Today, if you want a very inexpensive computer, you may think of the Raspberry Pi or perhaps even the CHIP. At well under $50, these boards can run Linux and do some really amazing things given their price tag. If you want one in a case of some sort, or even a keyboard, you have to add that on yourself. You’ll have a computer but it’s not going to perform like the best PCs on the market. But perhaps that’s not the point.
It’s a great time for computer hacking, and it so unique that we can get something set up with these single-board computers for such a reasonable price. But ask yourself, is it actually all that “unique?”. You may be surprised to learn that the ZX80 computer, from Sinclair Research was available in the UK in 1980 for under 80 pounds in kit form. Unlike the ‘Pi, it even included a keyboard!
Admittedly, that price works out to around 300 pounds (roughly $360 US) in today’s currency, but it’s still a pretty neat achievement. Unfortunately, the computer did have its drawbacks, including the fact that the screen would blank out when doing any processing work. Also, there were overheating issues, but even with all that it still sold 100,000 units, introducing many to the world of computing.
If you’d like to be (re)introduced to this marvel of old school computing, You can find the Minstrel ZX80 clone in an original, lightly refurbished, ZX81 case on Tindie. The most noticeable difference is that it can output video signals to a modern TV!