The legendary Sinclair ZX81 was launched 30 years ago today. It might have only had black and white output with only upper case text, blocky graphics, 1K of RAM, no sound and a membrane keyboard but the ZX81 will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first computer I ever used and the beginning of my obsession with computers and technology in general. I still have one in my collection of old computers.
The ZX81 was hugely successful for its time and was the first affordable mass market home computer available in the UK, it kick started a whole community of enthusiasts and companies that exploded the computing scene in the 1980s. I spent many many happy hours with the ZX81. I learned BASIC programming on it and clearly remember the arduous task of typing in programs from magazines such as ZX Computing and then trying to debug them or wait for the corrections in the next months issue, and the ordeal of saving and loading programs from a C15 cassette tape – the addition of an inline level meter helped immensely there.
Our ZX81 was gradually expanded with the notoriously wobbly 16K RAM pack and the “tin foil” ZX Printer and eventually boasted a full size dk’tronics keyboard which made all the difference. When my dad bought a Spectrum 48K a year later the ZX81 was relocated to my bedroom as my personal computer where it enjoyed another year or so of use before being replaced by the Spectrum (by then also sporting a dk’tronics keyboard and a Microdrive among other extras.) when the family computer was upgraded to a BBC Micro Model B. Many years later I bought another original ZX81 for my computer collection.
Like many of my generation the ZX81 had a huge influence on me and I feel privileged to have grown up during a time that computers grew from basic systems like the ZX81 to what we have today, it gives one an appreciation of where we have come from that younger generations don’t have. Thank you Sir Clive for bringing us the ZX81 and thank you dad for having the foresight to buy one.
This afternoon I shall be celebrating by powering up my ZX81 for the first time in a few years.
Wikipedia has a really good article on the ZX81.