Sinclair QL was the first attempt for Clive Sinclair to produce a computer
for business. But after the success of the ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum, the
QL can also be regarded as the first failure of Sinclair. In January
1984, Clive Sinclair presents the QL to the press, unveiling a very promising
and inventive machine, based on the 68008 processor from Motorola. Indeed it was
the first home computer based on a 32 bits CPU, just a few days before
the Apple Macintosh. It was important for Clive Sinclair to unveil the
QL before the Macintosh, but that was also one of the main reasons for
the QL's failure...
THE BIRTH OF THE QUANTUM LEAP
1982, Tony Tebby, a young but experimented engineer, enters Sinclair Research
as the head of the ZX-83 project. Clive's words were "I want an Unix-like
mono-user multi-tasks operating system which will fit into 32k RAM with
its Basic". From there, Tony worked hard on his version of the OS,
while he also asked GST, a Cambridge company, to develop their own solution.
Seven months later, his solution was chosen by Clive Sinclair.
is the QDOS (for QL Disk Operating System), a very clever and innovative
multi-tasking and pre-emptive operating system. Tony Tebby wrote it entirely
in machine code. This excellent OS is the main reason for the passion
around the QL until nowadays. Among other things the way it handles system
tasks was revolutionary. Even Linus Torvalds admitted that he learned
multi-tasking on his QL, before he conceived Linux !
OS were derived from the QDOS to equip modern "re-incarnations"
of the QL, the most spread being SMSQ and SMSQ/E developped by Tony Tebby
himself ! Yes, Tony, is still very active on the QL stage and is even
developing a brand new OS, Stella, which will be the result of all his
innovative ideas !
the time of the announcement, the Quantum Leap (code named "ZX-83")
was not yet ready. But Sinclair started the sales and promised a QL in
April for those who sent a cheque to Sinclair now. The problems started
here... Sinclair took the money without sending the computers, mainly
to earn the interests from it some said...
fact is that the press and the public were unhappy with the QL affair.
From then it was a race for the Sinclair engineers to finish the QL as
quickly as possible. The main hesitation was about the Super Basic. It
was developed by a woman (!), Jan Jones, as an evolution of the Sinclair
Basic of the Spectrum. It was meant to equip the Loki, a "super Spectrum"
that was planned by Sinclair. Finally, the Super Basic was included into
the QL. But they didn't know if it was better to deliver the Super Basic
on Microdrives tapes or burnt into ROMs.
stage, the first Microdrives were not very reliable, so it was decided
the Super Basic would be in ROM. But the QL was designed to have 32k ROM
and the QDOS + Super Basic would fit only in 48k ! That's why the first
QLs sold were delivered with an external ROM cartridge with another 16Kb
ROM. This was called the "dongle". Later models had the extra ROM built
inside the machine, it was piggybacked on top of one of the two other
ROMs and after that, they used one 32Kb and one 16Kb ROM.
DIFFERENT ROM VERSIONS
models tested by the English press were disastrous. Most of them hanged
whenever they wanted, resulting in a data loss and reset of the machine
first ROM versions (FB and PM) were buggy and retired from the sales.
In June 84 the first " acceptable " ROM was available (AH) and was soon
replaced by a stable one (JM).
in 1985, arrives the JS ROM, which will be the last version used in machines
made for sale in Britain. It was the first version which was able to link
more than one plug-in device to the QL !
European ROMs, the third character indicating the national variant of
the ROM (MGE : Spanish, MGF : French, MGG : German, MGI : Italian, MGS
THE FOUR PSION APPLICATIONS
was supplied complete with a suite put together by PSION consisting of
a fully functional word processor (Quill), spreadsheet (Abacus), database
(Archive) and a business graphics programs (Easel).
applications were very powerful and were later developed for PCs. But
the first versions were too big and didn't fit in RAM, so they used the
Microdrives a lot, nearly for each different command ! The first criticisms
of the Microdrives were in fact caused by the way the Psion software
the Psion applications were rewritten from C to machine code, thus being
faster and smaller, each application fitting entirely into the memory,
no more need to load each part from the microdrives.
are original small mass-storage device developed by Sinclair. They use
tiny cartridges with endless magnetic tapes. Each cartridge can store
about 100k. This is not fantastic, but it was a good and cheap alternative
to far more expensive disk-drives. In fact the QL would have cost much
much more if there were disk drives instead of Microdrives (the keyboard
was also a reason for the low price).
are basically the same as the ZX Spectrum ones, but the format of the
tapes is a bit different. Otherwise you can use the same cartridge as
long as you format it for the right machine (QL or Spectrum).
were thus slower than disk drives but much faster than normal "audio"
tapes. Personally, I think they don't deserve all the criticisms made
against them. ICL proved with their OPD computer (derived from the QL), that the
microdrives could be quite reliable. Indeed, the ICL engineers enhanced
the Sinclair Microdrives for the OPD...
fragile magnetic devices, some Microdrive tapes tend to be unusable nowadays.
But so it is with old disks or tapes too...
of you who have a QL but no documentation and wonder how to use the microdrives,
here are basic commands :
MDV1_ displays the directory of the microdrive 1
LRUN MDV2_programname runs the program called "programname"
on the microdrive 2
is excellent ! All black with pure angular shapes and an innovative keyboard.
It is not a real full-stroke keyboard but the sensation is ok, though
is delivered with many connectors. There are 2 network sockets. They were
for Sinclair's `QLAN' network, which can connect Sinclair QLs and Sinclair
ZX-Spectrums at 100k baud, but this feature was almost never used...
are also 2 controller sockets, Sinclair type, which make it hard nowadays
to plug a mouse or a joystick to a QL.
connector was also under-used. Maybe its only use was with
the extra ROM of the early QLs !
video output you have the choice between a RF TV output and a RGB video
output (DIN plug). If you have lost your RGB cable, you can use the Spectrum
+2 or +3 ones, they are the same !
right side, there is a connector for two extra microdrives, which was
surely never used, as very quickly several disk drives were developed
by third-party companies. The micro-drives were definately not the recommended
mass-storage device to use with the QL....
on the left, a bus extension port for RAM extensions and floppy drives
was available. This was the most used connector of the QL. But most expansions
had to offer the same port on their other side, otherwise you could only
plug one extension into your QL !
I just said, diskdrives interfaces quickly appeared for the QL, as the
built-in microdrives were not sufficient for professional use
of the QL. Many other cards were produced, some with very powerful features.
Card, for example, made by Miracle
systems, offered a 16 MHz 68000 CPU, 2 Mb of RAM and a DD/HD/ED floppy
I/F interface ! The Super Gold Card had the same features but added a
24 MHz 68020 CPU, 4 Mb of RAM and a parallel port.
conceived and still sells the Super HERMES card which mainly offers a
new co-processor replacement for the buggy 8049. This card is based on
the RISC PIC17C44 processor and cures all the 8049 bugs while adding many
new features: high-speed serial interface (up to 19200 bps on ser1 and
ser2, up to 115200 bps on the new ser3 with DCD, DSR and DTR support),
IBM keyboard interface, serial mouse interface, plus many other small
goodies ! Impressive...
card made by QubbeSoft is a graphics card which is in fact a replacement
card for the QL motherboard. It can display up to 256 colours with resolutions
up to 1024x768 (SVGA).
was sold as a professional computer, and that's why there weren't a lot
of games available for it. The few that exist have a Spectrum taste...
The QL was very interesting for many professionals who couldn't afford
a " real " professional computer.
was abondoned by Amstrad after they bought Sinclair, but several computers
derived from the QL were produced, like the OPD (One Per Desk) made by
ICL for the British Telecom, or the Thor made by CST.
passion for the QL never disapeared since even nowadays new QL compatible
hardware and emulators are developed for different platforms !
|| + Its low price
+ Its powerful Super Basic
+ Its multitask QDOS
+ Built-in mass-storage device
+ PSION software !
||- Microdrives not sufficient ...
- Strange keyboard sensation
- Bad sound features