Timex Sinclair 1000: The Story Behind the Original $99 Home Computer

timex sinclair 1000

Do you have an old computer in the attic or the back of a closet? Did you know those old model computers are now collectibles and may be worth some money?

This even applies to some models that weren’t originally considered a success. In fact, this notoriety fuels their popularity among collectors.

The cheapest 1980s computer was the Timex Sinclair 1000. It sold for $99.95. Keep reading to hear its story

Timex Sinclair 1000: The Original Story

Sinclair Research, Ltd. in the United Kingdom released the first Sinclair computer. The ZX-80 model hit the market in 1980 with a price tag of $200.00. This model was still popular in the U.K. when they released the ZX-81 upgrade in 1981.

Sinclair Research and Timex Corporations collaborated in a joint-venture. The result was that Timex began selling the ZX-81 in the United States in July 1982.

Timex changed the name to the Timex Sinclair 1000. The two models were almost the same. The main difference was the name on the front and small changes in the motherboard layout.

“The Power Is Within Your Reach” was the first tagline used to introduce the Timex Sinclair 1000 home computer. With a price of $99.95, it represented the least expensive personal computer on the market. It sold over 550,000 models in the first six months.

This exceeded the number of computers sold by Tandy, Apple, and Commodore combined. Other companies began lowering their prices to remain competitive.

Commodore International lowered the price of its VIC-20 to match the TS1000 price. Later Commodore developed a trade-in program.

It allowed customers to bring in any competing computer. In return, they received a $100 credit toward the purchase of a Commodore 64.

By this time, the TS1000 was selling for $49.00. This led many customers to buy the TS1000 and then trade it in to get $100 toward a Commodore.

Timex Computer Corporation stopped selling the TS1000 in 1984.

Original Specifications for the Timex Sinclair 1000

The TS1000 revolutionized personal computing with a new microchip design. This Zilog Z80A design used four integrated circuit microchips. It included a Master Chip that was as powerful as 18 microchips used on other personal computers.

Timex’s advances in microchip technology and circuitry made it possible to create smaller computers. This also allowed for the lower selling price. It followed the same path as the calculator and the digital watch.

The CPU speed was 3.25 MHz and the computer initially had 2 KB of RAM. The first models were able to extend to 56 KB of RAM. The operating system and language were the Sinclair ZX81 BASIC.

Users connected the computer to their TV to have as a black-and-white monitor. The display had 32 columns and 24 lines.

The user could access 22 of the lines. The other two were for data entry and error messages.

The computer measured 6.6 x 6.9 x 1.6 (W x D x H) inches and weighed 12 ounces. It did not have any sound capability, but you could create graphics.

The TS1000 limited graphics to basic geometric shapes. Only the shapes available in the operating system’s non-ASCII character set could be used. Users were only able to use 10 block graphic characters in 64 columns and 48 rows.

Cassette recorders served as the media for long-term storage of files and programs. The computer had ports for a printer and the cassette recorder.

The box stated, “…our step-by-step learning guide [will] have you running programs within hours. And writing them within weeks.”

Difference Between the Sinclair ZX-81 and the TS1000

The manufacturer made some modifications to the Sinclair ZX-81. They added an NTSC RF modulator in place of a UK PAL. Interestingly, the computers sold in Portugal had the PAL RF modulator.

The casing for the TS1000 contained a little more internal shielding. Both models used a form of BASIC for the primary interface and programming language. The membrane keyboard made it easier for program entry.

The TS1000 used one-letter keyword shortcuts for common commands. For example, the user could put the cursor in “keyword mode” and then press “P”. This generated the keyword “PRINT”.

For some keywords, a short sequence of keystrokes was needed. One example is SHIFT-ENTER S to create the keyword “LPRINT”.

The LPRINT command told the Sinclair printers to print an item of data. The PRINT command put the items on the screen.

TS1000 Accessories

Several accessories were available for purchase to enhance the function of the TS1000. Users could buy 16 KB of memory for $49.95 to increase its capacity.

Most software needed more RAM than 2 KB to do more than an introduction to programming. Thus, users were somewhat forced to add more RAM to their computers. In time, many third-party vendors developed add-ons to fix the TS1000’s limitations.

These add-ons included full-size keyboards, sound generators, speech synthesizers, and disk drives. The TS1000’s programming abilities were also enhanced. Programming languages including Forth, Pascal, and BASIC compilers and assemblers were added.

Users also had the option to buy cassette recorders for storing data and a thermal printer.

Where Can You Buy a Vintage Computer?

If this article has piqued your interest in the world of vintage computers, welcome. It doesn’t matter if you have vast computer experience or not, you can join the fun.

So, where do you get vintage computers? One of the most common places to start is on eBay. You will find many sellers offering a variety of retro computers. Make sure you pay attention to the different prices and conditions of the computers.

Are You Enthusiastic About Vintage Computers and Game Systems?

Now that you are well versed in the history of the Timex Sinclair 1000, are you ready to get your own? If you love old computers and game systems, join the online Retrothusiast.

Often, the information you’re looking for is on many different sites. Our site compiles resources about retro computers, software, and accessories in one place.

We are also committed to helping people revive vintage computers. Thus, we’ve included information to help you accomplish this task. You’ll find many links to product highlights, “how to’s”, and resources.

Click here to register for a Retrothusiast membership today.

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  1. Sometime in 2001 (might have been 2000), I got one of these still in box and with a 16k RAM expansion from a Goodwill. I remember taking it apart and being in awe that they called this a full on computer because of how simple and toy-like it was. That said, I did spend a lot of time typing code for simple programs I found online into the thing. If you get a chance to read the owners manual for one of these, there’s a pinout for the expansion port and instructions on how to just use this thing as a bare Z80 in a plastic shell for some other project.