7 Jan 1998
The Timex Sinclairs
In the early
1980s, as now, the world's biggest computer
market was in the United States. It was an
essential market for a computer manufacturer.
Although Sinclair did sell the ZX81 and Spectrum
though mail order in the USA for a time, the
Sinclair machines' biggest American success came
about through the company's collaboration with
The American giant
was already Sinclair's prime contractor for
building ZX81s and Spectrums at its plant in
Dundee, Scotland. Sinclair was doing well in the
States - by June 1981 it was selling
18,000-20,000 ZX81s a month, more than the
combined unit sales of Tandy, Apple and Commodore
- but quality problems were dire, with only one
in three of the machines actually working. A
tie-up with Timex was the obvious answer, and
resulted in five officially-licensed clones,
produced between 1981-84.
The TS 1000, the
first transatlantic Sinclair machine, was
intended by Timex to be its saviour - the company
was forecast to make a $14 million trading loss
in 1982. The machine itself was essentially a
ZX81 circuit board in a slightly redesigned case.
As in Britain, it was immediately successful,
with over 550,000 sold in the six months from its
launch in the autumn of 1982.
Sinclair gremlins struck, however, and the
Americans were for some reason less patient than
their British cousins. The Wall Street
Journal described on 17 Aug 1983 what had
[Timex] quickly sold thousands of computers
last fall, early Timex Sinclair buyers faced
an immediate disappointment. Almost all the
programs written for the Timex machine
required a $50 memory unit. But Timex didn't
supply that unit in great numbers until two
or three months after it introduced the
computer. Many new owners would take the
machine home without software, plus it in and
find it didn't do anything useful. 'It was a
disaster,' says the computer buyer at a large
discount store chain...
The model 1000
is also irritating to use. If it is jiggled
when the memory unit is attached, the
television screen hooked up to it sometimes
goes blank. The keyboard, drawn on a piece of
hard plastic, doesn't have separate keys. The
computer also can't produce color graphics or
sound and isn't much good for playing games.
Consumers who wanted to learn about computers
were willing to ignore such shortcomings when
the unit was the only one selling for less
than $100, but now sales have
The TS 1500 (above),
launched in August 1983, was a stop-gap between
the TS 1000 (whose sales had crashed) and the
forthcoming American Spectrum, the TS 2000. It
was a ZX81 with an internally-housed 16K RAMpack,
in a black and silver Spectrum-style box with the
familiar "dead flesh" rubber keyboard.
The updating of the ZX81 design was an attempt to
counter the two biggest drawbacks of the TS 1000,
namely the awful touch-(in)sensitive keyboard and
the virtually useless 1K of memory. The machine
failed dismally: no matter how much it was
dressed up, it was still a ZX81.
The TS 2000,
launched in late 1983, was a striking example of
how the success or failure of a product could
affect the chances of a subsequent product. It
was not by any means a bad computer, being
essentially a 16K Spectrum in a silver and black
its hugely popular British sister, the TS 2000
rapidly sunk without trace. This was largely the
result of the bad reputation which the TS 1000
had acquired amongst retailers, who had been
stuck with vast unsold quantities of the earlier
machine after the bottom had dropped out of the
low-end market. The chainstores, who were the key
to a retail success, didn't want to know about it
and the machine died an early death. Its only
significant rival, the Commodore 64, subsequently
cleaned up the American market.
The TS 2048,
released at the same time as the 2000, was the
latter machine's big brother, with 48K of memory.
It was, in effect, an American version of the UK
48K Spectrum with built-in Kempston-format
joystick ports. But, like the TS 2000, it was
elbowed out by technologically more advanced
computers such as the Commodore 64, and Timex
dropped it very quickly.
The fifth and last
Timex Sinclair, the TS 2068 (above), was
released in November 1983 as a last-ditch attempt
by Timex Computer Corp. to stave off its collapse
(unsuccessfully - they folded in Spring 1984). It
was the only Timex Sinclair machine not to be a
more-or-less direct clone of a UK product.
Instead, it was a completely different computer
derived from the Spectrum, having a larger
memory, a Spectrum 128-style sound chip and a
cartridge port to the right of the keyboard.
The basic TS 2068
is only partly compatible with the Spectrum. The
tape I/O was the same, so you can load Spectrum
tape files. Spectrum BASIC is a subset of the
TS2068's BASIC, so you can run Spectrum BASIC
programs. The TS2068's ROM is different, though,
so you can't run Spectrum machine code that makes
use of the ROM. Without the aid of a Spectrum
emulator, it is possible to run only about 7% of
the Spectrum's commercially available software.
The TS 2068's
Spectrum emulator is really a Spectrum ROM on
cartridge (there are other forms) that is
bankswitched into the lower 0-16K region. The top
48K region is filled with RAM. To the software
this looks exactly the same as a 48K Spectrum.
Using this, it is possible to achieve about 97%
compatibility wih a real Spectrum.
The TS 2068's
specifications are as follows:
processor clocked at 3.58Mhz
(same as Spectrum 128s) at 1.76475Mhz. It
is, however, not attached to the same
ports as the AY in the Spectrum 128. The
clock rate is also slightly different.
RAM; 24K ROM) which is bankswitched
between three internal 64K memory banks
called the HOME bank (16K ROM, 48K RAM),
the EXROM bank (8K ROM; this one is not
completely decoded and can only hold 8K),
and the DOCK bank which is empty and is
reserved for cartridges. The memory is
bankswitched in 8K chunks.
superset of 48K Spectrum BASIC (ie - has
a few commands added)
and composite video available on jacks.
RGB signals available on rear edge
pixel, 32x24 attributes (Spectrum screen)
256x192 pixel, 32x192 attributes
(extended colour mode)
Dual screen mode where you could flip
between two Spectrum screens.
512x192 pixel monochrome.