ZX80

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I’m currently auditing the National Museum of Computing’s Sinclair collection. I’ve started with the more common things, namely ZX Spectrums and ZX81s. Nothing too unusual has reared its head so far, bar one ZX81 which is going to get a post all of its own. All in all, we have a batch of Speccys, enough ZX81s to wallpaper a small room and enough good ones to ensure we have reference examples for the future.

Now we’re getting to the rarer stuff. The museum has a small collection of ZX80s, some of which have turned out to be in remarkably good condition and one in particular that is as good as new. The donor had fired it up a couple of times in 1980, never really got their head around it and since then it had sat, fully boxed up, in the loft. It’s still fully working.

A particular facet of the ZX80 was it’s lack of power. It was so underpowered that it could not process a keypress and update the video at the same time. Screen updates had to be suspended during the processing of the keypress. The result was an annoying flicker as the screen switched on and off with each press.

To be honest, the ZX80 wasn’t really good for much in a practical sense, but a fascinating device on which to learn computing. Most importantly, it broke the seeming impossible £100 price barrier, making a home computer a real possibility for the first time.