back to article ZX Spectrum Next Issue 2 ships out, chip shortages be damned

The last units of the second batch of the ZX Spectrum Next are heading off to their owners. If you missed out, we have good news. The ZX Spectrum Next is a modern recreation – and, crucially, improved version – of the classic British home computer, Sinclair Research's ZX Spectrum. Forty-two years ago, The Reg FOSS desk cut its …

  1. steelpillow Silver badge
    Megaphone

    SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

    Wonderful to see this archetypal blast from the past walking and talking again. But there's still one thing missing.

    Last in the line of the Speccy's many original incarnations was Miles Gordon Technology's SAM Coupé. More memory, more screen modes, sound chip, MIDI ports, dual expansion bays for floppy drives and similar, proper keyboard, extended procedural BASIC, can't remember it all. It included a licensed 48K Speccy ROM image for its compatibility mode. There were even subsequent upgrades released in small numbers, based on garage mods to unsold stock.

    A lot of software was written for it or ported to it, and emulators are available. So it's a real shame that all these modern Speccy resurrectionists have gone selectively deaf. If you can achieve compatibility with all the varied Sinclair, Timex and Amstrad Speccys out there, you can - and should - do it for the Coupé too.

    1. DuncanL

      Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

      The SAM Coupé was interesting but it is not part of the official Sinclair\Amstrad line, the comaptibility was via a skeleton ROM written by MGT that worked for most but not all things, or copying a ROM from your own existing Speccy 48K - there was no licensed ROM image; and it sold in very small numbers - so there's less interest in expending the effort to emulate or replicate it.

      That said; I believe there have been preliminary attempts to create a Coupé "core" (FPGA implementation), but nothing that's finished yet.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

        True. I remember now, I copied my licensed image across myself. How memories fade over the decades!

        1. ThomH

          Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

          If you were one of the cool kids you also bought LERM SamTape for your Spectrum titles rather than the thing MGT shipped on the Flash! disc; it added a whole bunch of functionality behind the break button, mostly around saving and loading snapshots.

          That is, if you pressed it carefully enough. The Sam’s break button is connected to the NMI line and _is not debounced_. So overflowing the stack was a real risk. Cue hours of childhood arguments over whether to try to press it delicately and withdraw as soon as it took effect or go for one quick in-and-out action.

          (or, you could get any of the many cracked versions of 128kb games that had been adjusted to the Sam’s different paging and sound chip; Chase HQ and Tetris 2 were big in my house)

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

      As someone who had one, it ended up being a bit of a disappointment.

      You needed a newer ROM to fix bugs and also Master DOS and Master BASIC to finish off the built-in DOS and BASIC. Also the Z80B had to work against memory contention as the whole of the memory was contended so the 6MHz on paper barely ended up faster than a Spectrum, but if you used the full-colour or hi-res screen modes it still had to move 24K around as there was no help from the ASIC as there was no hardware scrolling, sprites, etc... Even games like Prince of Persia or Robot Monsters lagged despite having fixed backgrounds.

      That said the BASIC ended up being very good, it had the whole 256K or 512K of memory available for it to work with (the Next still doesn't do that), maths and graphics routines were redone to be faster (the Next leans on raising the CPU speed to 24Mhz), and the graphics origin and scaling worked as expected over different screen modes like the BBC's (the Next's changes depending on screen mode which is unnecessarily surprising to the programmer and means you can't change screen mode without re-writing the graphics).

      I should have perhaps finished the 8-bit era with rose-tinted memories of the Spectrum +2 and +D before moving on to the Amiga instead of being drawn to the Coupé first by siren calls of compatibility and ST/Amiga-like games as hyped up in the mags, because it must have been about 50% compatible with Spectrum software if that and the games really just weren't comparable to the 16-bit machines.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

        I remember riding the bus to school and coveting the Sam Coupé when it was reviewed or advertised in the Spectrum magazines. Never got round to buying one; I was able to persuade my dad to get me an Amiga 500 soon after, which in hindsight was a much better result.

      2. ThomH

        Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

        If it adds anything: in the most native modes while pixel output is active the CPU gets only one cycle out of eight to access RAM. Unlike the Spectrum, all RAM is contended, sadly.

        Mode 1, the exactly-a-Spectrum mode has additional contention to try to be a little closer to real Spectrum speed, sort of.

        And pride of the era left Mode 2, the Spectrum-ish but separate attributes per line mode, mostly unexplored. Despite giving more processing and a smaller data size.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

          That was the Timex Sinclair and MSX 8x1 attribute mode as used in Sphera.

          As European publishers ported Spectrum software to the MSX there hardly anything to port to the SAM which used it, supposing they wanted to publish games for the SAM in the first place.

    3. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

      [Author here]

      > Last in the line of the Speccy's many original incarnations was Miles Gordon Technology's SAM Coupé.

      Ohhhhhh no it wasn't. :-)

      I had one, and I loved the thing, and I sold it to sometime Reg commenter Geoff Campbell for £30, and *wow* do I regret that now, because fully boxed and everything it would be worth well over 10x that today... but I'd rather still have it!

      (I was young. I needed the money.)

      It wasn't an original incarnation. It was an unauthorised only-a-bit-compatible and there are *legions* of those.

      Here's Wikipedia's list:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ZX_Spectrum_clones

      It is far from complete. I suspect there were at least twice that many.

      My favourite clone, because I've played with one in Prague, is the Didaktik M.

      It's a Spectrum +3 from a parallel universe with a better floppy drive!

      https://www.ithistory.org/db/hardware/didaktik/didaktik-kompakt

      The Scorpion is the Russian better-than-Spectrum-128:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorpion_ZS-256

      The Pentagon is better still. Up to 1MB of RAM!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagon_(computer)

      The ZX Evo is one of the most impressive. Mini-ITX with expansion slots! Floppy _and hard disk_ controllers!

      http://nedopc.com/zxevo/zxevo_eng.php

      The SAM was great and it has what Sinclair BASIC dreamed of being when it grew up... but it was underpowered, and too late.

      But it was merely one of legions of unofficial Spectrum clones, quite a few of which exceeded the Speccy's spec -- and the SAM's too.

      1. steelpillow Silver badge

        Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

        Possibly the only one of those legions that did not hail from Eastern Europe and have an unlicensed ROM image? Then there were the rehoused circuit boards, which I don't really count as clones.

        "fully boxed and everything it would be worth well over 10x that today"

        Oh goody, I have a spare one in the attic.

        1. ThomH

          Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

          > Oh goody, I have a spare on in the attic.

          If you want to sell it for whatever is the actual market rate (which I suspect to be quite a bit more than 10*£30) and are willing to post to the US, don’t hesitate to contact the obviously-temporary average_skinned_0e@icloud.com

          1. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

            Sorry mate, part of my pension fund for a while yet. It's also the only one I haven't defaced with experimental knobtwiddlies.

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: SAM Coupé compatibility, anybody?

          [Author here]

          > Possibly the only one of those legions that did not hail from Eastern Europe and have an unlicensed ROM image?

          Still no.

          Obviously there was the American Timex-Sinclair 2068, which came with 72kB RAM, the same sound chip as the later Spectrum 128 (but on different, incompatible I/O ports), a RAM-banking scheme (also like the 128, but again, different and incompatible, but unlike any UK model 'til the +3, it could page out its own ROM and put RAM there, making it able to run CP/M). It also had 2 joystick ports and a cartridge slot. For me the biggest difference, though, was 2 extra graphics modes:

          * Extended Color: 256×192, but 2 colours per row of pixels (32*192 rather than 32*24 colour resolution)

          * Monochrome 512×192 (64 columns of 8-pixel characters, or 85 columns of fairly legible 6-pixel wide characters for CP/M)

          I really feel the Spectrum 128 should have had those graphics.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timex_Sinclair_2068

          Then there was the Portuguese and Polish Timex 2048. Basically a TS2068, downgraded to 48kB and minus the cartridge slot, with a more Spectrum-compatible ROM.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timex_Computer_2048

          There was also a near-identical-to-stock-48 Brazilian clone, the TK90X.

          That had a 2nd model, the TK95, with a full-size full-travel keyboard in a case copied from the Commodore +4 of all things.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TK95

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TK90X

          The Inves Spectrum+ was a Spanish improved Spectrum Plus,m with a joystick port.

          https://k1.spdns.de/Vintage/Sinclair/82/Clones/Spain/Inves%20Spectrum%2B/

          That was the machine before the Investronica Spectrum 128, the machine on which the UK 128 was based.

          https://medium.com/@uto_dev/the-awakening-of-the-spectrum-128k-3732c7377788

          So, yes, lots of Spectrum clones from the West and the Americas, that weren't Iron Curtain devices.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    In some ways the timing was just right because no sooner do they get them built after the component shortage and shipped than the shipping's screwed up again.

    There's a lot of things included, some of their own, some incorporated from other homebrew projects - improved BASIC, faster CPU an editor with syntax highlighting, improved CP/M over the +3's, Timex screen modes, full-colour screen mode, hardware scrolling and sprites, Megadrive joypads, a snapshot button, 2M memory, two DOSes (one based on the +3's and one based on exDOS), UNIX-like commands from exDOS, FAT-formatted SD cards, the keyboard and shell... and other stuff that I still need to find out about.

    I can see why they want to get a critical mass of interest in the platform, be it Next, N-Go, or XBerry Pi, to keep the Spectrum going. I manage to find an hour here and an hour there to mess around with it but like most of us I don't have the time to sink into it now that I had 40 years ago. Even so it's more fun than an hour with Windows, Mac, or Linux so that has to be worth something.

    As the first version had a blue box and the second had a has a box, the third version has to have a magenta box. Maybe it could have a built-in power switch too to incentivise repeat backings? :)

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      You have yours already? Grrr. And fortunately your spoiler about the box colour got mangled in editing… please don’t correct it, I don’t want to know anything about the Next or its packaging until I receive mine :)

      Re the built in power switch, the KS2 Nexts at least have an inline switch on their power cord, right?

      1. DuncanL

        Re the built in power switch, the KS2 Nexts at least have an inline switch on their power cord, right?

        Yes, they do.

  3. Levente Szileszky

    Spectrum +2

    I still have an unopened, original ZX Spectrum +2 Action Pack, with the light gun & James Bond game etc in the box... bought it at least a decade ago, still waiting for the right moment to open it. 8)

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Everything old is new again

    Marvellous

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Everything old is new again

      True! I have, leaning against the desk next to me, a Chicago Telephone Supply Company "Series" telephone from around 1905. Oak cabinet, 5-magnet generator, expansion space for a wet pile battery... now, if I can just figure out how to interface it to my PC as the world's most Steampunk Teams headset...

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Everything old is new again

        Cell2Jack is marketed as connecting your landline to a mobile phone but it really just turns it into a Bluetooth headset so it could connect to Teams on your laptop too (unless Teams objects to it for unfathomable reasons as it is known to do for certain headsets)... however I doubt your 1905 phone has an RJ11 connector so you're going to have to get your hands dirty there.

  5. ravenviz Silver badge

    But will it still play Hungry Horace?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I am happy to report Hungry Horace at 28MHz is just as unplayable as it is at 3.5MHz but at least the game is over faster.

  6. Tim Chuma

    Still have the CRASH and ZZAP annuals to read

    There are still new games being made for the Spectrum and C64. I generally only get the annuals as I am not in the UK but the magazines release bi-monthly.

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    I've already forgot

    What was the purpose of this?

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