Your Spectrum
Issue 1, January 1984 - SinclairWatch
Home Contents KwikPik
The past few months have been busy ones indeed for those within the mighty portals of Chateau Sinclair - we've seen the launch of several new products and some of the problems caused as a result.
Hot on the heels of the flat screen TV, the Interface 2 was launched, allowing Spectrum owners to use ROM software and joysticks. Old Sinclair games and the more recent Ultimate ones make up the initial range of software but don't, at least for the time being, expect much in the business line. The problem is that the machine code in the cartridge cannot use any of the existing routines in either the Basic or the Microdrive ROM, so a programmer must re-invent the wheel every time they want to print a character, read the keyboard, or save to tape or Microdrive. This latter function will be very difficult for any independent software house to duplicate because Sinclair Research is not going to allow any technical details of the Interface 1 to be published. The company is also intending to regularly change the ROM contents. It says it does not regard the ROM as sacrosanct and that only what's published can be relied upon to appear in subsequent releases. This will only succeed in making machine code routines much harder to write.
Some of the adverts for the new ROM Interface might give the impression that 48K cassette programs will work on 16K machines with the ROM adaptor. Of course this isn't the case, so don't expect The Hobbit or Scrabble to appear on ROM for the cheaper model.
The Interface 2 also accepts two joysticks, but uses a non-standard method of interfacing. This means that no software will work with it, other than the ROM games and Sinclair's own cassette games. Interface 2 should certainly be reliable - in fact the design is so simple, the wonder is that it took 16 months to produce, or even that the hardware wasn't included within the original Spectrum design.
A state of confusion may well have arisen over the word 'cartridge', which can apply to either the Microdrive type (for the Interface 1 ) or the ROM type (Interface 2). Up until a month before its launch, the Microdrive variety was to be called a 'capsule', but for some curious reason this was changed at the last minute. Some Sinclair Research documents still refer to it by its previous and perhaps more sensible name. The trade, meanwhile, is now calling the ROM cartridge a wafer.
Shortly after the Microdrive arrival, news leaked out of problems for some people with the Issue 3 Spectrum. The design of the ULA chip had been altered so that it would work with all colour televisions, but the EAR socket circuitry was changed, apparently making some software incompatible. Sinclair Research has publicly said it doesn't feel it should be held responsible for problems involving other people's software - perhaps with reason - but critics point out this is the third Spectrum ULA, and none have landed without causing ripples of some kind.

Then we had the final coming of the long awaited Interface 1 and Microdrive. As so often, to begin with only the magazines were lucky enough to get any - indeed, so short on supply were they that each publication was limited to only about ten days playing around time before having to hand the gubbins along to its rivals. Not until about a month after the launch did those who ordered Spectrums very early on get their Microdrives. It was probably just as well that no-one else did as the first ones only worked on Issue 1 machines; these early models had EPROMs in them with '5 July' written on the top. The PCBs bore the hallmarks of early production - hand-soldered wire Iinks and piggy-backed ICs; later models should work with all Spectrum variants.
The Microdrive, almost a year late in arriving, is proving to be both innovative and cheap, but once again cursed with unavailability. There also seem to be problems with reliability. Stories are beginning to emerge from users who've crashed the system for no apparent reason and who regularly wrap the tape in the cartridges around the machine's innards, rendering both completely inoperative. Indeed early customers have
Spectrum & Microdrive
A rare sight indeed - the ZX Spectrum complete with Interface 1 unit!
been given a hot line phone number to ring if they have any problems and a measure of the response that move has evoked is the fact that new phone lines are reported to have been added to deal with the rush of worried users.
The cartridges themselves are not exactly cheap at a fiver each and so far as I know there is no actual length of guarantee time so far decided. And
Sinclair has no plans to market any software on cartridge - indeed as yet there is no way of mass producing such software anyway; the demo cartridges supplied with each Microdrive are created by a Spectrum hooked up to eight Microdrives. At the time of writing, other software houses (Melbourne House and Psion excepted) don't even have that - they are limited to two drives each, just like any other customer.
The past few months have also seen the launch of the long-awaited flat screen miniature television. Once again innovative and cheap, its reliability factor has yet to be assessed - at the time of launch it was said that less than ten of the devices were actually in existence. Potential customers are able to write in to find how long they will have to wait (Timex industrial relations always permitting). If the delay is acceptable,then they are invited to send off their money.
Faint rumours are beginning to emerge in respect of the next Sinclair computer, due for release early next year and thus dubbed by some the ZX84. It will have both 8-bit Z-80 and 16-bit 68000 processors, and contain two Spectrum-type Microdrives for data and program storage (hopefully, all problems sorted). It will not, apparently, have any in-built display monitor - and hence no flat screen, which will come as a surprise to quite a few. But for the very first time on a Sinclair machine it will have a real, pukka keyboard. L,et's just hope that the Sinclair definition of 'real' is similar to that of IBM, and not Oric!

Home Contents KwikPik