So you have been programming or gaming or making creative work on your computers for a long time, and think you have seen a lot do you? Well I don’t want to flex, but sometimes it is good to be older and to show how my brother and I started programming and gaming way back in 1981: he purchased the Sinclair ZX81, the first home computer below $100 that turned out to become the first device many newcomers would start their programming careers on.

Sinclair ZX81 top view

The design of this tiny computer was all about making it as cheap as possible, so it had only 4 chips, 1 KB (yes that is only 1024 bytes) of memory and only one output to a standard television set. If you were technically inclined, like my brother, you could even order it as a kit to assemble at home.

The processor was a Z80 than ran at 3.25 MHz. These days we measure processor speeds in GHz but we are talking 39 years ago guys so please be patient ūüėČ You had to save your BASIC or assembly code programs to a cassette recorder (good ol’ tape) and every day you were able to load it back in you were lucky. We lost quite some work while programming this little beast…

Breakout on ZX81

Most games we typed in from magazines, or even recorded over the air from special radio shows. With a display that could show 24 lines of 32 characters (or 64 x 48 pixels in graphics mode) and no color we are talking very old school here!

“For less than $100, the Sinclair ZX81 will get you started in personal computing right now. Your children will gain an understanding of computers that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. And you will be prepared to make informed decisions about using and buying computers, both in your career and in your home.”

Sinclair’s advertising in 1982

I did not like the ZX81 on the first few days my brother showed it to me, but within a week it grabbed me and basically his purchase became the stepping stone to an entire IT career and gaming hobby for the rest of my life. This little computer, designed by Clive Sinclair and costing less than $100 has been one of the largest influences on my professional and personal life and I still thank my brother (may he rest in peace) for this.

Oh by the way: the next time you complain about your GTX 1080 being so slow, or your Intel i7-6700K holding you back, think about what we and others did 39 years ago and respect how far the industry has moved forward.