Remember the Sinclair ZX-81?

I do.  It was the first computer that I ‘built’.  It was available in kit form or as a completed computer for more money. The cost of the kit was $99 and I remember saving up for it and sending off that hundred dollar check (plus shipping and handling, of course.)  Imagine, an ENTIRE computer for one hundred dollars.  Wow.  And it had graphics too!  TRS-80 model one style, fat pixel, monochrome graphics.  Lower resolution than the trash 80. 

I remember getting the computer kit and eagerly opening it up.  I read the Basic Language manual-which, if I recall correctly,was first class and very easy to zx81kit1 read-and the assembly instructions.  I cleared off my working area, fired up the soldering iron and got to business.  I spent several hours soldering, checking and re-checking.  Finally, satisfied that I had done everything correctly, I connected the computer to a little TV and plugged in the power.  And…nothing.  Knowing a tiny bit about computers, I unplugged the power, waited and plugged it back in.  Nothing.  I was perplexed.  I spent another hour scratching my head and re-checking my work.  Finally, in desperation, I had my father look at it.  He was an engineer and built computers and paging equipment for a living. After checking the computer on his scope, he determined that a resister was missing.  The resister has something to do with the reset pin or something like that on the Z80 microprocessor.  In put the resister in place and plugged it back in. To my delight, the screen turned gray and a black inverse K appeared on the screen.  The computer was working.  I connected my cassette recorder up, which now would do double duty on my TRS-80 Color Computer that I would get later that year for Christmas, and entered some of the sample programs from the manual and that I had found in magazines.  I spent all night and most of the following day entering code and playing games.  That little computer was a blast.  It was so limited in what it could, but I did not care.  I learned how to do graphical programming and crude games.  I even wrote a small and very limited Visi-Calc like application.  Much of what I learned on that tiny little machine translated well to the bigger and more capable computers I would get later on, including the aforementioned Color Computer, Xerox-820 and other ‘serious’ computers.

Fast forward to today and I found a web site, Zebra Systems, that is selling unbuilt kits.  These are complete kits and they have fifty or so left.  Unfortunately, they  are priced at two hundred dollars.  You can check that out here.  There are many sites devoted to this little computer as well as it’s somewhat better companion computer, the Timex-Sinclair 1000.  There is a web-ring devoted to the line and you get to it here.

What computers bring the nostalgia out in you?  I had several favorites including the ones listed above and the Vic-20, Epson HX-20 portable and the-don’t laugh-Mattel Aquarius. Ah, the Aquarius, the computer for the seventies.


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