back to article DIY Sinclair clones: Left it too late to back the Next? Build your own instead

Still waiting for your Spectrum Next to arrive? Yeah, us too. But it's not the only modern Sinclair clone – and a quick way to get your hands on one is to build your own. Back in the nostalgia era for many a middle-aged geek, one of the selling points for the early home computers was that they were educational. For a lot of us …

  1. BitGin

    I'm still waiting for...

    The 1MB ram upgrade for my Sam Coupé trip come back into stock.

    1. Liam Proven Silver badge

      Re: I'm still waiting for...

      £35 to you guv.

      https://www.samcoupe.com/product.htm

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: I'm still waiting for...

      Never heard of the Sam Coupe until now. Thanks!

      1. JDPower666 Silver badge

        Re: I'm still waiting for...

        For Spectrum fans it was the next big thing, kinda the 80s equivalent of going from PS1 to PS2. Then it came out and slowly faded from existence.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: I'm still waiting for...

          Yes but as I recall, it launched far too late - by that point the Amiga and lesser 16-bit machines were widely available and popular. It was rather like someone launching a really, really cool portable CD player… years after the arrival of MP3 players.

  2. BitGin

    I'm still waiting for

    The 1MB ram upgrade for my Sam Coupé to come back into stock.

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: I'm still waiting for

      £198.50 to you guv.

      https://www.scamcoupe.com/product.htm

  3. Dabooka
    Devil

    Great article

    Now can we have one for a proper 8 bit such as a 464?

    1. Liam Proven Silver badge

      Re: Great article

      Sure, no problem. The same guy who built the JustSpeccy 128 does one:

      https://www.amstrad-noob.com/2021/07/08/introducing-the-just-cpc-2-for-amstrad-cpc-464/

    2. druck Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Great article

      The only proper 8 bit machine was the BBC Micro.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Great article

        Five downvotes? Have you people never compared Sinclair BASIC with BBC BASIC? Oh, wait, there's no comparison...

      2. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Great article

        Well yes, for kids whose mummy and daddy had far too much money, yes.

        BBC B circa 1985: £399

        Spectrum: £99-£175 or so depending on model.

        I had a peer at school who, when he turned 17, got a brand new Land Rover 90 from his doting parents. I bet he had his own Beeb at home.

        …the bastard.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: Great article

          My parents could only afford to by me an Electron. It ran at about 40% of the speed of a Beeb in high res modes, so while everyone else was writing BASIC, I had to learn 6502 assembler to get enough performance out of the little machine. 18 months later I spent my first university grant cheque on a BBC Master 128.

        2. smartroad

          Re: Great article

          My parents weren't rich. They got me my (technically the "family" but I was pretty much the only one who used it lol) BBC Micro but had to save up for about a year to be able to afford it.

    3. K Cartlidge
      Thumb Up

      Re: 464

      A greatly underrated machine.

      I had a 464 and it was superb (though the family could only afford the green screen monitor). Built-in tape deck and dedicated screen. Decent sound and graphics plus a huge collection of software and games. And the best 8-bit home computer versions of Elite (sorry BBC) and SpinDizzy.

      The 6128 was also a very good upgrade.

      1. ridley

        Re: 464

        I used a 6128 to develop software to control a seawolf missile via a thermal imaging camera.

        Went on to use it to develop software to help integrate a thermal imaging camera into the gunnery control computer on a T59 tank. We were selling the TI system the Chinese for resale to Pakistan.

        Spent a year in Pakistan trialing the T59 with my trusty 6128, sometimes burning new ROMS beside the tank in the middle of the Thar desert, even with all the dust and 50+°C in the shade it never let me down.

        Happy days

      2. Dabooka

        Re: 464

        I'm disappointed (although not surprised) at the downvotes here.

        For once I hope they're in jest!

  4. andy gibson

    Sadly they often go for silly money these days, but if you do manage to find one cheap, a Raspberry Pi in a recreated ZX Spectrum is a good option

    https://www.hackster.io/news/a-beautiful-raspberry-pi-powered-zx-spectrum-489deb2020ab

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

    My Osborne 01 also used the Z-80......but came with a real operating system (CP/M-80), two floppies and some real software (ASM, Wordstar, dBASE-II, Supercalc).

    *

    So a real computer, a real OS, and some serious productivity.....for much less money than a contemporary IBM PC.

    *

    Just saying!

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

      I used to use a z80 CP/M system just as a storage system for my 6502 system.

      But then I've always been weird; I'm currently designing an 8080 emulator in discrete logic.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

        One of my fellow students made a Z80 in ECL for his thesis.

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

      The only reason most of us got a computer back in the 1980s was by telling porkies to mum and dad just before crimble!

      "Yes Dad, it will be for homework. No Mum, I won't waste my time playing games, that's what losers do.".

      First day back in school in Jan..."Hey, John has a copy of Manic Miner on the Speccy, says he'll knock out a copy on a blank tape for quid!"

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

        Followed hotly by:

        Yes Mum, Dad, I need a snazzy stereo with a dual tape player.....

        I miss those days.

    3. Liam Proven Silver badge

      Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

      The Spectrum +3 could run CP/M, but only in 32 columns 'cos Amstrad didn't add the extra video modes of the Timex-Sinclair 2068.

      But that didn't stop one enterprising Romanian hacker. This is the single most impressive Spectrum mod I've ever seen, personally.

      Secărică's +3s Project

      https://www.secarica.ro/index.php/en/zx-zone/plus3-hardware/the-plus3s-project

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

        I'd need to dig mine out of it's box to double-check, but if I recall CP/M on the +3 actually supported 51-columns using smaller characters as well as 32. You could also use a mode that 'flipped' sideways back-and-forth over a simulated 24x80 screen (SET24X80), showing either the left-51 or right-51 characters; must have been a bloody nightmare to use proactively... !

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

          You could also use a mode that 'flipped' sideways back-and-forth over a simulated 24x80 screen (SET24X80), showing either the left-51 or right-51 characters; must have been a bloody nightmare to use proactively...

          The Osborne 1 mentioned above had a similar limitation, although it could show _52_ chars (of 80) on its 5" screen.

          1. VerySlowData
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

            long ago, a friend of mine designed and built an addin 80 column video card for the Osborne 1 here in Oz; it was sold to the Osborne corporation and he and his family got a free trip to California while he did paid work for Osborne integrating the mod into their systems. Still got one in the junkbox outside somewhere...

        2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

          Yeah, you're right. It squeezed in more columns using less pixel width than the speccies 8 pixels.

      2. William Towle
        Linux

        Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

        IIRC Fuzix (https://www.fuzix.org/) requires the +3 and is basically a Unix clone. I've run Mapux [for Amiga] and Uzix [for MSX, under emulation] in the past.

        Some time ago, Alan Cox made a plea for help with it but while I've played with qemu-z80 (https://wiki.qemu.org/Features/Z80) its 128K spectrum emulation only covers mapping the extra memory as required. With a little bodging related to the interrupt handling it runs the Nascom 2's Microsoft BASIC [see RC2014 downloads elsewhere] happily enough though :)

      3. andy gibson

        Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

        Not true. Locomotive Software's CP/M was 48 column, and there was a PD program you could get that gave you 64 column text.

    4. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: ZX80, ZX81 -- some of us used real computers!

      I had an Osborne 1 during the early 80s. It was a very useful machine and it earned its keep. I used to take it with me when working - it was "kind of portable". (Same size and weight as a sewing machine.) I used it for firmware development and documentation.

      I don't know what happened to it because I left it in England when I got a job in the US at a company that built PC clones. These days I can run its software on a PC using an emulator program so I don't have an urge to reconnect with the old hardware.

    5. Linker3000

      CP/M Systems

      Back in the 1980s, as a very young electronics engineering apprentice working in an R&D lab, I was tasked with operating and maintaining the lab's timesheet recording app, which was hosted on this big (small filing cabinet on its side) 'thing' with twin 8" floppies. It might have also had a hard disk, I don't remember. The program was written in BASIC and I didn't really think much of it at the time.

      When I got back into the retro 8-bit scene a few years back, it dawned on me that the system was a Cromemco, probably sent over from our US parent company! I suspect the system was replaced with a PC eventually and the Cromemco hardware was probably scrapped for parts :-(

  6. jollyboyspecial Bronze badge

    There are still plenty of working Speccies about used some in minty condition. Prices range from surprisingly cheap to ridiculous. Take your pick.

  7. David 132 Silver badge

    I backed the Next Release 2 on Kickstarter.

    We’re all still waiting for delivery… Henrique and his team are doing an awesome job trying to work around the global chip shortages which are just a nightmare. Currently hoping that delivery will be not too far away (Aug 2021 was the original target).

  8. Boothy Silver badge

    Spectrum 48k

    Still got a Spectrum up in the loft, although it's in a Spectrum + case, as I wore the original rubber keyboard out back when it was new. Wore all the print of 1st, but everything was burned to memory by that point, but it eventually started to fail to notice button presses.

    The + case was available as an upgrade kit. Simple case swap with a couple of wires to solder on to the back of a cap, for the reset button.

    Got the Interface 1 + micro-drive with it as well, all in a box in the loft.

    I have no idea if it works. Probably not been powered up for at least 2 decades, if not more! I sense a project taking form...

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Spectrum 48k

      Hmm. There's both a rubber one and a placcy one up in the attic.

      Along with a ZX81 and a Dragon 32....

      1. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: Spectrum 48k

        Ahh, I had a loan of a ZX81 for a while (when I had the 48k), until the owner wanted it back! Including a RAM pack!

        I went from the Spectrum 48k to the 128K +3 (the one with the built in floppy drive).

        After that I moved to Amiga's, getting the A500 first (selling the +3 for funds, but kept the 48k for nostalgia).

        I bought an Amiga A1200 as soon as they came out (late 1992 I think). Selling the A500.

        I then bought an Amiga A4000 desktop, 2nd hand around 1994/5 I think, came with a 68030 CPU, but I then bought a 2nd hand 68040 card for it, after someone had got a 060 board for their 040 system, so the 040 was now spare. Plus a Picasso IV GFX card for it. This was my daily driver for many years until finally switching over to a 'PC' in around 1998 or so. Ran the PC and A4000 in parallel till around 2002, before realising I'd not used the Amiga for at least a year, so retired it at that point (I was mostly just playing games on the Amiga at that point, and had either re-bought them for PC, or new sequels had come out for existing franchises, that by then came out on PC, but not on Amiga any more :-(

        I still have the A1200 (plus original box), and the A4000. I think I still have an Amiga CD32 somewhere as well (aka their 32bit CD based game console).

        Not sure about the others, but the A4000 still worked about 2 years ago. It had been damaged in a house move around 2008 (keyboard socket snapped off the motherboard, breaking the pins). Finally dug it out about 2 years back, grabbed the soldering iron, and 20 mins or so later it was working again!

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Spectrum 48k

      "Got the Interface 1 + micro-drive with it as well, all in a box in the loft."

      The drive belt will likely be rotted by now.

      "I have no idea if it works. Probably not been powered up for at least 2 decades, if not more! I sense a project taking form..."

      The advice these days seem to be to replace all the electrolytic capacitors before trying to power it on. It may or may not work as is, but there are kits of caps available. The lead-based solder should still be good, unlike some of the modern stuff that "grows" and shorts, but the caps likely will have failed or be ready to fail.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spectrum 48k

        No drive belts on a Microdrive :)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brings Back Memories from my Teenage Years in India

    The ZX-81 influenced my life a great deal! I was studying in India, and it would take my monthly allowance to buy the monthly issue of Byte Magazine, and I loved reading Steve Ciarcia's column (way before he started Circuit Cellar). My classmates would use their allowance to watch movies, etc. but I had my priorities.

    My father had a British colleague who saw my fascination with electronics, and suggested that I should get the new ZX-81 computer, and he offered to bring it to us on his next trip. It was a lot of money for us, but my father made it happen. I was hooked! First, learning BASIC was amazing, and I had to teach myself with a lot of trial and error. Next, I found some magazines that talked about "assembly language," and I was hooked again. What an amazing world of discovery for a teenager in India, in the 80s!

    I got more courage and took apart the system, to find the Z80 chip, which I had heard of in the context of assembly language. I asked around and found that the company that made the chip was based in the U.S. I was ready to apply for colleges, and vowed to go to the U.S. and work for that company one day (it took another eight years of effort and I found myself working for Zilog one day!)

    Teaching myself BASIC and then assembly language helped me tremendously in college courses and in getting my first job. I couldn't have done it with the ZX-81. BTW I bought the ZX Spectrum as well, when I had some money, and built some Z80-based systems from scratch. I'll never forget programming EPROMs and storing code on cassette tapes.

    Thank you for all the Sinclair-related discussions here! I enjoy them tremendously, and they bring back lots of memories.

  10. G7mzh

    "arguably the first British personal computer"?

    What about the Nascom or Transam Triton?

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