The Spectrum (and related things) Page
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NEW: The ZX128 Page - DIY upgrading from 48k to 128k!
It seems nobody remembers the CS-DISK anymore, so I have decided
to create a little corner on the web about that brilliant piece of
hardware in particular and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in general.
If you have anything to add, ask about or correct, please
let me know. I will try to add to these pages (splitting this one is
of course required to make it "them") on a regular basis,
but the more comments I get the more incentive I have...
The CS-DISK was manufactured by the Danish company Circuit Design in
1985. It was able to control 4 standard double-density floppy drives as
well as equipping the Spectrum with CP/M-compatibility. Furthermore it
contained a Centronics printer interface, an interface for an IBM PC
keyboard (which iirc only worked in CP/M) and a socket for an EPROM that
would replace your Spectrum ROM completely if you wanted.
I seem to recall that the interface could be bought as an assembled unit
too (I got mine as a as a DIY kit). However, I can't remember the price
of it now; the ads are in some box in the attic.
A user group later built some expansion kits for use with the CS-DISK,
namely a replacement for the IBM keyboard interface that allowed most of
the circuitry to be re-used as a Kempston joystick interface instead, and,
more importantly a RAM back-switcher that allowed you to run CP/M 2.2
with 56k free for programs. Both of those expansions were, I believe,
only available as DIY kits.
The interface featured a Western Digital WD2797 floppy controller and
a lot of standard TTL components as well as a PEEL for ROM address decoding
and an EPROM with the CP/M that partly overlaid the BASIC ROM address space.
Formatting, copying and so on was done with CP/M programs.
You were able to write Spectrum programs that made use of the CP/M system
calls for disk access, and of course you could reprogram the disk
controller. I managed to exchange files with an Amstrad Joyce via a
CPC6128 (just used for transferring data between the Amstrad 3"
disks and something the rest of the world could use), and with a PC, and
then there was the Mandelzoom program that played back an animation with
four frames per second directly from a floppy. Those were the days!
I spent months disassembling and commenting the CP/M ROM (named SDOS by
Circuit Design, just as they called the operating system SP/M) armed with
the bible (the Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly) and a list of CP/M
functions, and I learned a lot in the process. Unfortunately, my
disassembly is on several hundred (estimated) pages of paper with all my
comments written on them, so I am not going to put that up for download
any day soon... However, rumour has it that a commented copy of the source
code exists somewhere. Anyone?
As everyone knows, the main CP/M system entry point is at RAM address 5,
which is occupied by the Spectrum BASIC ROM. Further, CP/M programs are
located from address 100h, which is also very much ROM on a Spectrum.
The solution to this obvious problem which has made everybody think that
there can be no CP/M on a "normal" Spectrum, is as simple as
it is brilliant: On the interface is a latch that switches the ROM out
and replaces it by the upper 32k of RAM by pulling the address line A15
high. The CPU knows nothing about this, but the effect is that any
request for an address between 0 and 32k lands 32k higher, effectively
enabling a program previously located at address 32k+5 in RAM to run as
if it had been located at address 5. The same technique enables the
floppy controller to use interrupts for signalling, resulting in a very
fast disk system. Normally an unused bit of the Spectrum ROM is
replaced by a piece of code that activates the disk system, whereafter
some RAM below the BASIC program space is reserved for disk buffers and
the like - just as it is with a microdrive.
The ROM on the interface was switched in at a few places beside the main
entry point, most notably replacing the built-in COPY command so that it
worked with an EPSON compatible printer.
The thing took almost weeks to assemble, but since we were a couple of friends
who built some together, we managed to get them together eventually...
On the positive side, it kept us away from school (nah, just kidding
Initializing the disk system is done with the command
RANDOMIZE USR 15360
After initializing, your contact to the disk system went through #4,
like these examples:
PRINT #4: SAVE "a:test.bas"
PRINT #4: LOAD "sabre.scr" SCREEN$
and the easy use of CP/M commands and programs:
PRINT #4;"dir a:*.bas"
PRINT #4;"era a:*.cod"
PRINT #4;"format B:80DS"
FORMAT is a CP/M program so it has to be on the floppy for the last
command to work. The really interesting part was
which left you in CP/M at the good old A> prompt until you pressed
To use CP/M programs like FORMAT (and to enter CP/M like in the last
example above), you had to make the upper 32k of RAM available to the
CP/M system by CLEAR'ing 32767.
I am planning to add a scan of the manual (only in Danish, unfortunately) and
perhaps a more in-depht explanation of the way this interface worked later, but
for now let's just enjoy a few pictures, shall we? ;-) Oh yes, I managed to
scan the diagram for now (note that the file
size is nearly a megabyte...)
Let's start at the beginning...
Back in the good old days in the middle of the eighties there wasn't
really a standard defining what a home computer should contain. The
market was filled with different brands and models, of which a small
number were "big", and you would energetically defend your
own brand as being the only real computer - religious wars with a twinkle.
I myself was the proud owner of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which had
several advantages. Apart from being easy to program, it looked different
than a "normal computer" and was simply the best! It was also
one of the best selling home computers totally (and it is said to be
produced in various clone models even today in the year 2000) and together
with its predecessors, the ZX80 and ZX81, it was one of the few models
to really make home computing affordable for everyone.
One of the tings that made the Spectrum so special was the fact that you
could get an incredible lot of expansion hardware for it, and you could
buy DIY kits for anything. Compared to other home computers of the time,
the Spectrum was a bit more "serious" - I would dare to say
that larger percentage of Spectrum owners than, say, Commodore 64
owners, used their computer for learning. This is not least due to the
fact that the Spectrum had a well developed programming language
built-in, including easy-to-use commands for controlling sound (what
little it was capable of, anyway) and graphics.
During the last half of the eighties we were many who expanded our
Spectrums with home-built hardware in more or less elegant ways. Even
today I have my "main" Spectrum built into a PC case with
switch mode PSU, double floppy drive and a lot of extras that you
probably need to be from that era to be able to see the point of.
This page is dedicated to nostalgia!
All facts are written down more or less as I recall them from memory
almost a decade after switching to the PC as my main computer. As I
wrote earlier, if you find any errors I'd like to know.
First of all I would like to point out that my favourite Spectrum
keyboard is the good old rubber one. Unfortunately all my keyboard
membranes broke down, and when I took these pictures the only working
keyboard I had was a Spectrum+. It too has since broken, but after a
long search I was able to get some spares from
The Trade In Post. No new pictures
As I said, my Spectrum is built into a PC case today. It started as a
lot of bits and pieces spread loosely around the table with ribbon
cables between them, until it was built into a case from an old stereo,
one of my father's friends gave to me. In '89 I bought a PC case at a
German mail order company and moved everyting into that instead. At that
time I was already in the process of switching to the PC (I had worked
with PC's since '85) so I didn't use much time getting it to look nice.
This kind of computer was in some circles called an armour-Spectrum. The story
has something to do with a guy from a computer club who went to a smith
and asked for a robust casing for his Spectrum - and got it... I
haven't seen that particular Spectrum myself, but the name stuck.
An overview of my Speccy system. The big thing in the lower left is
a switch mode power supply. Until I added that, the system would
crash when someone just thought about opening the fridge and things
like that. The hardware draws too much current for the built-in
regulators (on the Speccy and on the CS-DISK). In some ways you could
say I was prepared for the wonders of Windows at an early age...
My custom-made startup menu. AUTO.BAS was a common name for menu
programs on CS-DISK floppies, and BOOT.BAS was used to
boot the special 56k CP/M 2.2.
A front view of the complete system. The switches control
assorted functions such as enabling or disabling MEMRQ and IORQ to the
CS-DISK, enabling the SpecDrum simulator (which makes silly sounds
whenever the disk I/O-system is paged in and out, causing it to sound like
a paranoid Geiger counter when the floppies are active) and activating the
replacement ROM on the CS-DISK.
The Speccy itself, containing a keyboard signal
amplifier and a RAM switching circuit for the 56k CP/M. The 32k RAM
circuits are replaced by 64k models to support switching and the onboard
power regulators have been removed.
A SpecDrum simulator (left) and an AY3-8910 synth,
modified for 128k sound compatibility (as far as I recall, Into The
Eagle's Nest, among others, would play fine on a 48k Speccy too). This
thing was actually a construction project in a Danish electronics
magazine years before Sinclair thought about using the AY3 in the 128k
Spectrum. When the 128k came out all I had to change was the port
address and the oscillator frequency.
The SpecDrum was in essence just an 8-bit D-A converter, capable of
playing samples with an impressive sound quality. Unfortunately it
shares the I/O-addresses of some of the CS-DISK's paging hardware, so
that it (or the speaker) has to be turned off while the disks are working.
The CS-DISK interface, probably my most important piece of hardware.
The Issue 1-lookalike patch in the upper left corner is a replacement
for the PEEL circuit that decoded the addresses where the interface EPROM
replaced the Spectrom ROM. The PEEL is a custom-programmable logic chip,
but since I had no description of it, I had to sit down with the interface
diagram and think real hard for some time when it suddenly died.|
Yes, I know that removing all the wires that weren't connected wasn't
neccessarily the brightest idea I ever had, but hey, I was only
around fifteen at the time.
A CP/M directory listing. The improved 56k system uses a 64 character screen
similar to that of Tasword II.
"Spræng Skolen" (Blow The School), a game I
wrote once. You had to rescue pupils from the buildings and place
dynamite in different places before blowing the thing.|
Kids: Don't try that at home!
Or in school...
A screenshot from my Mandelzoom program - it stores 80 frames of 4k
(2/3 of the screen, no colour) each on a floppy and replays them at
four frames per second. Took some hours to calculate first, though.|
In those days I was dreaming about networking Spectrums to add the
computing power together. Never got around to it, though.
An NMI debouncer (left) and a simple LM386-based amplifier.||
Another Mandelbrot image.
When I started this page, I just wanted to draw the world's attention to the
fact that CP/M is in fact possible, and has been done, on a 48k
Spectrum, despite most people claiming it to be impossible over
Yet another advantage of the Spectrum over the C64! ;-)
As I digged through my notes, I discovered a lot of other tings, all
bringing back fond memories that I would like to share with you, so in
time I'll definitely add something about the RAM switching extension for
the 56k CP/M, and some of my own things, such as my parallel ROM project,
the 128k modification, my modified ROM with Epson-compatible graphics hardcopy
routine, 10 times faster CIRCLE command (ok, I found that one in a drawing
program and modified it), the "network" that enabled me to exchange files
with an Amstrad and other strange things I made with my Spectrum during
those ten years I was actively using it. Curious? Let me know!
If you've made it to this point, I suspect you have at some time in your
life known the same joys of having a Spectrum invade your life and
amazing you with its capability of doing so many new things that you
hadn't known to be possible before.
In short: Having been there when the personal computer revolution
- Having spent hours typing in a program from a magazine and having
learnt something in the process without getting any explanations.
- The dreams about one day being able to afford the incredible DIY
memory expansion that could give the Speccy 80 kilobytes
of RAM for less than 100 punds!
- The feeling of knowing your computer's every detail, perhaps after long
hours spent in deep concentration reading the ROM disassembly and
beginning to understand how it really all worked. Perhaps of soldering
together your own peripherals and getting them to work.*
- The excitement of discovering yet another thing to do with your
Spectrum that those poor misguided C64-owners couldn't do.**
- The thrill of seeing your Spectrum suddenly capable of things it shouldn't
have been able to do (be it simply printing in line 24 or 5-channel music,
border graphics, 8 different colors in one character field or
- The feeling of the world around you thinking computers were just a nerd
toy and that you would never be able to use your knowledge for anything
real, and then slowly, one after another, needing your help
because they couldn't ignore the computer revolution anymore?
- The ROFL after reading the absurd Danish translation of the Spectrum
Plus manual? Nah, you can't all have it all, I suppose. :-)
- The excitement of the universe of computing exploding, all the time
with new inventions being made, new possibilities geting within
reach of us all and even more possiblilities slowly becoming
imaginable as technology evolved.
If you were there at the time, you know what I mean. These pages are
I'm not finished so come back soon...
*Perhaps even of finally understanding the puzzling way the ZX80
hardware worked?The ZX80 was quite simple yet used some clever
techniques to control the display. Among other things, it actually
fools the CPU into addressing the characters, saving some hardware
costs (and making the screen go away if the CPU has other things
to do). Still, it provided me with a good understanding of some
fundamental concepts of computer hardware.
Ever wondered why NEWLINE was character 118? There was a good
reason, closely tied to the fact that the ZX80 screen RAM could
shrink if the lines were not full of text!
** If you should be happening to be a C64-owner browsing past,
don't flame. As we all knew even then, it was just fun! ;-)
Well, that's it for now. Home?
Last update 2001-07-18