ZX Spectrum Next Laptop

Posted: Sep 01, 2017
By: Dan Birch

Having started out with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128K way back in the mid '80's I was excited to see the recent Kickstarter for the new ZX Spectrum Next which I promptly backed back in May.

For those unaware of the Spectrum Next, it is a recreation of the existing Spectrum hardware inside an FPGA. Not software emulation but real hardware! Finally a successor to the '80s Speccy with more RAM, better graphics, better sound, better keyboard, mass storage using an SD card, hardware acceleration with a PI Zero and much more.

Backed on Kickstarter!

The Spectrum Next team are targeting a release of Late August/September for the Spectrum Next PCB only and January 2018 for the full, cased version of the Next. I backed both with the intention to take the bare Next PCB and create a Spectrum Laptop around it.

During the weeks and months after the Kickstarter had ended I set about modelling a suitable laptop case for the PCB. I didn't have the PCB so all my designs so far have been based on images released by the team. The intention being that when I receive the board I can just make final measurements/alterations to ensure the positions of all the components is correct before I commit to 3D printing the case.

Here are some shots of the design for the ZX spectrum Next Laptop. Ignore the colour, they will of course be 3D printed in Speccy Black:

ZX Spectrum Next Laptop Design 1

ZX Spectrum Next Laptop Design 2

ZX Spectrum Next Laptop Design 3

The Laptop Specs

  • The dimensions of the laptop case will be 284mm wide, 151mm deep and 39mm high. The width is dictated by the keyboard I'm going to use otherwise it could be smaller.
  • Spectrum Next board with Raspberry Pi Zero and 4 port USB hub, 3 USB ports will be available on the right hand side of the laptop
  • Re-route the 2 joystick ports from the front of the Next PCB to the right hand side of the laptop
  • Remove the VGA connector and solder a cable directly to the PCB which will then go straight to an LCD driver board
  • The screen is an 8" VGA LCD using an aspect ratio of good old 4:3
  • It will have stereo speakers with volume control
  • All the standard Next buttons/ports will be available except for VGA as this is now used for the built in LCD
  • Access to the Raspberry Pi Zero SD card slot will be extended out to the back of the laptop enabling the Pi OS to be updated without taking the machine apart
  • The keyboard will be a standard compact PC USB keyboard with the horrible windows key modified so there will be no Windows logo on it
  • The keyboard will be removed from its casing (so just the keys, membrane & backplate) and mounted in the laptop with a custom 3D printed face plate with the words "ZX Spectrum" top-left and "2048K" top-right.
  • Proper laptop hinges taken from an old Dell laptop will be used
  • 4700mah LiPo battery - should give good performance

The Parts

To create a working laptop requires careful consideration of which parts to use. Things like the keyboard and LCD will need to be off the shelf components. Thankfully there are plenty of options here thanks to places like Ebay and Amazon.

The Screen

The screen selected is an 8" 4:3 ratio LCD. Billed as a Raspberry Pi screen it will do the job perfectly.

LCD Screen

A useful characteristic of this screen is it can be powered by a +5V source. A lot of these 8" (and larger) screen sizes require a +12V 2A supply due to the back light which would soon chew through the battery pretty quickly. A side effect of the high power consumption of some screens is that the screen can get very warm, and in my experience, probably too warm to be encased in a 3D printed case.

The Keyboard

For the keyboard it was a choice between PS/2 or USB. The Spectrum Next comes with a PS/2 connector to enable a mouse/external keyboard to be attached. My initial preference was to find a compact PS/2 keyboard, however these were hard to come by. Most of the keyboards found were too thick for what I wanted. I needed a very slim keyboard, perhaps a few millimetres thick at the most.

USB Keyboard

The size requirement would mean the PS/2 keyboards tested were out of the question leaving only a single USB keyboard, that could be removed from it's casing and used in the new laptop. It would have been preferable to go with the PS/2 socket however this is a USB keyboard and, even using a USB to PS/2 adaptor, this particular keyboard is not PS/2 compatible, so USB it is! As the Spectrum Next can have a Raspberry Pi Zero installed as an accelerator it will not be a problem to hook the keyboard up to one of the Raspberry Pi USB hubs sockets.

USB Keyboard Insides

LCD Controller, Pi Zero USB Hub etc.

Some other boards needed are the LCD driver board, Raspberry Pi Zero and USB Hub. The hub gives us access to 4 USB sockets. The keyboard will consume one of them, the other 3 will be accessible on the right-hand side of the laptop for external joysticks, game controllers and any other USB device that may work on the Spectrum Next!

LCD Controller, Pi Zero USB Hub etc.

To be Continued...

There is a lot of work ahead. Due to my choice of size for the laptop and other factors there will be considerable modifications to the Spectrum Next PCB, namely the removal of the joystick ports, VGA connector, keyboard connector and other changes involving a soldering iron! Hopefully it will all be worth it. I'm currently awaiting delivery of the PCB and will update this with my progress in the coming weeks.

ZX Spectrum Next Laptop Render 1

ZX Spectrum Next Laptop Render 1

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