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ZDNet UK is proud to be a media sponsor for The National Museum of Computing's Vintage Computer Festival, the first of its kind to be held in the UK. We went to the weekend event at Bletchley Park and captured something of the sheer geekish joy that 2,000 visitors and 32 exhibitors generated.
One exhibit featured the Sinclair ZX81. Seen here to the right of its whiter ancestor, the ZX80, the computer was the first mass-market success for UK home computing.
Incorporating a Ferranti ULA (Uncommitted Logic Array), which was the first semi-custom logic chip in a consumer product, the ZX81 cost under £100 and required nothing more than a tape player and a TV to work. The user was expected to program the computer themselves, and it came with a substantial programmer's manual that — for the adventurous — included a complete Z80 instruction set and list of internal memory locations.
The game on the screen here, 3D Monster Maze, was one of many that achieved the near-impossible by creating a real gaming experience from the upper-case-only, black-and-white, 32x24 character screen.
Reputedly, the ZX81 was the only product that made a profit for Sinclair Research: although the ZX Spectrum sold more, the high rate of returns of the device was expensive to maintain.
Also in this picture are the ZX Printer, which spark-eroded patterns onto metallicised paper, and the ZX Microdrives, which are endless loops of tape that frequently consumed more data than they regurgitated.
More Sinclair-branded products, although only 1984's business-oriented QL (closest to the camera) was actually made by Sinclair itself.
In 1986, Sinclair folded and Amstrad bought the rights to the name and the technology, subsequently producing the Sinclair Spectrum128 +2 and +3, and the PC200 (furthest away). The PC200, the last computer to bear the Sinclair name and logo, was a cut-down IBM compatible PC with little expandability and very quirky hardware: it was not a success.