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The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Computer has to be one of the best known and most liked home computers ever produced (although PC's with Windows have become the only computer readily available to the home user, they do not remain as popular as the ZX Spectrum). It has recently received a welcome revival in the world of retro computing, and there are numerous emulators and amounts of software online for this humble computer.
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was originally launched in 1982 as a replacement for the earlier Sinclair ZX81 home computer. It originally came in two forms, either a 16K or 48K computer, which could still only be seen on a TV screen and load its data from cassette tapes. Despite the terrible feel of its rubber keyboard, the ZX Spectrum proved extremely popular, especially amongst games players and as a result, a large amount of software and hardware has been produced for the ZX Spectrum over the years, much of which can still be found available second hand today.
The innovative ZX Spectrum earned Sir Clive Sinclair a fortune, a knighthood for "services to British industry" and a lasting place in the national consciousness. Huge numbers of Spectrums were sold around the world, making it by some way the most successful British computer ever made. Indeed, Sinclair's standing rose so high that in 1983 Margaret Thatcher personally presented a Spectrum to the Japanese Prime Minister as a symbol of British technological prowess.
In common with the Sinclair QL, Sinclair attempted to move the ZX Spectrum away from the fairly slow medium of cassette tapes for storing data and programs and as a result released the now rare ZX Interface 1 which allowed the ZX Spectrum to connect to ZX Microdrives (these use tiny cartridges to store data on an endless loop of tape - approx 85K could be stored on one tape, with retrieval speeds a lot faster than from cassette), as well as providing the Spectrum with a built in network and serial port. Unfortunately, Sinclair decided to steer clear of disk drives, which were very expensive at the time and the microdrives never really enjoyed a great deal of popularity as the tapes were easily damaged and fairly unreliable. The network ports allowed up to 64 ZX Spectrums and Sinclair QLs to be connected together in order to share information.
Following various comments about the infamous rubber keyboard, which lacked a positive feel but was much better than the touch membrane which had been devised for the earlier ZX80 and ZX81 computers, Sinclair released an upgrade for the humble Spectrum, which basically placed the original motherboard inside a larger case, with a proper keyboard built-in. This was known as the Spectrum+ and was soon enhanced by the provision of a model with a massive 128K RAM - the Spectrum 128. There was even a separate numeric keypad released for the Spectrum 128, although this is normally only seen in Portugal, there were a few manufactured with UK keys (although it appears that they never reached market).
In 1986, Sir Clive Sinclair saw an opportunity to capitalise on the massive following of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and sold the whole of his computer business to Amstrad plc, who were so keen to obtain the rights to the Spectrum, that they even purchased the rights to the less successful Sinclair QL (which was launched in 1984), to promptly remove it from the market (although there were some suggestions that this was a ploy by Amstrad to remove the competition from its own range of word-processors and business computers).
The Spectrum was the longest-lived Sinclair product, eventually appearing in seven distinct versions produced over a six-year period:
The +2, +2A/+2B models all provide a built-in cassette recorder, which gave greater reliability - however, the big breakthrough was made with the +3 which had a built in disk drive (unfortunately, Amstrad adopted their own 3" disk drive standard). There were other changes made to the Spectrum once it was taken over by Amstrad - the ZX Interface 1 would only work with the grey +2 model, and the +2A/+2B and +3 models all incorporated Amstrad's own printer expansion port, which is a standard centronics printer interface, although you will need to make up a lead.
The 128K models (the Sinclair Spectrum +128K, Spectrum +2, Spectrum +2A, Spectrum +2B and Spectrum +3) all contained a dedicated AY sound chip which allowed programmers to include much better quality sound and music files which were distributed on the game cassettes. We now supply the AY-Magic interface which enables the 48K versions of the machine to play these music files also.
As well as all of these different product versions, no less than thirteen different versions of the basic hardware appeared during the six years that the Spectrum was produced. Amstrad had chosen well, the Spectrum continued to sell into the early 1990s, but by about 1992 it had been squeezed out by the more advanced 16-bit computers and the cheap but more capable Sega and Nintendo games consoles. There does however, remain a dedicated following of users who stick with the Spectrum (commonly known as the Speccy) and its popularity and simple architecture have caused a wide range of clones and emulators to be launched, many of which are still being developed. Although, unfortunately, many of the clones are now only to be found in eastern Europe.
For more details of the history of the ZX Spectrum and its clones, please visit Planet Sinclair.
There are even some software houses which still actively support the ZX Spectrum and even marketing new software - a list of currently active software houses appears on the famous World of Spectrum site.
We ourselves can supply a range of hardware and software for the ZX Spectrum, including various storage solutions, including microdrives, PlusD floppy disk drives and soon the divIDE hard disk interface.
We are pleased to be able to supply a wide range of items to support the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and its users. If you are looking for replacement ZX Spectrums, then please contact us as we sometimes have access to second hand ones at reasonable prices.
The Black Spectrum +2A and the +3 can be updated to make a Spectrum +3e, complete with several bug fixes and ability to access hard disks. For information and ROM updates, please visit the Spectrum +3e Site.
One of the main problems which Spectrum users face is finding a compatible printer. Originally, the ZX Spectrum could only connect to Sinclair's ZX Printer, or later compatible printers, which connected direct to the Spectrum's expansion port and printed on heat sensitive (silver) paper by the means of fine wires which heated up to burn an image on the paper. Although fairly popular (and still sometimes available), the image on the paper soon fades and the paper was easily damaged.
When the ZX Spectrum was originally launched, the best printers available for printing onto plain paper were daisywheel or dot matrix printers. However in today's world of colour inkjet and laser printers, the Spectrum has struggled to keep up with technology. As more and more printer manufacturers strive to reduce costs by removing components, they presume that computer users have a Windows or MAC based operating system which will translate all text into the graphics code for them. As a result many printers no longer support a parallel or serial port (which is required by the Spectrum) and do not allow text to be sent to the printer direct.
The Spectrum can only use a serial printer if you have a ZX Interface 1 or Spectrum +2/+3. If you want to use a standard centronics (parallel) printer with the ZX Spectrum, you will need a serial to parallel converter. There were several types available, including ones which plugged into the Spectrum's expansion port, and others which plugged into the 9 pin D serial port provided on the ZX Interface 1. We have proved that the serial to parallel converters manufactured by Miracle Systems for the standard QL will also work with the Spectrum +2A, +2B and +3's BT style serial port and often have some in stock.
Unfortunately, the serial to parallel converters manufactured for the QL do not appear to work with the built-in serial port on the Spectrum +2, due to its serial port being wired differently to those on the +2A, +2B and +3 models. We do understand that a printer built for the original ZX Spectrum and which plug into the expansion port (for example the Timex 2040 or the Sinclair ZX Printer) can be used in the 48K BASIC mode. A serial printer can also be used, although you will need the correct lead to connect the printer to the Spectrum's serial port or the serial port on the ZX Interface 1.
About the best supported printers are those manufactured by HP and Epson, although you have to be extremely careful about which model you have - a full Epson ESC/P2 or HP PCL-4 control set are required for the Spectrum to fully support the printer. About the best inkjet which can be obtained fairly reasonably and is fully compatible with the Spectrum for both text and graphics, has to be the Epson 850 or Epson 900 printers.
We can sometimes provide compatible printers and serial to parallel converters second hand.
Testing and Shipping
All items are listed exclusive of post and packing and are all fully tested before shipping. We ensure that they are well protected against the rigours of parcel delivery and send them by Royal Mail First Class post, Parcelforce 48 hour delivery (in the UK) or other courier (if cheaper).
Although we attempt to keep our lists as current as possible, please check on availability of any item prior to ordering. We also offer a 14 day money back warranty on all goods (excluding shipping charges), provided that they are returned in the same condition and packaging.
Although there are currently no manufacturers of major add on hardware, a wide range of second hand items are always available on SellMyRetro.com.
Replacement parts and repairs/spares can still be obtained through our partners, although it is often cheaper to purchase a new or used replacement ZX Spectrums (if you need a replacement, please ask us as we may be able to obtain one).