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1984 - 2012 28 Years and still running strong !!
Although first announced in 1983, the Sinclair QL was first released on 12th January 1984 by Sinclair Research Limited, following their successful range of home computers (the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum). Unfortunately, the launch was dogged by delays and poor quality build, with only a partially complete operating system which had an infamous plug in dongle to hold part of the code which would not fit onto the on-board chips.
The standard Sinclair QL provided a massive (at the time) 128K memory, two network ports to allow up to 64 QLs and/or Sinclair ZX Spectrums to be connected together (the ZX Spectrums will each need a Sinclair ZX Interface 1), and built in microdrives for storage (a big improvement over the need for cassette tapes used by all other computers at the time). The Sinclair QL could be used with a TV set or a TTL colour monitor, and had a full-sized keyboard. Supporting two display modes, 256x256 pixels in 8 colours and 512x256 pixels in 4 colours, the Sinclair QL was aimed at the small business market. Various versions of the operating system and main-board were produced, each more reliable than the last (look out for JS ROMs in the UK/US and MG in other countries and at least a D-15 series board).
After a few changes to the computer, the Sinclair QL was eventually heralded by the market as one of the first mass-produced home computers to have a real multi-tasking operating system, it was affordable, had built in mass storage facilities and featured a highly structured on-board version of BASIC, called SuperBASIC, all of which helped contribute to the Sinclair QL managing to retain a loyal user base to this day, more than a decade after the original Sinclair QL was discontinued (following the acquisition of the rights to the Sinclair QL by Amstrad).
Today, there are several computers in use which are derived from the original Sinclair QL, and the operating system has itself spawned several derivatives. There are several emulators available for various hardware platforms to ensure that QL users can continue to use their existing software and operating system on more up to date hardware. We have even started re-releasing some of the QL software for Windows, using a runtime version of one of the many emulators available.
Amongst the add-ons produced for the Sinclair QL, were Toolkit II (which fast became a standard add-on), memory expansion cards (up to 512K), disk drive interfaces, digitisers, monitors, hard disk interfaces, modem packages, replacement keyboards and even replacement motherboards, most notably Aurora which supports MODE 4 and MODE 8 in resolutions of up to 1024 x 768 pixels and up to 256 colours in a resolution of up to 512x480 pixels. The Aurora replacement motherboard also supports a 16 colour mode, although at present no drivers exist for that mode. However, if you want to use the extended colour modes available on Aurora, you will need to use a Super Gold Card as the Gold Card uses some of the memory addresses required to enable this. Our program QWord gives an indication of just what is now possible on the humble QL.
Major innovations included the Trump Card (which had a built in Toolkit II, RAMdisk, disk interface and 768K memory), the Gold Card (which was similar but provided 2Mb of memory and used the faster 68000 processor) and the Super Gold Card (which was the same as the Gold Card but a provided 4Mb of memory plus a 68020 chip on board which made the Sinclair QL incredibly fast. Both the Gold Card and Super Gold Card added the ability to the QL to use HD and even 3.2Mb ED disk drives.
To find out more about the history of the Sinclair QL, visit the Sinclair QL Wiki.
Keeping Up to Date
If you have recently acquired a Sinclair QL second hand, or have returned to it after many years, you may find the guide to returning to the QL useful.
RWAP Services is one of several traders who still continue to support the Sinclair QL on a commercial basis. There is also still a user group (Quanta); a Sinclair QL Forum and a users discussion list. We are pleased to answer any questions on the Sinclair QL and related topics - just contact us.
You can also subscribe to the QL users mailing list to receive details of forthcoming shows as they are announced.
One of the main problems which QL users face is finding a compatible printer. When the QL was originally launched, the best printers available were daisywheel or dot matrix printers. However in today's world of colour inkjet and laser printers, the QL 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 QL) and do not allow text to be sent to the printer direct.
The Sinclair QL will require a serial to parallel converter if it is to connect to a parallel printer. These come in several versions and are readily available second hand. The standard version connects to the QL's built-in serial ports (BT style plug), although there are versions for a standard 9 pin serial socket too (as used on the US version of the QL and later derivatives). The Gold Card and Super Gold Card expansion cards have a parallel port in-built.
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 Sinclair QL to fully support the printer. About the best inkjet which can be obtained fairly reasonably and is fully compatible with the QL for both text and graphics, has to be the Epson 850 or Epson 900 printers.
REPLACEMENT PARTS/UPGRADES /REPAIRS
Although there are currently no manufacturers of major add on hardware (do not worry, some new ones are in development), a wide range of second hand items are always available on SellMyRetro.com - the trading site for retro computers and electronics.
We stock a wide range of second hand accessories, books and software for the Sinclair QL, as well as spare parts including processors, ULAs and keyboard membranes. We even have a stock of tested Sinclair QLs and other items for sale as replacements or back-ups, such as various ROMs and builds. Check out the RWAP Software shop on SellMyRetro.com for details. If you cannot see what you need, then why not leave an advert on our Wanted Page.
Fixed Price Repairs for the Sinclair QL
We have now made arrangements to provide easily accessible repairs for your favourite machine. Repairs are undertaken at a fixed price of £50 plus parts and return post and packing. On receipt of your order, we will inform you of the address where to send the item (UK based) and once the item has been tested we can provide details of the total cost of the repair. Items are all returned using DHL courier for security and speed - allow 2 weeks for any repair.
The repairs also come with a three month warranty - button below secures your repair with UK return postage. Please supply your telephone number when ordering.
Unfortunately, over the years, many of the original software houses and authors who supported the Sinclair QL have fallen by the wayside or moved onto other markets. However, there is still a blossoming trade in second hand software on SellMyRetro
There are still several software houses (including ourselves) who continue to support the Sinclair QL and release new software. We also try to contact former software houses and copyright holders and re-release their software titles where possible - in recent years, this has seen the re-release of over 160 titles, including software from Talent+, Pyramide, Westway, Arrakis, Javid Systems, TDI Software and ARK Distribution (much of which has been re-released as freeware).
The widest range of public domain and freeware QL software is available from the Sinclair QL Homepage and when we get the consent of the copyright holders to do so, we upload titles from our 30 year old collection of QL software onto those pages for all to enjoy.
The biggest problem with second hand QL software supplied on microdrive cartridge is the deterioration of the pad at the top of the cartridge, making early software unusable - the image to the right details the inner workings of the microdrive cartridge, which highlights just how fragile they are. These pads can now be replaced, but it is an intricate job not for the feint-hearted, and if your pad has already disintegrated, often pieces go inside the cartridge and jam the tape.
We try to support users in this position by preserving our collection of QL software and obtaining consent from the copyright holders to QL software being made available as freeware or on a commercial basis.
For collectors, and those seeking more software, we have also released a wide range a series of Sinclair QL box-sets featuring a range of commercial adventures and games, all supplied on 3.5" disk in presentation boxes.
Our own software range includes business orientated software, games, adventures and general leisure software at affordable prices - more than enough to keep most families happy.
As part of the 30th Anniversary of the launch of RWAP Software (1986-2016) we released a range of our commercial software as freeware and have uploaded the source code to some of our titles and toolkits to the Sinclair QL GitHub pages so that others may continue to build on the range of software available for the QL.
The main problem with maintaining the Sinclair QL is that the keyboard membrane is very fragile and tends to become brittle with age. Although we have arranged for a new batch of membranes to be manufactured, many users have opted to add a replacement keyboard through the use of the SuperHERMES replacement co-processor (which we stock). Another option may be to look for a second hand system, or switch to one of the excellent QL emulators which are available, or, for the ultimate QL system, obtain one of the new Q40i or Q60 replacement QL systems.
The QLs operating system continues to be developed in the form of SMSQ/E (which will not work on a standard QL without at least a Gold Card). This operating system has an improved multitasking SuperBASIC and is much much faster than either the original Sinclair operating system or even the Minerva operating system.
SMSQ/E has been integrated into the QPC2 emulator for Windows and the Atari emulators and is also available for the QXL QL hardware emulator (which plugs into an ISA slot on a PC). The Gold Card / Super Gold Card version of SMSQ/e can also be used on the Q-emuLator emulator for Windows and MAC based computers. Versions for QPC2 and the Q40/Q60 computer are even able to handle 24 bit colour, bringing a whole new dimension to the QL. For more details on the features of SMSQ/E, please visit Jochen Merz's website.
NEW Sinclair QLs
Although the production of the Sinclair QL finished several years ago, the development of the QL continues apace, with two hardware compatibles available (the Q40i and Q60) and several emulators to enable you to run QL software on other computers. Unfortunately, none of these are now made, with many users turning to emulation on standard PC hardware.
For details of the emulators available, please refer to our separate emulators page.
Although we can supply working QLs, these are second hand and may not be in pristine condition.
The QXL+ Card is basically a QL emulator board, which plugs into an ISA slot on a PC to create a QL compatible computer running from DOS.
The QL runs the SMSQ/e operating system.
The card contains, apart from other components, a Motorola 68040 processor complete with Floating Point unit, running at 25MHz and 8MB of RAM. This means, QXL+ runs very fast, independently from the main machine's RAM and processor speed. The "rest" of your PC is used only for handling the I/O (i.e. harddisk accesses, floppy disk, serial & parallel ports as well as keyboard and mouse).
A QXL II Card, complete with SMSQ/e costs £199 when available.
The Q40i and Q60 Computers
The Q40i and Q60 replacement computers (designed by Peter Graf in Germany) are the fastest versions of the Sinclair QL ever released.
They are produced and marketed in the UK by D&D Systems.
The Q40i is built around a 68040 processor running at 40Mhz and complete with MMU (Memory Management Unit) and FPU (Floating Point Unit).
The faster Q60 model comes with either a 60MHz or 66 MHz 68060 processor complete with MMU and FPU; or an 80MHz 68060 chip with MMU only.
Both models feature up to 128Mb of RAM, 16 bit colour at 1024x512 pixel resolution and much improved sound capabilities.
They also support disk drives and 2 IDE harddisks or CD-Rom, and provide up to 115200 Baud serial ports.
The Q40i and Q60 both have a choice of up to 3 operating systems - QDOS Qlassic for Q40 (by Mark Swift), SMSQ/E or Linux for Q40.