If you’re, as they say, of a certain age, it’s likely that you remember this: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
Long before there was a Macbook or a Thinkpad, or even a Playstation of Xbox, there was this. And today, it turns 30 years old.
It may not look like much , but it was among the first home computers, and certainly the most affordable of its time.
Invented by British firm Sinclair, the 8-bit machine was released on April 23rd, 1982, and lasted 10 years before being discontinued. At £125, it was less than half the price of its nearest rival, the BBC Micro at £299.
The basic model started with a whopping 16 kilobytes of RAM, a far cry from today’s higher powered consoles, and topped out at 128kb. That’s less than your mobile phone these days. Games came on cassette tape (and if you’re of a certain age, you won’t even know what one of those is) and took forever to load.
But this was all at the start of what would become the computing revolution. How many laptops and PCs do you have in your house? Add in your iPads and Android tablets. And for fun, throw in your smartphone too, because they’re far more powerful these days than PCs were in the early years. But the ZX spawned a generation of programmers.
Tapadoo’s Dermot Daly (@dermdaly on Twitter) is a great example of what the ZX could lead to. He credits the computer as starting him off with computer programming. These days he creates iPhone apps.
For him, it was a Christmas present from his father at age 13 that kickstarted his future career. “My dad still refers to it as the best Christmas present he ever gave to his kids,” he said.
Although he used the ZX for playing games, Daly said he also began to write programmes and utilities for the system with his friends.
“Every great programmer I’ve ever met was programming from when they were very young,” he said.
The ZX is now in a frame on his office wall, sadly no longer working but there as a tribute to the beginnings of his career.
“It’s an 80s design classic,” he said.
The Spectrum’s heyday was a bit before I knew what a computer was, let alone how to use one, so it wasn’t long before I had moved on to one of these:
Hours of typing in code to get a sprite to bounce across the screen. Ages waiting for tape deck games to load. But it had a floppy drive. And that’s where my real addiction to games began. Month on the Run. Souls of Darkon. Operation Wolf.
But I’ll admit to downloading an emulator (or three) that give you access to some of the more retro games. If you want to get a taste for the ZX, or just take a nostalgia trip, there are plenty of emulators available that can give you the full Spectrum experience – even down to the screeching tape decks as the games loaded.