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Last updated
14 Feb 1998

The ZX Spectrum


Sinclair's most famous machine by far was, of course, the ZX Spectrum. This was the biggest-selling British-designed home computer of all time and won Clive Sinclair a knighthood for "services to British industry". In 1983 a Spectrum was even, rather cheekily, presented to the Japanese Prime Minister by Margaret Thatcher as a symbol of British technological prowess. Today, Spectrum emulators can be found on almost any machine and many thousands of Spectrum programs have been converted to emulator formats.

The original machines are very easy to find - the standard second-hand prices are between 20 (the 48K Spectrum) and 60 or so (the +2 and +3). In addition to the Loot magazine link below, good places in Britain to look for Spectrums are the Cash Converters chain of second-hand shops and the Computer Exchange next to Notting Hill Gate Tube station in central London. Second-hand Spectrums can usually also be found at virtually any car boot sale worthy of the name.


16K / 48K Spectrum

The 16K / 48K Spectrums (above) were the first of seven versions of the Spectrum to be released in Britain between 1982 and 1987. The 16K Spectrum, which could be upgraded internally to 48K, was rapidly superseded by the more expensive version which had 48K already installed. By modern standards, it was a primitive machine: a Z80A processor running at 3.5MHz, with a 256x192 pixel resolution and a choice of eight colours (the catch being that you could only use two colours per 8x8 square, leading to the infamous "attribute clash"). Its implementation of BASIC was pitifully slow, and the "dead flesh" rubber membrane keyboard was very strange to use. Nonetheless, it came to dominate the 8-bit computer scene in Britain and fostered an enormous pool of programing talent - today, British firms have captured a third of the worldwide multi-billion-dollar computer games industry, a development for which Sir Clive Sinclair has been widely credited.

Articles on the 16K/ 48K Spectrum


The 1984 Spectrum+ (above) was an attempt to solve the problems of the Spectrum's peculiar keyboard, which was replaced by "injection-moulded plastic" keys resting on the familiar rubber membrane. There were no other changes to the basic Spectrum hardware. It sold adequately, but it was soon overtaken by the first genuine developments of the Spectrum.

Articles on the Spectrum+

Spectrum 128

The Spectrum 128, first launched in Spain in 1985, looked exactly the same as the Spectrum+ save for the addition of a large (and very hot) heat sink on the left-hand side. Inside the casing, though, were some genuine changes. Most obvious was the 128K of memory, of which you could use about 104K (the rest being used to hold a copy of the ROM). A new three-channel sound chip, very similar to that used later on the Atari ST, was also included, as was a new implementation of Sinclair BASIC and a variety of sockets. The Spanish version included a separate numeric keypad, which was not sold elsewhere, making it a very rare item today.

Articles on the Spectrum 128

Spectrum +2

The Spectrum +2 (above), released in 1987, was the first of Amstrad's three products under the Sinclair label and was the first Sinclair machine to be built outside Britain (being manufactured in Taiwan). It was relatively uninnovative, being a Spectrum 128 with a proper typewriter keyboard, plus a built-in tape recorder and twin joystick ports - in other words, just like Amstrad's own CPC464 machine. It was released in two versions - the +2 in battleship grey and the +2A in dark grey with a slightly different ROM. Unlike Sinclair, Amstrad did not attempt to market the Spectrum as anything other than a games machine and sold it in bundled packages such as the "James Bond 007 Action Pack" (with light gun). Amstrad's greater emphasis on marketing and quality control made the +2 far more reliable than Sinclair's Spectrums and, after the original 48K, the +2 became the best-selling version.

Articles on the Spectrum +2

Spectrum +3

Amstrad's final Sinclair product, released at the same time as the unsuccessful PC200, was the Spectrum +3 (above). It was easily the best-looking and most advanced Spectrum, boasting a proper floppy disk drive, a new ROM and a parallel printer port. The circuit design is radically different to that of any other Spectrum and has far fewer chips on the board. Like its predecessor, the +3 was sold in "Action Packs" with light guns and games included.

However, it was not as successful as the +2 and had a number of serious flaws. The new ROMs were incompatible with a lot of old Spectrum software; the disk drive used Amstrad's own peculiar 3-inch format, the disks for which hold only about 350K and cost up to five times more than their 3.5-inch equivalents (that is, when you could find them - not easy nowadays); the machine cost an absurd 250 at a time when the far more advanced Atari ST 520 and Commodore Amiga 500 sold for only 400; and, most of all, the 8-bit market was beginning to collapse as the 16-bit machines swept all before them. Had the +3 been launched a couple of years earlier with a standard 3.5-inch drive, it might have made greater headway against the ST and Amiga.

Articles on the Spectrum +3


One unexpected and probably unwelcome result of the Spectrum's success was the proliferation of illegal clones of the machine. This usually occured where "grey imports" (machines imported by local retailers rather than the manufacturer) were not viable: often in countries which had crippling duties on imported electronics, such as in South America, or behind the Iron Curtain, as many Western countries had severe restrictions on exporting high-tech items to the Warsaw Pact. Local manufacturers did the obvious and produced reverse-engineered Spectrum clones.

The machine pictured above is the CiP, a Romanian Spectrum clone. The keyboard unit, fashioned of silver plastic, boasts a calculator-style keyboard of superior quality to that of the real Sinclair machine. RAM is claimed to be 64K, and a Z80 processor provides processing power for the entire unit. The ROM contains only a simple tape bootstrap loader, BASIC being loaded from cassette. Versions of Sinclair BASIC in both the English and Romanian languages are provided, allowing compatible operation with the 48K Spectrum. The copyright date of the BASIC and the demonstration software is given as 1989, demonstrating the time lag which existed between Western and Eastern bloc machines at the time. Naturally, all the documentation for the system is in the Romanian language.

A more famous Eastern European clone was the Hobeta (Hobbit), produced in the former Leningrad and widely sold in the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries. Other Soviet-designed Spectrum clones included the Pentagon (above) and Scorpion, neither which was a true clone like, say, the TS1000. Instead, they further developed the Spectrum hardware whilst preserving a fairly high degree of Spectrum compatibility - more like the TS2068.

Surprisingly, such machines are still popular in Russia: there is still a thriving Spectrum scene. There are a number of Russian Sinclair-oriented sites on the Internet, but the Russians tend to rely more on their own Cyrillic Fidonet-style networks - there is one in Moscow called ZX-Net, for instance.

Sinclair clones were manufactured elsewhere, too; there was a Czechoslovak clone called Didaktik Gama and a Yugoslav clone called Delta. In Portugal, the local subsidiary of Timex Computers continued trading after the demise of its US parent, producing an unauthorised clone of the TS1000.

Eastern European and other Sinclair clones are of course very hard to find in the West. However, London's Science Museum possesses what is probably the largest single collection of Spectrum clones from around the world.

Articles on Spectrum Clones

Articles and Resources

    Spectrum 16K / 48K
  Sinclair lays a golden egg
(Personal Computer World, June 1982)
  Professional Power!
Sinclair's original promotional brochure
  Sinclair ZX Spectrum technical data
Sinclair research leaflet, 1982
  How the Spectrum compares with other computers
Table issued by Sinclair Research, 1982
*   The Spectrum:
(Sinclair and the Sunrise Technology, chapter 7)
  Unwrapping the Spectrum+
(Sinclair User, December 1984)
    Spectrum 128
  Launch of Spectrum 128 in Spain
(Sinclair User, November 1985)
  Spectrum 128
(Your Spectrum, December 1985)
  Problems with Spectrum 128
(Your Spectrum, 1985)
    Spectrum +2
  Spectrum +2
(Sinclair User)
    Spectrum +3
  Too little, too late, too dear?
(Sinclair User, July 1987)
  Plus Three, Minus Tape
(Popular Computing Weekly, 1987)
  The New Sinclair Spectrum 128K +3
Amstrad's original promotional brochure
  Spectrum 128K +3 Technical Specification
Amstrad promotional material
    Spectrum clones
  Russia's Most Popular Spectrum Models FAQ
By Vsevolod Viktorovich Potapov (aka Random)
    Spectrum resources
*   Search for second-hand Spectrums
(Loot magazine)
*   Spectrum software
*   Spectrum emulators