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 Jan 1983, £179.95 (Spectrum + and 128), £149 (Spectrum +2), £249 (Spectrum +3) later £199. 16K reduced to £99 in Spring '83.
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: 5/5
Model/Rarity
/Price (Poor - BNIB/Mint):
16K £40-£90
48K £20-£150
Spectrum+ £20-£150
Spectrum 128 £75-£200
Spectrum +2 (grey) £25-£85
Spectrum +2B (black) £25-£95
Spectrum +3 £30-£90

In the UK, 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, available for £125 and the Spectrum 48K for £175, the only difference being the amount of RAM. Later, the 16K model's price was dropped to £99 and the 48K down to £129.

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 Sinclair QL released the same year. It also had a much larger space bar and Enter key.

Another positive 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 connector out. Over time, this could cause the connector to become loose and reset the computer 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 48K 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. It could also 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/composite monitor port), plus an improved version of Sinclair BASIC. To support the new BASIC 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 MIC socket on the side.

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, as in the picture above.

 

 

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 commands. 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 minor 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 started at £149. The power supply provided with this new grey machine was a grey version of the same one supplied with the Spectrum + and Spectrum 128.

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

Just after the +3 release, 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 distinguished from a +2 not only by the colour of its case (black instead of grey), but also because the datacorder button decals are printed above the buttons not on the buttons themselves. On the rear, the +2A has a printer port and the power supply socket is a DIN-type connector rather than the older thin barrel-type connector. The power supply of the ZX Spectrum +2A used the same pinout as the +3, so they are 100% compatible. 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.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was sold as a standalone computer by popular high-street retailers including WH Smith, Boots, and John Menzies, but also came bundled in a variety of packages. The following describes the more common ones:

"Spectrum Six Pack"(version 1)

ZX Spectrum 48K with the following six titles: Horace Goes Skiing, Computer Scrabble, Make-a-Chip, Chess, Chequered Flag, and Survival.

"Spectrum Six Pack"(version 2)

ZX Spectrum+ with the following six titles: VU-3D, Computer Scrabble, Make-a-Chip, Chess, Chequered Flag, and Tasword Two

"Spectrum Plus Complete Outfit" (Dixons)

ZX Spectrum+ with free Datacorder, Spectravideo joystick, and 10-pack of software for £139.99. The 10-pack of software was the "Dixons Premier Collection for Your +2", consisting of: Freddy Hardest, Game Over, Legend of Kage, Movie, Athena, Arkanoid, Tank, Slap Fight, Head Over Heels, and Bat Man.

"Spectrum +2 128K Computer Outfit" (Dixons, 1987)

ZX Spectrum +2 (grey) with Spectravideo joystick and 10-pack of software including the "Soft 888 pack" (Punchy, Alien Destroyer, Treasure Island, Crazy Golf, Disco Dan, and Oh Mummy!), and several other titles.

"ZX Spectrum +2 Action Pack" (Sinclair, 1989)

ZX Spectrum +2A (black) with Magnum Lightphaser (light gun) and Sinclair SJS2 joystick

"ZX Spectrum +2 James Bond 007 Action Pack" (Sinclair, 1990)

ZX Spectrum +2A (black) with Magnum Lightphaser (light gun), Sinclair SJS2 joystick and three titles: Lord Bromley's Estate, Q's Armoury, and The Living Daylights - The Computer Game

"ZX Spectrum +2 Police Pack" (Spain only, 1988)

ZX Spectrum +2B (black) with 2 titles: Robocop 2 and Chase H.Q.

 

"ZX Spectrum +3 Action Pack" (Boots)

ZX Spectrum +3 with Cheetah 125+ or Sinclair SJS2 joystick

"ZX Spectrum +3 Complete Disk Drive Computer Outfit" (Sinclair)

ZX Spectrum +3 with the following titles on disk: Green Beret, The Great Escape, Mutants, Cobra, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Short Circuit.

 

 

So You Bought One

If you just rediscovered your vintage Speccy in the attic, or bought one used, here are some tips to help you get back into the Spectrum goodness. Head over to the 'How to Use' page for details on how to get your computer up and running.

If you're actively using a ZX Spectrum in modern times, consider purchasing an SD storage interface, such as the DivMMC EnJOY! This completely replaces your cassette recorder with the ability to store and retrieve programs from an SD card. It plugs into the expansion slot and is compatible with all models of ZX Spectrum (16K up to +3). The latest version even has a built-in joystick interface which supports Kempston and Sinclair modes. By using an SD card interface and downloaded Spectrum titles in .TAP, .SNA, or .TRD format, this saves wear and tear on your original cassettes, offers instant loading times, plus a variety of added extras.

ZX Spectrum News

27 July 2018TOKI - Radastan ‏teases ZX Spectrum version of an Arcade classic

Toki was and still is an awesome arcade shooter platformer that was released way back in 1989 by a designer by the name of Akira Sakuma for many different systems such as the NES, Sega Mega Drive, Atari Lynx, ST, Amiga and Commodore 64. In it you played as an enhanced ape, transformed from a Human that could shoot energy balls from his mouth defeating strange creatures and finally defeat an evil wizard. If you remember this truly great game, you'll be pleased to know Radastan has teased a ZX Spectrum version that may be coming via the ZX Dev MIA & Remakes compo at some point this year.

Although a HD remake of the game is due to be released for the Nintendo Switch and an Amstrad CPC remake is in the works by a completely different team. Radastan has said these screenshots are a test with an optimised tileset and you wont see any more tests at the moment. If for after the summer the tilesets and sprites for the first level are completed, satisfactory evidence will be shown for the ZXDEV.

So watch this space :)

16 July 2018DOOM PIT - Exclusive physical release has been announced for the Speccy

Ah Clive Townsend what a very talented developer he is, creator of the brilliant Saboteur! series of which many of us love still to this day. Sadly there was one game in his line up he never released and that was Death Pit; a game advertised a lot by Durell, completed, but was never considered good enough for release even though some of the routines did end up in that game Saboteur. Still even though the development version was found in 2007, we at least have 'Doom Pit' to look forward to - a brand new game recently announced as the official sequel for Clive Townsend's previously unreleased (for the Spectrum) Death Pit, bundled together in a great package by Monument Microgames!

According to the manual for DOOM PIT, you play as an archaeologist on an expedition aiming to retrieve artifacts left by an ancient and mysterious civilisation. You carry a spade, which works as your primary weapon against the dangerous creatures that roam the excavation site. Thankfully the spade isn't your only weapon as from level 2 you can buy a kick ass pump-action shotgun against even the hardest of foes! So look forward to this great game, find the artifacts and beware the ghosts of fallen researches claimed by the darkest of caves.

Click here for Alessandro Grussu's website

26 April 2018Rick Dickinson, designer of many iconic Sinclair computers passes away

It is with great sadness that we learned that Rick Dickinson lost the battle against cancer and passed away on April 24th. Rick had a very successful career but for us, retro enthusiasts, he was well-known for the design of the ZX-81, the ZX Spectrum, and the Sinclair QL. The Sinclair machines were successful for many reasons, from price to capabilities, but at the end of the day, how they look was the first thing that would catch anyone’s attention, and they are really pieces of art, showing off Rick’s incredible talents.

Rick Dickinson last Sinclair-related work was the design of the, also beautiful, ZX Spectrum Next. With the Next, Rick managed to bring everything that the early Sinclair machines visually represented in the 21st century.

If you are interested in Rick’s work, his Wikipedia page External Links section contain links to interviews and articles about his work as an industrial designer.

In an emotional post on the QL Forums, Urs “QLvsJAGUAR” announced Rick’s passing including an email from his wife, that, even if you haven’t heard about Rick Dickinson before, really makes you stop and think what is essential in life and the legacy we will leave.

Rest in peace, Rick.

13 April 2018Dungeonette, The Very First ZX Spectrum Next Game, Now Available to Purchase as Digital Download & Physical Boxed Edition!

Fans of the eagerly awaited ZX Spectrum Next will be excited to learn that the very first commercial game for the ‘Next’ generation of Spectrum has launched and is now available for purchase over at softwareamusements.com.

Viewed from a top-down perspective, Adrian Cummings Dungeonette bares the hallmark of all good dungeon crawlers, requiring the player to tackle an increasingly deadly series of catacombs in the search for fame and fortune.

Deep in the bowels of the labyrinth lurks the Evil Reaper, the objective of your quest and a demon of unimaginable power that will certainly require all your courage and might if it is to be vanquished. Players must find new gear, prevent starvation by consuming food and other sustenance, as well as hoarding piles of gold to help them in their quest.

Features: * Fast action adventure gameplay. * Many dungeons to explore. * Cute & colourful pixel graphics. * Pickups and power-ups. * Hordes of foes to vanquish. * Mini-Boss levels.

Dungeonette is available as a digital download or a limited edition physical boxed version. Head over to Software Amusements to buy!

04 March 2018Eurostriker, A New ZX Spectrum Football Game by Valdir

Valdir is well known in the Portuguese Speccy scene, with previous releases such as ZX Striker and ZX Nights. He recently released a new football game called Eurostriker. With many similarities to Footballer of the Year, this looks to be a very nice homebrew game. I have never really played many football games in my time, except for Sensible Soccer and Kick Off on the Amiga, which are both enormous fun. Eurostriker is a mix between strategy and actual play, and will excite many a football fan out there. Head over to Planeta Sinclair for a more in-depth review.

Download: Estriker.tap Review: planetasinclair.blogspot.co.uk

...see more ZX Spectrum news...

This page was last updated on 22nd April 2015.