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05 March

Sinclair ZX81


I wasn’t lucky enough to own a Sinclair when I was younger.  When the Sinclair ZX81 was released on March 5, 1981, I was only two years old.  Although, my father a fellow geek did give me his old Compaq portable when I was old enough to use it.  It was released two years later in January 1983.  But enough of my childhood memories this post is about the Sinclair.  The ZX81 was originally released only in the United Kingdom in March 1981 and later came to the shores of the US as the Timex Sinclair 1000.  It was designed to be a home computer.  It was designed on the cheap to keep cost down.  It didn’t even come with a monitor you had to connect it to a TV instead.  It used audio cassette tape for programs and had only 1KB of memory (could be expanded to 16KB).  I’m pretty sure the watch I’m wearing has more memory than that.  You could by the kit for 50 BP or assembled for 70 BP (162BP and 227BP in 2014 money).  It was hugely popular, selling more than 1.5 million until it was discontinued in 1984.  The entire thing only weighed 12 ounces.

Although they keyboard was laid out in standard QWERTY format, there may be some surprises for modern keyboard users.  Such as the RUBOUT key (delete) and the NEW LINE key (return or enter).

Clive Sinclair the owner of Sinclair research had a very good year when the ZX81 came out.  The company’s profit went from 818k BP to 8.5M BP in 1981-82.  He got a million pound bonus on top of his 13,000 salary.  He was knighted in 1983.

“…Sinclair, the British inventor, had a way of getting things right, but also exactly wrong. Foreseeing the market for affordable personal computers, Sinclair decided that what people would want to do with them was to learn programming. The ZX81, marketed in the United States as the Timex 1000, cost less than the equivalent of a hundred dollars, but required the user to key in programs, tapping away on that little motel keyboard-sticker. This had resulted both in the short market-life of the product and, in Voytek’s opinion, twenty years on, in the relative preponderance of skilled programmers in the United Kingdom. They had their heads turned by these little boxes, he believes, and by the need to program them…

…”But if Timex sold it in the United States,” she asks him, “why didn’t we get the programmers?”

“You have programmers, but America is different. America wanted Nintendo. Nintendo gives you no programmers. Also, on launch of product in America, RAM-expansion unit did not ship for three months. People buy computer, take it home, discover it does almost nothing. A disaster.” -William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition

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