Sinclair QL testing.


It’s an interesting computer the Sinclar QL, well interesting to me because it’s an underdog. Commercially a failure and a bitter disappointment to gamers at the time hoping that the word ‘ Quantum’  and uber-fast microdrives would equate to a box of awesome-ness and excel  Spectrum entertainment to new heights.

….but, the QL was wasn’t a computer for gaming, it was ‘a’ serious computer’ ‘ to quote a line from the BBC’s Micro Men. Well, we all know what happened to the QL don’t we and it’s a shame really as it’s surely  one of the coolest looking Sinclair cases of them all?

I remember the TV advert above which see’s super Sir Clive taking his giant Quantum Leap and also the many articles about the QL in Crash magazine. Being just a wee lad at the time with only a paper round after school to fuel the sugar rush, the QL was waaay out of my league financially and besides, I was still Commodore through and through.

I did, however get my first QL about 4 years ago which was kindly given to me by a now retired IT collegue of mine who had brought it from new back in ’84.  It was boxed and had been kept in beautiful  condition complete with prestine manuals, software and and various brochures. Certainly one of the nicest looking examples of an old computer I have ever seen.

I gleefully took it and played around with it for a bit but in all honesty it sat in it’s box….unused and unloved again. Shame on you StiGGy! That’s no way for a computer to be kept and so after a quick chat, I decided that it would be better if  I donated to the Retro Computer Museum where it could  be used again and accessible to all.

Over the years, I’ve kinda grown fond of the QL and although mock it we do at RCM  (because it really does make a nice door wedge,  hammer and/or cricket bat)  it does  grows on you bit by bit the more you see it. The hunt for another one was on and so to eBay I went.

Flippin eck! it looks like these are becoming quite the collectable these days judging by my search results. Maybe it’s the underdog/cool factor similar to the Nintendo Virtual Boy, Sega Nomad or even MB Vectrex which has increased the price?

Well, whatdoyouknow…fate I guess but just the other day I got chatting with two colleges at work who both have old and untested QL’s sat in their lofts and said that I could have them….’as you’re into all that old computer junk’ Woot woot!
I took my small LCD TV to work with me so that we could test them and also to  let my co-workers check out the new cardboard prototype pinball machine i was putting together’ (see previous blog post – )

The first QL, given to me by Luke our IT Helpdesk chap, simply refused to display a picture on screen. The power LED was lit but that’s about it. There’s no ‘start-up’ whir from the Microdrive unit and likewise no motor noise when inserting a Micro cassette.

That one requires a little more attention so we placed it to one side and moved onto the other.

The next one is from Ian, one of our software developers and it sprang into life immediately with the familiar red boot screen in glorious shaky RF on my TV (must get/make myself an RGB to Scart cable).

Luke’s QL came with a whole bucket full of Micro cassettes so we set about loading up exciting arcade titles such as…erm…’Abacus’..well, it might be an arcade hit?

Sadly not, but that’s o.k we’ve got plenty of other exciting titles to try such as ‘Gas Bills’, ‘Math’, ‘Addresses’ and ‘Letters’ – Hmm, it appears that the original owner of this particular QL actually was using it for serious things after all 🙂

Hunting through the many cassettes I finally found one labelled Games Collection and was rather excited to see after a short whirl of the Microdrive the following games menu displayed on screen.

Starting from the top we loaded each in turn. All but one failed after about a minute with ‘load error at line 130’ or ‘line 250’. It did make us smile after waiting a good five minutes only to recieve ‘loading error at line 3’.  Only line 3 after five minutes!

The game that did work was called Zfred and appears to be a clone of  QBert. The keyboard controls are just terrible and so is the game but heh, I’m happy to see at least something work.

We tried a few more Micro cassettes but again, most failed to load. I suppose after all these years of non use we were  lucky to get something to load especially as the Microdrive system wasn’t exactly renown for it’s reliable.

Going back to the games collection cassette, I tried it again and again but  each time it failed. However,  it seemed to fail at different lines of the game code and so with a determined fierce stare…a bit of swearing, and a ‘gentle’ tap on the QL case we ‘willed’ the cassette to load….and it flippin well did. I don’t think i’ve ever been so excited about a game of Breakout 🙂

Let the competition begin. Left/Right cursor to move, CTRL to launch the ball and Up cursor to make your bat move quicker. It’s a flipping hard game too…very hard…in fact, our top score between myself, Neil and Rob was…erm hmm…20 points!

It didn’t matter though, it was working and a fun QL lunchtime was had by all.

So, going forward what next?

Well, the faulty QL actually came with a floppy drive expansion board and if  it works then this provides a few more options to play with.

Interestingly, Dr Phu demonstrated  how to connect a standard PC floppy drive to work with the QL and read software directly fro 3.5″ 720k disks. It’s an interesting idea and one I’m keen to try if the interface does indeed work. I’ll be take it down to the Retro Computer Museum to further testing.

Here’s RCM’s setup and floppy drive we had during last months gaming event.

Which, as always prompted a bit of a mini competition with some of the other RCM staff members.

Mike showing is keyboard skills with the gawd awful but strangly addictive QL port of Scramble called – Death Strike.

Death Strike is one of a handful of games belonging to a game pack that was released only a few years ago –  Don’t you just love the retro gaming scene that keeps the classics computers alive.

Oh and final thing I want to mention about the QL….it doesn’t need RetroBriting!


4 responses to “Sinclair QL testing.

  1. You can load .wav files of Spectrum games played back by any source that has a phono output. E.g a mobile phone, mp3 player or your PC sound card connected to a Spectrums tape input. Best of all you can play them at high speed to load games in a few seconds. I used to do this on Spectrum’s with my iPhone before I had a DivIDE device.

  2. Yeah, I looked at this thing in many a magazine when I was younger. Clive might not have made machines with tip top build quality, but he could certainly put a poster together – £399 at launch and then down to a still eye watering £199 when Clive came to his senses!

    Incidentally, I have noticed all retro related prices on eBay going up recently – hunting for a replacement c128 earlier, jaw dropped and that was just at the £60+ shipping charges!

  3. Hey there,

    Yep, it seems retro is big business these days with all those dusty comps lurking in the loft now labelled as ‘rare’ and listed at a premium price on eBay.

    Try the various retro forums, kit usually is traded at lower priced because it’s one fan to another.

    I’ve got a broken key on my c128 but I don’t think I’m ready to pay upwards of £60 just yet 🙂

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