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1980s Computers Explanation of terms

The ZX80

ZX80 computer


Science of Cambridge (UK)
(Later Sinclair Research Ltd)


(From the microprocessor and being launched in 1980.)

Date Launched

January 1980


£80 as kit without power supply.
£100 complete ready-built.

Microprocessor type

Zilog Z80A (or clone) @ 3.25 MHz

ROM size

4 kilobytes

Standard RAM

1 kilobyte

Maximum RAM

16 kilobytes with external expansion pack

Keyboard type

Flat touch-sensitive membrane

Supplied language

Sinclair BASIC

Text resolution

32 X 24 characters

Graphics resolution

No graphics except those in character set - equivalent to 64 x 48 pixels.

Colours available

Monochrome (black/white)

Example Screenshot

ZX80 graphics demo
A ZX80 running the well-known cellular automata simulation and displaying its full character set.



Cassette load speed

250 baud

Dimensions (mm)
Weight (grams)

174 x 218 x 38

Special features

Single key entry of BASIC commands.
Syntax checking while entering program lines.

Good points

A complete working computer for £100 and thus the first really affordable home computer.

Bad points

Keyboard was very difficult to type on.
BASIC was limited to integer arithmetic.
Display blanked out during program execution so moving graphics were not possible.

How successful?

Surprisingly popular – around 70,000 were sold.

The MicroAceAn American company, Microace, even sold a virtual copy of the ZX80 but in a black case, and were successfully sued by Sinclair.

The point about the ZX80 was that it was just about a fully usable computer without the need to buy any more parts. Most other 'entry-level' computers in 1980 required extra hardware such as a keyboard or VDU circuit before they could be properly used, which meant further expense and often required a reasonable degree of competence in electronics construction to connect. The ZX80 by contrast was 'plug & play'.


Extremely compact at less than A4 in size.
Its practical uses were limited by the very simple version of BASIC and meagre amount of memory supplied as standard.
Extra memory was initially expensive at £12 for an expansion board plus £16 per kilobyte of RAM.
See a review of the ZX80.

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