ZX Spectrum Celebrates 30th Birthday

1982 saw the birth of the device that kick-started the home computing revolution in UK

Today marks 30 years since the launch of the iconic Sinclair ZX Spectrum, one of the most popular computers of the 1980s.

Created by Sinclair Research, the 8-bit machine became the symbol of British technological progress and inspired a generation to learn programming.

The computer’s importance was recognised in 1986 when the company’s founder Sir Clive Sinclair received a knighthood for “services to British industry”. During its lifetime, ZX Spectrum sold in excess of 5 million units.

The birth of Speccy

ZX Spectrum did for IT in the UK what the Commodore 64 did in the US. The third computer to be produced by Sinclair Research, it introduced home computing to the masses.

The device looked like a small black box with a rubber keyboard that, according to many users, felt like “dead flesh”. Every key was responsible for up to six functions, so the whole surface of the computer was covered in coded, arcane writing. Initially, two models were released – one with 16kb of RAM and one with 48kb of RAM, priced at £125 and £175 respectively. ZX Spectrum, or Speccy, was advertised as “less than half the price of its nearest competitor – and more powerful”.

Spectrum was one of the first home computers to feature colour graphics (as implied by the name, derived from “colour spectrum”). It was capable of 256 x 192 pixel resolution, and used audio cassette tapes for loading and saving programs and data.

Sir Clive was the face of the company, but credit is also due to the original ZX Spectrum’s engineer, Richard Altwasser, and its industrial designer Rick Dickinson.

“I clearly recall having discussions that a time would come when every home would have a computer. We could see the applications and uses for everyday purposes,” Altwasser told the BBC.

“We’d have these discussions with friends and family and people outside the computer club in Cambridge and people would scoff and say: ‘Why on earth would a family want a computer in the home?’ The success was I think beyond anyone’s expectation. But perhaps with hindsight it wasn’t totally unpredictable.”

Since its creation 30 years ago, ZX Spectrum assembled a library of 23,000 software titles. Unauthorised Spectrum clones were produced in many Eastern European and developing countries, including the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hong Kong, Argentina and Brazil.

The computer was officially discontinued in 1992, but it still retains a faithful following. To this day enthusiasts write software and play classic games, many of which remain highly recommended.

You can find a selection of ZX Spectrum games, ready-to-play at zxspectrum.net. And here you can see the old computer running Twitter.

Those suffering from more serious bouts of nostalgia can pick up a ZX Spectrum on eBay for a little over £30. Alternatively, enthusiasts can download one of many Spectrum emulators drifting around the web, including those designed for iOS and Android.

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