The ZX Spectrum – How Sinclair Research Revolutionized Home Computing
Sinclair Research was the brainchild of Clive Sinclair, a British entrepreneur who revolutionised the home computing market with the launch of the ZX80 in 1980.
The secret of the ZX80’s success was, without a doubt, its low price. At under £100 it took Great Britain by storm, even though it was not as powerful as the home computers manufactured by competitors such as the units manufactured by Commodore. Sinclair Research (as Clive Sinclair’s operation was renamed) followed the success of the ZX80 with the slightly improved ZX81 in 1981.
The ZX81 was succeeded by two new models from Sinclair Research in 1982 – these were the first of the Sinclair Spectrum models to reach the market. The Spectrum was available in two specifications – a 16k model and the more powerful 48k offering. By 1983 the model with 16k RAM was dropped and the company forged ahead with the marketing of the 48k version.
A comprehensive guide to the ZX Spectrum exists and is still a popular and nostalgic read for anyone who is interested in this iconic model of computers or who use to have one back in the day.
In 1985 Sinclair Research upped its game with the release of the ZX Spectrum+. This model of the Spectrum featured an upgraded housing which solved some of the overheating problems that had plagued earlier models. A new keyboard with plastic keys now replaced the older keyboard which had rubberized keys.
Shortly after the release of the Spectrum+ Sinclair began offering the much-improved Spectrum 128. This version of the Spectrum featured an incredibly competitive 128k of memory and a vastly upgraded sound chip. Rather than make use of onboard speakers the unit now channelled sound through the television set that it was plugged into.
In 1986 Sinclair Research sold its computer operation to Amstrad which continued to offer various upgraded versions of the Spectrum. The first of these was the Spectrum +2. This model featured an integrated tape drive, ports for two joysticks and a vastly improved keyboard.
By this time the Spectrum was being overtaken by enhanced offerings from other manufacturers, as well as coming under increased pricing pressure from companies like Commodore which steadily eroded its competitive advantage.
The final version of the Spectrum was the Spectrum +3 which was launched in 1987. The main difference between the +3 and the previous +2 was the inclusion of a 3-inch disk drive. However, there were other changes under the skin of the unit with ROM increasing from 32k to 64k. The Spectrum +3 enjoyed some success in its main market, the U.K. due to its low price – by 1988 it was retailing in Great Britain for 199 pounds.
By 1990 Amstrad had launched its own branded models of home computers which would have competed head-to-head with the Spectrum +3, and it was decided to drop the +3 from the product lineup. The +2 continued to be offered.
However, by 1992 the Spectrum reached the end of its life due to competitive pressures from established manufacturers and the entry of new producers into a growing home computing market. With its passing one of the flagships of the 8bit computing era was finally consigned to history.