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Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Updated on May 10, 2017
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

Sinclair ZX Spectrum

We love this computer; our favourite from the 8-Bit era.

This is a machine that has a place in our hearts, so we decided to create this page devoted to this wonderful machine and all the great (and not so great) games that were released for it.

Sinclair's machine, or the 'Speccy' as it became affectionately known, is one of many machines where games players and programmers cut their teeth.

We reckon it deserves a bit of love from us all.

So join us as we revel in legendary 80's gaming. To find more information on the number one 8-bit machine please read on...

What does a ZX Spectrum look like?

An original rubber keyed ZX Spectrum 48K
An original rubber keyed ZX Spectrum 48K

Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum

The first adventure for Miner Willy on the ZX Spectrum
The first adventure for Miner Willy on the ZX Spectrum

8-Bit gaming on Sinclair's legendary machine

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was an 8-Bit personal home computer released by Sinclair Research Ltd in 1982. It had been referred to during development as the ZX81 Colour and ZX82, before it was finally given the 'ZX Spectrum' moniker.

This was an apt name as it highlighted it's colour display, compared to the black and white of its predecessors, the Sinclair ZX80 and the Sinclair ZX81. No prizes for guessing the year of release of both predecessors.

The Spectrum was initially released in three different models, ranging from the entry level model with 16KB of RAM, to the more popular 48KB model, before the ZX Spectrum + arrived the following year, which also had 48KB of RAM.

This machine really helped to usher in the era of home computing (especially in the UK and in many European countries, where desktop arcade games such as Astro Wars and Astro Blaster had been very popular), giving rise to the legend of the 'bedroom programmer' and the serious gamer.

We fall into both categories, and many many hours of our mis-spent youth are dedicated to this machine.

So for all you Speccy fans out there, please join in as nostalgia gets the better of us.

Who can remember Technician Ted? Did you ever contact Sam Cruise? And why was Airwolf on the Spectrum more difficult than flying the real thing? The software houses, the games, the programmers, they are all in here.

Take a long, leisurely and teary eyed stroll down memory lane...

Arcade conversion Space Harrier for the ZX Spectrum

The Famous Game Over Sequence In Manic Miner

Classic ZX Spectrum Games

Many classic games appeared on the machine such as the arcade conversion of Space Harrier and the difficult yet classic polished platform style game, Technician Ted.

Matthew Smith's Manic Miner was a game that really grabbed the attention of would be computer users. This title is now one of the most famous and fondly remembered games of all time, which also ensured that Matthew Smith's name became as famous as the game itself.

With it's wacky humour, surreal graphics and superb game over sequence Manic Miner pushed the boundary of home gaming and showed that games could be more than something you could 'just play'.

Smith went on to better Manic Miner with the sequel to the game, Jet Set Willy, which featured the same character wandering around a (then massive) 64 screen gaming area set within his mansion home.

Once again the humor was in there and fans of Manic Miner enjoyed Jet Set just as much as the first game.

These types of game are synonymous with the 8-Bit era where humour, solid actions and charm could be crammed into a mere 48 Kilobytes or RAM...

The menu of Technician Ted puts the Spectrum single beeper through it's paces

Lifespan of the ZX Spectrum

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum endured a long and fruitful life. Launched in 1982 the machine quickly gained a solid foothold in the home computer market, especially here in the UK and some of the European countries.

The Spectrum managed to fend off most of the other 8-bit competition of the era, with machines from Oric/Tangerine, Dragon, Tandy, and the Vic 20 from Commodore.

Companies such as Acorn also developed machines such as the Acorn Electron. which was a decent enough computer that unfortunately ended up falling by the wayside as the 1980's wore on.

Eventually, the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 emerged as the leaders of the 8-Bit pack.

The Amstrad CPC 464 became being a major player too, but it was not a direct rival to the good old Spectrum.

As each year went by, the technology of the Spectrum was pushed further and further, and many other peripherals became available to add to your trusty machine.

There were plenty of joysticks (Quckshot I and II, Competition Pro, Konix Speed King to name but a few), a thermal printer, the pricey but quick micro-drives, and even a light-gun was released that could be connected up via a joystick port.

Spectrum programmers managed to make the machines single channel beeper produce two channel sound and digitised speech with clever machine code routines.

Solid 3D vector graphics were smoothly animated in games such as Starstrike II (by 3D experts Realtime Software), and arcade conversions such as Operation Wolf were enhanced and made more authentic via the use of the 'ZX light-gun'.

Games such as Driller utilising the 'Freescape' engine were a true marvel: they actually created a real three dimensional world that you could travel around in. These were amazing achievement for a machine with only 48 Kilobytes of RAM.

Whilst not an 'action game', Driller came out around six years before Doom appeared and is a true landmark in proper '3D' gaming and fully explorable environments.

As the 1980's wore on, the ZX Spectrum was pushed way beyond it's intended capabilities, and was still a popular home computer come the end of the decade.

Incredibly ten years after it's launch in 1982, games were still being published for the machine; although by this point were usually only available for the more advanced 128K, +2 and +3 models that had been released in the mid 1980's.

As we look back, I really feel that it is highly unlikely we will ever see a machine with such longevity ever again.

The Spectrum (or Speccy as it became known) finally finished it's run in 1993, where the lure of 16-bit machines such as the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST became too much to resist for the home user.

By this point in time many users had switched from an 8-Bit machine to one of the popular 16-Bit models, or had even ventured down the route of owning a PC or Apple Mac.

Still, the machine enjoyed success far beyond expectations due to it's faithful user base, peripherals, massive range of software and it's overall character.

With many retro geeks such as us around, the Sinclair machine will never truly vanish.

Bombjack on the ZX Spectrum

Bombjack was one of the great arcade conversions for the ZX Spectrum
Bombjack was one of the great arcade conversions for the ZX Spectrum

ZX Spectrum Rivalries With Other Machines

The ZX Spectrum enjoyed many rivalries during the 8-bit home computing craze of the 1980's.

Rival machines included the Oric 1 (and Atmos), Amstrad CPC 464 (and 664), the Dragon 64 and the Acorn Electron.

The Acorn BBC Micro cannot be considered a true rival as it ended up being the preferred choice of computer in most UK schools, and was a little expensive for many home users.

Despite these machines (and others) there was one other home computing giant that was the real main rival to Sinclair's machine. Enter the Commodore 64.

Throughout the 1980's, the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 enjoyed a long and spicy rivalry.

Just like McEnroe and Borg, the tussle was constant to decide who was king of the hill. This rivalry spread from playgrounds to magazines to TV programmes, and no doubt added to the popularity of both machines.

Which machine was better? The Commodore 64's excellent sprites or the Spectrum with its' detailed graphics? We won't go into sound because lets be honest here, the Commodore 64 SID chip blew anything else 8-Bit from the 1980's away.

Please let us know your thoughts on your favourite of all retro computers ...

Test your Spectrum knowledge

view quiz statistics

A Timex Sinclair 2068

The United States Version - Timex Sinclair 2068

In the United States a collaboration between Sinclair Research and industry giants Timex resulted in the Timex Sinclair 2068.

It was a slightly different machine to the British ZX Spectrum, and some of these differences were good, some bad.

On the plus side it had a better sound chip (the AY-3-8912 which would be incorporated into the later ZX Spectrum 128, ZX Spectrum +2 and ZX Spectrum +3) which was far better than the Speccy's single channel beeper. It also had a super-set of Sinclair Basic giving it a few extra commands.

On the down side the two joystick connectors were not compatible with Sinclair joysticks (which was pretty bizarre) and it was difficult to get any in game music to play on this model largely due to problems with bank switching.

In our opinion, the actual looks of the machine were not as good either; the Timex machine never coming close to matching the classic jet black case and rainbow stripe in the bottom right hand corner.

It is rumoured that around 80,000 TS 2068's were manufactured in total for the US market which isn't bad, but it never really did compete against the Commodore machines of the day. The machine originally retailed at $199.00, which was an average price for the era.

These differences aside, the Timex Sinclair 2068 was still a fine 8-bit machine and was a good choice for many in the early 1980's. It's nice to see that our favourite computer managed to make it Stateside; albeit in a slightly different form.

A nice BASIC program displaying ZX Spectrum colour capabilites

1980's UK TV Commercial for the ZX Spectrum +

A ZX Spectrum +

A resplendent looking Sinclair ZX Spectrum +
A resplendent looking Sinclair ZX Spectrum +

Incarnation 1 - The ZX Spectrum +

In October of 1984 Sinclair Research released the ZX Spectrum + (or plus).

Now Spectrum fanatics could finally use a proper 'typewriter' keyboard complete with a space-bar and regular cursor keys! :-)

Not only that, the machine now also had a soft reset button positioned on the side of the machine, a feature which was very handy for any system crashes. It was also adorned with little pop-out 'legs' akin to a modern keyboard making it possible to angle the keyboard if you so desired.

These little features were the natural progression for the machine, and took an already popular computer which was full of character and improved on it very nicely.

Roughly a year later the next generation of Spectrum models would be released.

ZX Spectrum 128

A nifty looking ZX Spectrum 128
A nifty looking ZX Spectrum 128

ZX Spectrum 128

Sinclair released the ZX Spectrum 128 within the UK in January of 1986 at a price of £179.95. New features included 128KB RAM, three-channel audio via the AY3-8912 sound chip, proper MIDI compatibility, an RGB monitor port, an RS-232 serial port, 32KB of ROM including an improved BASIC editor, and an external keypad.

This represented plenty of improvements to keep pace with the times.

The Z80 processor used in the ZX Spectrum had a 16-bit address bus which only allowed 64KB of memory to be addressed directly.

To utilise the extra 80KB of RAM the designers used bank switching so that the extra memory would be available as eight pages of 16KB at the top of the address space.

Many existing games were released as new '128 versions' usually featuring better music and sound effects. Some programmers really made use of the new capabilities and expanded older games a great deal; Technician Ted being a prime example of an enhanced game.

Another advantage of the extra RAM was the fact that some multi-load games could be loaded directly into memory in one go.

On the humble 48K spectrum, larger games required the game to loaded in portions; games such as Combat School and Out Run took this approach.

How nice it was to be able to load the entire game in one and play it; no pesky interruptions for loading in the next three levels, especially when you were concentrating on the gameplay and fully 'in the zone'.

ZX Spectrum 128 Music - Cybernoid II

Technician Ted Mega Mix Title Music utilising AY Sound

A ZX Spectrum +2

A ZX Spectrum +2
A ZX Spectrum +2

ZX Spectrum +2

The ZX Spectrum +2 was the first machine released by Amstrad who had bought the rights to Sinclair machines, and also produced their own range of home computers.

Released in 1987 it was similar to the Spectrum 128 (a few ROM changes aside) and also came with a built in cassette deck which was named 'The Datacorder'.

One annoying feature of the 8-bit era had been problems in loading cassette based software. The built in tape deck really ironed out these problems as it now had a standard volume, pitch and tone level.

Other storage mediums were still very expensive and most users had to put up with cassettes and standard tape recorders for loading and saving programs.

Although most games and other software would load in at the same volume and tone / pitch level, some tapes just would not play ball.

You would spend hours adjusting your tape recorders volume level, making small increases in pitch, and no matter how hard you tried, you would never get the thing to load! The release of the Spectrum +2 with it's standard tape deck ironed out this problem and added yet another string to machines bow.

Consequently software loading was now a lot less painful, and the ZX Spectrum +2 sold many, many units and was a lot more popular than the nice but ill-fated Commodore 128.

At this point, the Spectrum, and Spectrum games in general, probably entered their peak years.

A ZX Spectrum +3

A nice jet black +3
A nice jet black +3

ZX Spectrum +3

The final incarnation of the ZX Spectrum was the ZX Spectrum +3.

This machine was released in the UK in 1987 and is generally regarded as the finest version of the Speccy.

It was very similar to the +2 except it now sported a floppy disk drive instead of the cassette 'Datacorder'. In moving with the times, floppy disks were rapidly replacing cassettes as a storage medium as the price of the disks had reduced dramatically. Developers now had the opportunity to distribute software on disks.

In a smart move a cassette recorder port was included to allow users to connect a standard tape recorded and load in any existing software they already had. At this point a lot of users had built up a huge library of games on cassette, and would still want to use much of it.

The ZX Spectrum +3 did well, but it was released at a time when the 16-Bit machines such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST were taking hold of the home computer market.

By late 1987 a lot of users were turning away from the 8-bit machines (even the aforementioned Commodore 128 struggled) and were looking at the more powerful 16-Bit models.

Still, the Spectrum +3 was a fine machine and carried on into the early 1990's.

In fact, ZX Spectrum +2's and +3's were still used as games machines until 1993, with software houses staying faithful to Sinclair's machine.

Amiga classics such as Stunt car racer, Carrier Command and Leader-board made it onto the ZX Spectrum, and these versions were generally as good as they could be on an 8-Bit machine.

The ZX Spectrum +3 was a superb machine to close out the 8-Bit 'Speccy era'. In fact, Spectrum +3's and any software on disc format is highly sought after these days: Software on +3 disks is quite rare, and good condition examples can fetch a high price.

I'm wiping a nostalgic tear from my as I finish typing.

An interview with Legendary ZX Spectrum coder Matthew Smith

The Sinclair Research Logo

Sinclair Research Ltd released the Spectrum in 1982
Sinclair Research Ltd released the Spectrum in 1982

Gaming on the Speccy today...

Games are still being produced for the machine today.

Chronosoft release games across a variety of retro formats and produce many titles for the ZX Spectrum.

Cult programmer Jonathan Cauldwell seems to to always busy creating another mini-masterpiece for our favourite 8-bit machine. His games are generally superb, being playable, full of humour and technically impressive.

Also check out Bob's Stuff, he has created many fine modern games for the ZX Spectrum and also the Sinclair ZX81. WHB is one example of his work and is an absolutely brilliant puzzle game.

Which model of the ZX Spectrum did you own?

Which ZX Spectrum did you own?

See results

A ZX Spectrum with 48 Kilobytes of RAM

The unmistakable rubber keys of the Sinclair Spectrum
The unmistakable rubber keys of the Sinclair Spectrum

Any Spectrum fans care to comment?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Pamela 

      6 years ago

      Fantastic article on a fantastic series of machines!

      I'm off for a game of 3D Deathchase just now...

    • profile image

      victor 

      7 years ago

      Hi!

      25 years ago I worked with ZXSpectrum and the TS2068, I have ones and I loved they !!!

    • profile image

      Crazy tim SAYS: 

      8 years ago

      Ever since i bought the timex sinclair 2068, i thought it was

      a good computer, now that i see the Spectrum +2 has a recorder built right in. To bad timex sinclair, would of did that as well. Even tho i wish it was a floppy disk, instead of, but i still had like the sinclair 2068. but now it's hard to find at this time tho.

    • profile image

      ZX Zeido 

      8 years ago

      Nice round-up, but there's a mistake. The ZX Spectrum +2 actually launched in October 1986, not 1987.

      And you did not mention the ZX Spectrum +2A, which was a 'black' model that replaced the 'grey' +2, and was basically a +3 on the inside but with a tape drive instead.

      That was the final Spectrum.

      Again... thanks for the great summary... and cheers!

    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      8 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Cheers SimeyC. We also remember the Dragon (32 and 64) it never really took off as you say, the 8-bit market in the UK was cornered by the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Another nostalgic hub - I still have a working ZX spectrum 128k with box and all! It'll make me a millionair in about 700 years! I loved the Dragon 64 - it was a pretty decent machine (made in Wales!) but simply got overlooked because of the Amiga, Commodore and Atari....thanksf or the nostalgia!

    • profile image

      Bob 

      8 years ago

      Does anyone know how to modify the Spectrum's UK video out format to the standard analog US TV format? Please email me if you have any info on this, at classares@aol.com

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      Harvey 

      9 years ago

      Smashing to see someone still loves the speccy, i enjoyed the sinclair range of 8 bit machines zx81/speccy+48/speccy+128.

      I had the amstrad +2 but they messed with the hardware ula and roms, still like the originals better.

      I got all my understanding of computers from repairing and making hardware for thease little machines, long live the speccy :-)

    • profile image

      GibsonRickenbacker 

      9 years ago

      Nice article guys... I spent many hours on my trusty 48K rubber-keyed Spectrum - and Technician Ted was very addictive. Some nice memories brought back...

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