Spectrum Next: The evolution of the Spectrum

We love the ZX Spectrum. Why wouldn’t we? It was much more than just a computer: it was a machine that sparked a gaming revolution, neatly housed within its iconic design, powered by sheer simplicity. The Spectrum was and still is in a league of its own.

Decades have come and gone and the Spectrum is still alive and kicking, new games are being launched all the time. The demo scene carries on pushing the hardware limits to the unimaginable. Artists keep on creating amazing 8-bit eye candy and musicians have been pushing the beeper and humble AY sound chip to even greater heights. Alongside this there are thousands of awesome games in the back catalogue to play.

Meanwhile hardware hackers around the world have expanded the ZX Spectrum to support SD card storage, to feature new and better video modes, pack in more memory, faster processors… The problem is, these expansions can be difficult to get hold of, and without a standardised Spectrum, no one knows what to support or develop for.

Here is our answer: The ZX Spectrum Next – an updated and enhanced version of the original ZX Spectrum, compatible with the original, featuring major hardware developments of the past many years packed inside, and a beautiful design created by original Sinclair industrial designer Rick Dickinson and his industrial design partner Phil Candy.

Behold – the Spectrum Next in all its glory!

The evolution of the Spectrum Next

From its humble beginnings back in 2015, the board grew in capabilities and features. Driven by our own ambitions, and those of the fantastic community who helped bring the Spectrum Next to life.

The original board implementation featured a single joystick port, 512KB RAM and VGA/RGB output. Fast forwards to now and the board supports twin joystick ports, 2048KB RAM, VGA/RGB in addition to digital video output (HDMI compatible). Additionally there are now hundreds of under the hood improvements.

Due to part availability issues relating to the FPGA chip, the new Kickstarter 2 version of the Spectrum Next board features an Artix-7 FPGA in place of the Spartan-6 which featured in the original Kickstarter.

In order from top left – Original TBBlue 1.2, Issue 0, Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 2B (Kickstarter 1), Issue 2D, Issue 2E, Issue 2H (soon to be Issue 4 – Kickstarter 2)

The Spectrum Next is an expanded and updated version of the ZX Spectrum, fully compatible (hardware and software) with the original. You can play any games, demos, use original hardware, you name it. It also runs new software created more recently that takes advantage of expanded hardware, including new graphics modes and higher processor speeds.

The Spectrum Next is fully implemented with FPGA technology, ensuring it can be upgraded and enhanced while remaining truly compatible with the original hardware by using special memory chips and clever design. Here’s what under the hood of the machine:

  • Processor: Enhanced FPGA-based Z80 CPU running at 3.5MHz with additional turbo modes up to 28MHz
  • Memory: 2048KB RAM (Kickstarter 2) and 1024KB RAM upgradeable to 2048KB RAM (Kickstarter 1)
  • Operating System: NextZXOS (also compatible with esxDOS and clones) with full CP/M Plus support
  • Graphics: 640×256-pixel layered colour display capable of 512 colours with hardware-accelerated tile-map, scrolling and sprites; also supports Timex Sinclair screen modes
  • Video Output: Digital (HDMI-compatible with audio) and combined VGA/RGB port
  • Storage: DivMMC-compatible SD card interface
  • Audio: TurboSound Next (3xAY-3-8912 compatible sound generators) with digital audio an support for optional internal speaker (user upgrade)
  • Joysticks: Two DB9 ports compatible with Cursor, Kempston and Sinclair ZX Interface 2 standards
  • PS/2 port: Support for external keyboard and/or mouse with Kempston mouse interface compatibility
  • Tape support: Combined ear and mic port for tape loading and saving
  • Expansion: Hybrid expansion port compatible with most ZX Spectrum peripherals
  • Co-Processor: Raspberry Pi Zero for functionality enhancements (Accelerated model only)
  • Networking: Wi-Fi module
  • Extras: Real Time Clock

It’s gorgeous!

Yes, we know. We have to thank our amazing design team at Dickinson Associates for dedicating their time, passion and energies to come up with the spiritual successor to one of the best and most loved industrial designs ever. We think the job is done! Rick and Phil also took great care to create a keyboard that’s more responsive and features higher bandwidth input than the original, using a butterfly mechanism to power a tactile response to any fingertip touching its keys. No more stuck keys while you type!

Who is it for?

The Spectrum Next is aimed at any retro gamer out there and Spectrum enthusiast who prefers their games, demos and apps running on hardware rather than software emulators, but wants a seamless and simple experience contained within an amazing design.

The Spectrum Next is much more than just a renewed trip down the memory lane: there’s a world of new software out there that requires upgraded hardware to run – from games to music and video players, from operating systems to ultra demos.

A whole host of software titles awaits you!

It can also become the new standard for ZX Spectrum development, enabling developers to create content knowing where it will be experienced. And this makes all the difference: it’s a brand new future for the Spectrum!

And while we’re looking at the future with the Next, it does not forgets its roots: it has full support for tape loading and saving (fancy hearing that game loading?), Interface 1 and 2 including Microdrive and cartridge support. It works with old CRT and VGA monitors (while also supporting modern HDMI output) and it is compatible with most original hardware expansions.

The Spectrum Next is ideal for anyone who loves the original Spectrum but also wants to experience a new level of hardware, including faster processor, better graphics, more memory, storage, network access and more.

Side view of the Spectrum Next showing the Reset, Drive, NMI buttons and SD card slot

Future-proof for another few decades

We did a good job with the Spectrum Next, but it wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t make it to last. While you can use the Next with old CRT RGB monitors, it also supports VGA and modern HDMI monitors and TVs, future-proofing the computer for decades to come.

The many ports of the Spectrum Next from left to right
9V power, digital video (HDMI compatible), combined ear/mic, audio out, VGA/RGB and PS2

We added the option to add a Raspberry Pi Zero as a co-processor board (standard in Accelerated models), taking the Spectrum Next to a whole new level. In other words, with a Raspberry Pi Zero slotted in its place, the Spectrum Next can use the RPi memory, CPU and GPU to do its bidding. Imagine what people could do with this… An OpenGL ZX Spectrum? Who knows!

It also (probably) sets the world-record of cheapest accelerator in the world, as the incredible Raspberry Pi Zero can be bought by £5 or less. It doesn’t get any better than this…

The team

The Spectrum Next was original born out of the incredible (and hacky) minds of Victor Trucco and Fabio Belavenuto, Spectrum enthusiasts who have been keeping all sorts of vintage hardware alive for the past 20 years. Once they created the hardware and software to make it run (the project was then called TBBlue), others joined the group to wrap all that goodness into one heck of a design that any true Sinclair fan should fall in love with.

Founding members

Jim Bagley

One of the most celebrated ZX Spectrum developers, Jim is the coder behind such classics as Cabal and Midnight Resistance among many others. He also holds a Guinness World Record for cramming Dragon’s Lair into a ZX81. Jim is responsible for several functions of the Next (such as new video modes and sprites), and drives the development requirements for the platform.

Fabio Belavenuto

Recognised as a key figure in the MSX hardware scene in Brazil, Fabio is a computer scientist with a not-so-hidden passion for the Speccy (the MSX vs Speccy in Brazil was analogous to the C64 vs Speccy in the UK). He’s the co-creator of the TBBlue Spectrum board, the starting point of the Next hardware.

Dickinson Associates

An industrial design tour de force in the form of Rick Dickinson (designer of the original Sinclair computers including the ZX Spectrum) and his design partner Phil Candy who worked alongside Rick for 20+ years on a multitude of designs. Together they brought their significant talents to bear on the Spectrum Next. If you think the Spectrum Next looks gorgeous, it’s all because of them.

Henrique Olifiers

A game designer and the co-founder of Bossa Studios, makers of Surgeon Simulator, Surgeon Simulator 2, I Am Bread and I Am Fish, he is a retro gamer whose very first title was created on a ZX Spectrum clone (TK-90X). Henrique is the man, the myth, the reason why we’re all here. He leads us through uncharted territories, never wavering, nothing fazes him.

Victor Trucco

One of the most gifted retro hackers on the planet, Victor is responsible for an endless string of open source hardware aimed at keeping our beloved oldies alive. Creator of projects such as the Multi-system Cartridge Emulator, enabling many consoles to use a single device to load games from SD cards and the Multicore 2.

The team quickly grew

Allen Albright

Allen is the developer behind the latest iteration of the core/firmware, making the ZX Spectrum Next even more powerful, capable and flexible with each iteration. He’s an unstoppable force that is yet to meet an immovable obstacle. If he ever did, the universe would implode.

Mike Cadwallader

Mike is the glue holding the project together. He hustles us all into action, keeps us true to our responsibilities and ensures things are moving smoothly on all fronts from manufacturing, logistics and design, to the community groups.

Phoebus Dokos

Phoebus is a technical writer and IT support specialist as well as a graphic artist and musician behind new games for the ZX Spectrum Next, and the author of the incredible manual that accompanies the computer. He’s partial to sun and beaches, which absolutely debunks the myth we all live in basements.

D. Rimron (Xalior)

Xalior is the engineer behind what makes the RPi accelerator board tick: The amazing NextPi distribution (and now thanks to you, NextPi2). He put together the distribution, wrote the scripts and the drivers that currently enable the Next to load .tzx files, speak, play midi files…and…and… and best of all makes sure none of this breaks!

Tim Gilberts

Tim is a veteran of the Sinclair scene. From the founding of Gilsoft back in the 1980’s (producing classic adventure creation software such as The Quill and Professional Adventure Writer), he has turned his considerable expertise to the Next and created the mouse and RTC drivers as well as the UART drivers that enable the Next to “speak” to the outside world, via WiFi, Serial I/O (as well as with the RPi accelerator).

Garry Lancaster

Garry is the wizard behind the NextZXOS, the most powerful operating system an 8bit computer could wish for. It doesn’t matter what the feature is: if it exists, Garry finds a way to implement it for the Next. Bonus? He’s also the man behind NextBasic. Say no more!

David Saphier

David is the mind behind all things media, the creator of the music players that access data from the RPi. Key utilities like the piSend command to copy files between the Next and the RPi as well as the Term(inex) utility to control it are also his doing, together with tons of toolchains and development utilities used by devs to make stuff for the Next.

Robin Verhagen-Guest

Robin is the man connecting the Next to the world via NXtel and the ESP WiFi module firmware, laying the foundations for all the online scope for the computer. He’s also the author of nxtp, a nifty utility to keep your clock synced via the Internet.

The Next wouldn’t be the Next without

Gari Biasillo

Gari is best known for the creation of NextDAW, the ultimate music workstation for the Spectrum Next. He also wrote the music to Target: Renegade back in the day and is a programmer in his own right. His love for the SID is in contradiction to the Next, but we forgive him this one flaw because of his significant work in contributing to the “humble” 3xAY sound chips in the Next.

Kev Brady

A wizard in the Z80 world. Kev creates wonderful tools that drives core and firmware testing. He soak tests, he stress tests, he finds things no one else can. At the same time he is writing some amazing games. He demonstrates this wizardry at shows. Melkhior’s Mansion anyone?

Matt Davies

A programmer of 20 odd years he has worked on games such as Lego Starwars, Warhammer 40,000 and Assassins Creed. He turned his attentions to the Spectrum Next in 2018 and created a basic game for a dev jam called Orb Run. He followed this up with an authorised Spectrum Next version of the classic game Lords of Midnight. He has created NED, a rich text editor for the Next and is currently working on Odin, an assembler for the Next.

Lampros Potamianos

Lampros originally created Nextoid! for the Spectrum Next back in 2018. An homage to the Breakout games of old and more importantly to Thro’ the Wall, the game that appears on the original Horizons tape. From there he branched out into the extremely difficult Hollow Earth Hypothesis, as well as more free titles such as Angry Bloaters, Foreign Cabinet, The Next War and ZX Harrier.

Lyndon J Sharp

A real-life Captain Scarlet and veteran of the coding scene, he was most active on the ZX Spectrum in the late 80’s/early 90’s where he worked for Code Masters. Lyndon has multiple Next game projects on the go. His coding talents are extraordinary.

Michael “Flash” Ware

Flash is one of the most significant game creators on the Spectrum Next having coded on such great titles as Warhawk (a game he originally coded back in the day), Baggers in Space, Tyvarian, Crowley’s World Tour and RAMS. He continues to innovate and create, he is an unstoppable force.

Mike Dailly

Creator of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto back in his DMA Design days, those two things alone bestow him a Demi-God-like status. Mike is the creator of the wonderful CSpect emulator, something he created in order to facilitate his own Spectrum Next development but has now taken on a life of its own.

Where are we now?

After a successful first Kickstarter which brought 3000 Spectrum Next’s into the world back in 2020, we embarked on a second Kickstarter campaign in August 2020 to deliver an even better Spectrum Next which was funded to the tune of £1.8 million!

Due to current global parts shortages, this second crowd funder has seen its delivery now delayed until 2023. We are using this time to make improvements to the Spectrum Next, its packaging and accessories.