Posted on Leave a comment

Updated (30/12/20): The Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 – It Has One or Two Models of Datacorder?


UPDATED (30/12/20) to add the PCB Layout Diagram for the +2B, taken from the Spectrum +2B/+3B Amendment Service Manual. I am checking this against actual PCBs, so please bear with me. As stated in the article below, there are (at least) two versions of the PCB used in the +2 black Amstrad-era Spectrums.

I like all models of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. They all have their pros and cons.

The original rubber key 16/48k Sinclair ZX Spectrum and its Sinclair-era Spectrum successors – the Spectrum Plus and the Spectrum 128 – all relied on an external tape player to load games from cassette, using tape leads between tape player and Spectrum.

When Clive Sinclair sold the Sinclair computer brand to Alan Sugar, Sugar transferred some of the design ideas that were also used on the Amstrad CPC range of personal computers.

The Amstrad CPC was released after the Spectrum, so Amstrad could learn from the shortcomings of the earlier Sinclair machine. But the CPC had a lot of catching up to do, especially when it came to games.

The CPC still used a tape player to load games but it was built into the same case as the keyboard. This followed Sugar’s repeated philosophy, as he had earlier used on his audio equipment, of everything in one box – although the CPC monitor was physically separate, there was only one plug for everything.

So the Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2, the first Amstrad-era Spectrum, built on the success of the Spectrum and as I’ve already said, used some of the design ideas from the CPC:

  • an all-in-one case, very similar to the CPC case, with RF display output (old analogue) and higher-quality RGB display output. The monitor had a separate plug and power supply, and was not included with the computer. This was different to the original Amstrad CPC, which only had one plug.
  • a built-in tape player, called a “Datacorder” and with this name emblazoned across the tape player window. No more tape leads to fiddle around with.
  • a proper keyboard – no more of the rubber keys and what some people call its “dead flesh” feel. A proper hard keyboard that is very similar to what we use on our Windows PCs, Linux machines and Apple computers today.
  • 128k of RAM, which when released seemed like a lot of memory when you were used to just 48k
  • a new three-channel sound chip that was added to the TV sound – no more beeper

The first Amstrad Spectrum was the grey +2, which used a lot of the design of the Spectrum 128 “Toastrack”.

Next came the black (I think of it more of a dark grey) +2A, +2B which were tape players and the disk version +3 which had another Amstrad “innovation”/”annoyance” – 3″ disks – not 3.5″, not 5.25″ but 3″. Yes, really!

The black +2 models also had a separate power supply. The notoriously unreliable DC-DC converter circuit was removed from the design between the grey +2 and black +2 models. A separate power “brick” (it is about as heavy as a brick!) dealt with supplying the different voltages on separate pins of a DIN plug. This improved reliability of the Spectrum, and looked after the power for the Datacorder.

Here, I am looking at the tape players/Datacorders. Elsewhere on the World Wide Web, it is stated that there is only one version of the tape player in the +2A and +2B.

But this is not the case.

If you look very carefully, you will see some differences. They may well be minor, but there are nevertheless some differences.

If you are the first to contact me with all of the differences between the two models of tape drive, you will receive a free prize (UK only sorry!) as well as the satisfaction that you have a keen attention to detail! Sadly, NOBODY WON THE COMPETITION, AS NOBODY GOT THE ANSWERS RIGHT!

I should mention that I service and sell these Datacorders, for the black +2 and grey +2 models, as well as fully-working computers including refurbished and modernised ones.

I also sell external tape players for the Sinclair-era Spectrums.

So get in touch and I will put together a bundle of stuff for now at a good price with superb service.

Thanks for stopping by at PopeyMon Games and Fun.

Posted on 2 Comments

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Power Supplies – Safety Warning

The above Product Recall warning is from Personal Computer News in March 1983. It is a recall of power supplies for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum – the rubber key 16k and 48k models, as shown in the photo below.

They may also have found their way to be used on a Spectrum Plus (hard key, black model), although the Spectrum Plus power supply comes in a different case that matches Rick Dickinson’s superb design of the Plus machine itself.

These will work on the 16k/48k rubber key and the hard key Plus machines, if they are still serviceable. These power supplies are not suitable for any other model of Spectrum. But they need to be checked for safety, as well as functionality and that they are delivering the right voltage levels and polarity.

There was a potentially very serious fault with the design.

Sadly, quality control could be an afterthought at Sinclair. But cheap prices and time constraints often meant quality suffered. This was the case with the rest of the Spectrum design, especially the notoriously unreliable power circuit on the Spectrum board itself. But let’s face it – this trade-off between price/quality/time is how so many people’s lives were transformed by the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

So why the Recall? Some units were produced where the mains 240V could potentially become live on the outer metal positively charged part of the barrel connector – despite this supposedly being the low voltage DC connector. Details of the units with the fault are shown on the recall notice. This is why I have made the image large, so that you can read it – if you can’t read it, please get in touch.

The Spectrum power supply was unusual in that the DC barrel connector that brought power to the computer was designed to be centre negative, but outer positive. Most power supplies of the time have centre positively-charged and outer negatively-charged. Like many things, Sinclair did this differently.

So if a user slipped on the smooth barrel connector plastic when plugging it in, and the fault with the mains 240V has occurred, they could have been injured or killed if they slipped off the barrel connector onto the metal! Or it could kill or injure your Spectrum too.

I am showing this here as a service to Spectrum users because some of these power supplies could still be out there in the wild and still emerging from storage or other places. Some of them have a sticker on the bottom if they have been checked after the recall. Only unethical sellers would remove these stickers – they should be kept on to show they have been checked.

And I am also showing you this as a safety warning, especially as some online sellers seem unaware of these faults and others I have seen have actually hid faults with power supplies that are being sold on eBay. This puts Spectrum users at unnecessary risk.

Other power supplies could have suffered damage during and since the 1980s. So it is wise to have them checked over properly, before you use one on your valued Spectrum.

I have sold many of these power supplies for the Spectrum. But unlike some online sellers, I am certified trained as an electrical safety (PAT – Portable Appliance Test) tester. All power supplies are fully PAT tested and will not be sold by PopeyMon Games and Fun if they fail the test.

I log all test results, as required by law. And I don’t sell them with illegal plugs on them – again, unlike some other sellers. Some sellers have power supplies with live and neutral pins that are unshielded on the plugs. This is illegal. I have even received some with cracked plugs! This is the mains 240V, not low voltage, so is very serious.

I replace illegal, outdated or unsafe plugs with new ones and with the right rating of fuse. This is part of the quality service that I provide. You cannot trust other sellers who don’t do this – ask them!

And if you are looking to buy one or want one checked, please get in touch. I will happily sell you one – fully tested and working – for the Spectrum 16/48k/Plus, for the grey +2 or the black +2 or +3. I also have a lot of other Spectrum parts, working computers and games for sale. I will happily put together a custom bundle for you.

I will be writing more about the Spectrum power supplies in the near future. Watch this space!

Posted on Leave a comment

How Dirty Is Your Spectrum?

Above is the inside of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 that I bought online. This is one of the models that Amstrad produced when Alan Sugar bought the Sinclair computer brand from Clive Sinclair. It is a later issue 4, also known as the +2B.

The ad for the computer did not have photos of the inside! I would describe it as an insect zoo. The other machine from the same supplier was not as bad, but it was still pretty bad.

It is the worst example of a machine that was not looked after by its previous owners. Many others that I get hold of, are in much better condition, and some are in near mint condition. The condition of a Spectrum is a major factor on the price, as well as whether it is fully working or not.

It is testament to the quality of manufacture by Amstrad that this filthy machine, when cleaned up, worked! It did take a lot of work though!

I now use this machine as a test machine, and have fully cleaned it up and fully tested it, with repaired tape drive and fully repaired and cleaned keyboard.

  • How dirty is your Spectrum?
  • What is the worst condition that you have seen one in?
  • Was it worse than the Spectrum above?
  • Did it still work?

Tell me in the comments below or get in touch at the contact details here!

I always try and test the computers that I buy, fix them and in some cases, fully refurbish them. That depends on what my customers want.

I sell them with accurate descriptions, as much as is possible.

If there are still any outstanding issues, I list them, so that my customers know in advance of buying. Many online sellers are not so honest.

If there are then any problems, all I ask is that they contact me to rectify them problems first.

Get in touch at the Contact details here. I will happily sell you parts or whole machines, or anything else Spectrum that you are looking for – games, joysticks, replacement cases, replacement keys, and so on. Just ask and I will check my stock.

Posted on Leave a comment

Frankenstein’s (Ms.) Pac-Man… Experimenting With New and Old Gaming Technology

Above is a Sinclair SJS1, a joystick that was specifically designed for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 when Amstrad’s Alan Sugar took over the Sinclair computer brand from Clive Sinclair.

Unlike most other joysticks of the era, it does not use the same “pinouts” as the Atari standard. It does use the same “D-sub” 9-pin connector. But they do not match the standard developed by Atari for the 2600/VCS console and copied by many others.

The SJS1 only has one fire button on the stick, which you have to use your thumbs for. This is OK for using with games that don’t use fire much. But terrible for shoot-em-ups!

I have tried to stick up for this joystick amongst fellow Spectrum fans, and also tried to do a wind-up of them, to show the SJS1 playing the arcade version of Ms. Pac-Man.

I tried to get people to guess how it was possible. Then in the big reveal, I showed them this:

The SJS1 joystick is connected to the board from a 4-in-1 Namco Plug and Play joystick game board thingy, which was broken. The joystick was removed from the board and the case, and the board was then repaired by me. I then had to find a suitable home for it.

It is housed in a case from a Quickshot joystick for the MSX – again, another broken joystick that was recycled. The board from that joystick was beyond repair.

I attached the joystick wires so that it was according to the Atari standard. So I had to create a wire to re-wire the Atari standard to Alan Sugar’s “Amstrad-Sinclair” proprietary standard.

And hey presto! The arcade Ms. Pac-Man, emulated on a board, in an MSX joystick case, controlled by an Amstrad-era Sinclair joystick! All powered by a battery!

It’s OK playing Ms. Pac-Man. But it’s terrible for playing Galaga, an old favourite of mine, which is on the same board! The SJS1 joystick is hated, and rightly so. But it remains the only joystick that is custom-designed for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Grey +2.

GREAT EXPERIMENT and IT WORKS! I just have to be very careful when I move it 🙂