Sinclair computers reviews

Sir Clive Sinclair ( or Uncle Clive as he was affectionately known) got into making computers in the late 70s when he offered the Mk 14 kit computer to electronic enthusiasts. But his first serious micro was the ZX 80 with its white plastic finish and 1k of RAM. In 1981, there followed the ZX 81 – still with 1k of memory and a mono display, this machine sold in large numbers. In 1982 the revolution in Britain really began with the launch of the Spectrum colour computer. The first 60,000 of these were 16k models, identifiable by their light grey rubber keys. This was soon followed by a 48k version with dark grey keys. By 1984 the 48k Spectrum was available in a smart new body with a “proper” keyboard – now called the Spectrum +. In 1985 a new Spectrum emerged from Spain, a 128k model looking exactly like the + but with two modes, ie 48k and 128k. The outward differences on the 128 were a large black heat sink down one side and the 128k logo on the key board.

In 1985 everything began to go wrong for Sinclair as he lost his fortune developing the C5 electric car and the ill-fated QL computer. Clive eventually sold Sinclair Research to Amstrad for 5 million pounds lock-stock and barrel. Alan Sugar took the Spectrum and dropped the QL. The Speccy, as millions of British owners knew it, gained a completely new keyboard in light grey with the bonus of a tape deck stuck on the side. It was now called the Spectrum +2. In 1987, Amstrad remodelled the Spectrum as the +2A – looking pretty much the same as the +2 but returned to its black casing. It also had some extra features like Centronics printer port and disc operating system that couldn’t be used because that was meant for the final model, the +3 which had all the +2A features minus the tape deck. It had a none-standard 3 inch drive in stead.

The Spectrum enjoyed a huge following through its life and, even today, there are still many users and collectors in the UK. Some 20,000 games were produced for it, a lot of which are hard to find now. Many of the games have been emulated and there are a lot of clones of the machine around the world. However, you can’t beat the real thing.


MK 14., Rare! Came as kit and didn’t do much. It had just 256 bytes of memory and a vacuum florescent display. You had to program it in HEX.

ZX 80., Rare! You could buy it as a kit or finished through mail order. This micro had a BASIC and with a 4k RAM pack you could at least do something with it – not a lot though! For playing arcade games it wasn’t. However, it could do simple text adventures and bits of number crunching.

ZX 81., You can still find them but rarely boxed, and usually in poor condition. However, a nice boxed machine does command a good price .Games-wise, it wasn’t much better than the ZX 80. There is also a Sinclair 16k RAM pack, and a ZX Printer for it (the thermal paper rolls are hard to get though.

SPECTRUM 16K The first and rarest of the Spectrums, came with light grey keys and the spectrum colour stripe across its lower corner against a black face. The machine had 8 colours in its display and though the graphics weren’t brilliant its speed was quick enough to handle arcades.

SPECTRUM 48K Fairly common, but difficult to find in mint/boxed condition. This model had the dark grey keys and extra memory but in all other respects its the same as the first Spectrum. For this model, Sinclair produced the Interface I which handled Microdrives, RS232 printer port and Networking. Interface II,which soon followed, could take Sinclair’s new cartridge games – rare in themselves.

SPECTRUM+ Fairly common but, again, difficult to find in mint/boxed condition. The + came in a new black casing with a proper keyboard. It is essentially the same as the earlier model but it did have the extra facility of a Reset switch. All the add-ons work with it ok.

SPECTRUM+128K Not so common, and even harder to find mint/boxed. Again, there is little to tell the 48k and 128k machines apart except for the heat sink down one side and the 128 logo. In operation the 128 editor is much better than the 48 but the buety of this machine was that it had a 48 mode which enabled all the early software to run on it. The other advantages were that sound was output through the TV and it had both a built-in RS232 to support MIDI and an RGB out-put. Its failing was that some of the add-ons like the Interface I wouldn’t work with it.

SPECTRUM+2 Quite common but still worth a fair price boxed/mint in the UK. This is the first Spectrum produced by Amstrad. It was grey and had a good keyboard. It also had a tape deck built onto it. In most other respects it was the same as the 128 but it did have an extra RS232 port and a pair of built-in joystick ports to take Amstrad’s very own “Sinclair” joysticks. Interestingly, Interface I actually works fine on the +2.

SPECTRUM+2A Quite common and, as above, still worth fair price boxed/mint in the UK. This machine was a big let-down on the earlier model and suffered from a dodgy display and a tendency to crash. However, most of the faults were put right on later issues. Apart from the edition of a Centronics printer port and the fact that it was returned to its black casing there’s nothing much one can say about it.

SPECTRUM+3 In mint/boxed condition its a hard one to find but they do turn up. You can still find well-worn examples but usually the disk drive is naff! Apart from the disk drive and an extra port to take drive B as an add-on, there’s little difference from the +2A. However, the disk system dos make it functionally better. It should be added, not surprisingly, that Interface I didn’t work with this model or the +2A unless you got a devise known as the Fixit from MGT – now long gone.