THE 128K Spectrum,
code name Derby, has finally been launched. You will have
to wait a while to see it in the UK, though, because Sinclair
Research, after denying the existence of the machine for ages,
chose to launch the beast in Barcelona, at the Sonimag Fair
at the end of September .
Essentially, the machine is two computers
squeezed into a single box. On powerup, you choose which mode
you want to use - the 128K version is implemented automatically,
but if you type SPECTRUM in capital letters then the machine
reconfigures itself to give you a 48K Spectrum Plus. It is
completely compatible, so it is claimed, with all existing
The 128K is being manufactured in Madrid
by Investronica, Sinclair's agent. According to a representative
of Investronica, that is all to do with Spanish tax laws concerning
foreign imports. It will sell in Spain for about £220;
given the general difference between Spanish and UK prices,
a UK model should go for roughly £170.
The 128 looks very like a Spectrum Plus.
That's not surprising - it's got the same case. Obvious differences
are a variety of extra sockets, a big heat sink bolted onto
the righthand side, and a separate keypad, attached to the
machine by a springy cable. It is all powered by the same
transformer as the Spectrum - but it does an awful lot more.
The keypad works only in 128K mode. It acts
as a calculator, so you can perform arithmetical operations
with the results printed on the screen without disturbing
the program you are writing. It also incorporates a set of
editing commands. Those allow you to move a cursor around
the screen and swiftly delete or edit errors in your program.
It plugs into the front of the Spectrum via a telephone-style
jack plug. It is simple to use, and an excellent idea for
taking the sweat out of programming in Basic.
A full range of ports has been included
on the machine. There is an RS232 socket, which can be linked
directly to a printer. For the show, Investronica hooked it
up to a synthesizer via a MIDI interface and blasted one of
the Bach Brandenburg concertos at us - very impressive, for
Sinclair sound. Also included is a reset switch, an RGB socket
for monitors, a television aerial socket, the usual holes
for tape leads and the standard wide port for other peripherals.
The sound chip is also completely new, giving
three voices and channelling the sound through the television
speaker. If in 48K mode, the old BEEP command is automatically
interpreted for the new chip. In 128K mode a new form of command
is used. Data for the music is stored in strings in the form
of a letter for pitch and a number for duration of the note.
Other changes to the Basic in 128K mode include the abolition
of the keyword system - commands are entered one letter at
a time. You can, however, switch down to 48K mode halfway
through writing a program, but you cannot switch up.
The 128 also has the capacity to act as
a RAM disc. That's a facility whereby areas of the RAM can
be set aside to store a suite of programs, or sets of data,
in much the same way as on microdrives or disc drives. Access
to files on RAM disc is, naturally, almost instantaneous.
We were unable to examine the full set of commands which go
with the facility, but as an example CAT! produces an instant
catalogue of RAM files.
Sinclair Research won't comment on the new
machine beyond admitting the existence of the Barcelona launch,
but the Spanish press releases say a UK launch is planned
for next spring.
One possible explanation for the Spanish
launch would be some sort of no competition deal signed with
UK retailers in order to unload QLs and Spectrums. Investronica
says that is Sinclair's problem and is clearly delighted to
be launching the product.
Without having a machine to study in detail,
we can't assess the reliability of the 128K. But one of the
machines on show had a set of notes written on the base which
appeared to list modifications to that unit, and we did see
what looked like a spectacular crash occurring with another.
It would be unfair to criticize the Derby on the basis of
such preproduction models, except to note the fact that they
were not for sale and not running perfectly.
Will the 128K save Sinclair? Since it is
completely compatible with all 48K software there's no reason
why the public should prefer the smaller machine to its big
brother except on grounds of cost. It looks very posh with
its keypad and coiled cables attached.
Charles Cotton, director of sales and marketing
at Sinclair Research, says, "The impetus to introduce
a Spectrum 128 in Spain comes from the peculiar market forces
operating there. It is a very important market for us, as
we account for over half of the home computers sold in Spain."
He doesn't deny the possible introduction
of a UK version in the spring, but adds: "We're confident
we have the products the public wants this Christmas, at the
right price. A Spectrum 128 doesn't fit into the UK picture
[The Spectrum 128 was launched
in the UK in March 1986.]