Sinclair Research Ltd. (Cambridge, U.K.)

Clive Sinclair’s company made microcomputers affordable for the masses. At just under $200, the ZX80 allowed many students and other people of limited means to learn about computing. By 1984, Sinclair had sold 2 million computers, including all models, worldwide. Sinclair’s success earned him a knighthood.

At one point, Sinclair was selling more computers per month than Apple, Commodore, or Tandy/Radio Shack. The company sold 250,000 ZX81s worldwide in the first 10 months of production, with 50,000 of those sales in the U.S. The company hit hard times by 1985, however, and was forced to consider buyout offers as unsold inventory began to fill warehouses. Amstrad purchased the rights to the Sinclair line.

Sinclair sold more than100,000 ZX80s. The ZX80 inspired several clones, including the $150 (in kit form) MicroAce. ZX80s had the habit of blanking the screen while performing background tasks, so don’t be concerned if this happens with yours.

It wasn’t a lot of computer–it had a lousy membrane keyboard and only 1K RAM–but at $150 the ZX81 was the only one that many people could afford. The ZX81 was a great teaching computer, especially in kit form. It wasn’t unusual for Sinclair owners, after building and learning to program their ZX81s, to start a new career in the computer field. Timex, which manufactured the ZX81 for Sinclair at its plant in Scotland, sold the system in the U.S. under its own brand as the Timex Sinclair 1000. Mitsui sold the ZX81 in Japan. A number of ZX81 clones were made, including the Lambda IQ 8300, Prologica CP 200S, and the Your Computer. Unbuilt ZX81 kits appear from time to time, although reviewers of the system recommended against novices assembling them. ZX80s and ZX81s without the memory expansion modules are capable of very little, so look for units with the option.

Sinclair sold 100,000 ZX Spectrums in the first nine months of its production in the U.K alone. The Spectrum was sold in the U.S. by Timex as the Timex Sinclair 2000. Many Spectrum clones were made around the world, including the, Microdigital TK85 (Brazil), Inves Spectrum+ (Spain), and from Russia the Hobbit, Robik, Peters MC 64, and Spektr 48.

In 1984, Sinclair introduced the ZX Spectrum+, which replaced the Chiclet keyboard with the full-travel keyboard used on the QL. It also came with 48K RAM standard. A year later, Sinclair replaced the Spectrum+ with the ZX Spectrum 128. This was the first significant revision of the Spectrum line since its introduction. Aside from a boost in memory capacity, the Spectrum 128 had vastly improved sound capability, including MIDI output. Sinclair sold the Spectrum 128 for about a year before replacing it with the ZX Spectrum +2.

The Spectrum +2 was the first computer produced under Amstrad, and it had a form factor similar to the Amstrad CPC-464. The motherboard, however, was a slightly modified version of the one used in the Spectrum 128. Spectrum +2A and +2B were later available. They were essentially cassette-based Spectrum +3s. The original Spectrum +2 had a grey case, while the +2A and +2B had black cases.

The most obvious change that the +3 made to the Spectrum line was a built-in three-inch floppy drive. The system used an operating system similar to the one used on Amstrad’s CPC line. The company also redesigned the motherboard and revised the system ROMs, but maintained software compatibility with all previous Spectrum models.

Priced like a home computer, the QL (for Quantum Leap) was aimed at a small-business market. It used the 32-bit 68008 processor, which is the same processor used in the original Macintosh but with only an 8-bit data bus. The Microdrive was a Sinclair-designed tape storage device with a capacity of about 100K per cartridge. QDOS was Sinclair’s multitasking operating system based on its own SuperBASIC programming language. British Telecom produced an enhanced version of the QL called the Merlin Tonto.

Sinclair’s lone PC-compatible model was the PC-200, a relabeled Amstrad PC-20.

Reader RWAP adds:

“March 8, 2010 at 7:50 am: A couple of amendments to the above – the Sinclair QL original retail price was £399.99. You have also missed off the Cambridge Z88 which was later designed by Sinclair Research and sold under the Cambridge brand after they had sold the rights to Sinclair.

Even 30 years after the Sinclair ZX80 was first launched, the Sinclair range of computers continue to attract large numbers of users, and new hardware and software development.”

 

Sinclair ZX80 (1980, home computer)
Original Retail Price: $200
Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, 1K RAM (16K max), TV video interface, integral membrane keyboard, BASIC, AC adapter, manual
Video: 24-line x 32-column text
Size/Weight: 6.5 x 8.5 x 1.5 inches, 12 oz.
Important Options: enhanced BASIC

Sinclair ZX81 (1981, home computer)
Original Retail Price: $100 kit, $150 assembled
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU, 1K RAM (16K max), 8K ROM, integral, TV video port, membrane keyboard, BASIC, programming course, AC adapter
Video: 24-line x 32-column text
Size/Weight: 6 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches, 12 oz.
Important Options: ZX Printer

Sinclair ZX Spectrum (April 1982, home computer)
Original Retail Price: £125 to £175
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU, expansion port, 16K RAM (48K max), integral Chiclet-style keyboard, cassette port, ZX Spectrum BASIC, BASIC and owner’s manuals
Video: 24-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, eight colors
Size/Weight: 9.2 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
Important Options: Microdrive, RS-232 interface, ZX printer

Sinclair ZX Spectrum + (1984, home computer)
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU, expansion slot, 48K RAM, 16K ROM, RF video port, integral keyboard, cassette port, Sinclair BASIC, AC adapter
Video: 24-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, eight colors

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 (1985, home computer)
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU; expansion slot; 128K RAM; 32K ROM; RGB video port; integral keyboard; RS-232, keypad, cassette, and MIDI ports; Sinclair BASIC; AC adapter; three-voice sound
Video: 24-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, eight colors
Size/Weight: 12.5 x 5.9 x 1.8 inches

Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 (1986, home computer)
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU; expansion slot; 128K RAM; integral cassette recorder; PAL and RGB video ports; integral keyboard; RS-232, parallel, two game, and MIDI ports; Sinclair BASIC; three-voice sound; AC adapter
Video: 24-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, eight colors
Size/Weight: 17.2 x 6.8 x 2.1 inches

Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3 (1987, home computer)
Original Retail Price: £249
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz Z80A CPU; +3DOS; expansion slot; 128K RAM; 64K ROM; 3-inch floppy disk drive; RGB and PAL video ports; integral keyboard; RS-232, parallel, two game, cassette, and MIDI ports; Sinclair and ZX+3 BASIC; AC adapter; three-voice sound
Video: 24-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, eight colors
Size/Weight: 17.2 x 6.8 x 2 inches
Important Options: second floppy disk drive

Sinclair QL (April 1984, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $499
Base Configuration: 7.5MHz 68008 CPU; QDOS; expansion and one ROM cartridge slot; 128K RAM (640K max), 32K ROM (64K max); two Microdrives; TV and RGB video ports; integral keyboard; two RS-232C, two game, and two network ports; SuperBASIC; application suite
Video: 25-line x 85-column text, 512 x 256 graphics
Size/Weight: 5.37 x 1.75 x 18.75 inches, 3 lbs.
Important Options: hard disk drive, parallel and IEEE-488 interfaces, modem, ADC converter

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