A History Of The Groundbreaking Sinclair XZ Spectrum

the old zx spectrum

American consumers may not be familiar with the story of one of the world’s most successful home computers – the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which was launched in Great Britain.

Inventor of the Spectrum, Englishman Clive Sinclair made his fortune with the Sinclair Executive, a calculator launched in 1972. Although by today’s terms the Executive was immensely expensive (at around $1040 in today’s money) it was a boon for the busy executive and Sinclair walked away from the Executive with over $20 million in profit.

Sinclair then set his sights on the growing home market once he saw the success of U.S. desktop manufacturers such as Tandy and Commodore.

In 1980 he launched the ZX80 which although under powered when compared to competitive products did have the benefit of undercutting the prices of others in the market.

However critics were not impressed by the performance or the hardware of this model. The limited graphics capability and the tiny keyboard were only two features that received less than complimentary reviews. Even the launch of slightly better ZX81 didn’t do much to improve the reputation of Sinclair’s market offering.

Despite this, Clive Sinclair was building a steady following due to the very attractive price of the ZX series. But he did realise that if he was to maintain market share something drastic needed to be done to improve the features offered by the ZX series.

In 1982 Sinclair launched the ZX Spectrum which was a drastic improvement over the previous ZX models. The machine now featured 16k of RAM which put it ahead of many other competitors, and it now came with limited colour graphics – however, the Spectrum still had some grave design problems, including substandard expansion slot and horrible sound.

Those shortcomings aside the design of the Spectrum was light years ahead of some of the competing products. About the same size as a New York Times paperback best seller with a space age looking keyboard it went head to head with the emerging powerhouse of Apple as far as good looks were concerned – and the price remained one of its best selling points.

However, when Commodore’s CEO began an all-out assault on the Spectrum by ruthlessly pushing down the price of the Commodore 64, the writing was on the wall for the Spectrum in the United States, despite a shiny redesign and boosted performance in the version released in the U.S.

The Spectrum did have a small following in countries like Australia and South Africa, but the marketing juggernaut that was Commodore, forced the Spectrum into the fringes of the home computing market in those countries and the United States.

In Britain the story was very different – in that region, the Spectrum maintained its dominant position.

With thousands of games launched and the Spectrum’s role in introducing many British youths to the joys of programming in Basic, the Spectrum found huge success in the U.K., In fact, Clive Sinclair was eventually knighted for his services to Great Britain.

Although the Spectrum was discontinued in 1992, it remained one of the most iconic of early home computer brands and played its part in revolutionising what home computing would become.