- A LIL BIT OF INTRODUCTION
- File formats
- Running TZX-files
- 48 vs 128
- Spectrum BASIC
- In-game controls
- X128 0.94s
- Warajevo 2.51
- ZXSpin 0.666
- EmuZWin 2.7
- Spectaculator 8.0
- USEFUL LINKS
1. A LIL BIT OF INTRODUCTION
(Sinclair ZX) Spectrum was one of the most illustrious and best-selling 8-bit family computers of the glorious 80s. It was originally manufactured and released since 1982 by Sinclair Research Ltd company in England founded by Clive Sinclair. The native Sinclair models were ZX-Spectrum 16/48, 48+ and 128, whereas Spectrum +2, +2A and +3 were various 128-based modifications produced by Amstrad company which bought the Spectrum range in 1986. All Spectrum machines ran on Z80A CPU, had a built-in BASIC interpreter and would largely use a tape recorder to load programs despite having received floppy drive support since 1985 with introduction of Beta Disk Interface and TR-DOS environment. Another story was Amstrad's Spectrum +3 which was equipped with a native floppy drive and +3DOS environment, but was mostly a commercial failure.
While originated in UK, Spectrum almost immediately gained widespread approval and popularity outside UK as well as inside. It is vastly known all around Europe and former USSR space. The latter is particularly notorious for having produced probably the biggest number of Spectrum clones both official and underground during the period between 1988 and 1995, which without fail makes it the most "abused" and hence most sought-after platform ever in the history of 8-bit computing. In Russia the rush (no pun intended) was particularly intense, and this is where Spectrum had gained a second life, and in a most paradoxical way indeed: it is the only part of the world where Spectrum derivatives have been widely and successfuly used in combination with Beta 128 Disk Interface, TR-DOS and floppy disk drives in contrast to Spectrum's true homeland.
Lastly, tons of entertaining game products is what accounts for Spectrum's resounding success. Among a mass of well-reputed british labels such as Bug-Byte, Codemasters, Gremlin Graphics, Firebird, Imagine, Durell etc, which are responsible for the emergence of worldwide famous hits like Dizzy, Elite, Saboteur, Target Renegade, Manic Miner, Monty games, there was also a handful of prolific spanish labels such as Dinamic, Topo Soft, Opera Soft and Quicksilva which brought to us gems like Goody, Livingstone, Game Over, Corsarios, La Abadia del Crimen and many others. A few Spectrum games were ported to PC and quite a few to other 8-bit platforms (often with no modification done other than minor difference in sound and palette) such as Atari, BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, which were traditionally Spectrum's formidable rivals.
The production of Spectrum machines was discontinued in 1992.
Here thus we shall do our best to provide comprehensive instructions as to running good old Spectrum games on your modern PC. It treats of file formats, format-specific loading methods, difference as to various emulation modes, handling Spectrum BASIC and certain other technicalities which may at times challenge your unexperienced user. If you have particular questions but don't wish to read this entire body of text, then skip all the way down to FAQ section where you may instantly receive solutions for most commonly arisen issues with some references to the Emulation guide provided below.
2.1 File formats
ZX-Spectrum emulators operate with a variety of file formats - tape, disk and snapshot. They are sometimes mistakingly called 'ROMs', but that they are not. Here is a list of the most popular formats that you are likely ever to encounter:
- .TZX - an image containing mostly the original tape data typically along with copy protection scheme such as Bleepload, Softlock, Speedlock 1-7, Powerload and Alkatraz, each of which has its own loading method and style. Its main plus is that it can be used to load the real Spectrum machine by converting it to .WAV using special tools and further to .MP3 file even, since it's the audio signal that you really need and you can then load your Spectrum using any MP3 player or even your cellphone. Its minus though is that it often requires the same slow loading process (older emulators) as on the real Spectrum machine and it's not always possible to fast-load the program and ignore the encryption. The format authors are Tomaz Kac & Martin van der Heide.
- .TAP - another tape format which is a, strictly speaking, 'cracked' version of the above. As a rule, it uses standard loading routine, lacks copy protection and by default can be run instantaneously. Another plus is that you can save your progress using this tape format, as some older emulators don't support writing into TZX files. If you have no collectioner interest and don't intend to work with the real Spectrum then you're advised to use this format at once if available.
- .Z80 - snapshot file which stands for memory dump of a particular segment of the emulated program which can be later executed precisely from the last saved position as a way to restore the earlier saved progress if the in-game corresponding feature is missing. This is as close to ROM as it can possibly get, and can be run immediately. Courtesy of Gerton Lunter, the author of Z80 emulator.
- .SNA - another variant of snapshot which is seldomly used/created nowadays.
- .SLT - extended snapshot containing extra blocks that aren't immediately stored in memory but loaded up on call which makes it a kind of snapshot & tape hybrid. It's particularly useful with multiload games which can't fit in memory all at once but are loaded block by block while alternating memory chunks. Supported by very few emulators.
- .TRD - TR-DOS disk image format, which is mostly a russian contribution as practically any of such file you may come across is of the said origin. Attention! They can only be run in Pentagon 128 or Scorpion 256 emulation modes, as only those machines would largely use floppy disk drives in the past and this is what's left of them, as a matter of fact.
- .SCL - another popular TR-DOS format which is more compact and may contain a greater number of files. Likewise, can only be run in either Pentagon 128 or Scorpion 256 mode. Developed by Paul Pavlov, founder of Virtual TR-DOS russian website.
- Hobeta (*.$B, *.$C, *.$D,...) - yet another TR-DOS file format. These are single-standing datablocks disembodied from a disk image and can be run separately.
- .DSK - +3DOS native disk image format. Can only be run in Spectrum +3 mode. s
Non-program file formats:
- .POK - a proprietary format initially designed for use with Spectrum Game Database and contains a series of address and value strings intended to warp certain segments of memory typically for purposes of cheating/training. Understood by most modern emulators.
- .SCR - a compact screenshot (screen dump) format intended for use with Spectrum Game Database. Can be created by most emulators, but never displayed.
2.2 Running TZX-files
All modern emulators are capable of accelerated loading of TZX files, which is a frequently unapproachable task for older DOS emulators, let alone real Spectrum machines where there was no other option except waiting about 5 minutes till the loading is complete. However, it seems that every emulator handles it differently and doesn't always successfuly execute the procedure where as a result the program inside emulator might either hang or reset the machine. This usually means the emulator misidentifies the encryption and the chosen loading method isn't well-suited to work with certain copy protection schemes and you should either try using slower loading speed in program's options e. g. from flashload to fastload, or completely disable all acceleration, which in most cases solves the issue, but also makes the loading process authentic to real Spectrum, that is, super slow. If all fails, however, you could always try another file, although that is often unnecessary. Of course, if loading speed and confusing copy protected files is something you would rather dispense with, you can stick with .TAP files instead which are by default hyperfast and fail-safe.
2.3 48 vs 128
Now, some of you might wonder what is the essential difference between Spectrum 48 and 128 models as to the program aspect. Some might assume that since 128 is clearly more capacious memory-wise it is therefore more potent and allows to run higher quality games. Yes and no. The difference, after all, isn't as much to the overall quality such as either graphics or length of games, as was truly the case between 16kb and 48kb versions, but merely to audio enhancement and multiload-to-uniload feature. Since both machines had the same CPU running at the same speed and no dedicated videochip, they would work, in fact, with all the same program titles, only 128 model offered improved AY sound output and also allowed to store multiload games completely into the memory with just one loading session. Some games were made exclusively as either 48 or 128 version, while others offered dual-mode and would only enable additional features if the platform running them supported it. With that being said, make no mistake, and don't assume the game/file isn't working, but rather try playing with different modes since emulators don't automatically determine the type of programs loaded.
There are 2 general types of Spectrum games: uniload and multiload. The former is stored entirely into memory all at once, while the latter is loaded level-by-level in a progressive order, which was a very sad experience indeed, as losing the game would also require you to each time rewind the tape all the way back to the first level and start all over, which was: a) very tedious and b) extremely time consuming. Nowadays emulators fix it all nicely for us, but back then this was a serious issue, especially for Spectrum type 48 owners. Technically speaking, multiload games were mostly 128kb uniload programs released since 1985 to match the new model's essential capabilities, but which included additional 48kb support offering basic "buzzer" audio output and discouraging 1 level per load routine with subsequent memory flush, since 48kb isn't quite enough to fit the entire program. However, since the common Spectrum standard was largely kept at 48, this type of programs was generally termed 'multi-load'. Incidentally, the practice is by no means new to the world as many 8-bit computers would employ the same exact algorythm (for PC it's a norm to the present day) in order to work around RAM limits and thus create longer and more complex games. Most of them, however, would primarily use floppy disk drives whereas the majority of Spectrum users had to deal with tapes, which is what made it a bitter and quite memorable incident, indeed.
2.5 Spectrum BASIC
Generally, you would never bother typing anything in the interpreter as most modern emulators autostart tapes on select and skip the boring part, but if you happen to use an older emulator, then you might want to know how to proceed when you're one on one with Spectrum BASIC. Attention! You won't be needing this in 128kb mode since that version is already supplied with a convenient menu allowing you to activate loading mode with just one ENTER key. And to load a program on a real Spectrum 48 machine would require you to manually type LOAD""and press ENTER, where LOAD is the actual command and quote-unquote with no name specified in-between indicates free loading regardless of program name. The command is invoked by pressing the 'J' key, which is the same as on real Spectrum, since every letter on its keyboard would additionally contain a BASIC command or operator, and by default pressing any key would return one of those. The quote is trickier and is located on letter 'P', and is often produced using the combo Ctrl+P or Alt+P. In all newer and popular emulators however it's perfectly identical to PC layout, that is, Shift+("). To make sure, try all possible combinations. Also, keep in mind that most emulators additionally provide you with visual Spectrum keyboard layout such as this, which is often pushable and may substitute your physical keyboard occasionaly.
2.6 In-game controls
If you have no experience working with real Spectrum then you will probably face the confusion of setting the right controls inside emulated program. Undoubtedly, most people would readily opt for good old arrow keys as their preferred control method. However, you will be surprised to know that on real Spectrum most games were actually played using the alphabetic keymap, since first models completely lacked cursor movement keys and later ones had them arranged in the most irrational way making it an utterly useless accessory. The keys commonly used by default in Spectrum games are: Q = Up, A = Down, O = Left, P = Right, M = Fire, which though can be easily redefined. Alternatively joysticks could be used, but that too was a frequently unreliable and pretty awkward device. It would seldom contribute to good experience as only about 30% of games would entirely meet the facility. Ironically, using an emulator you can work around both impediments by associating joysticks with your native arrow keys in the emulator's settings. The joysticks typically go by Kempston or Sinclair (ZX-Interface 2) on every game's options menu, and you can associate either of them (plus native Cursor) with your keyboard's arrow pad.
3.1 X128 0.94s
According to our experience the best DOS Spectrum emulator yet is X128, and its principal virtues are as follows:
- It's FREE
- It emulates all official Spectrum machines including russian Pentagon 128 and Scorpion 256
- It supports all possible tape & snapshot formats: TZX, TAP, Z80, SNA, SLT + disk image formats: TRD, FDI, SCL etc.
- It uses your soundcard to redirect PC Speaker output, which is one of its greatest assets
- It works perfectly under older 32-bit Windows versions (Win9x/ME), which is a rare capability
- It works perfectly in DOSBox, which exempts you from using a Windows emulator on a newer OS
The program is fairly easy to get the hang of, most operations are carried out using the F1-F12 keys only. For more information you may refer to X128.TXT documentation.
Its only great minus perhaps is inability to flash-load TZX tapes, but I am personally not aware of any DOS emulator that can do the job well.
- Download X128 0.94s
- Download X128 Roms (Neccessary to run the program)
- Download X128 Roms update (optional)
3.2 Warajevo 2.51
Another great free application which has a cool user-friendly interface, as best as DOS shell can provide in fact, and a good set of integrated utilities to work with tapes and snapshots, while X128 on the other hand keeps it all pretty simple and straight down to business. Warajevo bundle also includes a special utility (Z80COMP.EXE) which allows you to compile Z80 snapshots into executable files, meaning you can run those emulator-free in real DOS console with just one strike of ENTER key. However, the following 3 major shortcomings so far detected may discourage you from further use of this program:
- Limited model support which goes only up to Spectrum 128
- No direct support for disk formats such as TR-DOS (.TRD) as resulting from the above standing issue, although integrated tools allow you to convert .TRD to .TAP and then run it as a tape file
- Unattractive DOSBox results: speed & sound issue. Speed can still be fixed by increasing the number of cycles, but crispy sound is incurable
- Outside DOSBox apparently unable to use a soundcard and uses internal speaker instead
Among DOS emulators it's second to none, but when it comes to compatibility with Windows/DOSBox it stands little chance. So if you're still planning on using this one you would rather go with real DOS console. Ironically, that's where the buzzer limitation comes in handy, cause even with Soundblaster supported there is no way of outputting the audio through modern soundcards, unless of course you own the original Creative! device or compatible, which is a rare fortune.
There is a number of Windows emulators you can use today, but it's hard to say which is the best as they all seem to have their pros and cons, for which reason we shall reserve our judgment on this particular matter and simply provide you with a few versatile and feature-rich applications, and highlight their chief virtues and drawbacks.
4.1 ZXSpin 0.666
A really cool emulator with mostly satisfactory set of features. Although abandoned and technically no longer supported it still is quite functional and there were no serious compatibility issues detected on at least Win 7 (apart from few native bugs).
Among its best abilities are:
- Support for all popular tape & snapshot files
- Emulation of Spectrum models all up to Pentagon 128
- Support for TR-DOS & +3DOS disk image formats
- Stereo & Reverberation audio effects
- Ability to record video into GIF files (a good substitute for screenshots!)
- Graphic filters (Direct3D, OpenGL, DirectDraw, GDI)
- Possible to associate Kempson/Sinclair joysticks with arrow keypad and redefine the FIRE key. YES!!
- Discontinued :(
- Partial absence of sound in some games. Fixed in the following beta 0.7s version (which remained in beta stage forever), but that one is also known to have minor bugs besides a number of considerable improvements. The one issue so far detected are strange delays on audio output, which are most noticeable when playing music. You are free to test both versions.
On the whole, this is a good application, but obviously a little imperfect. You could always use it in pair with another emulator to compensate for missing features, but quite honestly, if this hadn't been discontinued it would probably be the bestest Spectrum emulator today. We can only wonder why its authors decided to abandon the project when its last version had ALMOST reached final stage and would heavily make up for all the bugs and misses of 0.666. So very promising and... oh well.
4.2 EmuZWin 2.7
A rich and all-inclusive emulator for all your needs. Even though it hasn't been updated in ages and has a few minor compatibility issues on newer OS versions, it still offers a great number of features some of which are quite unprecedented even to the present day, for which reason I believe it deserves to be listed among other applications.
- It's FREE
- All official Spectrum machines are supported including russian Pentagon 128 and Scorpion 256 + several other models
- All possible tape & disk image formats are supported
- 256 colour mode support, which is a legacy of Spec256 emulator
- In-game control via mouse enabled
- Network support
- Several rare and unique features are included such as Map Builder (very handy!), GFX Editor and Sprite Finder.
- Sadly, no way of associating joysticks with host machine's arrow keys apart from numeric pad
- Has interface glitch on systems newer than XP, which is though easily solved by running the program in compatibility mode
- Seems to impede and interfere with the browsers heavily causing some of them to crash if run side-by-side
4.3 Spectaculator 8.0
Now, we must have at least one SHAREWARE program on the list, and Spectaculator is supposed to be the latest leader among windows apps. Shareware products usually have a reputation of being rock-solid and providing a wide-range set of capabilities, but don't be deceived by this one here, cause the book certainly looks better on the outside. Now, let's see what it's really made of.
The nice cover so far:
- All possible Spectrum machines are supported
- All tape & disk image formats are supported
- Possible to associate Kempson/Sinclair joysticks with arrow keypad
- Probably the fastest ever loading of TZX-files
And now let's get a little deeper into its specs and suddenly discover…
- SHAREWARE (yes, IT IS a problem and we won't provide you with no cracks, serials and keygens, sorry)
- Occasional sluggish start-up
- No way of removing borders completely in windowed mode
- No borderless fullscreen mode. In fact, the borders are HUGE, due to strangely little zoom factor. Boo!
- No way of making completely borderless screenshots, unless .SCR format is chosen
- No way of making ORIGINAL sized screenshots while ignoring the window size/scaling
Looks like display settings and screenshots are this app's major issues, and this alone makes it absolutely unprofessional. I would personally never waste my money on it. As a free application of course it could account for some flaws, but they are unforgivable otherwise. Still, those who need a working application with no strange bugs may find it to their liking.
FUSE, for all we know, is the best and only currently supported and popular emulator a *nix user can readily work with. It's not very evolved, still lacks a number of features of the afore listed apps, but it seems to be quite robust and reliable as it is, so give it a shot. It's in every popular distro stable repository and can be installed any time.
Alternatively you could always run X128 in DOSBox
If none of this seems satisfactory feel free to browse here for more software meeting your personal requirements.