber keyboard - Sinclair wanted to compete with them. This revised keyboard still used the underlying rubber membrane, but had more professional plastic key caps, not unlike those found on the later released Sinclair QL. It also had a much larger space bar and Enter key.

Another key addition was a reset button on the side of the casing. With the original spectrum no facility existed to power down or reset the machine, short of pulling the power plug out. Over time, this could cause the connector to become loose and reset itself inadvertently, so having a proper reset button was a big deal!

For existing Spectrum owners, the Spectrum+ keyboard could be purchased as a home-upgrade kit for £50.



In September 1985, the Spectrum line got a much needed upgrade with the release of the Spectrum 128.

Initially it was launched at the SIMO '85 trade show in Spain through Sinclair's Spanish distributor, Investrónica, not the home market of the UK. This was because Sinclair still had a large number of unsold previous units in its warehouse, and wanted to ensure sales of the new system wouldn't impede the sale of existing stock. Investrónica had previously helped Sinclair adapt their Spectrum+ for the Spanish market, where the government had imposed a special tax on home computers below 64K that did not support the Spanish alphabet and support messages in Spanish. Sales of the 128 began in Spain in the second half of 1985, and in the UK half a year later, in January 1986 for a retail price of £179.95. Sadly this meant that they missed the important Christmas selling season for the new model.

The 128 machine boasted 128K of RAM, with this extra memory being 'paged' into the top 16K of memory when needed. This could be used as a RAM disk, so several programs could be stored in memory at the same time.

It also got a new 3-channel sound chip in the form of the Yamaha AY-3-8912, which can also be found in the Vectrex, MSX, Amstrad CPC range, and Atari ST/STFM. It also received new peripheral ports on the back (MIDI compatibility for the AY-3-8912, RS232 serial port, and an RGB monitor port), and an improved version of Sinclair BASIC. To support the new commands, it came with twice the ROM size (32K) of the earlier models. One key difference between the 128 and earlier models is the absence of an internal speaker. All audio is instead output via the Audio Out socket at the back.

In Spain, an external keypad was sold with the 128 which could be plugged into an RJ12 socket on the left hand side towards the front. This peripheral was supposed to retail for £19.95 in the UK, but was never made available. The later +2 ROM retained the routines for the keypad, and so it can support one. These routines were removed when Amstrad reworked the entire hardware and ROM for the +2A and +3.

Spanish 128s can be easily distinguished from their UK counterparts as they have a white '128K' logo, whilst English models have the logo in red.



In April 1986, shortly after the launch of the 128 in the UK, Amstrad PLC bought Sinclair Research, and continued the line with the release of the Spectrum +2 in 1987, which featured a built-in cassette recorder in the same way Amstrad's CPC464 had. and a proper typewriter-style keyboard. This keyboard also omitted the BASIC keywords seen on the Sinclair machines, with the exception of the commonly used LOAD, RUN, and CODE. Aside from these changes, it was essentially a Spectrum 128 inside. Just as with the Spectrum 128, the system offered a startup menu from which you could choose to boot into 48K BASIC (which still had the support for single keypress keyword entry) or 128K BASIC in which all words had to be keyed in full. The main menu screen lacked the 'Tape Test' the 128 had, and the ROM was altered to display 'Amstrad' in the copyright message on startup. Strangely, these ROM changes did introduce some compatibility issues with software that accessed ROM routines at specific addresses. The new unit also got two built-in joystick ports which were Sinclair Interface I standard, not Kempston).

Due to a reduction in production costs of the +2 over the 128, its retail price dropped to £149. The power supply provided with this new grey machine was a grey version of the same PSU supplied with the Spectrum+ and Spectrum 128.

The Spectrum +2 succeeded in reviving sales of the Spectrum line, commonly released in the "James Bond 007 Action Pack" which came complete with a lightgun and game based on the new James Bond film, the Living Daylights.


Amstrad's final major model release in the then struggling 8-bit home computer market was the Spectrum +3, released in 1988 at a retail price of £249. It replaced the +2's 'datacorder' with a built-in 3" floppy disk drive (similar to those used in Amstrad's CPC664 and 6128 computers) and got a black case. Only a small amount of software was officially released on floppy disk for the Spectrum, but many owners copied their cassette-based games to disk for the larger capacity and faster loading times. It was the only Spectrum model capable of running the CP/M operating system without external hardware.

It came with two new 16K ROM chips: one to hold the +3's disk operating system (a modified version of Amstrad's PCWDOS), called +3DOS, and another to hold the second part of the reorganised 128 ROM. These further ROM changes resulted in even more incompatibilities with some older 48K and 128K games, and the Interface 1 was now incompatible, so Microdrive units were not usable. The ZX Spectrum +3 power supply provides the same voltages as the one supplied with +2A/B. This power supply has the same DIN connector so can also be used with the +2A/B. However, the power supply purchased with the +3 had "Sinclair +3" written on the casing.

Around the same time, a revised version of the +2 was released, the Spectrum +2A, coinciding with a move of production facilities from Hong Kong to Taiwan. It was basically a +3(in terms of circuitry but with the +2 datacorder and in a black case. The Spectrum +2A/+3 motherboard (Amstrad part number Z70830) was designed such that it could be assembled without the floppy disk controller or associated logic and in its place a +2 style "datacorder" connected. Originally, Amstrad planned to introduce an additional disk interface for the +2A called the AMSTRAD SI-1, however this never materialised. If an external disk drive was added, the "+2A" on the system OS menu would change to a +3.The +2A can be identified not only by the colour of its case, but also because the datacorder button decals are printed above the buttons not on the buttons themselves. On the rear, it has a printer port and the power supply socket is a DIN-type connector. The power supply of the ZX Spectrum +2A used the same pinout as the +3. However, the power supply purchased with the +2A/B had "Sinclair +2" written on its casing.

Production of the +3 ceased in December 1990, believed to be in response to Amstrad relaunching their CPC range. At the time, it was estimated about 15% of ZX Spectrums sold had been +3 models. Production of the +2B (the only other model then still in production) continued, as it was believed not to be in competition with other computers in Amstrad's product range. It was eventually discontinued in 1992

Two other submodels were released called the ZX Spectrum +2B and ZX Spectrum +3B. These were functionally similar in design to the Spectrum +2A and +3 respectively. The main electronic differences were changes to the generation of the audio output signal to resolve problems with audio clipping and the removal of the external tape loading input on the +2B. Unlike the +2A and +3, the Spectrum +2B and +3B do not share a common motherboard. The +2B board (AMSTRAD part number Z70833) has no provision for floppy disk controller circuitry and the +3B motherboard (Amstrad part number Z70835) has no provision for connecting an internal tape drive.

ZX Spectrum News

30 August 2014Spectrum Today #0 - now in English

The first issue of Spectrum Today has now been translated from Slovak into English.

This issue contains an interview with the admin of speccy.pl, tons of reviews of brand new homebrew games including Horace to the Rescue, Speccies 2, and Escape from Cnossus, previews of Abbaye Des Morts and Bomb Munchies, and lots of tech talk on cross compilers, multicolour in Spectrum games and more.

Spectrum Today covers current activities on the ZX Spectrum and compatible computers scene. It is published three times per year and is free. It is edited by ellvis/zeroteam with the help of a wider community.

Click here to read this issue.

29 August 2014Speccy Jam has started!

Speccy Jam is a regular world wide 1 week game jam, where indie game developers come together to create games with the flavour of the legendary 8-bit personal home computer, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Game developers can work alone or as part of a team, and can use any game engine or dev tools to create their game. It can be developed for ANY device or platform it doesnt matter as long as it looks and feels like a Spectrum game!

To sign up or get more information, head over to Speccyjam.com

11 August 2014Gamex sequel on its way

Gamex 2, the sequel to Gamex sees the player trading shares, not in fictional companies, but in minigames ! As part of the dividend, the player gets to play the minigames he has invested in whenever that minigame's results are due. The score accumulated can then be re-invested and so the cycle continues...

Naturally, the player's score is taxed - the more contact he makes with enemies the more tax increases. When it reaches 100% the game is over. Fortunately, the player can collect bowler hats to reduce his tax rate ;-) Achievements along the way will gradually lead to more aspects of the game becoming unlocked. At present, there are 16 minigames and the occasional newsflash feature. The game is still undergoing development, with more bits and pieces planned.

The author, Jonathan Cauldwell is interested in hearing from you with suggestions for a subtitle or strap line for the game, so take a look here for some screenshots and a short video.

11 July 2014Ben Hecks ZX Spectrum Mod

Sponsored by Element 14

Ben has modded many old computers into gaming portables and today he takes a crack at something new - the ZX Spectrum. He gets stared by taking the computer apart and for a closer look inside. He makes sure it works by simulating loading a game from tape before he gets down to making modifications. He adds a new EEPROM with two different operating systems and makes some an upgrades to the video RAM.

Watch the first part of this exciting project here.

UPDATE 31 Aug 2014
Parts 2 and 3 are have now aired. See the links below...
Part 2
Part 3

01 May 2014ZX Spectrum Kickstarter firm pays overdue royalties

Longstanding UK games studio Elite Systems has reportedly paid all overdue royalties to developers whose titles were featured in its ZX Spectrum Elite Collection apps for iOS and Android.

ZX Spectrum Elite Collection was released in October 2010 and initially included six Spectrum games: Chuckie Egg, Saboteur!, Turbo Esprit, Harrier Attack, Buggy Boy and Frank Bruno's Boxing.

Over the years a number of DLC packs expanded the collection to around 200 games. While Elite owned the rights to some of these titles, most were acquired through licensing agreements with their original programmers, with royalties promised for each sale. For numerous developers, these royalties went unpaid until now.

One of the affected parties, Dynamite Dan developer Rod Bowkett, told Polygon this week that Elite Systems has now cancelled its contracts with the developers in question and paid them all outstanding royalties.

"It seems this affair has finally been resolved," Bowkett said. "In addition our contracts with Elite have been successfully terminated thus preventing the company from legally using any of our games in any of their current or future products.

"This has been a very long haul for us, but hopefully a line has been drawn which will discourage similar copyright abuses in the future."

Shortly after completing a successful Kickstarter campaign for a Bluetooth ZX Spectrum keyboard for iOS, Android and Windows devices in January 2014, Elite Systems pulled its ZX Spectrum game emulator apps in response to the complaints about their legality.

...see more ZX Spectrum news...

This page was last updated on 18th April 2014.