Binary Dinosaurs Computer Museum
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Sinclair Research Ltd
Everyone will have heard of "Uncle" Clive Sinclair. He can arguably be called the man who brought home computing to the masses in February 1980 with the launch of the 1K ZX80 - the machine I borrowed off my Physics teacher and became immediately gobsmacked that I could make it do things. Yes, the keyboard was awful, yes the maths were integer only, yes the machine couldn't think and display at the same time, but the whole machine was around 8 inches square and could display on your telly! Best of all it was available pre-assembled for £99 - less than a third of the cost of the competitors.
The first dalliance with computers was produced by Chris Curry while he was working at Sinclair Radionics. A company called Science of Cambridge was set up to make what became the MK14, a small kit machine reminiscent of a cut-down CBM/MOS Technology KIM-1, with a hex keypad, hex display and an odd CPU called the SC/MP....I've read that this CPU was used because National Semiconductor (the company that made them) offered to manufacture the MK14 for free....obviously I don't know how true that is, but back then everybody in Cambridge seemed to be doing other people favours and/or reverse engineering someone elses kit! I've also been told that the MK14 was pretty much a copy of the SCAMP, which was the demo board for the SC/MP processor.
The modest success of the MK14 prompted Chris to approach Clive with the intention of upgrading the MK14 to include, amongst other things, a BASIC interpreter, but Clive wasn't interested so Chris jumped ship and started Acorn with Herman Hauser.
The reason Clive wasn't interested was he was looking at designing the machine that would ultimately become the Grundy Newbrain after changing hands twice, but when it was discovered that this machine couldn't be made for less than £100 (it was aimed at sub-£200) it was sold to Newbury Labs, who up until that point made VDUs. The machine that appeared instead was the ZX80, designed by Jim Westwood. The paragraph at the top of the page describes it nicely, and it even spawned a copy - the MicroAce (details of which are scarce to say the least!) produced by MicroAce of California.
I've been told that the ZX81 is what the ZX80 should've been, but wasn't possible at the time because of problems experienced by a few companies trying to implement ULAs (uncommitted logic array); essentially many separate chips packaged in one. The technology was pretty new but the rewards were great - reduced manufacturing costs and massively reduced chip count. Unfortunately things tended to run hot and melt! Apparently the ZX80 was released because of ULA problems, and the ZX81 was released once the problems had been cured.
After the museum's appearance in I was contacted by Kate Grant, the wife of the man who's ultimately responsible for me sitting here typing this now - John Grant of Nine Tiles. As seen below, John was responsible for the ROM code of the ZX80; he also had a part in the ZX81 ROM code and Spectrum firmware as well as doing bits for the Grundy Newbrain, another well specced but poorly received machine. (I guess because it didn't play games). Hopefully more news to come on this soon, but in the meantime hats off to John and Kate!
I was chuffed to find Steven Vickers on the web. Steven's the man responsible for part of the ZX81 ROM, all of the Spectrum's ROM and most of Sinclair's manuals as well as the Jupiter Ace with fellow Spectrum designer Richard Altwasser. Here's an extract of a mail from him:
"I did more for the Spectrum than just write the manual. I also wrote almost
all the ROM code (in Z80 assembler). This was when working for a small firm
called Nine Tiles Information Handling Ltd, who were contracted by
Sinclair's to write the ROM code for the ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum.
In more detail,
ZX80: ROM code written by John Grant, boss of Nine Tiles.
ZX81: ROM code put together by me (the greater part I wrote new, the rest
adapted from ZX80 code). I also wrote the manual.
Spectrum: ROM code written almost entirely by me, and I also wrote the
Ace: ROM code and manual by me, hardware by Richard Altwasser (who had
worked on the Spectrum H/W at Sinclair's)."
Originally I had more bumf on this page relating to the ZX81, Spectrum and QL, but I overwrote it with an older version - clever me. However, this has led me to do more research and someone called Stephen Williams has written a history essay on Sinclair products. Hopefully he'll let me reproduce it here, but in the meanwhile you can find it here.
Interesting, if sad, trivia: courtesy of Andrew Owen comes a sad note - Ben Cheese, one of the QL Engineers has passed on.....a small reminder of Ben is in this paragraph:
>The Microdrives whirred at different speeds too. If you took eight,
carefully selected for tone, and hooked them up to a QL (I guess an
Interface 1 would do just as well, but never saw it) you could play tunes by
turning the appropriate motors off and on. Christmas carols were popular...
this particular silliness was cooked up by Ben Cheese, an incredibly
talented and even more incredibly nice chap who was one of the QL engineers.
He also did mildly subversive cartoons for the Sinclair in-house newsletter
(WHAM!, or What's Happening At Milton), and played saxophone. With Shakatak,
on one occasion. He went on to work at Flare with some other SInclair
engineers (Martin Brennan and John Mc... um), who had their own Z80
Spectrumalike for a while, then did various oddities including the Atari
Jaguar and a disk drive chip for Amstrad that fully explored various
out-of-spec conditions in the ASIC process used to fab it.

MK14 complete with Manuals and PSU, many thanks to Paul Smith! Pix soon.
ZX80 with 16K rampack.
French FrankenZX81, a one-off beauty!new!
ZX81 kit x2 in full packaging with 110v PSUs and books, all mint [1]
ZX81 kit, *original*, built, MIB updated!
ZX81, boxed complete in excellent condition
ZX81, boxed, 'other' style of packaging, ie complete box not cardboard sleeve.
ZX81, MIB, Mail Order style; looks like it's never had a plug on it. Guarantee's run out though :)
1K ZX81 in DK'Tronics keyboard with its donor shells and manuals
1K ZX81 with odd piggyback CPU visible internally.
16K ZX81 with Filesixty keyboard and excellent RAM pack wobble stopper by Kelwood Heating Ltd!
16K ZX81 with Filesixty keyboard in Briefcase
16K ZX81 in home built keyboard case with 'Maplins' keyboard. Very Heath-Robinson :)
Issue 1 Spectrum 16K with official Sinclair 32k upgrade
Spectrum 16K - complete with manual.
3x Speccy 48, boxed complete, mint.
Speccy+ boxed complete, mint
Speccy 48 in Mancomp keyboard enclosure, with Interface1
Speccy 48 issue 3 in Saga1 Emperor keyboard (mine)
Speccy 48 issue 2 in an identical keyboard.
Speccy 48 in DK'Tronics keyboard
Speccy 48 in excellent condition with funky workstation case
Spectrum+ 128 boxed in excellent condition
Spectrum+ 128 - boxed. Seen better days, this one, but it works OK
Spectrum+2 128 - boxed in excellent condition
Spectrum+2A 128 - boxed Action Pack complete with lightgun an' joystick.
Spectrum+2A 128 - boxed James Bond 007 Action Pack in almost unopened condition.
Spectrum+2B 128 - on its own with PSU and many ROM bugs since its essentially a +3 in a +2 case!
Spectrum+3 128 boxed, Sinclair version
Spectrum+3 128 - boxed complete with games and manuals
QL in excellent condition with manuals, cartridges, games, monitor and RAM pack!
QL, boxed complete.
PC200boxed with Colour Monitor, mouse and analogue joystick - smart!
Z88 boxed as new.
ZX80 power supply
ZX81 Learning Lab with all the tapes
Another Learning Lab in similar condition
Speccy 48 Free software pack, mint.
Unpopulated 128K "toastrack edition" motherboard, obviously unused :)
Complete software pack for the 128 +2
Many addons for the QL courtesy of Tony Firshman - thanks Tony!
Tandata Q-Mod modular modem for the QL, boxed.
Cumana 3 1/2 inch floppy controller for the QL
Medic disk interface for the QL
QL terminal emulation s/w on floppy and microdrive.
ZX 16K RAM pack, boxed
ZX US 16K RAM pack.
Stonechip 16K RAM pack, boxed, new!
Stonechip add-on keyboard
Fuller add-on keyboard
'Low Profile' add-on keyboard for the Speccy, boxed.
Memotech 16K RAM pack, boxed mint
Memotech 32K RAM pack x2, boxed new!
Cheetah 32K RAM pack
Interface 1 and a Microdrive with cartridges. Cheers Del!
Mint Interface 1 with 2 mint Microdrives
Scruffy Interface1 with 2 mint microdrives; one bust. Anyone know how to fix 'em?
3 Microdrives, 2 mint with protective film on case.
Interface2, boxed.
3 cartridge games for the Interface 2/RAM/Kempston Pro interface.
Rotronics Wafadrive with 2 wafas and manual.....
DK'Tronics Lighpen, boxed, for the Speccy.
DK'Tronics Joystick i/f for the Speccy
Boxed complete Currah Microspeech (my own - just found it :)
Boxed Multiface 1 "for any 48K spectrum"
Multiface 1 for the Spec and Spec+, boxed with instructions
Multiface 3 for the +3
Draysoft duplicating Interface with software.
Doodler lightpen for the ZX81
Echosoft printer interface (I assume!)
RAM Turbo Joystick i/f - boxed complete
RAM Turbo Joystick i/f with reset switch
RAM Printer i/f
RAM Joystick MK2 i/f
Protek Joystick i/f with a cartridge slot
Kempston Joystick i/f
Kempston Pro Joystick i/f
Fox programmable joystick i/f
Downsway programmable joystick i/f
Datel Electronics joystick i/f
Alphacom printer (with rolls!), all boxed
ZX Printer with paper.
Box of unused rolls of paper for the ZX Printer.
Sinclair SS12 Professional series monitor, boxed, unused.
Quiksilva 2-port expander for the ZX81
ZX-box sound amplifier for the Speccy.
Fuller Master System for the Speccy
Comcon programmable joystick interface, boxed.
Bus extender for the Spectrum
Weather FAX receiver for the Spectrum, not the ZX81 as at first thought, despite the edge connector!
Ultimate Head Cleaner :o)
Datel 'Games Ace' joystick interface and extra gubbins; looks like composite video and audio outputs. Odd.
'Scientific' Programmable calculator in leatherette sleeve with bagged PSU and complete program cards. Yay!
'Oxford 300' calculator in excellent condition - 10p!
Prism VTX5000 modem for the Speccy. Boxed unopened, courtesy of Brian Gaff
Currah uSlot
SpecDrum drum synth, with software
Atari joystick converter
32K RAM pack for the Z88
128K EPROM pack for the Z88, both from Rich Davis
Unused Spectrum+2 keyboard, spanish version :)
[1] These are still available from Zebra Systems in New York. Don't believe what you see on eBay!
Related pix
WOW! RARE! L@@K! A stack of RARE ZX81s!
<Fall over with shock> A stack of RARE Spectrum 48Ks, some MIB! FANTASTIC! Unique! Etc. <sniff>
Related links
Nine Tiles
Steve Vickers' website

All images and text © Adrian Graham 1999-2024 unless otherwise noted using words. Also on