Sinclair Spectrum v Commodore 64


  • Vivaldi Team

    My first computer was the Sinclair ZX81, with 1 kb of memory and a 16 kb RAM pack. However, my second computer was the Sinclair Spectrum. At the time the two computers, Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64, were competing for the same audience, with the Sinclair actually doing better than the Commodore in Europe. The discussion at the time was sometimes quite heated. Personally, I landed on the Sinclair. I preferred the Sinclair as the Basic programming language that came with Sinclair was actually usable, while the Microsoft Basic that came with the C64 was pretty useless. To do anything with it you needed to code in assembly language. Some might say that is not a problem, but for me that was getting started with writing software, a working Basic language was preferable to writing hexadecimal numbers... What is your take? :)



  • In this country, Timex (a watch company) had acquired the rights to resell Sinclair computers - the ZX81 was rebranded the Timex/Sinclair 1000, the Spectrum was slightly modified and sold as the T/S 2068. Unfortunately it arrived on the scene a little late and never caught on - I bought mine on closeout for $50 when Timex decided to abandon it.

    While the C-64 boasted high resolution graphics, a sound synthesizer, sprites and various other hardware features that made it a great video game machine, none of that was available in BASIC. The screen resolution was slightly higher (320x200 instead of 256x192) the BASIC was strictly in character mode - while they did throw in some quarter square graphics, card suits and other characters you couldn't get true high res in BASIC.

    Actually, I'm not completely certain, I believe the T/S 2068 included some hardware changes Timex thought would make it more competitive against the Commodore - an AY3-8912 programmable sound generator and two joystick ports, as well as a cartridge connector (this was in addition to the expansion interface on the back).

    However … to the question at hand. The Sinclair BASIC was much better. But most people bought the Commodore for the games it could play.


  • Vivaldi Team

    The debate about Spectrum v C64, was in some ways about what mattered more, hardware or software. The C64 was clearly better for games, but I think the Spectrum was better for programming, even through it had a rubber keyboard, weird graphics handling and more limited sound. The fact that you could program most everything from Basic changed the picture and there was a very lively programming scene. You could even buy magazines, Sinclair Programs, that only included lines of code. A great way to get started with programming, although a frustrating one as well…

    I have got myself a few of the Timex Sinclairs. I enjoy these old computers. I have the Timex Sinclair 1000 and the Timex Sinclair 2068 in addition to the Timex Sinclair 1500, which is a ZX81 in the shape of a Spectrum, but with 16 kb of memory instead of 1.



  • Shame they never had the QL in this country … that looked like an interesting machine.

    We used to be able to get ZXComputing magazine, I actually wrote a letter to them once and got published ... someone was talking about the inability to define recursive functions as user-defined functions so I actually wrote a factorial function. Since the string-to-number function actually evaluated expressions and not just numerals, and since you could actually use conditionals with string arguments ... well, I think that makes math expressions almost a full programming language in Sinclair BASIC.

    The only complaint I recall seeing was the complete lack of bitwise operators. "A AND B" produces A if B is non-zero (aka TRUE), or 0 otherwise (or a null string if A was a string), while "A OR B" was A if B was 0, or 1 if B was non-zero. But I did use that "A$ AND B" behaviour to get my factorial to work.


  • Vivaldi Translator

    My first computer was also the Sinclair ZX81 (I was five years old when my father imported it as an assemble-yourself kit from the UK), although I had met with the Luxor ABC80 before. I taught myself BASIC programming using the (English) user manual and a Swedish programming book, just testing out what would happen. That was fun. It was the standard 1K model, but we had a 4K RAM expansion that my father modified to take on 16K by stacking RAM chips.

    The first computer I bought myself was a Commodore C64. That was in 1988, so it was near the end of it's lifespan, although I held on to it and used it semi-actively as far as 2003-2004. I even have a part of my web site dedicated to the machine. At the end of its run, I had a flash-based all-in-one cartridge, the 20 MHz SuperCPU, all running on a Commodore 128 DCR (my favourite model with the built-in 5.25" disk drive).

    Commodore is where I learnt most of my programming, before moving on to PC's with MS-DOS and Turbo Pascal. Then I switched to C when going to the university, and to C++ again. Then I went to Norway, joined this small start-up called "Opera Software" and met this incredible guy called Jon, and the rest is history… :-)



  • My first home computer in early 90s was ZX-Spectrum compatible one with 48kb of memory and sound card. And since in USSR and post-USSR Commondore was very rare and expensive I had no chance to buy one.

    I also think that Sinclair basic was brilliant. You was able to quickly program whatever you want to some extent and if needed use assembler. Customized ROM gave ability to debug programs (also cracking games) on the fly.

    I feel that benefits with ROM Basic was similar to HTML and CSS in early Web. Anyone can learn pretty quickly from manual and also from cracking and looking what other people have coded.



  • Not having had a C-64 I can't compare. Friends had them though and I enjoyed the games on them. That seems to all they did with them.
    I had the Spectrum for many years with two different disk drive interfaces. First the Zebra Systems (or Portuguese Disk Drive) then the Larken System and a 14.4 kbit/s modem they were tossing away at work.
    It got a lot of use for work related projects at the time.
    I remember the magazines too, though we got very few of them here in Canada.



  • Maybe you were not in a large enough area? I was buying them in Toronto …

    My first disk drive was from AERCO, but I got a Larken cartridge to use with my hardware because it had more features.



  • Perhaps we were neighbours…

    You're quite right.
    THough I found only two places (Yonge & Bloor and Youge & St. Clair) that carried them... and not regularly.
    There was another periodical from the UK (generic computer articles) that also contained program listings but not always for the 2068. I vaguely remember trying to convert one of them.



  • I was actually in Windsor in that era, but I got to Toronto about once a month or two. I'd always stop at "The World's Biggest Bookstore" to browse the periodicals - I didn't pick up ZX Computing every time (only when it was interesting), but it was usually there.

    Ironically enough, my job at the time was programming C-64s at one of the "Separate Schools" :whistle: - a biology teacher had a lab of networked computers that I wrote software for. We did stuff with those old machines (this would have been mid-80s) that had the PC-oriented people at the school board scratching their heads.



  • @jon:

    You could even buy magazines, Sinclair Programs, that only included lines of code.

    Same here for the c64, sometimes they only showed big blocks of hex code.

    Advantage of the c64 (beneath the really indestructible buckling springs keyboard): You could program the c64 as multiprocessor machine if you had the floppy drives attached. They had 16kB RAM and a similar processor like the c64 itself, so in the end you could run with up to 3 processors at the same time. A friend of me used it for calculating fractals at "high speed" :)


  • Vivaldi Translator

    It really depended on the game.
    I used to compare them in the computer shop while I was buying my ZX Spectrum games.
    I also had the later Amstrad Spectrum+2 128k with the tape-deck, so used to compare with the Amstrad that also used the same AY music chip.

    Spectrum programmers knew the machine was very limited with colourful sprites, so used to not worry about making it colourful, and concentrate on finer more detailed graphics.
    Space Harrier is a good example, as I played the original arcade machine a lot.
    The CBM64 version was more colourful but looked a blocky mess, and it was hard to tell things apart at high speed.
    The Speccy coders opted for finer detailing and less colour. This made for a much more playable game.

    The humble Z80a CPU also had one thing in it's favour. When it came to vector games like Star Wars, Elite, Starion, and Stuntcar racer it was much more capable than the Commodore, which was more at home doing sprite-based platformers, or scrolling shooters.

    When the first Comic-Relief charity event happened in the UK, I arranged a 24 hour gameathon. We had many computers there, I rewired a PC monitor for my Spectrum, we had BBC Masters with ROM boards and an EPROM burner, and I even setup a few VGA PCs with current games, but the Amigas were by far the most popular (no surprise).
    However, all through the 24 hours, I noticed the C=64 owners were all constantly checking the powerpack and regularly had to switch off to let it cool down.

    I played a lot of Elite, and other vector based games so the Spectrum was more useful than a C=64 to me.



  • @jon:

    The debate about Spectrum v C64, was in some ways about what mattered more, hardware or software. The C64 was clearly better for games, but I think the Spectrum was better for programming, even through it had a rubber keyboard, weird graphics handling and more limited sound. The fact that you could program most everything from Basic changed the picture and there was a very lively programming scene. You could even buy magazines, Sinclair Programs, that only included lines of code. A great way to get started with programming, although a frustrating one as well…

    I have got myself a few of the Timex Sinclairs. I enjoy these old computers. I have the Timex Sinclair 1000 and the Timex Sinclair 2068 in addition to the Timex Sinclair 1500, which is a ZX81 in the shape of a Spectrum, but with 16 kb of memory instead of 1.

    Although my very first computer was a TI99/4a it was replaced soon by a ZX Spectrum and then by a QL.

    C64 was a game consolle with a keyboard, ZX spectrum was a little revolution and (as usual) the better solution sold less. :(



  • By the way… may it be that I as a german never grasped that sinclair/BBC/Armstrad/whatsoever fascination for those machines that some of those occupational inhabitants of my hometown (west berlin) had - i only reflected them via the magazines I was able to buy because of them (CVG "Computer and Video Games" as an example) ;) But in my town and/or country the question would be more like "atari vs. commodore" :cheers: I can just remember one friend with an Amstrad CPC (Well and a few that had a spectrum/sinclair just out of curiosity and maybe for a few games that where spectrum only in addition to their main machine), but know of a few apple and CP/M users besides the majority of the flamewaring members of the cbm or atari community (majority of users and (IMHO) in fact we both envied one another for certain features) in 8bit times and later on it was only Amiga vs. Atari ST.... and from then... only PC and AMD vs. Intel ;P



  • I never really understood the speccy's popularity – there's a reason around here it was called "Uncle Clive's Gynecology kit", or simply the Sinclair Speculum.

    The oddball mismatch of colour mapping to raster graphics was actually shared by both platforms, but you'd really not know it on the C64 since you could reprogram it on the fly per scanline increasing the colours on screen and it had hardware sprites. You mix in the speccy's pathetic rubber keyboard and it's hardly a surprise that it never gained any traction here in the colonies... particularly since the C64 was cheaper, had a real keyboard, and a far bigger software library.

    Really though it's hard for me to relate to them as when they came out ('82 for both), I already had a Coco, VIC-20 and a TS-1000 -- and access to a twin floppy 64k TRS-80 model 3. The VIC was strictly a gaming machine, the Coco was mine and what I learned programming on, the timex sat in the back of a sock drawer, and my fathers Model 3 was where I learned to do "real" stuff.

    By the time I'd have been looking at a more up to date substitute two years later, PC clones were a reality... with the clones laughably being faster than IBM's offerings.

    I now have a C64, (and a minus-60 I was GIVEN with the purchase of my Tandy 1000SX), and a Apple IIe platinum) and was thinking on adding a speccy to the collection, but here in the states they're far and few between and it's not like I have a lot of displays that take PAL input were I to look at UK listings for one.

    I almost got a Sinclair QL a few years ago but passed on it. I've been kicking myself ever since.



  • In the states, the T/S 2068 was a Spectrum clone with a few extras - that's what I had.



  • The various Timex were not Sinclair clones, the were officially licensed machines, slightly modified/upgraded machines starting from the original Sinclair design.

    There were a lot of real clones though…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ZX_Spectrum_clones



  • @deathshadow:

    I never really understood the speccy's popularity – there's a reason around here it was called "Uncle Clive's Gynecology kit", or simply the Sinclair Speculum.

    It's just like iPhones V.S. good European made Smartphones.

    Europeans make better products but Americans are way more skilled in driving the flocks



  • There were some things you could do on the Spectrum and not the Commodore. Despite the Commodore's better hardware, none of that stuff was actually accessible from the built-in BASIC. (Not counting PEEKs and POKEs.) The Spectrum could do pixel graphics out of the box, though colors were in 8x8 blocks (that is to say, all pixels in the same block has the same 2 colors to choose from.) There was no such thing as a LINE command in CBM BASIC and in fact the hardware was in character mode by default (so even if you did POKE something into the screen buffer you could never get individual pixels). Sure, cartridges could access pixel graphics, sprites and sound - or something in machine code you typed in from a magazine could - but as far as
    BASIC was concerned those features didn't exist. That's really what made the Spectrum a better machine, as the hardware on the C-64 was better.


  • Vivaldi Translator

    If you try to get a Spectrum for your collection, I recommend trying to find a 128k version as they came with a monitor socket.
    You will have to solder your own DIN plug to an old VGA monitor
    (note for Americans; the word solder has an "L" in it which you do pronounce. It is not pronounced "sodder".)


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