It’s not often you see developers bragging about games running on a 7MHz CPU. But when you’re remaking a machine that first hit the market in 1982, 7MHz is actually a hell of a lot.
It’s officially called the ZX Spectrum Next. It was developed as a prototype and later appeared on Kickstarter, where its already surpassed its £250,000 funding goal. The campaign will wrap up proper in the next six days with the machine slated to go into production later this year. Backers will start receiving the mainboard from August, but if you want the full kit and caboodle, shipping doesn’t kick off until January 2018 at the earliest.
The Spectrum Next isn’t exactly a beast of a machine by 2017’s standards, but it does dwarf the original ZX Spectrum pretty nicely. The updated model will come with an SD card slot, HDMI/VGA/RGB outputs, 512Kb of RAM, a Z80 CPU with 3.5MHz and 7MHz modes and an optional accelerator board (basically a Raspberry Pi Zero) with a 1GHz CPU and 512Mb of RAM.
You can find the full specifications list over on the Kickstarter page. Alternatively, you can read this comparison table I’ve knocked together pitting the ZX Spectrum Next against another new piece of hardware, the Xbox Project Scorpio:
|ZX Spectrum Next||Xbox’s Project Scorpio|
|CPU||Z80 CPU with normal (3.5MHz) and turbo (7MHz) modes||Custom AMD APU, 8 cores @ 2.3GHz|
|GPU||Hardware sprites (optional GPU available)||Custom AMD APU, 40 compute units @ 1172MHz clock speed|
|RAM||512Kb (expandable to 1.5MB internal RAM, 2.5MB external)||12GB DDR5|
|Storage||SD card slot, internal storage unknown||1TB internal hard disk, support for external hard drives|
|Controllers||DB9 compatible joystick, external keyboard and mouse via PS/2 port||Gamepad via wireless/bluetooth, or via wired USB connection|
|Expansion capacity||Original external bus expansion port and accelerator expansion port||USB 3.0 external hard drive support|
|Network||Optional Wi-Fi module, standard unknown||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 B/G/N, 2.4GHz/5GHz*|
Note: The specifics of Project Scorpio’s networking capabilities haven’t been officially revealed, so I’ve listed the standard available in the Xbox One. The reason being is that it’s unlikely that Scorpio would have less networking functionality than the Xbox One.
The question is: why develop a new ZX Spectrum at all? According to the makers, the reason was standardisation. There are hardware hackers around the world still working on the iconic computer, but expansion chips and modules are hard to come by. Without a standardised module, it makes future development difficult – so they decided to build a new ZX Spectrum from scratch that would serve as the starting point going forward.
The ZX Spectrum Next was designed by Rick Dickinson, who designed the original ZX Spectrum. You can actually just order the ZX Spectrum Next mainboard so you can house the new machine inside the casing of the original Spectrum.
But what’s most important are the games, and how well they run. Here’s two trailer videos with some very sweet upbeat retro music to put a smile on your face. The second has in-game sounds as well, if you want to see how the quality holds up.
DOOM apparently even runs well with the Next’s accelerated mode, and there’s a Spectrum version of Wolfenstein 3D as well. You learn something new every day.
You’ve really gotta appreciate the work that goes into stuff like this. The ZX Spectrum Next campaign will wrap up in six days, and if you want a full ZX Spectrum Next with the Raspberry Pi Zero accelerator expansion it’ll set you back a square $400 at today’s exchange rates, shipping excluded. You can also find out more about the project, as well as a bunch of higher resolution prototype shots, on the official website.