ZX Spectrum, "what if" version

Photo by Hello I'm Nik / Unsplash

I have a special relationship with the ZX Spectrum. It was the first computer I ever had that fascination with technology - you plugged it into the TV, recorded programs from a tape, and then played. Or programmed. Or played. Or - well, actually, there wasn't much more you could do. You played, or programmed, or researched other people's programs, or copied, or thought and dreamed about what could be done.

To this day, I still have a really special relationship with Spectrum. But I thank fate that I didn't become a technoamish. You know - those people who are under the impression that the absolute peak was reached at that time and everything that came after was not the same. It was faster and more powerful, but it wasn't the same because the processors were too complicated and the programs were so bloated and none of the youngsters could write a decent program in 1 kb of memory anymore. Not to mention that back then the computer was brilliantly designed, whereas today... And also: "Z80 forever! All other processors are shit!"

We may share a love for the ZX Spectrum, but that's where the similarities between me and them end. I don't view the Spectrum as a sacred cow. To me, it's the computer I was expanding on at the time, and if I could, I'd drill into it more and more. To me, it's not "desecrating Sinclair's sacred work". I look at it as an adaptation, a remix, an expansion of the original idea...

That's why I'm not bothered by, say, Spectrum Next. I have one at home, by the way. I'm not disturbed by clones or emulations, software or hardware. I don't mind a Spectrum completely built in FPGA. I really don't.

So sometimes I daydream and think: What would Spectrum look like if it didn't have BASIC, for example. Sure, "it wouldn't be Spectrum anymore"... It would be "What If Spectrum", so what? No, seriously - imagine the ZX-81 if it was redesigned a little bit and they put in, say, FORTH. Yeah, it wouldn't be the ZX-81, it would be the Jupiter ACE, so what? If you keep an open mind, you think of both computers as interesting pieces of technology.

So I'm sitting here wondering, if the BASIC wasn't there, what would be there? A monitor, sure. And maybe an interpreter of - of what? FORTH? LISP? A Pascal compiler with an editor? No, seriously: what would there be? What language could be used for such an 8-bit computer?

I have a beautiful ORIC Atmos machine in my collection. When I look at its wiring manual, I think to myself: This is what the Spectrum would look like if it had a 6502 processor in it. (For a true Spectrist, that's downright blasphemy!) And I let my imagination run wild: what if it had the best osmibit processor of the 80s, the 6809/6309?

I've got emulators, I've got FPGAs, so why not give it a try?

  • And what if the Spectrum had a linear screen, not in thirds?
  • And what if the Spectrum had ROM at the end of the space and RAM at the beginning?
  • What if the Spectrum completely remapped the entire memory?
  • And what if memory management was finished, couldn't multitasking be arranged? And wouldn't it want some form of operating system? And it would be nice to have some external data storage...

Yes, it wouldn't be a Spectrum. It would be a "What If Spectrum". And I'm gonna build one!

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Martin Maly

Martin Maly

Programmer, journalist, writer and electronic hobbyist. Vintage CPU lover. Creating new computers with the spirit of 80's.