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Sinclair ZX Spectrum; an 8-bit legend

October 3, 2018

Sinclair ZX Spectrum; an 8-bit legend

This post is also available in: Spanish

Spectrum computer; Let’s go back and see what it’s all about

Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer, also known simply as ‘Spectrum’, has been part of the childhood and adolescence of millions of people, influencing an entire generation.

At a time when computing was a new and exciting phenomenon, some small home computers, such as Spectrum computer, represented the first contact we had in our own homes with that new world that didn’t look like anything we’d seen before.

In this article we are going to remember that small universe of Spectrum and discover it for those people who were not lucky enough to enjoy it. Take the handkerchief because, if you lived through that time, you won’t stop crying with so many memories!

Let’s go back to the ’80s

It was the 1980s, and for a child or teenager of that time, summers continued to be as endless as usual.

However, they almost always brought something new. And in some of those summers, mid-decade, many of us saw that wonderful routine of swimming pool, sport, free time and even quite a few doses of boredom altered (because, at that time, boredom was also part of people’s lives).

Probably, most of us had our first contact with computers at a friend’s house
whose parents lived ahead of their time. On one of those summer afternoons, on a home visit, we saw that for the first time.

It was a simple device, but it possessed some kind of magic. It was the first time we were faced with something like this, and from the first time we saw it working, it conquered our hearts. Forever and ever.

The Spectrum computer, in its 48k version, was one of the first home computers to be massively used in many homes. Created by the British company Sinclair Research, on the basis of the Zilog Z80A processor, it was inevitably connected to a television -it lacked its own monitor- and to a cassette player that loaded the programs -generally games- in its very reduced RAM memory. Small in size, the rubber on the buttons on its keyboard gave it an even more fragile appearance, to the point where it looked like it would break with a touch. But beyond its limitations, it was pure illusion.

The 5 or even more minutes in which the programs recorded on the cassette tape were loaded were tense and eagerly awaited. Anyone who’s ever experienced them will remember that shrill sound from the TV speakers.

An eager and tense expectation for what was to come, because, often, the load failed and had to be started again!

Those afternoons enjoying extremely simple games – but from which we could expect any surprising wonder – like Ant Attack or Manic Miner, made inevitable our desire to enjoy that wonder in our own home. They had reached the very core of our heart, falling hopelessly in love with it.

At the same time, and after a conscientious work of emotional mining with our parents, we managed to have them in our home. At that time, we could already enjoy milestones such as The Abbey of Crime, Daley Thompson´s Decathlon, Skool Daze, Phantomas, R-Type, Match Day 2, Double Dragon or Target: Renegade, among many others.

Each release of a new videogame –even then- was an event, and we crowded the shopping malls to study in depth the latest news. Many even devoured specialized magazines and enjoyed some demos of the latest releases. The melodies of some of them became small classics and were valued with admiration until the graphic screens that livened up our wait, while we waited for the wonder to be loaded in our humble devices.

At the time, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum even faced stiff competition. The more domestic users were debating between their endearing 8 colours (black, blue, red, magenta, green, cyan, yellow and white) and the wonder – somewhat more expensive – of the 16 colours of the Amstrad CPC 464. Even, for more advanced users and those willing to spend more money, the Commodore 64 and Amiga were already available. In fact, the first PCs already existed, but they were “grown-ups” and were mainly used for work.

It’s hard to evoke that magic if you haven’t lived it. Some even found in those summers their vocation and, over the years, it would become their way of life. A whole generation of computer engineers owes to those days the beginning of a passion that has accompanied them and continues to accompany them today. Hand in hand with the BASIC language used by the Spectrum computer, they discovered that many unimaginable achievements were within their grasp.

The Spectrum brand disappeared from the shops back in 1992, precisely because of its main competitor, Amstrad, which had bought the brand in 1986. However, the legend of the Spectrum computer would not die in those days and still retains much of its strength. In fact, there are still some functioning Spectrums today and they are used (and “venerate”) in retro environments.

If you lived through those days we would love to know what your memories are. You can share them with the readers of this blog, leaving a message in the comment box right at the end of this article.

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And don’t forget to take a look at the other articles that we have published in this blog, we are pretty sure that you will like them.

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