ZX Spectrum Next Laptop
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. I have also created a handheld Spectrum Next which can be found over here.
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 were 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. There were several delays for the Next Board Only, however in early December it arrived so I can begin making this laptop a reality!
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:
The Laptop Specs
- The dimensions of the laptop case will be 284mm wide, 151mm deep and 41mm 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
- Solder a cable directly from the back of the HDMI socket 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 HDMI 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
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 Spectrum Next Motherboard
The screen selected is an 8" 4:3 ratio LCD. Billed as a Raspberry Pi screen it will do the job perfectly.
I had originally intended to hook up the display via the VGA connector, however due to various issues with the Next firmware and this particular screen I decided to do it via the HDMI connection instead. By this time I had already removed the VGA scoket from the Next board! I will leave this socket out for now but may put it back in the future.
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.
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. I had to wait until I received my Next board to test whether this USB keyboard would work via a PS/2 adaptor and, thankfully, it does.
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 3 USB sockets 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!
The Finished Laptop
Having sent the designs of to Shapeways and received the 3D prints back I assembled the parts and here it is:
The Laptop in Action!
Due to changes to the Spectrum Next firmware the 8" LCD screen is no longer displaying a reliable image. It seems the HDMI timings were tweaked in order to satisfy big screen TV's however these adjustments have affected a lot of small LCD panels. I am looking at other screens and will update the laptop in the future. I will also be looking into making a handheld Spectrum Next too!