Right from the start, I had better explain that the ZX81 costs £50 in kit form and £70 ready-built and, as such, represents absolutely amazing value for money. Whatever shortcomings are high. lighted in this Benchtest must be weighed against this fact.
Like the ZX80, its predecessor, the ZX81 will be available by mail-order and, by the time you read this, deliveries should be coming through. Clive Sinclair tells me that he plans to up production to 10,000 units per month starting in April and that he'll be producing 10,000 ZX80s to satisfy overseas demand, so, providing that 10,000 or fewer of you order the new machine per month, delivery should be swift.
Sinclair has been a bit cheeky in his advertisements. Under a column entitled 'New, improved features', he proceeds to mention three things that were included in the ZX80 when it was launched over a year ago!
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the ZX80, it was the first ready-built computer to break the psychological £100 price barrier. It was wellmade but looked slightly cheap in its lightweight plastic case and with its shiny keyplate. The 'keys' were printed on a plastic membrane with a metallised back; when each 'key' was pressed, the metallic back came in contact with PCB tracks, shorting them to complete the appropriate circuiL The system plugged into the domestic television to give an extremely clear display, and program storage could be made onto the home cassette recorder. The ZX80 came with 1k of user memory (RAM) and a 4k operating system/Basic language chip.
The main limitations of the ZX80 were the fact that it could not handle floating point numbers or cassette files. Also, when first launched, memory expansion came a bit expensive but this changed when the 16k plug-in RAM became available. The ZX80 certainly represented a great step forward and offered excellent value for money for people wanting to learn about computing.
So what in the ZX81 is new, compared with the ZX80? First, an extra 4k of ROM is provided, which allows 30-odd additional functions to be incorporated. This will also drive the printer (expected in the summer). I couldn't test this, but I have seen it working. It is an electrosensitive printer requiring aluminised paper, the surface of which is burnt off by an electrical discharge to reveal the black paper underneath. Don't study the photos too closely, because they show a model, not the real thing. The ZX81 costs an amazing £30 less than the ZX80, thanks to some neat design consolidation in a Ferranti chip custom-built to Sinclair's requirements. The total number of chips in the basic system is four, against the ZX80's 21. The ZX81 and its peripheral products are all cased in sturdy black ABS plastic. And very nice it looks, too.
Just as we get used to more computing power for the same money, along comes Clive Sinclair offering much more for much less! David Tebbutt reports.
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