ZX Spectrum in the 21st Century

I’ve written before about the roots of my programming life – while I first had a ZX81, I really consider the Sinclair ZX Sepctrum as the machine where I developed a taste for programming and thinking in algorithms.

Most actual Spectrums are now rather long in the tooth, and many have probably near irreparable damage from several decades of Atic Atac or Manic Miner gameplay. Those rubber keys don’t age well even under the best circumstances.

There have been clones – mostly from Eastern Europe – since the early 90s, but none were successful enough and of course by the mid-nineties even the most diehard fans of the platform had moved on. But there have always been new attempts to re-create actual in-hardware Speccys… and here is the ultimate list of all the clones that have come and gone over the years.

Among all the semi-commercial projects that never had much of a chance, there are a few interesting home-made Spectrum clones and projects that are still ongoing, like this site from Sweden that has a number of projects based on original hardware, like notebooks and Flash card disk systems built into the original case.

Here is an interesting Speccy clone from Italy called ZX-Badaloc. Alessandro Poppi is creating a Speccy based on his original re-build from 2006 as a more modern FPGA-based machine.

Then there is the Harlequin project, which looks like it is very far along to a full re-build of the machine and Chris Smith is now actually in the process of publishing a book about the internals of the Spectrum ULA – the custom chip at the heart of the original Sinclair design.

It is interesting that we are now at a point where more than a dozen hardware projects of this complexity and just around one original platform can exist side-by-side, often feeding of each others success and learning from failures made across the community. Since many of these new machines are reverse-engineered from scratch, their designs are mostly open source and publicly available – if you feel like building your own, go ahead and download the sources and schematics and off you go!

And the same is going on for every 80s and 90s hardware platform that I can think of. It’s an interesting time we are living in – the birth of a whole ecosystem of small computers that can be built without license, with several decades worth of compatible software available from the get-go.

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