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Sinclair ZX81

Sinclair ZX81

Speed3.25 MHz
Memory1 KB

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Release Date: 3/1/1983
Manufacturer: Sinclair
Original Retail Price:
Adjusted Inflation Price:
Donated By: Ken Letkeman
The ZX81, Sinclair's third computer, sparked a popular mania for computing following its launch in 1981. The machine was shipped in two versions: as a traditional self-assembly kit and, more popularly, as a ready-assembled machine which only needed to be connected to a television and power supply before it could be used. In modern terms it was one of the first "plug and play" computers.

By today's standards the ZX81 is laughably primitive: only 1K of memory, no colour or sound and a notably unresponsive touch-sensitive keyboard. Even by the standards of the time, its technology was basic. The ZX81 owed its success not to its capabilities but to that most elusive quality, being the right product in the right place at the right time. It attracted a great deal of attention by Sinclair's traditional sales route, mail-order - 300,000 ZX81s were sold that way by the end of January 1982 - but its key breakthrough was on the British high street.

It seems strange these days, when shops selling computers are so ubiquitous, but back in 1981 there were very few shops selling computer equipment. The ZX81 could not have succeeded in the way that it did without the fortuitous involvement of the British newspaper chain W.H. Smith. The company was a long-established high street presence which had gone somewhat stale by the early 1980s. Seeking to reinvigorate its business, Smiths agreed to stock ZX81s in selected stores across the UK. The response was phenomenal, tapping into a previously unsuspected mass market for home computing. By February 1982, Sinclair Research was making over 40,000 ZX81s a month and still could not keep up with the demand. Within two years of release, the ZX81 had sold over a million units.

The huge success of the ZX81 virtually created the British home computer market. Many competitors sprang up to take advantage of the tidal wave of public enthusiasm for home computers. Hundreds of software and hardware manufacturers sprang up almost over

User Comments
Ian Bucknell on Thursday, October 10, 2013
My first computer too, early on, as I paid $150 for the kit, plus more for the adapter and the 16K RAM pack. A "computer" of any description at that price was unheard of at the time. One of the most endearing features was the truly excellent manual that came with it. It made programming fun, and I made it my career. I still have working Zeddies, modified and Frankenstein-ed over the years, that I will never part with. :)
Ed Imhoff on Monday, March 19, 2012
It was my 1st computer! Got the Keyboard kit, and the printer and 16k was great little computer! So after learning all about..I got my 1st job in a computer store because I told owner I had learn on it..So he hired me. Then he stared to import them from UK...Few months later to his sprise Timex came out with them! The rest is History
Jay on Saturday, February 18, 2012
I got bored of BASIC pretty fast and so I bought a special replacement ROM from GLADSTONE electronics on Avenue Rd that ran straight Zilog80 assembler... that kept me interested and challenged for a long while! :) I still have the ZX81 and the hand built full sized keyboard I made for it, haven't powered it on for over 25 years though.
Mark on Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I learned to program on this little beauty and I'm still doing it for a living today.
Anonymous on Thursday, May 29, 2008
This was my first computer! I had the rampak (16K), ahh the days of using cassettes to load programs.
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* Inflation data courtesy of Values are approximate using our own calculations.