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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 @04:46PM (#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 lazarus (2879) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @04:54PM (#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 Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:09PM (#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.

  • Before (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:11PM (#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.

  • by Master Of Ninja (521917) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:19PM (#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 SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:19PM (#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.

  • Memories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hAckz0r (989977) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:28PM (#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.

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

    by Colourspace (563895) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @05:34PM (#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.
  • ZX81 BASIC and FORTH (Score:4, Interesting)

    by turgid (580780) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @06:02PM (#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!

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

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