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ZX Spectrum

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Year Released: 1982
Original Price: £125 (£175 48k)
Buy it now for: £10+
Associated Magazines: Crash, Your Sinclair, Sinclair User, Sinclair Programs, Sinclair Answers, ZX Computing
Why the Spectrum was great… Owning a Spectrum was like being part of a secret club. Like-minded gamers who knew what it meant to type out hundred line pokes, wait ten minutes for The Hobbit to load, and had mastered the art of tape-to-tape copying.

ZX Spectrum

Having made a name for himself in the electronics field, releasing everything from pocket calculators to tiny televisions, Sir Clive Sinclair turned his entrepreneurial gaze toward computers, and in 1978 he launched the MK14. It was sold in kit form and proved to be little more than a programmable calculator, but sales of over 50,000 convinced Sir Clive that there was a hunger for computers aimed at hobbyists.

ZX Spectrum box

In early 1980 Sinclair released the ZX80, a diminutive home computer with a touch-sensitive membrane keyboard and just 1K of memory. It too was sold in kit form for £79, but crucially a pre-built version was available for £99, opening up the world of computers to more general home users who weren’t prepared to whip out a soldering iron and start bolting bits together. However, it was the ZX80’s successor, the enhanced and improved ZX81 that really kick-started the home computing craze in the UK. Released in March 1981 and available for either £49 (kit form) or £69 (pre-built), the ZX81 clocked up sales of more than 400,000 in a little over 12 months. Sinclair had devised the ultimate entry-level computer and the British public were buying into it.

But Sir Clive wasn’t about to stand idly by, counting the cheques and postal orders that were pouring into his hectic mail order department. The industry he’d had a hand in creating was moving fast, very fast, and competitors were queuing up for a piece of the pie. To compound matters, the cost of components and memory was tumbling all the time, allowing more manufacturers to tap into the low-cost computer market that belonged almost exclusively to Sinclair. Plus, there was the small matter of Acorn beating Sinclair to a lucrative BBC contract that would ultimately see Acorn computers installed in classrooms up and down the country. It was time for Sir Clive to dig in and fight his corner.

ZX Spectrum inside box

To this end, Sinclair began to mastermind the ZX82 and ZX83 models. The former would supersede the ZX81, adding sound capabilities, colour graphics and a moving keyboard to the mix, while the latter was hoped to seize control of the small business market.

The eventual fortunes of the two machines couldn’t be more different. The ZX82 was renamed the ZX Spectrum and went on to become Britain’s best selling home computer. The ZX83, meanwhile, was launched as the Sinclair QL (Quantum Leap) in 1984 and failed to make an impression as a business machine. The QL is now regarded as an embarrassing footnote in the Sinclair story, second only to the disastrous C5 motorised tricycle (although to be honest, the C5 is probably more of an epitaph than a footnote).

ZX Spectrum circuit

In April 1982, long before the QL and C5 tarnished Sir Clive’s name, the Spectrum was launched in a blaze of publicity at the Earls Court Computer Show. Shortly after its unveiling, an advert for the new computer began to appear in specialist computer magazines. It was typically text-heavy and very Sinclair, hammering home each of the machine’s ‘astonishing’ new features. Topping the list of key features was the Spectrum’s high-resolution colour graphic capabilities. Whereas the ZX80/81 were monochrome machines, the Spectrum lived up to its name by outputting seven colours plus black. Sound support was also included, with the new BEEP command allowing you to control pitch and duration. The advert went on to reveal details of a full-size moving keyboard that would replace the plastic membrane used on the ZX80/81. To seal the deal, the Spectrum came with a very generous amount of RAM – 16K as standard, with an expanded 48K version also available.

But what about the price? Would Sir Clive be able to continue his noble aim of delivering affordable computers to the masses? The answer was a resounding yes. The 16K model was available for just £125, and for £50 more you could take home the 48K version. Compare that to the Commodore 64, which launched in the UK at £299. Or even better, the BBC Model B, which would lighten your pockets to the tune of £399. Sinclair had soundly undercut the competition and looked to have sewn up the market once again.



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Read the full feature in The ZX Spectrum/Commodore 64 Book, on sale digitally from GreatDigitalMags.com

Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from ImagineShop

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