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Sinclair Zx Spectrum 8-Bit Micro Computer Gets Modern Makeover as Linux Pc

by Paul Strauss

A few months back, I reported on a guy who turned his old Sinclair ZX81 computer into a PC. When I wrote that post I was convinced that there would be no way that anyone could cram a modern PC into the even more minuscule Sinclair ZX Spectrum. But after Technabob reader Brian Smith read my original post, he set out on a mission to prove me wrong. And the result of his efforts is this, a true marvel of modern miniaturization:


Brian gutted the old ZX Spectrum and replaced its innards with an updated motherboard, running Debian Linux. In order to keep within the constraints of the machines’ form factor, the system runs off of an 8GB SDHC memory card instead of a hard drive. He even managed to get the old ZX chiclet keyboard to work as a proper USB device by rewiring it to the controller circuitry of a new keyboard.


Amazingly, Brian was able to fit not only a full PC motherboard inside the case, but a 4-port USB hub and even HDMI video out. The trick was to use the diminutive 3″ square Beagleboard mobo at the heart of his system. There’s even a little bit of room to spare inside the case. He even managed to power the system with the same old power brick that the original ZX Spectrum used back in the day (with a little voltage step-down wizardry).


Here’s a little shakycam video comparing an original ZX (or as most of the world knows it the “zed X”) to the upgraded Linux ZX Spectrum, complete with the requisite demo of a Sinclair ZX emulator running under Linux, thus completing the circle of life.


For more pictures of Brian’s nifty ZX Spectrum casemod, head on over to Flickr and check out the complete build gallery.

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Comments (19):

  1. Dylan Smith says:

    Do you still have the Spectrum motherboard? If you don’t want to keep it, email me at dyls *a* alioth , net and I’ll be happy to pay for postage…I don’t care if it doesn’t work, they are often quite easy to fix…

    • Brian says:

      Um, given that I’ve scavenged the board for the keyboard connectors, the power socket and the heatsink, along with it being broken to start with, I’m not sure it would be all that much use really.

      • Dylan Smith says:

        Well, it may still have several chips that aren’t made any more that work (perhaps a working ULA, perhaps some working 4116/4164 memory, a working modulator etc.) So I’m still interested if you’ve not chucked it out :-)

  2. Andrew says:


  3. Giacomo says:


  4. RichY says:

    Nice work!
    Please could you let me know how you figured out how to connect the Spectrum KB membrane to a the USB controller?

    I feel a tinkering project coming on… :-)

    • Brian says:

      Have a look at the Flickr build gallery linked to in the article. There are comments on how things got done.

  5. What a fascinating project! Clever stuff…

  6. Ayman Hery says:

    ZX is my first computer “or my first love” & me and my brothers. I ve used to code it Assumbly.
    What you did is grat !!!! WAW. I still keep my sinlcare ZX

  7. VASYL says:

    this is IDIOTIC destroying of classic machines to make some pityful c*r*a*p.

    • Sam says:

      There are millions and millions of old machines out there. They’re not antiques. For the rubber to feel the touch of skin is much better than it laying in a cupboard existing as dead molecules, even tho it’s only the keyboard and PSU being used.

    • Reinaldo says:

      Agree 100%

  8. Martin says:

    Nice job! It’s great to see the Speccy being kept alive in so many different forms!

    ZX Spectrum Games

  9. Ilich says:


  10. citizen.ersd says:

    maaan, u had the same idea as i and u made it REAL!!! congrats (i just bought nano-mb for making my own stroPC))))

  11. Asdd says:

    you are a talented freek
    eres un freek con talento

  12. saeed ameri says:

    I have a ZX spectrum to day I want work with it And I want to use a voice recorder for it’s memorry and don’t use casset.
    I wish to save a program with voice recorder

  13. xoen says:

    sorry to be a bi.tch, but:
    “Amazingly, Brian was able to fit not only a full PC motherboard inside the case, but a 4-port USB hub and even HDMI video out. The trick was to use the diminutive 3″ square Beagleboard mobo at the heart of his system. ”

    is ridiculous!

    what PC motherboard you are talking about?
    it is ARM mobo, similar to raspberry, but 6 times as expensive, LOL.

    • effraspberrypi says:

      fuck off, raspberry pi fuckers. Looks like your little computer isn’t the first of its kind. Maybe your cult wouldn’t be more annoying if you guys weren’t such a cheapskate obeying numbers in currency.

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