Less is more

It happened. Another ZX Spectrum motherboard issue 3B in yellow has surfaced. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later and I’ve been awaiting the very day. Since 2015 one has been spotted once every year. They are rare. How rare? To put it into perspective the highly sought after “rare” issue 1 has been made in several thousand times larger quantities than the yellow 3B. And unlike most issue 1s, the yellow 3B can be picked up fairly cheaply in the wild owing to little awareness of this particular revision, very narrow demand and lack of easily distinguishing external features such as colour of the keyboard.

I have been keeping a close eye on all Spectrums that found their way on to ebay hoping that one day I might find another Yellow 3B there. I have decided in my mind that should another appear, common sense wasn’t going to stop me from obtaining it and I’ll be only too willing to throw all my money at the seller.
(You can read more about my obsession with yellow 3B boards here ).
But then, when the moment came, I was pondering just how big my offer should be. Luckily, common sense prevailed but not for the reason you would expect.
I imagined a reality where my dream comes true and I own two of the most dearest (to me) Spectrum motherboards. What did I gain, apart from bragging rights? Nothing. What did I lose? Quite a lot. My precious, the one and only, Yellow 3B wasn’t as special to me any more. Now I had two of them. I went back in my mind to the time last year when I obtained my first Version 9G – another rare motherboard which up to that point I never even thought I’d see in real life. I remembered how special it was to me and how much I cherished it, until I came across another and went out of my way to add it to my collection. The novelty of having two rare 128K motherboards was shortlived and I lost something that can never be re-gained (I’d have to sell one of them and that’s very unlikely to happen any time soon).
Rewind to one year before that and I didn’t even know that Yellow 3B or Version 9G existed at all and the only precious Spectrum in my life was a Yellow issue 4A which, although not as rare as Yellow 3B, is one of the less common board varieties. I went on a mad spree and I wanted to have as many as possible. At the last count, I had at least 5 of them and whatever special meaning they used to hold in the past is well and truly gone.

More Yellow 3Bs will no doubt continue appearing. There will be another one next year, and then the year after that. The most challenging part will be stopping myself from going out of my way to obtain them. The special relationship with my one and only Yellow 3B must be protected at all cost else it’ll all come to ruin. If you’re reading this and ever spot a yellow 3B on the auction be sure to put in a large bid – it might just stop me. You will be able to double your money easily when selling to a hardcore collector (But please, not me!)

This doesn’t apply to Spectrums only – if you have that one thing that’s special in your life, whether it’d be a computer, a car, a wife, etc. treasure it, the one and only.

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The future of ZX Spectrum serial numbers database

At the beginning of 2016 I have volunteered to take over the duties of Serial numbers collecting and database maintenance. Even though the Spectrum serial numbers have been recorded for nearly a decade the supply of uncharted machines doesn’t seem to be drying up. In fact, owing to the rise of auction/hobby sites as well as increasing awareness of some weird numbers at the back of the Spectrums, there has never been as much unrecorded data available to collect as there is now.

After 1,5 years of juggling this task alongside my full-time job I feel I’m reaching the end of the line. I don’t consider myself to be in a position where I can give this project my full attention and devote the required time and effort. And unless I can do something 100% I don’t feel fulfilment from doing it at all.

Myself and other people who have put work into the database in the past would hate to see the database progress come to a standstill.
If you think you’re the right person for the job please contact me.

In my opinion an ideal candidate should:
– have an interest in Spectrum serial numbers. Not only early Issue One numbers, other numbers too. Otherwise you’ll get bored after a week.
– have a basic knowledge of Spectrum computers to be able to spot a fallacy. You don’t need to be an expert, you’ll pick up wisdom over time.
–  have enough spare time to search for serial numbers online (eg. auction sites) and catalogue them. Don’t rely on other people to reach out to you as you’ll miss out on the opportunity to find 90% of Spectrum numbers that are yet to be catalogued. Don’t underestimate how time consuming this can be. Best results will be achieved if you get into a routine and treat it as your half-time job.
– Go out of your way to ask for pictures/info of the serial numbers if not shown already. Most people will respond and try to be helpful but prepare to be fobbed off.
– undertake this task for your own gratification. You will not be paid for this and you will rarely get thanks.

The chosen candidate will receive the copy of the spreadsheet with current database version. You’ll bear full responsibility for it and you’ll have the freedom to modify the database as you wish.

 

Good Luck!

The Evolution of Spectrum 128 logo design

There’s a widely spread belief that the first Spectrum 128 machines were made in Spain by Investronica and can be recognised by a white 128K logo.
In fact it was Sinclair who commissioned Samsung firm, based in Korea, to manufacture first Spectrum 128 computers which were then distributed by Investronica in Spain.

 

The first idea of 128K logo design begun in the UK and was implemented on a Spectrum case which didn’t have raised 128K lettering embossed in the corner of the case but instead the logo was printed in white paint on a flat surface.

Flat White UK 128K Logo

Origins of 128K logo

 

 

Once the design has been established, the tooling has been changed and the raised white 128K lettering was permanently added to the mould. Although a number of such cases have been produced they were never officially marketed, as the design has undergone several changes before being finalised. Some of these ended up being used in early UK Toastrack development machines and other leftovers, without the famed heatsink attached to the right-hand side, were later mixed with 3rd party cases and sold as part of the Spectrum 48K+ upgrade kit

White UK 128K logo

128K logo during design development for UK Spectrum 128

 

 

Based on this sample Samsung have recreated a similar looking machine which we now recognise as Spanish Spectrum 128. The white 128K logo, although raised, has thinner lettering than the 128K logo on UK made cases. In addition to a different logo design, Samsung have also produced their own version of rainbow badges, in 2 different colour shades.

White Spanish 128K logo

Spanish 128K logo

 

When Spectrums 128 for the UK market were being manufactured, the design has been once again modified which distinguished them from their predecessors. And so this is the finalised version we all know –  red paint covering the SINCLAIR and the 128K logo, which remained unchanged throughout different motherboard revisions.

Red UK 128K Logo

Final design of UK 128K logo

Version 6K

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I might have made some things up

divMMC Future Review

The Future is here… Time to take your Speccy into the 21st Century!

In March 2017 theFuturewas8bit has brought us the most spectacular device for the ZX Spectrum since Sir Clive invented Interface 2. Looking as stylish and sexy as the original Sinclair interfaces, the divMMC Future gives you the ability to load any game instantly on your original ZX Spectrum.
No chewed up cassette tapes, no R Tape loading errors, no waiting 10 minutes for the program to load. This device will load any game from your SD card inventory at a press of a button in a matter of seconds.

divMMC Future

Many of you will know that technically this isn’t a new product and similar devices first started appearing over 10 years ago! However, this is what makes the divMMC Future ground-breaking:
Unlike all SD card interfaces available thus far, the divMMC Future is the first truly plug-and-play SD card reader which thanks to its innovative circuit design allows you to connect it up to any Spectrum model, from a lowly 16K to the mighty +3, without the need to adjust the jumper settings.

I have tested it on some of my own ZX Spectrums and can confirm that unlike its predecessors the divMMC Future is fully functional even with Spanish Investronica 128K+ and SAGA 48K ULA. Because the divMMC Future doesn’t rely on troublesome CPU signals, it makes it by far the most compatible device of this kind ever created.
As long as your Speccy is in fully working order and its CPU chip hasn’t got hidden faults, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the Future will work straight out of the box without complications.

divMMC Future
The interface also features the all-important socket for the Kempston Joystick as well as the one thing that was missing on the original rubber-keyed model: A reset button.

To access the games library all you need to do is to press the “NMI” button which lights up when the Spectrum is powered on. Circle between game titles on your SD card with the up and down arrow keys, ENTER and play!

divMMC Future

NMI button lights up in red when the Spectrum is powered on

divMMC Future

The NMI button light changes to green to indicate SD card is being accessed

 

 

Smaller than a standard cassette tape
will easily fit even in most cramped desk spaces

Solid custom made moulded case
inspired by the original Sinclair product range

No jumpers, no dipswitches. Just Plug and Play!

Competitively priced (check stock here)

 

 

divMMC Future

ZX Spectrum made by Samsung in Korea

In the recent decade Spectrums made by Samsung gained popularity amongst Spectrum users and collectors alike owing to their high quality keyboard membranes that have stood the test of time and are as well functioning today as they were brand new – unlike membranes commonly found in most Spectrums which are past their use-by date.

According to data collected in the serial number database, Samsung were manufacturing computers for the ZX Spectrum line between 1984 and 1985. They’ve produced a roughly estimated number of 165,000 Spectrum 48K and 48K+ models and afterwards were commissioned to manufacture 128K+ machines for the Spanish distributor Investronica followed by the first UK retail version of 128K+ motherboard – the Version 6K.

Samsung versions of Spectrum computers have their own distinctive vibe and somewhat vary to their Sinclair UK-made counterparts. I have selected a ZX Spectrum 48K model which would have been manufactured around the same time at a plant in Feltham (England, UK) by Thorn EMI Datatech – second largest ZX Spectrum computers supplier beside Timex – and will compare both units side by side.

Samsung vs Sinclair

Unlike machines manufactured in the UK/Portugal which display an abundance of distinguishing features, ZX Spectrum computers made by Samsung have undergone little evolution during the production and present few external variations.

Samsung Spectrums can be identified by a number of characteristics such as type of faceplate or peculiar moulding of the Sinclair/ZX Spectrum logos but the most noticeable element is the information inscribed on the base of the Spectrum:

Made in the REPUBLIC OF KOREA by
SAMSUNG Electronics Company Limited Under
Licence from SINCLAIR Research Limited

Samsung Base

 

 

Every component part of the Samsung casing varies from the Sinclair models one way or another and as similar as the rubber keys appear on both Spectrums, I’m yet to confirm whether both parts are identical.
A few examples of what makes the Samsung faceplates distinctive:

SAMSUNG

The colour of the ink/paint

 

SAMSUNG

Arrow size

 

SAMSUNG

Letter font

The way the legends appear the faceplate (printed or painted)

 

 

 
Samsung have developed their own mould of Spectrum cases closely based on the original. Main differences can be noted below:

Samsung

Sinclair Logo is less refined

 

Samsung

Spot the differences in the ZX Spectrum lettering (Expert Level)

SAMSUNG

Lack of room for NTSC TV socket

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

Samsung

 

SAMSUNG

Rectangular indent to produce more room above the ULA chip (the indent is only present in later Samsung cases)

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

Larger screw head

 
In addition to manufacturing ZX Spectrum cases Samsung have also produced their own revisions of the motherboards which vary both in design and appearance to the Sinclair versions:

Issue 3B (approx. 20,000 units)
Issue 4S (approx. 145,000 units)

 

 

PLEASE NOTE: All component parts are as found and believed to originally belong to the Spectrums, with exception of rubber feet which mostly fell off on the Sinclair model and in case of the Samsung Spectrum got badly damaged and were replaced with modern replica feet.

Spectrum is 35!

35 years ago today, long before my time, a ZX Spectrum was first launched (23.04.1982).

Here I am holding one of the early models released – Issue One Spectrum often identified by its grey coloured keys . Only approx. 16,000 were made making it one of the least common and most collectable model across the whole Spectrum range.

Although the Spectrum has undergone many changes in its design, the rubber-keyed model remains one of the most iconic 8-bit computers, still loved by hundreds around the world today.

Spectrum35

Official 35th Birthday Celebration will be held on the 28th of October 2017 in The Centre For Computing History in Cambridge (England). Pre-order your tickets here.

Spectrum 128 Numeric Keypad: Spanish VS English Version

I recently got hold of an English version of the numeric keypad for Spectrum 128 and was curious to check how it compares to the Spanish version of the keypad. If you’re new to this and require introduction to the numeric keypad, look here.

Anyone who has ever owned or has seen the Spanish version of the Spectrum 128 will have no doubt noticed the resemblance to Spectrum 48K+ made by Samsung in Korea. It is possible that both models use parts that have been manufactured at the same Korean factory (as opposed to an average UK Spectrum 128 which outer appearance looks closer to a Spectrum 48K+ made in a UK factory).
It is no different with the two versions of numeric keypads.

The photos of the two keypads side by side show the differences in both units proving two entirely different moulds have been made for each type. What’s more, my own gut instinct tells me the English version has been manufactured first and the Spanish one has later been designed to match its look and functionality.

The only components of the keypads that I found looked similar in both cases were the keys and the curly cord.

While the legend on some of the keys are printed in 2 different languages, the shape of the keys and the font of the text remain identical. The printing of “SHIFT” on this particular unit looks a bit rough as if someone went with a white pen marker over it.

 

As the case with any Samsung-made Spectrum (48K/ 48K+/128K+), the SINCLAIR logo is styled differently to the original.

 

Another most noticeable difference can be observed looking at the bottom of the keypads.
The feet on the Spanish keypad are made of hard rubber, while the English keypad features feet made of foam material – very similar to that found on the bottom of Spectrum+ legs.

Also notice different type/size of screws used and the way the screw holes have been shaped.

The reverse of the bottom plates show further variations in the plastic used to make the case as well as the different moulding style.

Mottled vs. smooth reflective surface finish

 

Below is the view that welcomes you as you remove the back cover.

I was expecting to find one of those poor quality Sinclair membranes that due to age and heat have a tendency to crack or malfunction. Luckily the membrane used in the English keypad is very different to the typical Sinclair one. I don’t know of its origins at present but the membrane is of high quality and very similar to the Samsung-made one in that respect.

Membranes by this manufacturer also occasionally appear in rubber-keyed Spectrums, which is the only type of original membrane (apart from a Samsung one) that doesn’t need replacing.

I am yet to find this type of membrane in any of the Spectrum+ models. Having not come across such this far suggests these membranes have only been designed for rubber-keyed model (and the English keypad).
(Ed. Except now you have hexed it and will inevitably find one of them in a Spectrum+ in the coming days.)

 

Samsung membranes (left) are easily recognizable by the line of text present on the bottom of the keypad membrane (or top if on Spectrum 48K/48K+ membrane). Notice the Samsung membrane is overall more transparent.

Have you spotted something odd?

 

 

Yellow vs. Semi-transparent rubber mat

 

 

 

These are all the electronic parts found inside the keypad.


If you’re acquainted with Samsung-made motherboards, you will recognise the distinct green colour of the motherboard and dark blue colour of the capacitor. The chip present on the beige board (which incidentally isn’t a pcb material I have ever seen in any Spectrum!) is dated year 1985, week 32 whereas the chip on the green board dates 2 weeks later.
Notice the lack of silkscreen markings on the beige board and different components and their layout.

Reverse side of the PCB

Below you can play “Spot the Differences”.
Some are more obvious and some rather subtle.
Have fun!

 

 

One of the mysteries is the shape of the long white keyposts inside the English keypad. 

Compared to the black keypost, it’s missing bits of plastic in some places which, when translated into functionality, results in the key not having enough grip and support and therefore often falling out or being pushed down unevenly. It’s even more of a mystery as white posts found in Spectrums+ keyboards don’t lack any plastic bits.
Cost cutting, Sinclair?

 

Shiny reflective vs. matte and mottled surface to the keypost props

 

Last example of the differences between keypad case moulds present themselves in the shaping of the arch enabling the cord to enter the case:

 

And now I have to put it all back together….