The Missing Sinclair


No, I couldn't believe it either, but after thinking about it for a while, I've come to the conclusion that this new machine is a good thing. It's good for the Sinclair brand, taking it into the nineties with a wry grin on its monitor. It's good for the user, presenting him or her with a range of software unequalled by any other type of machine. And it's certainly good for Amstrad (who bought the Sinclair name in 1985), as it could make it the biggest manufacturer and seller of PCs in the world, and earn it a cow-choking wad of cash to boot. Yep, Alan Sugar is going to be positively surfing in money this time, if he isn't already.

So why a PC? At the risk of sounding like Barry Norman, why not? The world and his mum are buying PCs at the moment, so why shouldn't the Sinclair brand name be up there on the shelves among them? The PC compatible computer is an old concept, but it's a good one, and it has one big advantage - and any computer which has this goes on for years and years and years. And what's this advantage? Slots! No, I'm not being rude, I'm referring to the expansion slots inside the computer which take expansion cards (printed circuit boards which customise your computer to do any job you like - from being a satellite tracking station, to a Desk Top Publishing workstation or an arcade machine with advanced graphics). Okay that's the theory, now for the practice!!


The new Sinclair is a little black box, like all other Sinclairs. Okay, it's a trifle larger than its predecessors, but there are reasons for that. The computer's casing contains a 102 key keyboard, with proper typewriter keys in black and grey. The top of the machine is slotted for ventilation, and although you could rest the monitor on top and still get to the keyboard, it would probably break the top of the case. The matching monitor is designed to perch behind the machine and look over the back of it. Looking at the PC200 from the front, there's a disk drive built into the side of the case. Surprisingly, the drive's not the usual Amstrad 3" type, but rather a standard Sony 3½". There's a good reason for this, but I'll get onto that later. There are all the usual ports at the rear of the machine, RS232, Centronics printer, and an on/off switch (hoorah!), but interestingly for this class of computer, there's also a modulator socket for plugging into a TV set. Clean and simple lines, but a very powerful machine. Alright let's whip it apart.


There are two different types of display. Either the CGA or MDA. Although this will mean something to converted PC users, it means nothing to the likes of me. Apparently all this yibbling means that CGA is the most popular graphics standard used by PC types. It's a 40 column * 25 line or 80 column * 25 line text in 16 colours, with 8 * 8 dot characters. Medium resolution graphics are 320 * 200 pixels in four colours, and high resolution is 640 * 200 with just two colours. MDA is a way of making your Sinclair outdo the Apple Macintosh in the monochrome stakes, with high definition 80 column * 25 line hi-res text, made up of 9 * 14 dot characters. Only the CGA mode is available through the TV modulator.


The machine runs on MS-DOS 3.3, supplied on disk, but it can run GEM 3 Desktop as well, for use with the mouse, to give you a modern windows, icons and pointers programming environment. The main processor is the popular 16 bit 8086, running at 8 Mhz, as used in the world-beating Amstrad line of PCs. (There is a socket for an 8087 maths co-processor too, making it potentially a real number cruncher!). Yes, this is a proper 16 bit computer, with 512K RAM as standard, but this is expandible using standard IBM or third party RAM cards. BIOS, the operating system of the computer, is resident in ROM, which means you don't have to load it from disk.


The stumbling block of most previous Sinclair computers has been their keyboards. Well, this is the Professional series, and in keeping with that image, the keyboard is industry standard, full travel, AT keyboard (the AT is a type of IBM computer, in case you're wondering). The keys are tightly arranged on the compact casing, with the cursor keys, control and ALT keys, numeric keypad, and also a lot of IBM specific keys, like Page Up, Page Down, Home, Delete, Insert... all the usual stuff. Oh yes, and 10 function keys, too. The Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock keys are equipped with green LEDs to show whether they're on or off. It's a nice keyboard, and believe it or not, you can actually use it for typing!


A 3½" drive is essential in this day and age. Fewer and fewer PCs have those clunky old 5½" jobs, mostly because 3½" disks have twice the storage capacity of their larger counterparts. You can add a supplementary 3½" or 5½" drive, which means that you can transfer programs from the small to the large formats for carrying to work, college or school. One of the best things about owning this computer will be the fact that it's compatible with almost every other PC in the world? Yep, there are billions of them, and the number is growing every day. It's like having a portable computer in every town in the world.


Two IBM compatible slots, which can take any circuit board in the right format, one made by IBM, one made by a third party manufacturer, or even one made by your Uncle Fred with a soldering iron and a transistor radio. The range of things you can get to slot into a PC is quite staggering. Hard disks are available on cards, 20Meg models running out at about £300, you can even turn it into a fax machine by putting in a fax card! This is one feature which makes the PC future proof. If something comes along, like transputers for example, which revolutionise computing, you can slap it in the back of your Sinclair and off you go. Yes, you CAN get a transputer card to put in it!


WOW! There's games, if you want games. And although the software will not be Spectrum compatible, every major company is currently developing for the PC, and all new releases will have PC versions right up there with the other formats. There's a public domain library which will knock your eyes out. This is software written by programmers, hackers and enthusiasts which they don't charge for. It's free to anyone. And then there's the proper PC software. People have been programming this machine for about 8-10 years, and they know all about it. And better yet, programs for the PC run out at about 25 per cent cheaper than other types of computer, because they can guarantee such high sales. You'll never run out of programs for this machine. Ever.


There's a very bright future ahead for this line of computers. Anyone who wants a computer, for whatever reason, games, business, pleasure, or school, can take this machine and turn it into anything they want. It's solidly built, reliable, cheap to buy and cheap to run. There are three packages you can buy. The cheapest is just the computer to connect to your TV. With a mouse, GW-Basic, MS-DOS 3.3, GEM 3, and all the manuals, you can walk away with it for just £299 + VAT. With a mono monitor, joystick, a software package called Organiser and four games, it's £399 + VAT. Add a colour monitor instead of the mono job, and it's £499 + VAT. I think it's a fine computer, and I want one. Now where did I throw that transputer card...?



Article written by Phil South
in Your Sinclair
Number 35 - November 1988

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