back to article Happy 30th Birthday, Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched 30 years ago today. At the Churchill Hotel, Clive - now Sir Clive - Sinclair stood before reporters and a barrage of camera flashbulbs to unveil the machine, the successor to the popular ZX81, on 23 April 1982. Comparing the new machine to the BBC Micro Model A - released the previous …


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  1. Toxteth O'Gravy
    Thumb Up

    Excellent piece, folks

    Brings back lots of great memories.

  2. Jon Double Nice
    Thumb Up

    ZX Spectrum Orchestra

    Seems as good a place as any to post this:

    Some superb music made using Spectrums (Spectrae?)

    1. Kubla Cant

      Re: ZX Spectrum Orchestra

      No, not "spectrae".

      The plural of "spectrum" is "spectra". It's a second-declension neuter noun - as if anybody cared.

      1. Jon Double Nice

        Re: ZX Spectrum Orchestra

        I don't care.

        Thanks, Spectrum - "Thectrum"

  3. DF118

    Happy birthday old pal

    You created a monster, i.e. me.

    1. Greg J Preece

      Re: Happy birthday old pal

      And me! First bit of programming I ever did, at a ridiculously young age, and all because the introductory programming manual had a wizard on the front cover, and a kaleidoscope program in the back...

      My Speccy, Speccy+ (hard keyboard) and ZX81 are all still going strong, though I did lose my joystick interface. :-(

      1. dont care what ever

        Re: Happy birthday old pal

        me too , far too many hours spent sitting over the rubber keyboard typing in listing out of mags, followed by days "de bugging" the listing .:) back in the day

        uk101 (anyone else ever build one of these ?)






        all still running bar the uk101 (must get round to fixing it so i can show the "boys" at work what a real pc looks like lol

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Happy birthday old pal

          Actually my current collention seems to have a slightly bit more sunclair stuff in it.

          - Tanburry NewBrain AD

          - Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K

          - Sinclair QL +disciple disc interface etc...

          - Oric Atmos 48K

          I also had a lot of Acorn stuff (as previous distributor I had gathered a lot) which I donated to a local RISC OS computer club. All are in fully working condition except the QL's microdrives (of course).

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  5. Chris Miller

    and there's a Google doodle today in its honour (as well as St George's day)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They appear to have fixed it

        I see a nice authentic bit of attribute clash on the big G and on teh little g just above the dragon's head.

        Dickinson's office looks amazing. (And he looks a bit like Kenny Everett.) Got me all nostalgic about getting taken to have a look round my Dad's work when I was about 6. A pity Clive didn't shell out for a nice CAD workstation for him to complement the drawing board and graph paper though.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: They appear to have fixed it

          There are attribute clashes all over that image. A nasty bodge to reduce memory use, the BBC may only have had 8 colours, but every pixel was individually addressable.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: They appear to have fixed it

            Shame those fancy individually addressable pixels in 8 colours didn't leave you with enough memory to do anything actually useful with though, eh?

          2. Paul RND*1000

            Re: They appear to have fixed it

            Funny you should bring that up. I had a much-loved Speccy at home, but always lusted after the graphics capabilities of the BBC Micro, with high resolution MODE 0 and colourful MODE 2, and played a bit with some of the listings from INPUT magazine during lunch period at school.

            But when I finally got my hands on a BBC B around 2002 or so along with the ubiquitous Microvitec CUB monitor to go with it and started hacking around with it properly, I quickly found out that 32KB of RAM minus 20+KB of screen memory equals not much by way of room for BASIC, or anything much for that matter.

            Pixel-level colour loses its appeal remarkably quickly when you realize that you have to revert to a 4 or even 2-colour mode (or code up interrupt drive mid-frame mode changes) to have any hope of doing much useful with the display. Annoying as colour clash could be, as a price vs capabilities compromise I think Sinclair made the best choice at the time.

            I guess I was spoiled by all those years of having more free memory available for my use than the BBC B had total memory. I'll take colour clash over "Out of Memory" errors every stinkin' time! ;-)

            With hindsight I should have looked for a Master 128k on Ebay instead of a B...

        2. Wombling_Free
          Thumb Up

          Re: They appear to have fixed it

          He probably didn't have a lazy half-million quid lying around, did he? It was the EARLY eighties - CAD still required big, hilariously expensive workstations.

          Anyway, whats wrong with pencil-and-paper?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: St George

      An appropriate combination, both dragon slayers in their own way.

      Happy Birthday from a former Dragon 32 owner.

  6. AndrueC Silver badge

    I'm one of those that the Speccy introduced to programming. I actually spent more time programming on it than playing games. First the Basic (which was a bit slow but I knew no different) then assembly language. Steven Vicker's ROM disassembly book taught me huge amounts. I well remember the 'ureka!' moment when I suddenly realised why the most significant bit of a mantissa could be used to store the sign flag.

    I moved onto the CPC6128 eventually and did even more programming but the Speccy is where I started.

    Happy birthday Speccy!

  7. Jonathan White

    Some of us who are now in the 'have you tried switching it off and on again' brigade probably started down that path by making some pocket money on the side fixing friend's spectrum keyboard when the contacts underneath the rubber failed, as they did quite often (especially wasz, for obvious reasons). Pop the top off, replace the weird membraney thing with all the switches in. IIRC you could get them for a quid or so, and I used to charge a fiver for the job...


    1. Some Beggar

      I still haven't forgiven Daley Thomson for temporarily killing my 'm' and 'n' keys.

      1. Paul RND*1000
        Thumb Up

        He was the reason my Speccy went in for a new keyboard membrane at a couple of years old. Caps Shift and Space both failed around the same time! I was a 2-handed runner...

        1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

          He claimed at least two joysticks and an Interface 2 (and our expansion port was never the same again).

          Eventually, our dad banned us playing old Daley's Decathlon.

  8. cyborg

    +3 is still in my loft.

    My first computer at the age of 7 - I only ever knew the Spectrum during its years of decline but I'm not complaining.

    Those Amstrad discs were rubbish though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: +3 is still in my loft.

      The Amstrad 3 inch discs may have been rubbish but back when Amstrad selected them as their standard there was no more guarantee that 3.5 would be more of a success. Also, according to Roland Perry (it may have been Cliff Lawson so I apologise if I am misattributing) they did look at 3.5 for the CPC but the cost of the controllers and drives was way beyond what they could budget.

      On the downside the 3 inch discs were expensive, but on the upside they were the most sturdy of all the floppy formats. The original design brief for them was that they should be able to be sent through the Japanese postal system without any protection. That's why they are so tough!

      1. Spoonsinger

        Re:- The Amstrad 3 inch discs may have been rubbish... etc

        Mousier Sugar got them cheap because they were part of the MSX standard (which was going down the pan worldwide at the time). Mind mine still work :-). Obviously a reliable format, (floppy wise).

  9. Anonymous Coward


    ...Manic Miner, Jetset Willy, Lunar Jetman, Dailey Thompsons Decathlon, Sabre Wulf, The Hobbit, Valhalla, Urban Upstart, Attic Attac, the list goes on and on and on and....

    Oh Happy days.

    1. Chris 3
      Thumb Up

      Re: Ahhhh...

      Time for some nostalgia:

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ahhhh...

      and ahhhh indeed to the thousands(?) of Daily Thompson's Decathlon players who had a shagged keyboard as a result. :)

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. teacake

        Re: You know,

        "For anyone interested, if you get irritated with Mary coming along and punching you if you swear, you can find her in the curiously Spanish-named El Vinos, and kill her. It doesn't help anything, of course, since she comes back a minute or two later, but it still gives a certain thrill to those as nerdy as I."

        > Fuck Mary.

        > Mary is not amused. (Punch)

        Ah, Valhalla, happy days.

  10. pPPPP

    I'm working from home today so I might get the speccy out of the loft and set it up in front of the TV. The girlfriend will love that when she gets home.

    It's been a while since I hurled some abuse at R Tape loading error, 0:1

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    ZX80 at 16 in 1981

    ZX81 3 months later

    ZX-Spectrum acquired for 18th birthday (from parents) in 1982.

    (Returned inevitable faulty unit and acquired real Spectrum in 83.)

    Got degree in Computer Studies, postgrad in Software Tech, worked in IT for decades,

    chartered member of BCS etc - RESULT!

    Amazingly one of my colleagues at the company I now work for as a direct result of buying the Sinclair machines (and the education they gave me) was the head of East London Robotics who manufactured and sold add on kit for the Spectrum. He sold me a RAM board in 82 but I didn't meet him until 1999 as a result of buying that very board. Nice!

    1. epdm2be

      Never had the ZX81. Went for an Oric 1 16K at that time. Big mistake. Due to a parallel import and modified Oric mainboard (with associated problems) I returned it for a ZX Spectrum 48K. By then I had a mark III motherboard. I've had a few of these and some great peripherals like DKTronics keyboard, wafadrive (don't ask), Seikosha printer. Crazy days with those games like JSW, Tir Na Nog/Dun Darach and Marssport.

      Later on I turned to the dark side and gotten a C64 (in anticipation o/t Amiga).

      But then the fun was almost gone. The Amiga 500 (the first affordable model) took way too long so I briefly flirted with an 8-bit Atari 130XE. The Amiga 2000 that later I had was a problem ridden machine and ruined my appetite for computing a bit. Then with the purchase of the Atari PC4 (an 80286) things started to become way too serious. The Acorn A5000 was the first machine after my Amiga/PC fiasco (I had a few 500, 600 and 2000/2500) that made me smile again.

      Then I regretted not having saved up for the more enjoyable and less troublesome Acorn machines. I briefly got even a Acorn Atom. But those BBC Model B's... they were indestructable... kinda like Daleks.. they just kept going.

  12. ukgnome

    Happy Birthday Old Friend

    In honour of your birthday i am now playing manic miner on my phone.

    *I will now spend Monday pondering what could of happened if Sinclair had gone on to create Windows*

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Great piece, but wrong on the attributes.

    The byte is one bit for FLASH, one bit for BRIGHT, three bits for PAPER, three bits for INK.

    This meant that setting the BRIGHT bit affected both the INK and PAPER in a square, which is why so many games and static screens used a black background, as black isn't noticeably affected by the BRIGHT bit.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

      "Amstrad killed off the Spectrum 128 but maintained the Plus..." - Pardon? Huh?

      First off Amstrad didn't ditch the single-key-keyword entry; that change came in in the 128K Basic from Sinclair. And Amstrad didn't ditch the 128K - it's that architecture that it redesigned for cheaper production and added the tape recorder. The "+" was just a 48K in a new case, which Amstrad had nothing to do with.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

        Amstrad didn't just re-architecture it for cheaper production. Sugar was mortified when he saw what the return rates were on faulty Speccies produced up at the Timex factory. The problem was the Speccy had far too many components that could, and did, go wrong.

        Amstrad set about creating integrated chips to reduce the component count and reduce cost. This also made the units more reliable.

        A 1983 48k Sinclair model -

        A 1988 128 +2 Amstrad model -

        Everything has been shoved onto the chips.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

          Not exactly - that's a "+2A", not a "+2". If you compare Sinclair's original 'toastrack' "128K" motherboard with Amstrad's first "+2" there's very little in it, and Amstrad shipped a load of those. It was only later that a major redesign took place for the "+3" model with a disc drive, offloading the multi-voltage supplies to the external PSU; the changes were also applied to the tape-drive production model making the "+2A". That's why some +2s have a coaxial power supply and grey case and some have a six-pin power supply and black case (and an extra memory paging mode that no-one ever used).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

            True. But if you read Sugars autobiography you'll see how the +2 came about. He set the wheels in motion for manufacture even before he had bought Sinclair as he had to get production started for the Christmas market. The first +2 was thrown together in a few weeks by Amstrad who reverse engineered a Spectrum 128k they got from the high street.

            That section of his autobiography makes fascinating reading. Essentially he had pushed the button on the manufacturer of thousands of new redesigned Spectrums before even having secured the purchase of the brand. If it had gone wrong he would have been lumbered with a huge bill and thousands of Spectrums that he had no right to manufacture.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Paris Hilton

              Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

              Ah - hadn't actually heard that tale. But why am I not in the least bit surprised?

              At least this time no pillock has gone on about 'RAM Pack Wobble'...

      2. Paul RND*1000

        Re: Great piece, but wrong on the attributes... But wait, there's more...

        The 128k BASIC lost the keyword shortcuts but 48k mode retained them right through the entire life of the Spectrum, including the +2A/+3.

        The Sinclair 128k machines still had the shortcuts printed on the keycaps. The Amstrad Spectrums dispensed with those, aside from LOAD and RUN which were still printed on the L and R keys.

        I never missed them on my +3, because I never had any reason to program in 48k BASIC and only used 48k mode for compatibility with older games.

  14. Robert Caldecott

    Ah, happy days.

    I cut my programming teeth on a Speccy when I acquired one second-hand in 1984 (I was 13). I used to stay up until the wee small hours writing BASIC programs. I eventually learned enough Z80 assembler to write a very basic windowing system which was used in my only commercial release - a basic database app called "Filemaster" which was sold by BetterBytes in the late 80s. Happy days! I still have the source code on a diskette in the loft (I eventually got one of those Mile-Gordon Technology disk drives - complete with "snapshot" button - after Microdrives failed me for the last time).

    Sadly I lent my Spectrum 128K to a friend in 1990 and never saw it again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah, happy days.

      'File Master' is listed as MIA on World of Spectrum:

      If you still have a working copy perhaps you could consider uploading it to their archive?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, happy days.

        Are you refering to Campbells Masterfile?

        I had a same named database program on my Acorn back then, Masterfile 3. From another programmer though.

    2. Andus McCoatover

      Re: Ah, happy days.

      If you've still got your source code in the loft, it aint readable any more. My 5-floppy DooM set went the same way.

      Always wanted a jupiter Ace, because of the FORTH. Had to build FORTH on a CP/M logic analyser over the weekend, for fun, once. Over 48 hours without sleep, the bugger worked!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, happy days.

        Not readable?

        Not necessarily true. Plenty of people are happily recovering old cold from floppies. Most of my Amstrad 3 inch discs still work fine despite some being 25 years old and all of my Amiga floppies are fine.

        Last time I checked my C64 stuff was OK as well.

        Although anyone storing stuff on Sinclair Microdrives will be disappointed to learn that their data was corrupted 0.3 nanoseconds after saving :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, happy days.

          I transferred the data from all my old BBC Micro floppies to my PC about four years ago. Only three out of over a hundred were unrecoverable. So it's worth a try.

        2. Paul RND*1000

          Re: Ah, happy days.

          My +3 floppies were still completely intact at least as recently as 2004. Unlike the 3" floppy drive I needed to be able to copy data off them, which required a makeshift drive belt repair as the original belt had disintegrated from age.

          They might still be readable for all I know, but they're in a box that's MIA somewhere in my apartment, the +3 itself can't put a display on any TV or monitor I own without modifications and the original 3" floppy is in pieces in a box on the other side of the Atlantic anyway!

  15. Steve Evans

    Those were the days...

    - Comparing the new machine to the BBC Micro Model A - released the previous December - Sinclair said: "It's obvious at a glance that the design of the Spectrum is more elegant. What may not be so obvious is that it also provides more power."

    IIRC, several of Sir Clive's adverts had him dragged across the advertising standards authority coals by Acorn?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Those were the days...

      IIRC, several of Sir Clive's adverts had him dragged across the advertising standards authority coals by Acorn?

      Dunno about that, but one of Acorns advertisements certainly resulted in a punch-up:

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Those were the days...

        Said punch up was re-enacted in Micro-Men:

        1 minute 10 seconds. And it has been confirmed the words used by Sinclair are verbatim!

    2. epdm2be

      Re: Those were the days...

      Even Apple had Acorn's PR team up the curtains at one point.

      During their campaign o/t original PowerMac (1994) (when Apple self-declared it to be first personal computer with RISC processor) while it actually was the Acorn Archimedes (1987), which was the first personal computer with RISC cpu. I remember that in 1994 Acorn presented the 2nd generation Of their systems with the fantastic Risc PC 600.

      Another one of those times that I walked around with that stupid big grin on me face.

  16. Code Monkey
    Thumb Up

    I taught myself to program on one of these and am still paying the bills with code. Looking at the comments above I'm not alone.

    Happy birthday the Speccy!

  17. Cazzo Enorme

    Thoroughly enjoyed this trip through history. I was a CBM64 owner, but most of my schoolmates were Speccy owners and I recall several of them buying an after market keyboard that appeared to add a compact "Commodore" style keyboard. What it actually did was to sit on top of the original squidgy keys, and press down on them with plastic prongs. It quickly knackered the original keyboard.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Happy Birthday you rubber-keyed wonder!

    Excellent article Tony!

    For all my anti-fanboi trolling I must admit that I am a secret ZX Spectrum fanboi. (Double-standards? I've heard of them...)

  19. Shonko Kid

    Happy Birthday Speccy!

    Thanks for everything!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speed of Progress

    We think we live today in a fast moving world of technology and built in obsolescence, where the latest smart phones, tablet things and iFads are old-hat after a few months. However, those days were no different. State of the art one christmas, was obsolete by the next summer, and consigned to junk within a year or two. Cutting edge state-of-the-art manufacturer one year, bankrupt two years later.

    Nothing changes......

    (though i do concur with the earlier poster - *what if* Sir Clive had created windows......)

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Speed of Progress

      Even when they were replaced with a better model the older one tended to live for some time. People were running their C64s and speccies into the 1990s when even my Amiga A500 was getting long in the tooth.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    The long life of the Spectrum

    The machine did have a very long commercial life. The final issue of You Sinclair was dated September 1993.

    And amazingly there are still games coming out today and a commercial magazine (Retro Gamer) that covers the Spectrum scene.

    In the final issue of Your Sinclair came out, I think it was Jon Nash who wrote something along the lines of "The Spectrum isn't dead, it's just entering a new phase of its life". I don't think even he would have believed that in 2012 the Spectrum would still have new games and would have a high street computer magazine cover it.

    Long live the Spectrum. And also the Amstrad and C64. All 3 have defied death and live on. And if you haven't seen the new version of R-Type released for the CPC the other week, prepare to pick your jaw off the floor!

  22. terlan

    10 Print "boobs... I mean happy birthday"

    20 goto 10


    Dear Speccy,

    happy birthday and thank you for the wonderful childhood memories and my career in IT.

    Also, for teaching me that "go to" is one word in all my english exams.... well lets maybe forget about that bit.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Just found this picture. It's the staff of Your Sinclair waving goodbye in the September 1993 issue:

    Terrifyingly the official shed sprog on the bottom right would now be about 20!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My mate and I were so desperate to get hold of one about 2 years after release but being kids were we almost always broke. We found a broken one in a local junk shop fully boxed with a couple of games, we begged, stole and scraped together the £20 asking price and took it home. Found one of the power transisters had blown, pinched one that was almost identical from my mates brother's stereo ( denied and knowledge about how the stereo broke! ) and got it working again. Of course we had to take it in turns to have at each other's house, I think it lasted about another 6-9 months before it finally died for good. We both later got Amstrad 464's around the same time so we both betrayed the cause in the end!

    Time to hit the emulators methinks, get a blast of Uridium and Head Over Heels!

  25. Paul 25

    Thanks for everything Clive

    And thanks for the nostalgia El Reg :)

    I was 3 when the Speccy was released, and between that and a +2A (basically the +3 but with a tape deck), it laid the foundations for who I am today.

    I think it's pretty hard to overstate the impact that it had on making me the person, and the developer I am today.

    And I still think BASIC is underrated as a beginner's programming language. Nothing teaches you the benefits of structured programming, functions, packages, objects, sophisticated types etc, than not having any of those.

    Having GOSUB as your most sophisticated programming feature really makes you appreciate modern languages :)

  26. Haku

    LOAD ""


    Program: Jet Set Willy


    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: LOAD ""

      And if you're missing the sound effect:

      Click on 'BASIC'.

      At the prompt press


      <alt gr>





      The colours are wrong but the screaching is there. Oh and another blast from the past:




      That'll make it beep as you type.

      Amazing what the ol' brain remembers :)

    3. ridley

      Re: LOAD ""

      Am I the only one who had a C-60 of "offsite backup copies" with about 20 games on it who could identify a game by the sound of it loading.

      1. Paul RND*1000

        Re: LOAD ""

        I always knew that "Chequered Flag" was within the last few seconds of loading because there was a very distinctive bit in the loading noises near the end!

  27. Simon B

    Spectrum - This is where my love for computers began :) Got to hand it to my dad for buying one though, never really thought before about how that shaped me :)

  28. tony72
    Thumb Up

    Happy times. I did the first year or two of university using my speccy 128 for word processing and stuff - Tasword 2, +D interface, and an Epson dot matrix printer; it wasn't all playing Bomb Jack and Thrust 2. It has to be said, it wasn't work or games that made speccy obsolete for me, it was porn. Sam Fox Strip Poker on the speccy just did not cut it once I got an Amiga with 4096 colours.

    By the way, if the bastard who borrowed my Interface 1 and microdrive at school and never gave it back is reading this, I still hate you.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was my first computer and leg into IT.

  30. mrmond

    Custom Speccy anyone ?

    My first spectrum was a 16k jobbie bought my my stepfather for "school work" *cough*

    I save ages to buy an upgrade to 48k which meant putting in new ram chips. My very first hardware upgrade, that actually worked out cheaper than buying the 48k machine in the first place.

    Later I had a plus 2 then a disciple disk drive before finally getting a plus 3 in about 1991/92 secondhand with interface 1 and microdrives. Of course it would only work properly in 48k mode as the +2a and +3 were different internally so a friend of mine converted it to a proper 128 by piggybacking a 128 rom and a switch so I could use it as either. It was possible to boot up as a 128,load a program from microdrive,then flip to save it onto the internal +3 drive. Later he added a 720k PC drive that I had working with the plus D from Datel,again,setting it up to switch and be seen as the A: drive instead of B:. I also had a multiface3 unit that meant I could convert all my games to disk. The final addition he did was to add a 3.5 inch jack to the top left of the case with the psuedo stereo modification that many demoscene coders were using, ACB stereo which worked brilliantly.

    I even got an old Cub monitor used originally with a BBC and had a scart lead made up for a better picture on a telly.

    Apart from the original 16k rubber keyed version, which got nicked everything else was done on the cheap second hand.

    Now,I'm emulating the speccy on my android phone and on my laptop, but still have a ZX81 and a Plus3 in the cupboard.

    1. Paul RND*1000

      Re: Custom Speccy anyone ?

      There were a few issues I ran into with the +3 having compatibility troubles with 128k software, though it happened surprisingly few times in the 5 years I was actively using the +3.

      One was the different syntax for RAMdisk use in BASIC. The 128k used something like LOAD! (or !LOAD) while the +3 treated it as drive "M:". I think the "128k Music Box" software was one which I had to go through and manually edit the code to run on the +3. I also recall modifying a couple of programs so that the "save to microdrive" option saved to disk instead.

      The other was that RAM page 7 on the 128k was used only for the second screen area, but PLUS3DOS used it as a temporary store and for some system variables and any program which wrote into it could cause major problems.

      There were differences in ROM and RAM paging as well because of the extra 32K of ROM needed to house the DOS. No problem if the older code pages ROM and RAM properly, but like the keyboard reading problems on issue 3 Spectrums, I suspect some programming shortcuts could lead to the wrong ROM or RAM pages being in place.

      I recall there being a software hack which set up RAM in the full 64k address space and loaded a straight copy of the original Spectrum 48k ROM in the bottom 16k, allowing some otherwise totally incompatible programs which wouldn't even load in 48k mode to work.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    End of production

    At the end of the article it mentions that the end of manufacture was 1990 (or even 1988).

    Amstrad officially discontinued the +3 model ahead of the launch of the revamped Amstrad CPC Plus machines which came out in August 1990. This was carried as front page news on the weekly magazine New Computer Express.

    I can't find the article at the moment but the cut of it was that the +3 was discontinued but the +2 would continue. I personally believe that the +2 was probably discontinued sometime in 1991 but can't find any evidence to hand at the moment.

    I don't think Amstrad shouted about the death of the +2 because they probably had large stocks sitting in warehouses that they needed to clear. Certainly there was no shortage of machines to buy (I had cause to buy a new +3 late 1991 and had no trouble sourcing one).

  32. Irongut

    Happy Birthday old friend. If you weren't 200 miles away I'd connect you up again tonight and relive the fun we used to have.

  33. ChrisC Silver badge

    Ah, happy days...

    Count me in as another el Reg-ular who cut his programming teeth on Sinclair BASIC - both the vanilla flavour and then later with the extra commands provided by the AMX Mouse software, and who now earns a comfortable living from writing code. So thanks to Sir Clive and his team for the Spectrum, indeed to everyone involved in those halcyon days of home computing, I raise my virtual glass to you all!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Love the design sketches

    It's hard to believe there was a time when designs were put together on graph paper by pencils and rulers. Sometimes the early 1980s feels a very long way away indeed.

    I never owned a Spectrum, but I was always in awe of the Ultimate: Play the Game titles.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Love the design sketches

      Adrian Newey still uses paper when drawing his F1 car designs, he's probably one of the most successful designers too.

      There's no computer screen that lets you look at a drawing as a whole in such high contrast and resolution as paper. With CAD you're zooming in and out all the time.

  35. Furbian

    Changed my life.

    Literally, I was meant to have different career to computing, but this rubber keyed thing came along, lead me to write about computers a bit, get a degree in computing, a career in it, and now I'm doing a PhD in it , only a corridor or two away from Steve Furber.

    I remember the day I got mine vividly. It had colour, that was an amazing step up from the ZX81. Back then the there was no way the family could afford a Beeb, and even the C64 was too expensive, and this was the closest we could get to owning something similar.

    Thank you all who created this little wonder.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Happy birthday!

    The 48k Spectrum is what got me interested in programming (as well as the games!) and led me to a career in IT. Great memories of an amazing computer and games.

    Thanks, mum & dad for buying me & my brother one 30 years ago!

  37. Levente Szileszky
    Thumb Up

    Happy Birthday to ZX Spectrum, the machine...

    ...I got when I was 12-13 ys old, I wrote my first piece on - a game! - a year later and the computer that's responsible for me ending up in this field. :)

    I'd say without question the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 were the two first personal computers penetrating truly en masse entire Europe (even behind the Iron Curtain though thanks to the COCOM-list we had to smuggle them in like mine from Vienna ;)), giving it such a boost that can be felt even today eg most of my generation (40 and older) started on these little machines.

    PS: - last year I bought one like this from eBay UK and I decided to only open this year, celebrating the double anniversary.(40/30)...

  38. Britt Johnston

    Software price control

    The software pricing was another key aspect: since too few good games came out, Sinclair commissioned some. They also managed game distribution, and on the way imposed a price standard - Standard games cost £5, SW-house games like The Hobbit or Scrabble were maybe 2-3 times that.

  39. bob 46


    I got a spectrum 48k for Christmas 1985. It was £129.99 I think, which was a HUGE amount of money back then. Many, many great hours playing games and learning to program. That and Lego were my best toys.

  40. Bassey


    A wonderfull piece that brings back many happy memories so a huge thank you for that. However, I can't believe any piece on the Spectrum is complete without mention of the Kempston Interface pack. This plugged into the back of the machine and, if memory serves (I was only 6!) went straight into the memory interface. It was sold as a general interface but was REALLY just so that you could plug in the same joysticks that your mates were using with their Comodore 64s. The only problem was, because it plugged directly into the memory interface, if you got a bit "enthusiastic" with your jojstick and pulled the cable out you killed your RAM. I have a vague recollection of this costing the better part of £100 to replace back then.

  41. Terry Barnes
    Thumb Up


    ...but could you type ZAP, PING, SHOOT or EXPLODE like you could on an Oric-1?

    My dad bought me an Oric-1 from Laskys - the complete lack of software availability (without ordering games from France using bad schoolboy French) led me to learn how to program and ultimately to a career in IT. And an understanding of how technical superiority means nothing if the public don't buy your product.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Alas poor Oric

      Yay! –A fellow former Oric owner. I am not alone!

      I remember preferring the Oric to the Speccy, when getting my first computer as a Chrimbo pressie from Santa as, even tho' the Speccy had far more software and was far more popular, the Oric had a 'HiRes' [320 x 240, I think] graphics mode.

      And, all these years later, while all you ex Speccy owners are working in IT, I work as a designer. Funny thing fate, isn't it?

  42. LPF
    Thumb Up

    The good old days

    I start with a zx81 from school and then went onto a a 48K speccie, the amount of Quickshot joysticks I broke playing daley thompsons decatholon, or Kick off or international karate ... damn good days :) Sniff.. now I program ASP.NET and try not to fall asleep at the keyboard :(

    One thing I loved was the C64 V Spectrum wars, they were legendary,

    1. figure 11

      Re: The good old days

      My c64 is better than your speccy!


  43. Pahhh

    Not very reliable though...

    They were the Xbox of the 80s. Incredibly unreliable. I used to work in a computer shop so had first hand experience of them dying. Plus I personnally killed a few.

    Wasnt just the first generation either. Problem was the add-on hardware. If you dared moved the computer you a fair chance the add-on would come away slightly and short out the connectors taking the ASIC out.

    I did though do one of my most epic soldering jobs on a Speccy. A friend was reporting that his machine was dying after a few minutes of being turned on. I didnt have any freezer spray so I told him to put his finger on some ice for a few minutes and then we went about diagnosing which chip was causing the problem. Turned out it was the Z80 which I happen to have a spare off. I desoldered the CPU and replaced it. The real tricky thing with those boards is if you put too much heat on them the tracks would lift - it was a really nasty motherboard.

    Of course, as a BBC B owner, you wont find me saying anything nice about the Spectrum. :P

    Good times though. (I remember the Jupiter Ace. Bizare machine it was....)

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Not very reliable though...

      It's probably one reason why Sinclair failed, they were just a little too cheap when compared to the competition. It made the next generation of 16-bit machines seem much better quality and by then he'd sold the company to Amstrad after wasting so much on the C5. I suppose being in MENSA is no substitute for common sense.

      While you look back with happy memories at your first ownership of any gadget, you tend to move on. How many people are sitting there with Nokia phones in their hands? very few I expect.

  44. Boothy

    Happy days!

    Like many here, I broke my computing teeth on the Spectrum, first with a 48k bought by my parents as a joint Christmas present, later after wearing out the keyboard I bought a Plus upgrade kit, so basically moved the motherboard over into the new case, a couple of wires to solder on, and a Spectrum Plus was born :-)

    I later got a 128k, then after that moved to an Amiga 500, then a 1200, finally a A4000 (040 with a GFX Card).

    Unlike most though, with the Specy I was more interested in using it as a control and command system, with monitoring. So went down the building of custom hardware (after reverse engineering a Kemston joystick), wrote software to run various things, from motors to light boards and scrolling LED panels etc.

    Because of that, I ended up moving into micro-electronics as a career, which lasted about 10 years.

    Oddly though, I got the itch about 10 years later (which is now well over ten years ago!) to switch career, and ended up in IT anyway!

    I still have the 128 and a Microdrive somewhere!? (Still got the A4000 as well, and it works fine (once I soldered the keyboard socket back in, anyway!)).

  45. Paul RND*1000

    Last of the rubber key Spectrums

    My first computer at Christmas 1984 was one of the last rubber-keyed 48k machines. The Spectrum+ was already on the shelves at this point (I seem to have a knack for this, later ending up with one of the slightly oddball Amiga 500 machines with 1.3 Kickstart but an A500+ style case).

    I actually preferred the rubber key version, though that might just have been through familiarity. I could hammer out program code and text at a pretty rapid pace on that thing. The very nice ring-bound manual was much better than the sorry excuse for a booklet that my + owning friends got, and effectively taught me to program over the course of a couple of weeks.

    Turned out I had little choice but to go through the manual, as my old 1970's era tape recorder wasn't up to the task of loading anything from tape. I finally got to play Chequered Flag, Horace Goes Skiing, the Horizons tape and so on several weeks later, by which time I'd worked through the manual cover-to-cover including all the exercises. Right around then I was introduced to INPUT magazine and continued my growing love of programming.

    Upgraded to a +3 later on and spent so much time using it that I wore the textured plastic smooth where my palms rested! It ended up with custom ROMs downloaded from the Internet burned onto a pair of EPROMs and a small hard drive in place of the old 3" drive. I also hacked up an interface cable to connect an Amiga external 3.5" floppy drive to it. My 48K also has a custom EPROM, a 32KB chip with a copy of the stock ROM in the bottom half and a 3rd party ROM in the upper 32K with a toggle switch on the back to select which one to use. If I can get it to display properly on NTSC tellies I'll be all set for some proper retro programming fun all over again!

    Modern computers are so much more capable, yet they bore the crap out of me compared to the old Speccy and its 8-bit peers.

  46. jubtastic1

    Good and bad memories

    Spending hours typing in code distributed via magazine (was it Crash?), only for the speccy to reset because someone breathed on the power supply lead, or saving it to tape and crossing your fingers that it would ever load again.

    But writing my own code, and seeing a poxy sprite wander across the tv, trailing lines no less with all the precision a slightly knackered Kempston joystick could offer, like a god I was.

    Happy Birthday Spectrum, you made me into the nerd I am.

  47. A J Stiles

    Spectrum Abuse

    Actually, the Spectrum was remarkably tolerant of abuse!

    I remember I once shorted together A8 and A9 with a dodgy homebrew add-on (8255 card originally meant for a ZX81, modified and bodged onto a 37-way edge connector, and connected to a homemade lighting controller). The speccy lived, once I had removed the extraneous blob of solder.

    Also did a couple of keyboard membrane replacements, just to eke out my meagre student grant. (And VCR idlers, and power transistors in amplifiers that blew fuses. Basically, if it plugged in and wasn't a TV, I mended it.)

    Never did finish my combined joystick / printer interface design that ran to nearly half a pad of graph paper, though .....

  48. Tom 38

    My most memorable memory of computing from childhood is going to a friends house to play on their speccy, spend 5 minutes listening to the tape deck screech all whilst holding the tape connector at just the right angle so the game loads - and then the inevitable "LOAD ERROR".

  49. kbb

    Hey Hey 16K

    Of course no birthday celebration is complete without a burst of Hey Hey 16K.

  50. madmalc


    Some of us had real computers with proper keyboards & disk drives

    Vic-20 +16k rampac

    Commodore 64 + 1541 disk drive - the beauty of 6502 assembly language

    Commodore 128 + 1571 disk drive - ran CP/M nicely with its built in Z80 2nd processsor - Wordstar & dBase II

    Diversion to Atari 800XL - for a fortnight

    Amstrad CPC6128 - 3" disk drive 100 times faster than Commodore

    Amstrad PC 1640 with 30MB hardcard

    etc etc etc

    An evening at the house of an atomic scientist from Harwell trying to get his child's ZX80 to load anything at all put me off Sinclairs

  51. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    What! No mention of the Plus One

    This plugged into the expansion slot, and provided the Microdrive interfaces, along with a joystick port, a serial port and some strange network which allowed you to link several similar systems together in a peer network, sharing the microdrives.

    My father bought an early 48K system (I had a bought my own BBC model B), and it did indeed have light grey keys like the picture. In addition, it had the 32K add-on board, and also had a heat sink that ran the entire width of the system under the keyboard, leading to a warm programming experience.

    I never really liked the Spectrum, it was too slow, had poor sound, the screen attributes just felt clunky, and that keyboard!

    My Beeb, although supposedly lacking in memory, was just a class machine, and ended up being used for things you just could not consider using a spectrum for. OK, it was not suited to large dungeon type games, but I would contend that Snapper, Planetoid, Meteors and Arcadians were great copies of arcade games that the Speccy could not hope to match, and Freefall, Starship Command and especially Elite showed what you could actually do even with a supposed lack of memory.

    But the Spectrum was an influential machine, no doubt.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Oh how Shareth stole my heart... and countless hours of my youth

    I stand at the Gate of Varenorn looking North to the Plains of Anviniel.

  53. marcyd

    ZX Spectrum love.

    Thought now is as good time as any to plug a very long blog post I wrote about the ZX Spectrum which covers many of the games and developers I loved as a child - Mike Singleton, Matthew Smith, Mel Croucher and companies like Ultimate Play The Game (now Rare) - lots of videos, game maps and links to interesting interviews from some of the major players back then.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Celebrations in real life

    According to this, there's a chance to meet some of the Spectrum geeks from yesteryear :) MIght have to toddle down to London for a day.

  55. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the Spectrum

    None of today's OSes can compete against a Spectrum and a copy of The Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly. Must be something about a system small enough to be able to be completely understood and big enough to let you do more or less what you want.

    To any critics of the final part of that paragraph, I point them to HiSoft C.

  56. Andy
    Thumb Up

    our spectrum 48k infact had grey keys as per the original advert.. it was the later ones that had the more bluey looking keys (our first one btw the serial number was in the hundreds, the second one we had once the first went wrong was in the thousands and still had a grey keyboard)..

    btw its a cpc464 not a cpc64.. i assume thats just a typo :o)

    i worked for amstrad during the +3/sinclair pc200 days... great times!!

  57. TimChuma

    We bought it to help with your homework...

    I never actually got to use a Spectrum, but still remember games being reviewed for the system in the early 90s in C+VG (when it was an actual magazine). Some reviews even used to put the screenshots from various systems side by side.

    There are still games being made for it, but I do not know if it is as popular to use for computer art and music as the old C64, which has still has a following in Europe and artists such as GOTO80 and Raquel Meyers using it.

  58. Wombling_Free
    Thumb Up

    1980's design - still fresh, still original, still the best.

    I never owned one, but I coveted the Sinclair Spectrums for their awesome design aesthetic.

    They are such pretty little things! They design still looks futuristic today, and makes Apple look quite conservative and pedestrian by comparison.

    Sinclair's own logo? - Classic. Utterly devoid of whale-music. Copied by ad nauseum by the demo scene it was so good.

    Happy birthday Speccies!

  59. adam payne

    Happy Birthday you machine of wonders!

    Happy 30th Birthday to the Speccy!

    Thank you to everybody who worked on the machine and programmed on it, great days those.

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hmmm.... what's that big animated icon doing up there on my brand new iPad?... Oh it's a ZX Spectrum emulator :-)

    The fantastic thing back then was that they managed to cram everything into 48KB. Today our phones are monsters compared to a humble ZXSpectum. And yet 512MB is not enough on some phones, djeez.

  61. b166er

    Bit late I know, but how do you connect a Spectrum to a modern (ie no analogue) telly?

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      If it really does not have an analogue tuner....

      you don't!

      Or, find an old video recorder (with an analogue tuner), and use that to map tuner to a SCART connector on the TV.

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