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ZX80

Updated on March 7, 2017
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Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

The Sinclair ZX80

The Sinclair ZX80 was a home computer manufactured by Sinclair, who had been known as Science of Cambridge Ltd in the late 1970's.

The computer was released onto the UK market in 1980; giving rise to the name 'ZX80'.

It was the predecessor to the soon to be popular ZX81, which would unsurprisingly be released the following year.

The ZX80 really is one of the machines that kick-started the home computer boom of the 1980s in the UK.

This page details yet another legendary machine from Sinclair Ltd...

The ZX80

The Sinclair ZX80 In all it's retro glory...
The Sinclair ZX80 In all it's retro glory...

The ZX80 Arrives...

The ZX80 was notable for being the first computer available in the United Kingdom sold for less than a hundred pounds, as it retailled at an excellent and affordable £79.95.

For those who loved the nuts and bolts of hardware it was available to purchase in kit form, where the buyer could assemble and solder it together.

Much fun and frustration to be had!

For mere mortals who just wanted to use the thing, a ready built version (at a higher price of £99.95) was available for purchase. This was still very good value for money.

The ZX80 was a very popular machine from the beginning, and for some time there was a waiting list of several months of buyers for the machine!

The machine had been designed by Jim Westwood and was based around a Z80 CPU with a pretty impressive (for the time) clock speed of 3.25 MHz.

It was equipped with 1KB of static RAM and 4KB of read only memory which held the Sinclair BASIC programming language, the editor and the operating system.

It is amazing to think that so much could be squeezed into so little...

Magazine advert for the ZX80

Note the price of the ZX80 in this magazine advert
Note the price of the ZX80 in this magazine advert

The Innards Of The ZX80

The Inner Workings Of The Sinclair ZX 80
The Inner Workings Of The Sinclair ZX 80

Using the ZX80 computer

BASIC commands were not entered by typing them out in full (as Sinclair users would come to know and 'love' over the next few years) but were instead selected in a similar fashion to a scientific calculator.

Each key had a few different functions (printed on the keyboard above each key) selected by both context and modes as well as by use of the shift key.

Display was via an RF connection (connected to a standard household television), and program storage was possible using a generic cassette recorder or tape-deck (which were popular in UK households back in the 1980s).

The video display generator of the ZX80 used minimal hardware plus a combination of software to generate a video signal.

As a result of the display technology the ZX80 could only generate a picture when it was completely idle; as in waiting for a key to be pressed.

So, when running a BASIC program, or even when simply pressing any key on the keyboard, the display would 'black out' momentarily while the processor was busy.

This made shifting graphics around difficult, since the program had to introduce a pause for input to display the next change in graphical output.

It did make creating your own indoor monochrome disco easy though by repeatedly hitting the enter key whilst listening to ABBA.

Space Invaders on the ZX80

Steve Benway Talks About The ZX80

A Version Of Pacman For The ZX80

The legacy of the ZX80

The ZX80 was never a technical masterpiece or a powerhouse of hardware.

It had no sound whatsoever and the display was completely monchrome (black and white). It was also never a swanky looking unit - the tiny white plastic case with the one piece blue membrane 'keyboard' always looked a little naff.

On top of these shortcomings it was not the most durable of machines either and was prone to bouts of overheating.

Having said that, it did bring computing into the homes of the UK at an affordable price, and made computing available to those of us that were not techno-geeks or hobbysists.

It also provided the computing platform for Sinclair, who would go on to release more successful machines over the next few years, including one of the most popular 8-bit micro's ever, the ZX Spectrum.

Sales of the ZX80 reached somewhere in the region of 50,000 which was an unheard of number back in 1980! Considering the era it is an astonishing number.

These sales helped to establish home computing in the UK and also contributed to the UK leading the world in home computer ownership throughout the 1980s.

It also helped to usher in the era of the 'bedroom programmer' due to it having built in BASIC which you could use as soon as the machine was switched on.

A few games were also commercially available for the machine (such as Space Invaders), which are extremely rare these days.

Owing to the unsophisticated design and the tendency for the units to overheat, surviving machines in good condition are uncommon.

If you want to pick one of these up be prepared to pay a few quid!

Rick Dickinson Recalls Sinclair Design with the ZX80

A Time Lapse Capture Of Simple Animation On The ZX80

Programming The ZX80

This machine really helped to introduce many users to the wonders of computer programming.

Since the machine had a version of BASIC built in it was possible to switch it on and start typing away.

Many magazines and books were soon released with tutorials in BASIC programming teaching users how to process numbers, display text, create loops, use arrays and so on.

BASIC programming in the home was revolutionary and created a generation of enthusiasts who could unleash their creativity in new ways.

We may look back and laugh just now, but back then it was completely awesome.

10 Print "Martin Allan"

20 GOTO 10

It never gets old...

A Short BASIC Program On The ZX80

Sir Clive Himself Talks Sinclair Computers

A ZX80 Is Turned Into A Robot!

Any fans of the ZX80?

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