On Saturday the ZX Spectrum turned 40. Does that make anyone else feel old?
When first released on April 23rd, 1982, Sinclair Research’s ZX Spectrum had 16K of RAM, a horrible rubber keyboard and some very quirky colour graphics. In fairness, though, it was a quantum leap (another Sinclair reference for the astute observer) beyond the ZX81, which had – unexpanded – just 1K of RAM, a truly grotesque membrane keyboard and low-res black and white graphics.
Both of these devices changed the world: the Spectrum went on to become the UK’s best-selling microcomputer, launching an industry and many, many software careers (mine included).
Prior to owning a ZX Spectrum (mine was a plus, which at least had a proper keyboard), I borrowed computer time from my Dad’s TRS-80 Model III and from one of our school’s BBC Micro Model B. The Spectrum was the first computer the kids in our family (which mainly meant me) had nearly unrestricted access to, and it was a game-changer.
We didn’t have much by way of peripherals – neither the smudge-tastic thermal printer nor the microdrive – but we did have a Currah Speech module, which caused us a fair amount of amusement. (Listen to this to get the idea.)
We loaded games from cassette. Most were copies and were highly finicky to load: we had a few different cassette players that we’d switch between depending on which happened to load a particular game better. There was nothing more frustrating than spending several minutes biting your nails during the loading of a large game, only to receive the dreaded R Tape Loading error message.
For those wanting to relive the experience of loading games on the Spectrum, I do have a few posts for you.
About a decade ago – back when the Speccy was only 30! – I had some fun getting one working with a modern TV and loading games from an iPod Photo. More recently – during my confinement-driven Floppy Friday series – I dedicated episode 48 to loading games onto the Spectrum via an audio player on my Mac.
I’m happy to say that the Spectrum community is still going strong. Some time ago I backed the Kickstarter for issue 2 of the Spectrum Next, which will hopefully be built and delivered before too much longer.
Here’s to 40 more years of the Speccy!