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United Kingdom Hardware

For Sinclair Fans, The ZX81 Lives On 196

Posted by timothy
from the sweet-pain-of-memory dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The ZX81 Museum was set-up to preserve and showcase a private collection of original Sinclair branded ZX81 hardware, software and literature. The museum has since expanded to include ZX81 software from other publishers of the time and a variety of other ZX81 peripherals and reference books. The collection dates from 1981 to 1983 and features the complete Sinclair-branded software series. The activities of the museum are regularly reported via Twitter, along with updates from the ever growing ZX81 fanbase. There is even a YouTube channel for the diehard 8-bit fans out there, of which there seems to be many!" This was one of the first computers I ever used; I suspect it's still buried in some deep stratum in my dad's basement. As is often the case, the old advertisements are great.
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For Sinclair Fans, The ZX81 Lives On

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  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:46PM (#38833157)

    My first computer was the ZX-81 kit where you had to soldier it together.

    Although in a lot of ways I know this is simply not practical for most people to do, I have to say it was a really awesome way to be introduced to a computer. It's probably just nostalgia but I feel a little sorry that almost no-one going forward will be introduced to computing in that way...

    It's nice to see someone keeping the history of this very unique system alive.

    • by Jawnn (445279) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:52PM (#38833227)

      My first computer was the ZX-81 kit where you had to soldier it together.

      Well there's yer problem. Me, I just used solder.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I think what he meant was you had to "soldier on" and write all the programs yourself, because I, for one, had a damned hard time finding any. ;)

        Was the ZX-81 the same as the TS-1000, or was it the same as the one that came after?

        At any rate, I probably still have casettes with TS-1000 programs on it. Are there any emulators for modern PCs that will run Sinclair BASIC or TS-1000 machine code and will read the tapes? If so, I'd love to get a copy.

        • Before (Score:4, Interesting)

          by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:11PM (#38833413)

          Was the ZX-81 the same as the TS-1000, or was it the same as the one that came after?

          I also had the TS-1000. The ZX-81 came before, I ordered mine from England. The Timex-Sinclair was the U.S. version, already assembled for you.

          Yes, there was not a lot of software, though there was some you could buy on cassette as you say, or type in from magazines. It was however a great way to get into programming. I won my first programming contest with it, writing a crossword generator that won me a Timex-Sinclair 2048...

          There are definitely emulators for both the ZX-81 and TS-1000, though I've not enough nostalgia I know where any are. I'm sure Google can find them.

          • Re:Before (Score:5, Informative)

            by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:43PM (#38834385) Homepage

            Was the ZX-81 the same as the TS-1000, or was it the same as the one that came after?

            The ZX-81 came before, I ordered mine from England. The Timex-Sinclair was the U.S. version, already assembled for you.

            There were three distinct "original" ZX machines sold on the UK market:-

            * ZX80 [wikipedia.org] came first in 1980. Black and white, text-based display, 1KB RAM, 4KB OS ROM with integer-only BASIC. Yes, it was very basic, but it was also very cheap- first computer under £100 back when even the Apple II cost many, many times that. Apparently it was also sold in the US in both kit and assembled form. (I don't know if the pre-assembled version was ever sold in its native UK?)

            * ZX81 [wikipedia.org] came next and was even more popular. Essentially an improved and cost-reduced refinement of the ZX80 design. Still black and white with 1KB RAM (expandable to 16KB) and a new improved 8KB OS and BASIC ROM. The Timex Sinclair 1000 mentioned above was an NTSC version with 2KB and other minor differences for the US market, but to all intents and purposes the same machine.

            * ZX Spectrum [wikipedia.org] followed on in 1982. Colour, high-res graphics, sound (albeit crude single channel). There was a US machine based on the Spectrum design (the failed Timex Sinclair 2068) but unlike the TS1000, it made significant changes and improvements to the original design.
            .
            There were very many clones and variants- both authorised and unauthorised- of the above machines in various countries. In part because their architecture was based around clever design using cheap off-the-shelf parts (e.g. the ZX80's inability to compute and display at the same time was because the display was primarily generated in software). This made them easier to rip off than (e.g.) the Commodore 64.

            The ZX81 replaced the ZX80 as it was essentially a refined and improved version of the latter (better OS and moving graphics possible- the ZX80's display flickered and went blank whenever it was busy) and at a lower price (18 chips in the ZX80 replaced with a single functionally equivalent chip). In fact, the ZX80 could be almost upgraded to a ZX81- minus the steady graphics- simply by replacing the ROM OS.

            The Spectrum was a slightly more expensive machine with colour and high-resolution graphics and (very crude) single-channel sound. It was sold alongside the cheaper ZX81 for some time. (I think they stopped making the ZX81 in 1984?) In the long term the Spectrum was the most successful as it was usable for games- its success quickly spawned rivals, but its early lead had already established a network effect [wikipedia.org] (i.e. users led to support and software which led to more users, which led to more support...) and it survived until the early 90s.

            • Thanks for the timeline - I got on board with the ZX-81 (ordered from England, sent to the U.S.) then after that I was with the U.S. versions - the Timex-Sinclair 1k (forget why I had that since after all i had the ZX-81), the the Timex-Sinclair 2048 (which was the U.S. version of the Spectrum). Or I might have got the 2068, can't remember exactly.

              Too bad the line didn't continue into modern days.

              • by dkf (304284)

                Too bad the line didn't continue into modern days.

                The successor was the QL (based on the Motorola 64k IIRC, instead of the Z-80 of the older machines), but that basically failed. Too expensive for the market, and not nearly enough of the software that people wanted (games). In some senses, the real successors to the Speccy were consoles and the PC, depending on how much money you had and whether you were just playing games or were determined to write software as well.

                • Re:Before (Score:5, Informative)

                  by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:37PM (#38835205) Homepage
                  The QL was based on a Motorola 68008, which was a 68000 but with only an 8-bit data bus (instead of 16-bits). (*)

                  Anyway, AFAIK, the QL partly flopped because Sinclair aimed at the business market instead of hobbyists.

                  Even then (apparently), IBM PC compatibility was quickly becoming more important to such people. Also, I'm assuming that the quirkiness and flakiness of Sinclair products would have been less tolerable to business users in the quickly-maturing mid 80s market than it would have been to grateful first-time hobbyists a few years later.

                  In some senses, the real successors to the Speccy were consoles and the PC, depending on how much money you had and whether you were just playing games or were determined to write software as well.

                  Not quite, or at least, not directly. The late-80s and early-90s successors to the Spectrum were really the Atari ST and Amiga, the latter of which may have flopped in the US, but was massively popular in Europe around the turn of the decade. It wasn't until circa '92-93 that the ever-falling price of PC clones and the Mega Drive (AKA Genesis) and later SNES took over and *really* started to dominate the home market.

                  (Remember that the original NES was never as big a deal here as it was in the US at the time- it was even outsold by the Sega Master System in the UK).

                  (*) Sinclair sold the QL on the basis that it was a 32-bit machine, which the 68008 *was*... internally. But then, the Amiga and ST's 68000 was generally considered a 16-bit processor (not 32-bit) due to the size of its data bus, so following the same system the QL would only be an 8-bit machine. It depends what slant you want to put on it!

                  • by westlake (615356)

                    Anyway, AFAIK, the QL partly flopped because Sinclair aimed at the business market instead of hobbyists.
                    Even then (apparently), IBM PC compatibility was quickly becoming more important to such people. Also, I'm assuming that the quirkiness and flakiness of Sinclair products would have been less tolerable to business users in the quickly-maturing mid 80s market

                    The IBM PC was the natural upgrade path from CP/M.

                    The big names in business software all had product out for the IBM by 1982.

                    Two built-in ZX [85 KB] Microdrive tape-loop cartridge drives provided mass storage [for the QL], in place of the more expensive floppy disk drives found on similar systems of the era.

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_QL [wikipedia.org]

                    • by Dogtanian (588974)

                      Two built-in ZX [85 KB] Microdrive tape-loop cartridge drives provided mass storage [for the QL], in place of the more expensive floppy disk drives found on similar systems of the era.

                      Yes, but this is what I mean about hobbyists vs. business. Hobbyists would have been willing to tolerate the non-standard nature and (arguably) lower reliability of the microdrives, but I suspect that this wasn't so much the case for businesses.

                      (IIRC I read somewhere that the QL Microdrives were more reliable than the Spectrum version, but still).

                      Also, there were things like the QL being released what some people considered way too early, with early versions having bugs and requiring "dongles" where the

            • A friend's Dad bought a ZX80 when they came out and then first thing I did was program a home-made "breakout" game into it. The screen flashed every time the ball went up and down, and then the game ran out of memory.

        • I think what he meant was you had to "soldier on" and write all the programs yourself, because I, for one, had a damned hard time finding any. ;)

          I didn't. There were cardboard crates full of jumbled discount tapes at the local bargain store. "Ooh, look! A coupon manager!"

          Are there any emulators for modern PCs that will run Sinclair BASIC or TS-1000 machine code and will read the tapes?

          I can't imagine it'd take more than 50 lines of Python.

        • by Colourspace (563895) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:24PM (#38833543)
          Try www.worldofspectrum.org (yep on /. 13 years now and still haven't found out how to do embedded links - sorry - geek card in post) It's primarily a site for the 1982 UK/EUR ZX Spectrum machine but IIRC there are plenty of ZX80/ZX81 links and emulators for many platforms discussed. A good jumping off point if you do want to enjoy some nostalgia, and a massive library of legal dumps. I think the Timex-Sinclair 2048 *might* have been the US version of the ZX Spectrum (colour, 48K compared to the mono 1K ZX81)....
          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:14PM (#38834073)

            It's okay, they didn't have hyperlinks back when you got into computing. I hear wearing an onion on your belt was fashionable...

            either use the

            http://

            prefix or

            <a href="http://www.example.com"></a>

            or

            <URL:http://example.com/>

            If you use the old discussion system it gives you a hint below the post area.

        • Was the ZX-81 the same as the TS-1000, or was it the same as the one that came after?

          The TS1000 had a slightly different motherboard, with an NTSC RF modulator and twice the RAM (2K!) built in. If I remember correctly, you couldn't get TS1000 kits either.

          • by mpe (36238)
            The TS1000 had a slightly different motherboard, with an NTSC RF modulator and twice the RAM (2K!) built in.

            IIRC the ZX81 board could actually be fitted with a 2k static RAM chip. There were also two different ways getting 1k. Either two 4bit chips or one 8 bit chip.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Either two 4bit chips or one 8 bit chip.

              That's what sinclair did with the successor, the Spectrum, too. It came in 2 editions, 16 and 48k. That extra 32k was actually 64k, with only upper or lower bank mapped. Apparently they shaved some costs using partly broken memory chips in consumer products.

    • It' didn't go so well for me. I was 12, uncoordinated, and had never soldered before. I, my desk, and everything on it were covered in burns by the time I was done, and I never could get it to work. Had to send it in to have them fix it for me. It was a mess... I suspect they just yanked the z80 and threw the rest away.

  • by kkaos (1310781) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:48PM (#38833169)
    "Finally you can afford to satisfy your lust for power." Well, it's about time!
    • by RDW (41497)

      ...but I don't see my favourite piece of ZX81 ephemera, the promotional poster that placed on some sort of darkly psychedelic space opera lectern:

      http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/userdata/images/large/PRODPIC-9064.jpg [computinghistory.org.uk]

      I actually learnt the QWERTY layout from a free copy of that, while waiting excitedly for the actual computer (an expected Christmas present). Yes, I would tell you to get off my lawn, but I actually have a hedge maze patrolled by a dinosaur:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKvd0zPfBE4 [youtube.com]

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      "Finally you can afford to satisfy your lust for power."

      Well, it's about time!

      I love looking at old advertising. Shows what a crotchety old geezer I'm turning into now that was when a programmer was a programmer - fit a whole suite of applications in 16K of memory and stored on cassette tapes .. kids these days have it easy .. sloppy bloated code with no optimization .. hmmph! I have a small stack of Apple Insider magazine from 1980 and 81, alas, binned the heavy old Byte magazines from the mid-80's, which showed blistering performance of 6 MHz!!!* and you could get a 5 Meg HDD fo

  • by lazarus (2879) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:54PM (#38833247) Journal

    I was 12 years old. I worked for a summer and made enough money to buy the unassembled version. It was essentially a bag of parts that you soldered together yourself. Add an old black and white TV, a cassette tape recorder and you were on your way. That way back when "built your own computer" meant that either you assembled it or actually designed the darn thing. Today it means you connected the major components together and hoped everybody followed spec.

    The best part of the ZX81 was the fantastic instruction manual it came with that essentially taught you how to program (in BASIC). Very well written. I eventually left basic behind and started programming in Forth.

    I don't have mine anymore, but I wish I did. The membrane keyboard was truly horrible to use, the RAM (1K) insufficient (I eventually purchased the 16K add-on), and the entire thing painfully slow. But it was an affordable, functional computer back when that was a rarity. I owe it and it's designers a great debt.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I wore my membrane keyboard out playing two player battle tanks (I wrote it in assembly and hand-assembled the machine code because BASIC was too slow. Had to put loops in to slow it down enough to be playable in assembly).

      But I was 30 (damn but I'm getting old).

    • Likewise. I was just slightly younger than you (6th grade) when my dad bought a ZX-81 kit. That computer was my introduction to programming and computing. I definitely second your review of the manual. I used to pore over it for hours trying to learn what all of the functions did, and how to use them. In particular, I remember the sample programs they included in the manual for drawing sine curves and asymptotes. I remember taking pre-algebra in 7th grade and the light bulb clicked in my head. "
      • by kilodelta (843627)
        If you think the ZX-81 manuals were good, you should have seen the ones for the TRS-80! The book for the 4K Level 1 was good, but the one for the 16K Level 2 machine was fantastic.
        • A TRS-80 Model III was my second computer (followed by a C-64) :) IIRC, there was the basic manual for the TRS-80, and then a two volume advanced manual. I spent a lot of time in those, as well. You are correct; they were quite good, too.
          • by kilodelta (843627)
            Want to laugh? When I got my TRS-80 with the DC-1 modem I was using it to connect to a local install of NYBBLINK. It went belly up a couple months after I got the modem. So I was all WTF. My buddy had a Model III and he and I planned out a BBS on it, he wrote code to modify TRSDOS for an ISAM filesystem, and to do multiple RS-232, thus Syslink was born.

            Syslink begat the entire RI BBS scene. I recall hours of testing on that one.
    • by Spacejock (727523)
      I saved enough pocket money for a ZX81 in 1983, and then my dad told me I wasn't allowed to buy one. He was worried computers were a bad influence on youth (unlike, say, drugs and alcohol). It took a few weeks but I finally won. Then I used my paper round money to buy a ZX printer. I still have both of them in the cupboard.
      • I totally forgot about the thermal printer! That was pretty cool.

        I still have both of them somewhere, though I'm really hazy about where I put the thermal printer.

    • by Nethead (1563)

      Damn kids with your high /. UIDs. ;)

      The ZX81 was a cool box. My friend had one and his mom had an semi-pro U-Matic video editor that we made programs on for titling. The only computer I had used before that one was the SWTPC 6800 (6800 w/ 4k, just enough ROM to load BASIC from cassette, 14 minutes.) I can see where the VIC and C64 took a lot from it with all the graphic chars on the keyboard.

      I did have one of the early Sinclair programmable calculators, 32 steps IIRC. All RPN. My 7th grade teachers cou

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:56PM (#38833267)
    I had one of these, and you couldn't pay me to to use one again. Well you could, but it would have to be a hell of a lot. I can understand why people would be nostalgic about a C64, or even a TI994/A. I had both of those too. But I don't really remember much to like about the ZX81. Even the keyboard/tiny plastic membrane was awful. It was sold by Timex in the US and the "keys" were about the size of calculator buttons. I shelled out the $200 (IIRC) for the 16K RAM pack too. I'm probably suppressing the memory, but I seem to remember there being some issue with it, but I don't remember what it was specifically. It was a big (in relation to the system) clunky thing that plugged into the back. It probably didn't seat correctly or something. Some things should just be allowed to die and be forgotten.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by abigor (540274) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:07PM (#38833373)

      The ram pack was prone to wiggling a bit and you'd lose the entire contents of memory. You had to prop it on a book or tape it in place. Kind of a nightmare really. I also hated the ultra-fiddly tape storage, where you had to have the volume and tone adjusted just right to get those weird black bars that showed the program was loading or saving correctly.

      • I also hated the ultra-fiddly tape storage, where you had to have the volume and tone adjusted just right to get those weird black bars that showed the program was loading or saving correctly.

        Yes but the bars were very helpful, because you could see if the tape was going bad and had the volume fluctuating... then you could adjust the volume on the fly to adapt, and read in even very worn tapes.

        By "great" I mean at the time of course, it would not be "great" today to have to adjust an analog knob while you w

      • by dkf (304284)

        I also hated the ultra-fiddly tape storage, where you had to have the volume and tone adjusted just right to get those weird black bars that showed the program was loading or saving correctly.

        I never had any trouble, but that was because I had a really cheap and nasty tape recorder without any fancy auto-level circuitry that would try to make the data "sound nicer" (hah!). Wasn't nice to use for playing anything to listen to, but was perfect as a cheap-ass storage device.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:19PM (#38833499)

      The cool thing about the ZX-81 in particular (kit version) was how when you built something from scratch you really felt not a care at all about modification to it.

      You didn't like the chiclet keyboard? Neither did I. That's why I replaced with with a spare TI-994A keyboard (real keys). After all, when you were the one that personally attached the keyboard connector you feel no trepidation in taking it out.

      Or the wobbly 16k ram pack. The problem was the thing was as you say rather bulky, and would with some vibration work its way off the connector just enough to crash the system.

      Again when you were the one assembling the case you have no issues attaching struts to the case to make the 16K expansion far more stable.

      That's why there is still as much nostalgia for the ZX-81 as other more popular computers like the Atari or Commodore models that were easier to set up and use, because it was generally a more personal attachment and level of effort involved for those that really got into it.

      Being mass market things I didn't keep any of the other early computers - but I did keep the ZX-81, because a lot of personal effort had gone into it.

    • by Dogtanian (588974)
      Most of the shortcomings of the ZX81 that some people like to get snotty about were forgiveable because they were what made the computer affordable.

      For example, a real keyboard would have been nice, but it would also have massively increased the price.

      However, the notorious "RAM pack wobble" (and yes, this was very common- there was even a joke on Red Dwarf about it!) was just crap design. One explanation I heard was that they reused the RAMpack case from the ZX80 for the ZX81 (whose own case was a diff
  • BBC Micro Men (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:08PM (#38833381)

    If you haven't seen the movie Micro Men about Clive Sinclair, it is very entertaining. Now playing at your nearest torrent.

    • Re:BBC Micro Men (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Colourspace (563895) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:34PM (#38833637)
      Yes, mod parent up - the UK's Bill Gates (Sinclair) versus a young Steve Jobs (Curry/Hauser - discuss?) in 'silicon fen' and don't forget the Acorn story is the seed of the ARM story. Pun intended. And if anyone is keen to see the actor Martin Freeman, due to play Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit films, you can find him here as one of the main protagonists (Curry). No indication on how he might smoke a clay pipe though.
      • But of course Job and Gates were of similar ages..
      • Yes, mod parent up - the UK's Bill Gates (Sinclair) versus a young Steve Jobs (Curry/Hauser - discuss?)

        I've never really thought about it before, but yes there is a big similarity. The cheap, market share leading but clunky Sinclair computers, vs the high design values at a higher price of the Acorn computers. And then there's Clive Sinclair's phone throwing echoed in Ballmer's chair throwing.

    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      If you haven't seen the movie Micro Men about Clive Sinclair, it is very entertaining. Now playing at your nearest torrent.

      I've a couple of points to make about the programme. It was okay in some respects- nitpicking aside [wikipedia.org], I knew most of the details already and it seemed to get them broadly right.

      However, I did have a problem with how "Clive Sinclair" was played. Whatever one thinks of the guy- and I've heard some things said in the past that don't cast him in the greatest light- I think he deserved a fair portrayal. Whereas all the other parts (including Acorn's Chris Curry) were acted pretty much straight, Alexander Armstr

  • My VIC-20 beat up your ZX81 and stole its lunch money.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:09PM (#38833395) Homepage Journal

    There is even a YouTube channel for the diehard 8-bit fans out there

    8-bit? 2-bit. Good grief, that thing was painfully limited except relative to its immediate competitors. Prior to my parents buying my a ZX81 for Christmas, my home computer was an Atari 2600 with a BASIC Programming [wikipedia.org] cartridge. It had 62 bytes of code memory.

    Let me repeat that in case you thought I misspoke: it had 62, sixty-two, 2^6-2 bytes of memory.

    The ZX81 came with a whopping 16KB, which seemed mansionlike to my very inexperienced mind. But that's like having a better civil rights record than North Korea. It wasn't the worst of the worst but it wasn't far from it.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      I'm pretty sure the ZX-81 only came with 1K (I think the TS-1000 same with 2K). There were expansion boards out to take it up to a whopping 64K.

      • My ZX81 came with an external 16KB RAM expansion. When I said "the ZX81", I meant "the ZX81 my parents bought me for Christmas in hopes that I'd stop bugging them for a computer".

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        The service manual explains how to fit a 2kB or 8kB RAM chip and jumper it to suit. Many people did just that, or even a stack of such chips to make 16k.

    • Yeah, when I first read Racing the Beam (a book about the 2600) I thought that had to be a typo. Programmers had to do some heroic things to program that hardware.
    • by Dogtanian (588974)

      Prior to my parents buying my a ZX81 for Christmas, my home computer was an Atari 2600 with a BASIC Programming [wikipedia.org] cartridge. It had 62 bytes of code memory.

      I read a bit about that "BASIC" cartridge a while back. It's obviously a ludicrous idea.

      But then, I'm not attacking the VCS / 2600 in itself for that- it's clearly *not* what the machine was ever intended for. The machine has 128 bytes of RAM but supports up to 4KB ROM cartridges- obviously designed such that the program was stored on ROM, with the precious few bytes of RAM being used for data storage. (And *that* was using assembly language, and it was still apparently damn hard to develop "regular" 2600

      • The biggest stumbling block was with my parents. That BASIC cartridge wasn't exactly free and they were gun shy about buying me a better system. I kept my mouth shut about the limitations of that little ZX81 until I learned enough to make use of it anyway. I was able to impress them enough with my enthusiasm that it was easier to talk them into getting a Commodore 64 a few months later.

        Again, my own ZX81 came with the 16KB cartridge. It had 1KB "native".

  • yay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by samjam (256347) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:12PM (#38833431) Homepage Journal

    I learned on a ZX81, and I still have one.

    I learned Z80 machine code by reading other peoples listings and comparing to the mnemonics at the back of the ZX81 manual.

    I programmed a cool morse-code decoder, and a music program that played sound out of the TV speaker (along with a load of junk).

    I also beat someone elses implementation of read, data & restore.

    Then I went on to a CPC6128, then BBC Micro with econet and advanced programmers guide. Then hacking MSDOS with debug and edlin. Then Windows 3.1 and Delphi; win95, then moving to winXP and Linux and sticking with Linux - for the freedom you know.

    For a while I had a ZX81 emulator on my android phone, but like the other guy said, you couldn't pay me to go back to it.

    It was awful. At the time it was great and helped make me, but I won't go back. You can't make me!

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      The really nifty part is that the Z80 processor is a superset up the 8080, meaning that most of your Assember code would still run on a Pentium.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        If it's a Z80 that's any similar to the one in the first GameBoy, there's nearly 1024 opcodes in that CPU. There's register bit set/bit clear/bit test for all bits of nearly all registers.

      • by rev0lt (1950662)
        8080/85 and 8086 have different instruction sets. The 8085 had about 78 opcodes (original Z80 had 153, if I'm not mistaken, including all from the 8085), but 8086 has completely different instructions and register sets, so if you want it to run on a Pentium, you can - but you'll need an emulator :)
  • by Master Of Ninja (521917) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:19PM (#38833495)
    The ZX81 was one of the main reasons the UK had a great generation of programmers (and especially games programmers). The computers were cheap, easy to tinker with and allowed endless modifications. I know that a lot of people are very sniffy about Basic, but the BBC Basic taught in schools at the time was the gateway to self taught computer programming. This is why I think the Raspberry Pi will herald a revolution in computer programming - $25 (?£) compared to the £50 in some of the advertisements for the ZX81. With a keyboard and mouse the raspberry pi will be equivalently priced.

    As an aside I never had the ZX81, only the later Spectrum +3. But those were the glory days of British computing...
    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      price is not the only factor

      for one the time had a lot to do with it, now YOU could have a computer without breaking the bank, much more impressive in 81 vs 012, next all you had to do is plug it in and your computing, PI well your going to have to choose and install a linux distro on the thing before it does more than sit there, which sad to say is still a challenge for most people today.

  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:21PM (#38833515)
    That the French version still had a QWERTY keyboard layout. I guess internationalization wasn't its strong point. I learned a lot with mine though, like how to type in endless amounts of machine language in comments.
  • The ZX-81 was my first computer, too.

    I really liked the little Basic book and 10-line games. Unfortunately, my 16K memory expansion had this annoying feature that it would reset the machine when you knocked on the table -- not so nice when you had entered a long program and it happened before you had saved it to cassette tape. :-)

    And yeah, the keyboard really sucked.

  • by mccalli (323026) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:21PM (#38833521) Homepage
    How many k? One. One k. Not two k, one k. And here it is [ox.ac.uk].

    Cheers,
    Ian
  • My buddy had one when we were younger. Years later a neighbor said he had one, brought it over, and it was still unopened in the box! I have it in storage for when it's worth millions... Someday...
  • Memories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hAckz0r (989977) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:28PM (#38833593)
    Back in 1980 my counselor at University of Maryland informed me that I would be unable to graduate on time because I was not unable to get into my last course. That was because for 5 semesters I was unable to get a prerequisite course called "Intro to Computer Science". All the engineering and computer science majors had over booked the available computer lab time and the closest I had gotten was 73'rd in line. Yes, you got it, if 73 people dropped out of that class, in the first two weeks, then I could take the class. Problem is if the course is that bad I'm not sure I wanted to be in that class!

    Oh well. At that point I realized that I had already been screwed by this thing called a computer and I didn't even know what the heck it was yet. Not to be beaten and then kicked when down, I forced the University to 'creatively' come up with another way for me to graduate (a semester late, but graduated none the less), and then went out and I bought this Sinclair kit and built my own computer in my dorm room.

    I had to buy all the solder, wire, and stuff, to be able to build and assemble it, and then I went down the dorm hallway knocking on doors until I found someone that actually had taken that computer science class and dragged him down to my room and had them explain what they did. With a three line program printing out my name in a loop I allowed him to go back to his party, and it was history from there. The local electronics swap shop had numerous visits as I bought a second hand teletype keyboard, power supplies, and odds and ends, and rewired them all to interface with this little computer. It morphed over time to have more memory than it was ever designed to have and lots of relays and controls for all sorts of things. The creation kept growing in both size and complexity. Every peripheral that was ever designed for the Sinclair, and later the Timex version of it, was in there somewhere, and then many many creations of my own.

    After graduating I began taking courses in microprocessors and digital electronics and was part of the manufacturing engine that built the next generation of computers. Eventually I became a Computer Scientist, now with fond memories if those simple days, when it was fairly easy to see how something worked and to find ways to improve upon it. Its nice to see that others have fond memories as well. The Sinclair was one of a kind.

  • ZX81 BASIC and FORTH (Score:4, Interesting)

    by turgid (580780) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:02PM (#38833953) Journal

    I cut my teeth on the ZX81 when I was 8 years old, and I've still got it... I had a 1k ZX81 which later got upgraded to 16k with a "proper" keyboard. My dad mounted it on a wooden base and fixed the RAM pack to eliminate wobble.

    By the time I was 9 I was a confident BASIC programmer, writing my own (very slow) games, and was learning Z80 machine code (note all you commodore people: the 6502 sucked in comparison).

    When I was 10 I got a multi-tasking FORTH ROM. It was a replacement for the built-in Sinclair BASIC ROM and was 8k. It contained a Real Time multi-tasking threaded-compiled (as opposed to interpreted) FORTH system.

    You can get a ZX81 emulator for *nix and the ROM image is out there somewhere. I downloaded a copy a year or two back. Google for "zx81 husband forth rom".

    Some Sinclair staff who had worked on the ZX81 left to form their own company to make a computer called the Jupiter Ace, which was somewhere between a ZX81 and a Spectrum in terms of hardware (no colour, but high-res graphics and more RAM than the ZX81). The FORTH in that was more conventional.

    Those were the days!

  • by unassimilatible (225662) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:10PM (#38834019) Journal
    Sheridan. Never figured out why Michael O'Hare left Babylon 5 though.
  • I never had one (although I wanted one). Now, after reading about the horrible hacks that Sinclair's engineers did to make it all work (did you know that they repurposed the Z80's DRAM refresh circuit as a video generator? 'strue) I suspect I'm glad I grew up with the BBC Micro instead.

    But I cannot deny that the set of standard manuals had the best cover art on any computer reference book, ever. Mmm, those lovely John Harris paintings [alisoneldred.com]... and he sells prints!

  • Many of us have larger collections.. Why is this 'news' ?

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:02PM (#38834943) Journal

    I recall magazines selling the ZX-81 in kit form, but at that time, I had no interest in spending a whole $100 (after shipping and/or sales tax, anyway) for a bag of unassembled parts. I really wanted my own home computer though, so the assembled Timex-Sinclair 1000 version was just the thing for me.

    I even owned a very rare plastic carrying case for it, that I had to order direct from Timex with a special coupon to get. As I recall, it held 4 cassette tapes in their plastic cases, the computer and AC adapter, TV converter box, and maybe a spot for that 16K RAM expansion pack (it had 2K internally).

    Good times!

  • by billybob_jcv (967047) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @07:42PM (#38835237)

    Be nostalgic if you want to - but that keyboard really was horrible. We're not talking Samsung proximity touch screens - this was as painful as the weird old lady who works at Burger King punching a special order into the funky membrane keyboard point-of-sale system.

    It was a blessing that you only had 1K - it meant your Basic program probably wouldn't be very long.

  • Before I upgraded to the C64 and became more of an asshole with my-computer-is-better-than-yours flamewars with the Apple IIe and Atari 800 dudes, I had a VIC-20. Even at the time, I knew how bad the Vic was, and there was no one I could snobbishly look down upon, like the douchebag antagonist of any of a dozen early 1980s movies. No one I could look down upon, that is, except the poor TS-1000 / ZX-81 guys.

    "You're running out of memory, so your display is starting to get smaller?"

    "Nice keyboard you've got

  • Use the Archive.org link:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20110724142332/http://www.zx81museum.net/adverts.html [archive.org]

    I tried the Coral Cache link:
    http://www.zx81museum.net.nyud.net/adverts.html [nyud.net]
    But it returns "500 Internal Server Error".

    Dan

  • Old ZX 80 hardware is expensive and rare from what I have seen. You can use the MESS Sinclair ZX 80 [mess.org] target to relive those 8-bit days of yore without the fear of electrical or mechanical breakdowns associated with running on the actual hardware. A lot of early microcomputer equipment often had power supply or other problems which means that even if you can get your hands on the real hardware now, and it works, it may not run for long before things start breaking. I do not have any old ZX 80's and don't have

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