Sinclair QL


The Sinclair QL (Quantum leap), is a personal computer launched by Sinclair Research in 1984, as an upper-end counterpart to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The QL was aimed at the serious home user and professional and executive users markets from small to large businesses and higher educational establishments, but failed to achieve commercial success.

Based on a Motorola 68008 processor clocked at 7.5 MHz, the QL included 128 kB of RAM (officially expandable to 640 kB; in practice, 896 kB) and could be connected to a monitor or TV for display. Two built-in Microdrive tape-loop cartridge drives provided mass storage, in place of the more expensive floppy disk drives found on similar systems of the era. (Microdrives had been introduced for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in July 1983, although the QL used a different logical tape format) Interfaces included an expansion slot, ROM cartridge socket, dual RS-232 ports, proprietary QLAN local area network ports, dual joystick ports and an external Microdrive bus. Two video modes were available, 256×256 pixels with 8 RGB colours and per-pixel flashing, or 512×256 pixels with four colours (black, red, green and white). Both screen modes used a 32 kB framebuffer in main memory. The hardware is capable of switching between two different areas of memory for the framebuffer, thus allowing double buffering. However, this would have used 64 KB of the standard machine’s 128 kB of RAM and there is no support for this feature in the QL’s original firmware. The alternative and much improved operating system Minerva does provide full support for the second framebuffer. When connected to a normally-adjusted TV or monitor, the QL’s video output would overscan horizontally. This was reputed to have been due to the timing constants in the ZX8301 chip being optimised for the flat-screen CRT display originally intended for the QL.

Internally, the QL comprised the CPU, two ULAs, (ZX8301 and ZX8302) and an Intel 8049 microcontroller (known as the IPC, or “Intelligent Peripheral Controller”). The ZX8301 or “Master Chip” implemented the video display generator and also provided DRAM refresh. The ZX8302, or “Peripheral Chip”, interfaced to the RS-232 ports (transmit only) Microdrives, QLAN ports, real-time clock and the 8049 (via a synchronous serial link). The 8049 (included at late stage in the QL’s design, the ZX8302 originally being intended to perform its functions) ran at 11 MHz and acted as a keyboard/joystick interface, RS-232 receive buffer and audio generator.

A multitasking operating system, QDOS, primarily designed by Tony Tebby, was included on ROM, as was an advanced BASIC interpreter, named SuperBASIC designed by Jan Jones. The QL was bundled with an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, database, and business graphics) written by Psion.

Physically, the QL was the same black colour as the preceding ZX81 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum models, but introduced a new angular styling theme and keyboard design which would later be seen in the ZX Spectrum+.

Unusually, the QL used BS 6312 type 630W sockets for the RS-232 and joystick ports, except for QLs built by Samsung for export markets, which had DE-9 sockets.