Visual Inventory and Off-the-cuff Timex Sinclair 2068 Observations - Part I of II

Bill Loguidice's picture

Even though it's been in my collection for a few years now, I've had little direct experience with the Timex Sinclair 2068 (1983). It was time to inventory everything since someone wished to purchase one of my spare units. I also have quite a bit of Timex Sinclair 1000/1500, ZX Spectrum +2 and Sinclair QL stuff, which I may or may not get to at some point soon (though I'd love to, but there are many other things I need to get to first).

I got out one of my spare late model (1991) Commodore 1084S-D1 monitors (my original 1084S is still being used with my Commodore 128DCR at the moment and the 1084S-D2 I have is still left untouched on the shelf at this point) since the Timex Sinclair 2068 seems to have a composite out port labeled "MONITOR". It wouldn't be particularly helpful at this point to use the TV out, since I'm not close to a TV in my office and don't want to bring a spare in.

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The first Timex Sinclair 2068 I tried looked pristine. Unfortunately after plugging in the power supply and the connector to the 1084S, it just displayed some garbage on the screen (could be a missing OS ROM, but a cartridge with a ZX Spectrum ROM still doesn't seem to work). Making sure it wasn't a monitor setting, I grabbed another of my Timex Sinclair 2068 systems - this one rather scruffy and grubby - and plugged it in. That worked fine. There seems to be an annoying, slightly high pitched hum, but it displays fine and the keyboard works fine (I also tried a gold plated composite cable to see if it would make any difference, but no). A quirk of these Timex systems is that you just can't start up and start typing. The keyboard does multiple things. In any case, I shifted into various modes and tried every key and it worked fine.

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Now, on to the next one. This particular unit is maybe even a bit grubbier than the last one (there is even a bit of a gash on the space bar area), but at least it's not missing the expansion port cover. This unit is also heavily modified with what I believe is an internal Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48K) compatibility switch. There is also a fuse, an extra on/off switch and a reset button. With the red switch down, the system boots into ZX Spectrum mode (1987 Sinclair Research Ltd version). With the red switch up, it boots into Timex Sinclair 2068 mode. I'm not sure what the silver toggle switch next to the power supply plug does at this point. This system also appears to produce a bit more interference on the monitor than the previous unit, though I don't hear any high pitched hum. Indeed, Timex Sinclair 2068 systems are notorious for dirty signals, so this is not surprising. Anyway, I just lifted the cartridge door and to my surprise was a Kempston joystick interface. The switch by the power supply plug is probably for this interface.

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Now on to the fourth and last system, a boxed unit (this includes the styrofoam packing that says "Timex Sinclair 2000", which is probably an artifact from the original Timex decision to have multiple systems in the 2000 series that never materialized). This appears to be fairly complete, with the unit, user manual, cassette tape (Keyboard Tutorial, Turtle Graphics and Home Accounting), cassette cables, TV cable, TV switchbox and power supply. There is also a TV cable bridge (female to female plug). It appears to be missing the manual for the software, but I have an extra of that anyway that I can place here for completeness. I also have a quick reference guide separately, but that appears to be a third party booklet (and is actually quite handy for the confusing startup and interface of this platform).

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Bootup of this system was strange, as it seemed to fail the first time, then go into a Spectrum ZX compatibility mode (Sinclair Spectrum Mod. B version). Lifting the cartridge port flap revealed a compatibility cartridge. I removed that and this system appeared fine. However, its display seems to be especially interference prone. Interesting how each unit's display interference varies a bit (UPDATE: I went back to another system just to compare and it seems to vary from moment to moment, so one system may not necessarily be better than another in this regard). Anyway, I remember this system coming with the famous Oliger (disk) interface (in a project box, which I have to open to restore a connection), which I have with some disks (apparently French Canadian) with lots of software on them (most likely Spectrum stuff). I have the documentation for it all and I plan to work with it, but not at this time.

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Surprisingly, touch typing is possible on this plastic chiclet keyboard, by the way, but only to a point. You don't have access to a period for instance unless you perform a shift function. I was wavering a bit on how bad the keyboard was since it was mentioned in that "worst keyboards of all time" article, but I can understand its inclusion. It's not an intuitive setup and while feature-rich, it makes some weird exceptions.

I have another Spectrum compatibility cartridge (plus extended memory I believe), this one from Jarek Adamska, a talented Polish hacker. I'm going to try this now in the second 2068 system, the one without the expansion door. So I plugged it in and...nothing. I'll pop over to the Website listed on the circuit board diagram...

According to the Website, the Universal Memory Cartridge Board is (or should be):

"UMCB version v003

These boards have more options than v001. There's place for reset button, pads for signals like /EXROM, /IORQ, etc. Without modifications (just by soldering chips), the board can be used as:

* ZX Spectrum Emulator in Dock - 16kB PROM, seen in first 16kB (use OUT 244,3 to select it),
* 32kB LROS - 27128 or 27256, seen in first 32kB of Dock,
* 32kB RAM - 0.3" case 62256, seen in second 32kB of Dock,
* 32kB RAM - 0.6" case 62256, seen in first 32kB of Dock,
* 64kB RAM - two 62256, cases 0.3" and 0.6", seen in whole Dock,
* 32kB RAM + 32kB ROM - 0.3" case 62256 (second 32kB of Dock) and 27256 (first 32kB of Dock)."

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Unfortunately, after finally figuring out how to issue the "OUT 244, 3" command, I just get vertical stripes, much like the seemingly broken Timex Sinclair 2068. I'll have to see if I can contact Jarek at some point to see what I'm doing wrong. (UPDATE: I did and he responded, but I'll have to see if I can get it working)

I have two Timex Sinclair 2040 printers, which were originally for the Timex Sinclair 1000/1500 I believe, but should also work just fine in the 2068 if I recall correctly since they use the same type of expansion bus.

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There is also a weird hacker box that is supposed to go in between the 2068 and a cassette player in lieu of doing just the cassette cables. I'm not sure if it's designed to reduce errors or increase throughput or any other number of things, but a couple of the labels have fallen off and it looks rather confusing. This will also be for experimenting at a later date and I'll definitely have to try it with other systems that use standard cassette cables.

More soon, including software, magazines and books in part II, hopefully within the next few days...

Here's the partial inventory to date, not counting some of the miscellaneous items previously mentioned that I'll cover in more detail along with additional stuff in part II:

* Timex Sinclair 2068 Personal Color Computer
system, television/monitor cable
Pristine exterior, but does not go all the way to start screen
* Timex Sinclair 2068 Personal Color Computer
system, television/monitor cable, power supply
Missing expansion port cover, Missing system name label
* Timex Sinclair 2068 Personal Color Computer
modified system, power supply
Has internal Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K (1987 Sinclair Research Ltd version) compatibility with switch/reset/fuse; Kempston joystick port in cartridge slot
* Timex Sinclair 2068 Personal Color Computer
system, television/monitor cable, TV switch box, female-to-female TV cable extender, power supply, cassette cables, user manual, software manual, cassette (Keyboard Tutorial, Turtle Graphics and Home Accounting)
Boxed, complete, has a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K compatibility cartridge (removable, Sinclair Spectrum Mod. B version)
*Universal Memory Cartridge Board
UMCB version v003 from Jarek Adamska
Sinclair ZX Spectrum compatibility with extra memory (?), Does not function with activation command, will need to do further testing

Comments

yakumo9275
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Surprise

"Anyway, I just lifted the cartridge door and to my surprise found gold nuggets and a Rembrandt!"

Sounds like a very hacker friendly device (much like the coco3) regards to modding.

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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A hacking system? Maybe...
yakumo9275 wrote:

"Anyway, I just lifted the cartridge door and to my surprise found gold nuggets and a Rembrandt!"

Sounds like a very hacker friendly device (much like the coco3) regards to modding.

-- Stu --

I don't know if it's any more hacker friendly than any other system of the time. I'd say hacking is often the mother of necessity as it were. In other words, you NEED to hack when the system either dies fast or has significant limitations, like the TS2068 did and does. Most of the hacks or add-on cartridges revolve around ZX Spectrum compatibility, something the system should have had from Timex in the first place. Of course there was also no disk drive for the thing, hence the Oliger interface (which I'll cover more in part 2 and does a few other things).

(by the way, loved your first sentence!)



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Mark Vergeer
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Sweet!

Wauw, love that Timex Hybrid system! The ZX software library is extensive and I am sure there are some real gems for you to explore. It is about as rich as the c64 library! Bill, you are one of the few Americans who is actually able to experience the ZX library on a 'real' machine. Most Americans interested in ZX software will have to work with - quite a few excellent - ZX-Emulators.

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Bill Loguidice
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Americans and Brits...
Mark Vasier wrote:

Wauw, love that Timex Hybrid system! The ZX software library is extensive and I am sure there are some real gems for you to explore. It is about as rich as the c64 library! Bill, you are one of the few Americans who is actually able to experience the ZX library on a 'real' machine. Most Americans interested in ZX software will have to work with - quite a few excellent - ZX-Emulators.

Besides the various 48K emulators on my Timex Sinclair 2068, I have a ZX Spectrum +2 (128K). For the latter, I have that cable I was talking about that's supposed to work on a 1084S. Obviously the video will remain in PAL format and the power has a simple converter on the end. It seems like the Timex Sinclair 2068 48K emulator remains in NTSC format, so I'm very curious how it translates software obviously designed for PAL. I have a box full of cassettes that I imported from Britain and that box of disks that I mentioned. The former will work on both (except for the 128K-only or optimized software), while the latter will only work with the Oliger interface on the 2068 (of course, there's no actual disk drive in the package, so I have to figure out what drive to actually plug into it!).

I've always been impressed by the Sinclair's European presence and popularity and have tried to educate myself as much on it as possible (just like Japan's MSX systems), but I think the harsh reality likely is the C-64 is the greatly more enjoyable experience. Fun stuff, though, regardless...



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Mark Vergeer
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Raster interrupt stuff might be screwed up

Raster interrupt stuff might be screwed up, whilst executing PAL programs on NTSC machines. But if programmed properly shouldn't affect performance that much.

Bill you might be surprised how well executed the ZX Spectrum games are. I actually have a very well done ZX Spectrum Emulator on my Nintendo DS and I must say that on the tiny DS-screen those games are just excellent. Translated to a big tv it is a whole different story though.

Let me know what you try and what you think of it. If you want some speccy suggestions you know where to find me (or Mr Custard)

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Bill Loguidice
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Speccy Stuff

Well, I do enjoy Jetpac on Xbox Live Arcade, which obviously has the Speccy original, but that's about as much Spectrum stuff as I can recall playing "directly". The one thing I don't like is that a lot of the more action-oriented games were designed around the use of a keyboard, right? I have a special Kempston interface on the one 2068 for use with its built-in emulator (does the Kempston use a standard Atari joystick? - as you know the standard 2068 joystick ports are not compatible) and obviously the joystick ports on the Spectrum+, though sadly the joystick that it came with apparently has a bad fire button or something (I knew this when I purchased the bundle), and it's tough to track down a replacement since I have to look at overseas sellers. I'm still unsure of how compatible that is anyway.

As for Speccy software, I have several dozen cassette tapes, making sure to get some of the system highlights, like the classic RPG's, isometric games and platformers. I also may get a DivIDE interface at some point (for use with a compact flash card) to make it easier to boot ROMs directly on the real hardware (of course I could also do a ROM to WAV conversion and put it on a tape).



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Mark Vergeer
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Kempston interface works with atari joystick!

Suzo Arcade joysticks work great with a Kempston compatible interface (is atari joystick compatible). Quite a few titles use the Kempston or Sinclair interface. Kempston pretty much became a mainstream addition many users had so there's tons of games that have a Kempston option build in.
Playing games on the rubber keyboard is an acquired taste ;P

Kempston Wiki

Kempston interface on Xbox 360!

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Bill Loguidice
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ZX Spectrum +2

Thanks, Mark for the helpful info! Do you happen to know what the joystick port on the ZX Spectrum +2 is considered? Would that be a Spectrum interface or something else?



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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Mark Vergeer
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Something Else I am sorry....

Here is something nice I found:
ZX Spectum +2 Joystick

If it's an Amstrad model you can only use the special Amstrad Joysticks for it, the ports are incompatible with regular Atari Joysticks - it is just a case of rewiring a standard joystick, sacrificing it to work on the Amstrad Spectrum +2! And in the games you select the Spectrum interface!
More spectrum info can be found here: A world of Spectrum

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Bill Loguidice
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Great info, Mark

Yeah, I think the +2 is from the Amstrad era, that's why it came with the "special" joystick. I'll just have to rewire an Atari one. Goodness knows I have enough of them. Thanks!



Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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