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March 14, 2011 AT 4:43 pm

ZX81: Small black box of computing desire

 51612239 Zx81 Rex

ZX81: Small black box of computing desire

Packing a heady 1KB of RAM, you would have needed many, many thousands of them to run Word or iTunes, but the ZX81 changed everything.

It didn’t do colour, it didn’t do sound, it didn’t sync with your trendy Swap Shop style telephone, it didn’t even have an off switch. But it brought computers into the home, over a million of them, and created a generation of software developers.

Before, computers had been giant expensive machines used by corporations and scientists – today, they are tiny machines made by giant corporations, with the power to make the miraculous routine. But in the gap between the two stood the ZX81.


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4 Comments

  1. Awesome ! My parents borrowed one for a week to get me to try a computer. I must have been 8 or so. That lit the fire, so later I got my very own C64. Yep I was a Commodore guy and thus disliked MSX… Then I switched to 16 bit with an Atari1040STfm ’cause the Amiga didn’t do it for me… Ah, those were the days…

  2. Ahh memories.
    My first ever computer. Many frustrating hours spent carefully typing code in from magazines, checking for errors, even fixing a few.. ZX81.. To know it is to acquire the patience of a saint, and the ability to not to give up when faced with every little problem. Character building.

    Kids today with their playboxes and xpads.. Don’t know there born…

  3. I dunno. I bought one, but I think it was more of a barely usable toy for people who only wanted to spend $100 on a computer than a real game-changer. The somewhat more more-expensive things like VIC-20, C64, atari, tandy, and etc were a lot more important. And there were a hell of lot of computers far cheaper than your “giant expensive machines” that existed before the ZX-81 came out. I mean, there were apple ][‘s and a plethora of CP/M machines by that time, not counting the various players I already mentioned trying to get into the home market.

    I dug mine out of storage recently, to show my kids. The membrane of the keyboard was essentially rotted, making it unusable (and probably not fixable with “fundamentally changing the experience”) Sigh.

    Now my would-be CPM system from that era, which I spent a lot on but never quite got working, is in some anonymous storage area at Stanford, unless it got thrown out when the CS department moved out of MJH.

  4. Yeah,
    She was my first computer. I had the timex version with the 16k ran pack that stuck out the back. Even after I got my epson running cp/m on twin floppies, I couldn’t part with my sinclair! It sat in a closet for decades. My wife threw it out in one of her cleaning binges, so I divorced her…

    It’s high time the winter of our discontent
    become the not so silent spring of ACTION!

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