Monday, 23 April 2012

Happy Birthday ZX80! - The Little Kilobyte That Could Turns 30

I imagine that in 1982, trying to find someone who could use a computer, let alone someone who owned one wasn't easy. Back then when the ZX Spectrum first launched, computers were expensive, chunky, and complicated.

We've com a looooong way, Baby!

British company Sinclair Research wanted to change all that. Aiming to produce computers which were affordable, simple to use and, by 80's standards, compact. the ZX80 was its first attempt. 

The ZX80 - Amazing to think this was cutting edge only 30 years ago

£100 bought you a basic model with a whopping 1KB of RAM and that iconic (& shitty) membrane keyboard. The ZX81 arrived a year later, using the same Z80 processor & 1KB of RAM, but it was cheaper (yours for around £70) and it came housed in a slick black case complete with the same shitty membrane keyboard of its predecessor.

The ZX81 - Sleeker & Cheaper.
And later with added rainbows.

The ZX Spectrum is largely responsible for starting the home computing revolution in the UK. Released on the 23rd of April 1982, it was small, you didn’t need a monitor – any TV would do, and while the use of cassette tapes as a storage medium for games and software might sound like madness to younger ears, this made games (or at least copies of them) relatively cheap.

Although I was only young when we got our first computer (a Commodore) owning one at the time brought with it a range of experiences which have now passed on into electronic legend. Who could forget the seemingly endless wait for a game to load as you stared at an ever strobing 8-bit Jackson Pollock while the screeches and beeps coming from the machine filled your living room? (The “Beeee beep. Beee dee diddly-diddly” sound computers made as they dumped the info from the tapes into the computers memory have been seared into the eardrums of older gamers like a sort of nostalgic Tinnitus). 

And People Complain About Skyrims Loading Screens...

Then there were magazines with type-in games which never worked. You would spend hours sitting patiently as a parent or sibling would read out each line of code as you clumsily typed it in with one finger only to finish and excitedly hit run, play 3-4 minutes of the game then have it crash on you.

Despite its technical flaws, the ZX Spectrum is still one of the most celebrated home computers of its time. Other machines may have been more powerful, but it was the Spectrum more than any other, which helped inspire a generation of teenagers into learning how to program, which in turn helped build the UK games industry that dominated the market throughout the 90's console boom. 

So raise a glass for the little Kilo-byte that could as it celebrates it's 30th birthday, it deserves it.

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