Sinclair Spectrum 48k (1982)

Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k (1982)

Firmware: 3.54 MHz Zilog Z80A CPU
16K / 48K RAM (later 128K RAM)
Display: 32 x 22 character text display
256 x 192 pixel resolution
8 colours
Sound: 1 channel, 5 octave (16/48K Spectrums)
3 channel, 7 octaves (128K Spectrums)
I/O: Z80 bus, tape, RF television (All Spectrums)
External numeric keypad (Spectrum 128)
RS232 – Midi Out, RGB, Joystick (Spectrum 128, +2, +2A, +3)
Storage: Built-in tape recorder (Spectrum +2, +2A)
Build-in 3″ disk drive (Spectrum +3)

clive_sstsst_title_big

The Spectrum of Success

As we saw in the last chapter, the launch of the ZX81 initiated a computing fever which swept the country. Although to outsiders its arrival appeared as sudden and inexplicable as skateboards or breakdancing, micro mania was subtly different from the run-of-the-mill social fad. For a start, although the majority of enthusiasts fell into the mid-teen to early twenties age group, a significant number were of an age that generally manages to resist the lure of more ephemeral fashions. An unusual number of parents fell under the spell of the machines they bought for their children. A less positive (and rarely mentioned) characteristic of the boom was that its supporters were almost exclusively male.

Unlike most teen-dominated movements, it was difficult for the rest of the world to ignore or disapprove of the computing obsession. Partly because of its mystique and partly because of the support of the schools, there was a vague but compelling pressure to encourage an interest in computing. Although in the end most home microcomputers were exclusively applied to running arcade games, they were nevertheless regarded as inherently educational. Predictably, this misapprehension was milked for all it was worth by the manufacturers. Any parents without a micro in their home were made to feel that they were impeding their children’s future employment prospects. Being shunned by the BBC may well have been a blow to Sinclair’s pride, but more important was the loss of state sanction invaluable to the exploitation of the ‘education’ market.

While the ZX81 is undoubtedly the best microcomputing product to have been marketed by Sinclair Research, the ZX Spectrum is far and away the company’s most significant commercial success. More than any other product it was responsible for establishing Sinclair’s international reputation and his popular image in the UK as figure-head of the microcomputing revolution. Leaving long-term considerations to one side for a moment, it should be stressed that the Spectrum’s launch was a beautifully orchestrated seduction of an already eager market. By December 1981, sales of the ZX81 had hit the 250,000 mark, providing Sinclair with easily the largest microcomputer user base in the world. The conspicuous hordes of enthusiasts clustered around the Sinclair machine in W. H. Smith’s, the elegiac tributes to the working man’s boffin in the popular press, all contributed to persuading those without computers that the moment had come to move with the times. In an industry too young and confused to enjoy any meaningful traditions, veterans of the home-computer market awaited the new Sinclair machine with the anticipation of an annual festival. And Sinclair played his crowd like a master.

The phenomenal success of the ZX81 was a tough act to follow. Having given thousands of neophytes a taste for computing, Sinclair’s next task was to ensure that they remained loyal to his product range. The new computerates were already hungry for the colour graphics of Atari, Commodore and Acorn; Clive knew he would have to come up with the goods at a price they could afford. For those who had yet to take the plunge, the company had to devise a marketing strategy that broadened the appeal of the new product.

As a first stage in his effort to expand the home-computer market, Sinclair devoted his attention to improving the appearance of his new product. In spite of attracting a Design Council award, the ZX81 wasn’t much to look at. According to marketing development manager John Rowland, one of the biggest problems facing W. H. Smith when it started selling the ZX81 was that of display. How do you promote ‘a lump of plastic shaped like a wedge of cheese’ so that it looks as if it’s worth seventy quid? The ZX81’s design was still tethered to the hobbyist tradition and Sinclair was determined that the Spectrum would make the leap into the sleeker style of mainstream consumer electronics.

Rick Dickinson was Sinclair Research’s resident industrial designer and was responsible for the internal and external appearance of all products since the ZX80. In an interview he explained the type of concerns that informed the Spectrum’s design:

[The Spectrum] is a step up-market and I was really trying hard for a super-smart machine. It is not for quite the same amateur market. We spent a great deal of time on [the keyboard]. It is the only interface between the user and the product and it has to be right. We were trying also to cram on more information than anyone had ever done. I believe that form should follow function.

(Sinclair User, August 1982.)

As far as newcomers to computing were concerned, Dickinson had done a great job. In spite of his form-should-follow-function maxim, the outward appearance of the Spectrum worked best as an abstraction. In the full-page colour adverts, the machine effortlessly looked the part of the consumer-electronics artifact. For those who didn’t know one end of a computer from the other, the mysterious words and symbols in a multitude of colours were part and parcel of the micro mystique. For those who thought they knew one end of a computer from the other, the experience of defeat when faced with the Spectrum’s keyboard was less compelling.

Like so much that was wrong with the Spectrum, its absurdly complex keyboard was the result of shortsighted economies in product development. The adoption of single-keystroke BASIC was a tolerable idiosyncrasy of the early products that became a serious liability as the range matured. As ZX BASIC was expanded, it became practically impossible to display every keyword and symbol clearly on an already cramped keyboard. This shortcoming was disastrous for the beginners for whom the machine was intended. Even the simplest operation became a major performance, as reviewers were quick to point out:

The BASIC is still programmed using the single-key technique which the ZX80 and ZX81 exploited but, and it is a big BUT, this has now got to the point where it is rather silly. Because there are so many functions crammed on to each key, generally five, there are now two levels of Shift. In fact, to type in some of the more commonly used BASIC commands takes more keypresses than there are letters in the command!

(Computing Today, August 1982.)

Fortunately for Sinclair, suspense and anticipation blunted the critical faculties of the eager millions. As the April 1982 launch date drew close, editorials of the day took the tone of prayers to micro-computing’s high priest:

Let us hope firstly that Clive Sinclair does launch a ZX82 and secondly, that when he does it is not a replacement for the ZX81, as the ZX81 was for the ZX80, but that he has carefully designed his new computer to fill the gaping hole between the ZX81 and the BBC Microcomputer. Then ZX81 users, and all the ZX81 support companies which have sprung up in the last year, will have something to look forward to.

(Your Computer, March 1982.)

Amen! As far as the converted were concerned, Sinclair gave them the upgrade for which they were waiting. A colour computer with 16K or 48K of RAM at £125 and £175 respectively. Owners of more sophisticated micros could no longer sneer at the black and white blocks that passed for graphics on the ZX81. As far as first-time buyers were concerned, Sinclair could offer the first cogent reason for introducing a micro into the home. The inclusion of colour graphics allowed software houses to produce believable reproductions of the shoot-’em-up games found in the arcades. If you weren’t interested in programming, then you could think of your Spectrum as a home entertainment centre. The explosion of games software that followed the Spectrum’s launch was to be a critical factor in the massive expansion of the microcomputer market.

Unlike that of the ZX80 and ZX81, the development of the ZX Spectrum was not completed in a spirit of harmony and co-operation. From the outset, there were disagreements between Nine Tiles and its clients about how the project should be approached. According to Steven Vickers, ‘Clive’s strategy of getting [the Spectrum] out fast relied on making as few changes as possible to the ZX81.’ The software for the ZX80 had been specifically designed for a machine with very little memory. The programmers felt that a structure intended for a 1K system was inappropriate for the processing requirements of a 16K or 48K Spectrum. With the ZX81, Sinclair had made it clear that little of the ZX80 code should be rewritten but that instead the expansion modules should simply be grafted on to the original base. The feeling at Nine Tiles was that although this approach was tolerable for the ZX81, such economies could be disastrous for the Spectrum. They believed that the resultant software would flounder because of the inadequacies of an inappropriate structure:

Certainly with the Spectrum we wanted to rewrite the code, but there wasn’t the time and there definitely wasn’t the resources. At every point [in the development of the ZX range] Clive wanted the maximum new facilities for the minimum money.

(Interview with John Grant, 8 September 1985.)

Thus, although the Spectrum boasted an impressive expansion of ZX BASIC, the new facilities were impaired by their inefficient implementation. In short, the execution of a Spectrum program was depressingly slow, as the following reviewer’s comments emphasize:

The BASIC is slow, well, ‘snail-like’ would be a better description, and the standard Benchmark results are given in Table 1. The last test was done with a loop of 100 instead of 1000 as I thought that you might like to read the review before the Christmas holidays.

(Computing Today, August 1982.)

Initially, the absence of competition and an inexperienced market meant that the Spectrum’s deficiencies had little effect on its success. Had the machine been developed as an interim product, then its shortcomings would have been defensible. That Jan Jones was hired at the beginning of 1983 specifically to create a Spectrum Super BASIC suggests that Sinclair may have taken Grant’s concerns to heart. That the Superspectrum was abandoned is a symptom of the complacency that lost Research its market lead as the competition hit back with superior products.

The stalwart Jim Westwood was conspicuously absent during the development of the Spectrum’s hardware. The £5m. flat-screen investment programme initiated at the beginning of 1981 had apparently brought the company no closer to getting a product on the market. In desperation, Westwood had been taken off the ZX range after the completion of the ZX81 and dispatched to rescue the television. Into Westwood’s shoes stepped the admirably capable Richard Altwasser. That the Spectrum reached the market more or less on schedule is largely a result of the friendship that developed between Vickers and Altwasser, with the latter serving as a buffer between Nine Tiles and Sinclair Research. Having skimped on the machine’s software development, a decision seems to have been taken to be a little more generous with the hardware. A number of reviewers noted with satisfaction that, unlike earlier machines, the micro’s clock circuitry and display were crystal controlled – a fact that contributed to the reliability of the hardware. Others pointed to the tidy internal layout, for which credit must go to the cooperative labours of Dickinson and Altwasser.

The work on the Spectrum’s software took the best part of a year to complete. Although the straight enhancements of ZX81 BASIC were relatively unproblematic, the development of the code that was to handle the various planned peripherals was impeded by the lack of working hardware. After six months shunting between Research and Ferranti, Altwasser finally managed to cobble together a prototype of the Spectrum itself, and by Christmas Vickers had completed the bulk of the software. From this point on the situation deteriorated.

The problems started in February 1982 with financial disagreements between Nine Tiles and Sinclair. The Grants insist that for years Sinclair had been suggesting the possibility of royalties on their work, and when it became clear that these were not going to materialize, they decided to put up their fees. For his part, Sinclair made it clear that the company’s rates were over the top. In a product development impeded by bad feeling, the announcement by Vickers and Altwasser that they were departing to form their own company couldn’t have come at a worse moment. (They went on to trade as Cantab, which was to produce the ill-fated Jupiter Ace, a computer featuring the Forth language.)

With Altwasser gone, for a while hardware development drifted along at Research with no one at the helm. In February, with the Spectrum’s April launch looming and still no sign of completed peripherals, it was decided to produce the incomplete ROM for a limited release. Grant explains the theory behind the strategy:

The original idea was that Research were going to bring out the Spectrum with an unfinished ROM. They were going to make just a very few. They knew that before long … they’d have the real ROM and anyone who bought add-ons for an early machine would be able to have an exchange ROM. Then it got to somewhere around May or June and they’d sold 75,000 machines, all with the old ROM. They came to the conclusion that the original idea just wasn’t going to be viable.

(Interview with John Grant, 8 September 1985.)

Grant resolved this potentially disastrous situation by coming up with the idea of a ‘shadow’ ROM that sat on the add-on card and took over from the Spectrum’s ROM when the peripheral was called into use. This led to the absurd situation in which the Spectrum’s software was still being developed more than three months after the machine’s launch! In effect, the resident Spectrum ROM was to remain incomplete. Whereas the ROMs of the earlier ZX micros were crammed to the hilt, that of the Spectrum boasts 1300 free bytes, which had been reserved for the peripheral software.

Since the Spectrum was the last Sinclair product on which the company was to work, this seems an appropriate point to record the views of Nine Tiles on the Spectrum development. These are summed up in this extract from a letter to Sinclair:

During the last year, the project has been subject to abrupt changes in direction and considerable effort has been wasted. For instance, the way [the network] has been used has been changed several times in March and April of this year. Software was completed in April and we have not yet been told that there is any hardware on which to test it. We feel that there is a need for a more structured approach to the planning of the project with the hard- and software design’s timescales being agreed beforehand by other members of the team.

(Letter from John Grant to Clive Sinclair, 12 June 1982.)

Although it is easy to dismiss Grant’s comments as the fruits of resentment, it should be remembered that Sinclair has levelled similar criticisms at the rest of the computer industry.

Given Sinclair’s track record and the circumstances under which the Spectrum was developed, it is difficult to believe that Grant’s complaints are entirely without foundation.

There’s an ironic postscript to the Sinclair-Nine Tiles saga. After the split with Research visitors to Nine Tiles were puzzled by the sight of staff wistfully toying with calculations involving multiples of 2.5 million. The truth can now be told. It seems that at the end of 1984 Nigel Searle, then managing director of Sinclair Research, found himself grappling with a legal problem in the Far East. Pirate Spectrums were flooding the market and the company was constructing a case that would enable it to sue for breach of copyright. The only trouble was that no one seemed able to lay hands on the document that established Sinclair’s ownership of the Spectrum’s software. With a growing sense of dread, it finally dawned on Searle and Sinclair that as far as anyone could tell the company didn’t actually hold the software copyright! In the panic and bad feeling that marked the closing stages of the micro’s development, no one had got around to asking Nine Tiles to sign over the appropriate pieces of paper. In theory, John Grant’s company may well own the software copyright of the world’s bestselling microcomputer, unit sales of which have now passed the 2.5 million mark. It seems that the company declined Sinclair’s modest offer for the relevant documentation. After all, almost anything multiplied by 2.5 million comes to more than £5000, doesn’t it? Anyway, the 1985 cash crisis interfered with the resolution of this potentially vexed issue, which was presumably sorted out in the course of the sale to Amstrad of Sinclair’s intellectual property rights where they relate to computers in 1986.

Given the untidy conclusion to the development programme, it was hardly surprising that supply problems hit the Spectrum on an unprecedented scale. Following the standard pattern for a Sinclair launch, purchase was at first restricted to mail-order sales, but the company departed from its usual advertising strategy by initially confining its campaign to the pages of the computing publications. Nevertheless, demand was enormous and although the micro was officially launched in April 1982, it wasn’t until June that the first machines began to trickle into the hands of the customers. Never prone to a sense of déja vu, Sinclair was once again reported to have been ‘utterly astonished’ by demand for his new product.

By July, Sinclair Research was sitting on a backlog of 30,000 orders. Once production had got into full swing at Timex Dundee, the manufacturer was pumping out 5000 units a week. Then, in mid-July, just as supply problems were in sight of being resolved, Timex shut down their entire plant for its three-week annual holiday. The backlog hit the 40,000 mark, and customers were told they could expect a wait of anything up to twelve weeks. With memories of ZX81 delays still fresh in their minds, the thousands who paid their money and then waiting three months for delivery must have found it difficult to escape the suspicion that they were forward-financing Sinclair production. There were dark rumblings of dissent in the computer journals and news of the crisis spread to the national papers.

Applying a Band-Aid to the savaged jugular of his PR, in September Sinclair published an open letter in the computing press apologizing for the delays. He offered money hack on demand to those who were fed up with waiting, and a £10 voucher towards printer or printer paper to those blessed with unnatural patience. However, as far as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was concerned, it was a case of too little, too late. For all the good it did the customers, in October the organization upheld complaints against Spectrum ads (which promised ’28-day delivery’) and berated the company for the ‘appalling delays’ in fulfilling orders.

Given the backlog of orders for the Spectrum, it was clearly important to sustain ZX81 sales, particularly since it was the only Sinclair microcomputer making a showing in the retail outlets. Sinclair was convinced that, ‘The ZX81 will continue to be ideal for the person who wants the lowest possible entry cost into computing.’ To prove his point, at the Spectrum’s launch he knocked down the price of the ZX81’s RAM pack from £49.95 to £29.95, although the price of the ZX Printer was raised to £59.95. Far from cutting back on manufacture of the old machine, the company boldly announced that its ZX81 production target for the end of the year was 150,000 units per month. Despite the delays many first-time buyers chose to hold out for the Spectrum and there was a significant slump in sales of the ZX81. To counter this trend, Research signed up Prism Microproducts to wholesale the machine, extended high-street sales to include the Boots chain and cut the price of the ZX81 to £49.95.

In the frenzy and frustration of the months following the Spectrum’s launch, Sinclair received solace and/or encouragement from an unexpected source. Caught by the wave of micro mania that was sweeping the country, the progressive forces of the Conservative government decided to step up their contribution to the hi-tech revolution. Fired by the success of the Micros for Secondary Schools campaign, the Department of Industry (DI) committed a further £9m. with the intention of putting at least one computer in every primary school. Just as pre-production machines were being readied for the reviewers, the Spectrum and ZX81 were tested by the DI to see if they qualified for a place in the programme.

In July 1982, Margaret Thatcher announced details of the scheme to the nation and revealed the products that had been deemed educationally sound – the Sinclair Spectrum 48K, the BBC Model B with disk interface and the Research Machines Link 480Z. With more than 27,000 institutions expected to take part in the scheme, Sinclair Research felt that there was cause for celebration. On hearing the news, a spokesman made it clear that the company believed it could knock the competition out of the running: ‘We’re very pleased about it. We hope that being the cheapest in the scheme, we will be able to outsell the other manufacturers.’ Ironically, although Sinclair has been extremely successful in getting his machines into institutions all over the world, the company managed to secure only a paltry 2 per cent of the U K education market. Among the reasons given by British teachers are that the Spectrum’s size makes it too easy to steal and that the machine is simply too fragile to withstand the battering it could expect from hordes of pre-teens.

Sinclair Research had by now established a market dominance in the UK that would be the envy of a multinational. Continuing production delays had inhibited Sinclair’s effective exploitation of the 1982-3 Christmas market, but by the spring of 1983 supply finally fell into step with demand. In February, Sinclair contracted Prism to handle wholesale trade of the Spectrum, and extended his assault on the high street to include the Boots, John Menzies and Curry chains At the beginning of the year, the Sinclair machine looked unstoppable. Clive had sold off 10% of his personal shareholding, which valued the company at around £136m., of which Clive Sinclair still owned 85 per cent. The company’s triumphant computer division moved into spacious new offices in Willis Road, Cambridge, and in March Nigel Searle was appointed managing director of the Advance Products Division, which at this time meant that he was responsible for the development of any non-computing product. By the end of March, Sinclair Research had sold 200,000 Spectrums, and was announcing a £13.8m. profit on a turnover of £54.53m. A remarkable achievement for a new company which employed a staff of only 55.

Although 1983 will undoubtedly go down in history as the halcyon days of Sinclair Research, it would be remiss to pass over this period without reference to the occasional problem. For example, in March the company discovered that an entire shipment of Spectrum power-packs was faulty. It seems that 14,000 units were capable of flooring their owners with an electric shock. A massive recall operation was initiated in an attempt to replace the defectives before a hacker bit the dust. Fortunately, none of the Spectrum fraternity came to harm. As if to compensate Sinclair for an unexpected headache, fate delivered him the Guardian’s Young Businessman of the Year Award (at the age of 44).

Another hardware problem precipitated crisis and correspondence in the autumn. Minor chip-tampering prior to the release of the Issue 3 Spectrum proved to have radical consequences for the user. It seems that in August 1983 Research introduced a new chip into the machine’s design which changed the entry point for the Spectrum’s cassette-loaded programs. So what? Well, as a result of this minor change, a significant percentage of commercial software for the Spectrum simply wouldn’t run on the Issue 3. Sinclair Research pointed the finger at the ‘unprofessional programming practices’ of the software houses. Software companies complained that Sinclair hadn’t bothered to offer advance warning of the change. The computer press made a mountain out of a molehill, and offered untested suggestions as to how the Issue 3 problem could be circumvented. In the end, it seems the crisis simply disappeared of its own accord.

In May, Sinclair Research initiated a series of price cuts which are worthy of note simply because they exemplify an approach to marketing that has proved extremely effective for the company. At the height of the Spectrum’s popularity, Sinclair reduced its price – £99.95 for 16K, £129.95 for 48K and cut the prices of both the ZX81 and the ZX Printer to £39.95. The effect of this move was to secure and extend Sinclair’s market lead and panic the competition. While most companies reduce prices when their products are in steep decline, Sinclair tends to discount shortly after sales have peaked. The advantage of his approach is that vacillating consumers are drawn into the fold while the product’s promotion retains a commercial urgency, and the costings of the competition are thrown into utter disarray.

Before moving on to discuss the next major Sinclair product development, it seems sensible to depart from our chronological sequence to record the company’s efforts to extend the commercial life of its most popular product in the face of increasingly sophisticated competition. As we have seen, the long-term appeal of the Spectrum was significantly constrained by the economies imposed on its development. Although the machine’s sluggish software and dubious hardware were no impediment to success as long as the machine stood alone in the market, the first sight of organized competition forced Sinclair to rely on the cheapness of the machine to provide the main thrust of his promotional strategy.

For an interim development that sought to exploit the paucity of product in a hungry market the Spectrum’s quick-‘n’-dirty development was both appropriate and necessary. Had the company followed through with its original plans and completed the development of a medium-price advanced colour micro, there was a good chance that such a SuperSpectrum would have replicated its forerunner’s success and ensured domination of a new section of the market. Ironically, it was the Spectrum’s apparently unstoppable success that convinced Sir Clive that the creation of a SuperSpectrum was unnecessary. In spite of its relatively advanced stage of development, the project was abandoned.

By the middle of 1984, the Spectrum was looking tired; Sinclair Research had no product to satisfy a growing section of the market, and the only indication of the company’s future in microcomputing came in the shape of the multiply flawed QL. At this stage, the full-scale development of an appropriate product seemed out of the question. In June 1984, the company pondered its options and concluded that the lightning development of a stop-gap product seemed to offer the simplest, most economic solution to its dilemma. The result of these deliberations was eventually marketed as the Spectrum +.

Once one has explained why the Spectrum + was produced, it’s difficult to know what else to say about the machine. Rumours of a Spectrum upgrade began to circulate in September 1984 and, encouraged by the company’s elaborate denials of such a development, the computer press made a meal of building on its own speculations. To everyone’s surprise, the Spectrum + was never actually launched, but simply became available in October, priced at £179.95. The machine’s sudden appearance infuriated the chainstores, since most had already stocked up for Christmas with standard Spectrums. However, a presumably forewarned W. H. Smith was able to take advantage of its privileged position as the leading Sinclair stockist by making the most of seasonal sales of the new product.

The reality of the Spectrum + caused its own problems for reviewers who had got so much mileage out of speculation. How much could you say about a standard Spectrum 48K with a new keyboard? Most writers opted to be out front about their disappointment. The general consensus seemed to be that the machine looked like a sawn-off QL, and that considering the price rise the minimal improvements simply were not good enough:

Sinclair Research could have taken a bit more time and effort to produce a machine it’s worth upgrading to. Of course Sinclair Research couldn’t do a very enhanced Spectrum (say, with CP/M ability) as the product would more than likely knock spots off the QL. So what we get instead is a rather limp marketing ploy and a return to old Spectrum prices. And while I’m on this tack, you’ll notice that the idea of a 16K colour computer for under £100 has been quietly dismissed.

(Your Spectrum, December 1984.)

It was not as if the consumer was being presented with a choice between the old and new machine, since in an interview in Your Spectrum (December 1984) Nigel Searle inadvertently let slip that the company intended phasing out the standard Spectrum. To add insult to injury, the new packaging for the computer seemed to owe more to economy than any real attempt to improve an old product. A number of reviewers noted that the keys of the so-called ‘professional keyboard’ tended to fall off, and with the passing of time the Spectrum + track record regarding quality control was less than impressive. Statements from major retailers such as Boots seemed to indicate that the putative upgrade was more trouble than it was worth:

Return levels for the Spectrum + are still high, according to a Boots spokesman. ‘It seems to take one person to sell a computer and three to deal with the complaints. The acceptable returns level is 5 to 6 per cent. Returns are running at four or five times that amount and 90 per cent of those faults are genuine.’

(Sinclair User, September 1985.)

Far from breathing new life into an old product, the release of the Spectrum + seems to have drawn attention to the weaknesses of the old machine and reinforced suspicions about the low standards of quality control at Sinclair Research.

In view of its limitations, it’s hardly surprising that the Spectrum + turned out to be the answer to no one’s problems. Faced with rising debts, enormous stocks of out-dated product, and little in the way of revenue to finance developments for the future, in June 1985 Sir Clive opened negotiations with Robert Maxwell in an effort to raise some capital. When ‘Cap’n Bob’s’ rescue package fell apart, Sinclair finally put his name to a deal with Dixons that had been pending for some while. The chainstore gained an enormous volume of Sinclair stock, and Sir Clive a much-needed £10m. of revenue.

If things weren’t exactly looking up for Sinclair Research, at least the situation wasn’t getting any worse. However, it seems that one of the drawbacks of the deal with Dixons was that it meant that Sinclair could not release any kind of new Spectrum upgrade until 1986. The effect of this clause was that Research was unable to take full advantage of another deal that it had recently finalized with Investronica, the company’s Spanish distributor. While the Spectrum was on its way out in the UK, sales of the old warhorse were going from strength to strength over in Spain, although overall the micro-market was considerably less developed than in Britain, and Research product faced little in the way of competition. Presumably mindful of the consequences of Sir Clive’s complacency about the product’s position in the U K, Investronica decided to plough back some of its profits into the development of a genuine Spectrum upgrade.

The Spectrum 128K is everything the Spectrum + should have been. With its enlarged memory capacity, a new sound chip, significantly improved keyboard with numeric keypad and RS232 and video output facilities, the machine looked distinctly competitive at around £175. Far too competitive as far as Dixons was concerned. Sinclair Research made it clear that only after stocks of the Spectrum + had been significantly reduced would the Spanish development be launched on the UK market.

The UK version of the 128K Spectrum arrived in February 1986, priced at £179.95. It lacked the numeric keypad of the Spanish model, this being an extra £19.95 accessory for the unfortunate British enthusiast. Criticized for its lack of a joystick port, and lacking also the new software to take advantage of the extra memory, it aroused little enthusiasm. As an upgrade it offered better sound (played through the television loudspeaker) and the annoying ‘dot crawl’ on the display was cured. It enabled a VDU monitor to be connected and incorporated a non-standard RS232 communications port. All this was a welcome improvement on a dated machine, but it was launched at the wrong time of the year for new sales and provided no compelling reasons for the existing Spectrum user to upgrade and manifestly failed to revitalize the Sinclair image, as either innovator or provider of cheap machines.

http://www.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/computers/zxspectrum/spec_sst.htm ©

Advertisements

One Response to “Retro 80’s”

  1. loslobas Says:

    Come join me for some live multiplayer fun on the Xbox 360 – add my gamertag, loslobas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s