A tour of the UK's Vintage Computer Festival

A tour of the UK's Vintage Computer Festival

Summary: The original logic board of a 1975 Cray and Twitter on a ZX Spectrum are among our photos from the UK's first vintage computer festival, held at Bletchley Park

TOPICS: After Hours

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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.

Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • I love this. I wish I had known it was on. My ZX81 is long gone as is my Spectrum unfortunately. I could never actually afford a QL although I wanted one so much - and I had forgotten Monster Maze until just now - agh!

    Adrian Bridgwater-3dc6b
  • Fanastic to see pics and commentary.

    I heard about this event late the other night on Radio 5 Live and thought "how cool", but it was over obviously. Hopefully they can jump on the back of the publicity and actually promote the event to the rest of us in 2011, so that more can come (I will if I know about it in advance for travel arrangements etc.) and ogle at the past.

    Kudos to ZD for helping launch the inaugural event. May it grow and grow for everyone involved.

  • Well, this is actually important enough for me to put up with the horrible 'improved' website & login system :P
    I visit the museum twice a year now, so I was well aware this this was coming up and had cleared a totally irrevocable slot in my diary!

    I was there on the Saturday - for most of the day actually. The place was very busy, and I think the organisers are understating the numbers. It was pretty packed most of the time I was there.

    Fascinating to see and hear about the slow re-awakening of the WITCH computer. Had a look in on Colossus again, as it chugged happily away. There were two new (to me) guys fielding questions, and doing a very good job of it, managing to talk at the right level for each of their questioners.

    Listened in on a guy explaining to new generation geeks how magnetic core memory works.

    The digital clock was great. Looks like it also still has the vast majority of its original components - including the selenium rectifier. The lamps for the display are very much under-run, just glowing orange so I expect they will have a rather long life too.

    Saw lots of {ahem} middle-aged, ummm, 'enthusiasts' playing games on Spectrums, Atari's BBCs etc. Also refreshing to see how youngsters zeroed in on old classics like PacMan and were totally un-fazed by the clunky graphics. Nice to see 'Elite' running on a BBC B

    One reason for the high profile of Acorn kit, was that there was a specific Acorn show also going on in the mansion itself - including a beagle board actually running a full working RISC OS 5, which zipped along nicely - those anti-aliased font's STILL put the competition to shame!

    A friend of mine went along on the Sunday, and also had a good time. He actually did better than me because he was just able to get in to the talk being done by Sophie Wilson. Most of the talks were well attended, but this one was absolutely packed out.

    If you don't know who Sophie is, then your geek card is canceled with immediate effect!